2013-03-07

“It Is Hard to Imagine” — How Scholars Invent History

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by Tim Widowfield

Why would anybody make it up? (And other dead horses.)

In a recent post over on Exploring our Matrix, James McGrath wrote:

The depiction of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, in great distress and praying that the cup pass from him, is one that it is hard to imagine being invented by the later church, after they had made sense of the cross as the decisive salvific event in human history. Would they invent Jesus asking for that not to occur? It seems unlikely. But the scene makes no sense if Jesus does not believe that he must under go [sic] something traumatic. (emphasis mine)

Giorgio Vasari: An angel strengthens Jesus pra...

Giorgio Vasari: An angel strengthens Jesus praying in agony in Gethsemane. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

That’s quite a bit of “logic” packed into a single paragraph. Somehow we started out with a narrative event in the synoptic gospels and we ended up with a supposed “authentic” historical event simply by applying a thought experiment.

Why does McGrath think it is hard to imagine the “later church” inventing a scene in which Jesus asked for the cup to pass? Because the cross is necessary for salvation. How could the Son of God try to wriggle out of the crucifixion when that’s the whole plan? Why is the Messiah under such distress?

Uncomfortable Christians

And indeed, the later church, even as early as the gospel of John, did seem uncomfortable with Jesus agonizing over his fate in Gethsemane. In the Fourth Gospel, Jesus knows his part in the plan and meets the arresting party head-on:

Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him, came forward and said to them, “Whom do you seek?” (John 18:4, ESV)

So McGrath could be correct in saying that the later church would be unlikely to create the garden scene with Jesus apparently trying to avoid death. But what about the early church?

The importance of being obedient

We prove our obedience not by doing things we want to do, but by doing things we would prefer not to do.

Two early documents (which predate our narrative gospels) in the New Testament give evidence of a belief in a Savior who demonstrated total obedience. In the Philippian Hymn we find this line:

And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Phil. 2:8, ESV)

In the book of Hebrews we read:

In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek. (Heb. 5:7-10, ESV)

It is a core tenet of early Christianity that Jesus became God’s son, took on human form, and obediently faced his suffering and death. We prove our obedience not by doing things we want to do, but by doing things we would prefer not to do. The passages in Philippians and Hebrews tell us the Jesus bore his sufferings. We come to appreciate that facing death was not something he would have chosen to do, unless God had required it.

And note well that the author of Hebrews already understood the sacrifice of Jesus was “the decisive salvific event in human history,” emphatically stating that Jesus “became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him.” So we needn’t look to the later church for the first explanations of the death of Jesus.

Mark: “Show, don’t tell.”

The author of Mark’s gospel “narratizes” this early credo with the scene in Gethsemane. Jesus prays in earnest “with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death.” In this respect, at least, Mark is in complete agreement with Paul and the author of Hebrews.

We understand that Jesus is in mortal anguish not merely by what he says, but by what he does. We discover that Jesus is truly obedient, because although he would prefer the cup to pass from him, he accepts his fate.

Recall as well that in the story Jesus had walked on about a stone’s throw from Peter, James, and John, who promptly fell asleep. The agony we witness as readers is privileged information — known only to us, Jesus, and to God. Is this a message to “future” martyrs (i.e., Mark’s contemporaries)? Or is it a historical, authentic event witnessed by the dozing disciples?

So would Mark “invent” such a story? He needn’t have seen it that way. Is the act of creating a story that conveys theological truth an invention or an act of piety which shows the world the obedience of the Lord on his way to Golgotha?

Luke’s editors: “Needs more sweat and blood.”

And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. (Luke 22:42-43, ESV)

Chapter 22 of the original gospel of Luke most likely did not contain the above verses (42 and 43). Many of the oldest and best manuscripts do not have them, and there is good reason to doubt they were part of the original text. However, it’s clear the addition came rather early. In fact Bruce Manning Metzger in A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament writes:

The absence of these verses in such ancient and widely diversified witnesses . . . strongly suggests they are no part of the original text of Luke. Their presence in many manuscripts, some ancient, as well as their citation by Justin, Irenaeus, Hippolytus, Eusebius, and many other Fathers, is proof of the antiquity of the account. (p. 151)

(For more information, see Bart Ehrman’s lecture notes on the Imperturbable Jesus.)

So on the assertion that the later church would never invent the scene in the garden because of discomfort with its implications, we have good evidence that some Christians after Luke were not embarrassed at all. On the contrary, they were dissatisfied with the level of anguish in Luke’s story, and added greater suffering and greater apparent self-doubt — so much that an angel had to teleport from heaven and render assistance.

Ignoring the story in favor of the phantom of authenticity

We’ve reached an awkward state of affairs. Here I am, a dyed-in-the-wool atheist, defending the stories of the gospels against those who would shred them, looking for nonexistent clues for the historical Jesus. They can see neither the forest nor the trees, but they’ll be happy to tell you about their reconstructed, plausible lumberjack.

Each quest seems to leave NT scholarship in worse shape than when it started. As we continually point out here on Vridar, many of today’s scholars have largely forgotten the past, barely aware of the intellectual giants who preceded them. They frequently misunderstand basic concepts (e.g., the Documentary Hypothesis, the Messianic Secret), as they furiously ride their hobby horses (e.g., Casey’s Aramaic Sources, McGrath’s Scripture Ninjas, Hoffmann’s Bastard Jesus) into the ground, while ridiculing people they disagree with and patting one another on the back for a job well done.

McGrath asks:

Is it possible that Jesus, as a human figure in history, believed his own death or suffering was a necessary event in the unfolding of the dawn of the kingdom of God? If so, might he have made arrangements that allowed it to happen, and/or taken steps to provoke it?

McGrath identifies two “camps” with respect to the question of whether Jesus was aware of his own impending death: (1) Yes, since he is part of the Godhead (Christians) and (2) No, since he was merely human (secularists, including historians). At this point, we have to wonder whether McGrath is aware of the history of NT scholarship. We could be forgiven for our suspicions when he writes:

I wonder whether there isn’t a third option, one that treats Jesus as a historical human being, but takes seriously some pieces of evidence which suggest that Jesus understood his death as necessary, and perhaps even took steps to allow it to occur or to provoke it. (emphasis added)

You mean they don’t even read Schweitzer?

“I wonder whether” McGrath has read the standard works of the previous two centuries. Probably the best-known scholar who posited a historical Jesus who decisively set on a path to force the coming eschaton is Albert Schweitzer, who wrote in The Quest of the Historical Jesus:

On leaving Galilee he abandoned the hope that the final tribulation would begin of itself. If it delayed, that meant that there was still something to be done, and that yet another of the violent had to lay violent hands upon the kingdom of God. The repentance movement had not been sufficient. When, in accordance with his commission, by sending forth the disciples with their message he hurled the firebrand which was to have kindled the fiery trials, the flame went out. He had not succeeded in sending the sword on earth and stirring up the conflict. And until the time of trial had come, the coming of the kingdom and his own manifestation as Son of man were impossible. (p. 347-348, emphasis mine)

And finally:

Towards Passover, therefore, Jesus set out for Jerusalem, solely in order to die there. (p. 349, emphasis mine)

Is it really possible that McGrath thinks he’s breaking new ground here? He could, I suppose, defend himself by insisting that he was writing for a popular audience and throwing out ideas they may not be familiar with. Does that work? Suppose I wrote:

I wonder if there isn’t a third option, one in which the sun is a fixed celestial object, with the earth and all the other planets revolving around it.

I wonder if there isn’t a third option, one in which animals with traits that confer some advantage have more surviving offspring and are therefore “naturally selected.”

I wonder if there isn’t a third option, one in which mass could be converted into energy, perhaps as a byproduct of either splitting or fusing atoms.

Wouldn’t you be tempted to ask if I’ve ever heard of Copernicus, Darwin, or Einstein?

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32 Comments

  • 2013-03-07 09:28:28 UTC - 09:28 | Permalink

    It was a standard trope in ancient literature that the hero who was told he would have to enter Hades did not want to undergo the experience. Despair, horror, would overwhelm them on learning their destiny, even though they were also assured they would return safe and sound. It is clear to any slightly critical reader that the momentary experience of despair by no means diminishes the greatness of the hero. On the contrary, it serves to demonstrate his courage (he is not being foolhardy but genuinely courageous above other mortals by overcoming his fear) at undertaking his journey into Hades.

    It sounds to me as if an anti-mythicist obsession is driving some scholars into tendentious analyses of the texts as well as an embarrassing demonstration of their ignorance of their own field of scholarship.

  • 2013-03-07 10:24:17 UTC - 10:24 | Permalink

    One more point:

    One aspect of Michael Grant’s book, “Jesus, An Historian’s Review of the Gospels”, that I addressed in my recent posts is that it argues at length — and with supporting references to biblical scholars of the same opinion — that many of the prophecies Jesus supposedly fulfilled he acted out deliberately just so the disciples would later be able to say he fulfilled them. McGrath has in the past appealed to Grant’s book as evidence that “even nonbiblical historians” “prove” Jesus existed. The argument is an interesting twist on the relationship between ancient kings and the Delphic Oracle.

  • 2013-03-07 11:27:19 UTC - 11:27 | Permalink

    Reading McGrath’s “logic” brought this quote to mind:

    During the last half-century, cognitive scientists have catalogued dozens of common errors in human judgment and decision-making (Griffin et al. 2012; Gilovich et al. 2002). Stanovich (1999) provides a sobering introduction:

    For example, people assess probabilities incorrectly, they display confirmation bias, they test hypotheses inefficiently, they violate the axioms of utility theory, they do not properly calibrate degrees of belief, they overproject their own opinions onto others, they allow prior knowledge to become implicated in deductive reasoning, they systematically underweight information about nonoccurrence when evaluating covariation, and they display numerous other information-processes biases…”

    • 2013-03-07 12:43:30 UTC - 12:43 | Permalink

      The reason I am not as dismissive of Carrier’s Bayesian approach as some others are is because of its utility in forcing scholars to confront these sorts of common errors before they can guide the outcome of their historical judgements. It is not the maths per se that is the primary benefit; it is the logical processes that are its genuine value.

      • muuh-gnu
        2013-03-11 18:07:38 UTC - 18:07 | Permalink

        > It is not the maths per se that is the primary benefit; it is the logical processes that are its genuine value.

        Actually, it is the math that is the primary benefit because it forces them to deal with numbers to quantify their gut feelings, instead of meaningless and uncheckable statements like “I’m not convinced, I cant imagine that, he probably existed”, etc.

        You can layout a logical process without math, but at the end when you’re required to make a concluding statement about “what probably happend”, historicists and especially biblical scholars often seem to rely completely on their gut feelings combined with their positions of authority. They are making rather complex statistical estimates without actually quantifying any of them, neither the premises north conclusions. Every time I read “likely” or “probably” somewhere, I want to ask “but with exactly what likelihood? and how did you get it?”.

        As an interested third party, there is absolutely no way to check or verify such results. All you can do is either randomly or based on your own biases and gut feelings pick an authority and then “believe” them.

  • 2013-03-07 13:14:46 UTC - 13:14 | Permalink

    Jesus’ sacrifice, if anything, was only part of a weekend from being alive as a mortal. Something that can’t really be considered a sacrifice at all, by any stretch of the imagination. Besides, Adam was sentenced not only to death but to return to dust – Jesus didn’t fulfill that part of the penalty.

    So, why would the early Christians make up a story about Jesus dreading the death on the cross? To make his “sacrifice”, which wasn’t really a sacrifice, sound worse than it was. That is, to make it look as if it really would be a great sacrifice.

    Even though, if he had lived another 20 or 30 years and may have died of some lingering, excruciating, bowel disease – he might have enjoyed living in poverty? What a sacrifice to miss out on all that! No, losing part of a weekend as a mortal and waking up as an immortal is not a sacrifice but the story depends on there being a sacrifice. That’s why the suffering had to be made up and so it was.

    • 2013-03-07 13:35:06 UTC - 13:35 | Permalink

      Interesting observation.

      As Edmund Cohen writes in The Mind of the Bible Believer (I quoted from this in my previous post):

      What, indeed, are those sufferings, whereby the love may be appraised? For the Father aspect of God, it is the sacrifice of his “only begotten son.” Unlike a mortal father who loses a son, God had him back safe and sound in three days. For Jesus, it is the suffering concomitant to the crucifixion, beginning with his anxiety attack in the Garden of Gethsemane. That, and the death on the cross, no more gruesome, after all, than similar crucifixion deaths suffered by many another Jewish patriot of the time, are apparently all there is to it. The Bible hedges so adroitly as to Jesus’ post-death experience that it is not even clear he had any conscious awareness again, until he was resurrected! Pretty puny stuff, to equal all the sins of God’s elect! (p. 255)

  • 2013-03-07 14:42:11 UTC - 14:42 | Permalink

    JW:

    “Mark’s” source for Gethsemane is Galatians 5:24

    http://www.errancywiki.com/index.php?title=Galatians_5

    “And they that are of Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with the passions and the lusts thereof.”

    Jesus first has to show his passion before he can crucify it. As I’ve demonstrated before, in a beautiful example of Greek Tragedy reversal, “Mark” has his hero show his passion (angry) at the start and finish of the Galilee Mission. This reverses in the Passion Ministry where Jesus crucifies his passions (becomes emotionless). In an artistic touch Jesus’ lack of emotion is contrasted with the strong emotions of everyone else in the Passion, “The Jews”, The Women and Peter who is left hanging his Peter out with:

    “But he began to curse, and to swear, I know not this man of whom ye speak.

    And straightway the second time the cock crew. And Peter called to mind the word, how that Jesus said unto him, Before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny me thrice. And when he thought thereon, he wept.”

    This a long Way from history.

    Joseph

  • 2013-03-07 14:54:27 UTC - 14:54 | Permalink

    Hm… a symbolic religious scene with *no eyewitnesses* to report it — and McGrath thinks it’s a historical account?

    This is getting embarrassing. I think his blog has jumped the shark.

  • 2013-03-07 16:57:30 UTC - 16:57 | Permalink

    Weren’t the disciples asleep? How did they hear that prayer? They were asleep, getting some shut-eye. Perhaps McGrath thinks they were shut-eye witnesses.

    I think James McGrath would say that not only could the disciples hear that prayer, but everybody in Jerusalem could hear that prayer.

    As everybody knew that Jesus had prayed such a prayer, Mark had no choice but to include it, despite how embarrassed he was when he talked about it with non-Christians.

    But it was too late. All non-Christians had heard Jesus’s prayer in that garden so the Gospellers could not hush it up. It was public knowledge….

    In reality, Mark is simply working through Psalm 116 -118

    Why did Jesus choose a cup metaphor, which doesn’t fit the scene of being in a garden, rather than in a kitchen.

    The cup comes from Psalm 116, where the hero prays to the Lord for his life to be saved, and then vows to the Lord, and then accepts his fate, which is death.

    Psalm 116

    ‘Then I called on the name of the Lord:

    “O Lord, I pray, save my life!”’

    ……

    I will lift up the cup of salvation

    and call on the name of the Lord,

    14 I will pay my vows to the Lord

    in the presence of all his people.

    15 Precious in the sight of the Lord

    is the death of his faithful ones

    And Psalm 118 was also plundered by Mark

    ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone’

    Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.

    Of course, McGrath knows all this – he is a scholar. I wonder why he never tells his readers the source of these stories.

    Can his students get their money back? Surely it is not too late for them to switch to a course where they actually learn some real facts about the Bible, rather than have their teacher hide from them what he knows , simply because it does not fit the story he is selling them.

    At present, McGrath’s course in his university is useless – a waste of time attending.

  • Ed Jones
    2013-03-07 11:47:07 UTC - 11:47 | Permalink

    I would be tempted to ask if you ever heard of Eric Zuesse (paralled by certain of our top NT Studies scholars): “What’s known today as Christianity started with Paul, and was then developed by his followers, who wrote the canonical Gospels and the rest of the NT. The religion of the NT actually has nothing to do with the person of the historical Jesus. The NT was written and assembled to fulfill Paul”s Roman agenda, not Jersus’ Jewish one. This is shown to explain the entire Christian myth”. Even Dawkins seems to have heard: ” – – a distinct ring of plausibility – – .Zuesse’s account of the origins of Christianity is provocatively interesting – – clearly and forcefully writtten”. Ouch! but he recently was the subject of a Vridar post – must have read him differently.

    • 2013-03-07 12:26:32 UTC - 12:26 | Permalink

      Yes, Ed, I’ve heard of Eric Zuesse. After all, you mention him in every other post along with your “Top Scholars.”

      So what does Zuesse have to do with this topic?

      • Ed Jones
        2013-03-08 01:28:21 UTC - 01:28 | Permalink

        Thanks Tim for posting my comment even if you see it as not meeting muster. (I see you are back). “So what does Zuesse have to do with this topic?” My simple minded common sense answer: if Zuesse and our top NT scholars are credible in concluding that Christianity is not about the person of the historical Jesus, whatever one might extract from the writings of the NT, upon which Christianity is based, is most likely irrelevant to real historical knowledge of the person of the historical Jesus.

        • 2013-03-08 02:38:19 UTC - 02:38 | Permalink

          If that’s the case, then you could theoretically post your same copy-and-paste comment to every NT blog from now ’til doomsday. But what would be the point?

          Ed, you keep repeating your “top NT scholars” bit over and over. What is it you’re trying to achieve?

  • Daryl
    2013-03-08 01:33:54 UTC - 01:33 | Permalink

    Another way to circumvent ‘there was no one there to hear Jesus’s prayer so who could report it’ conundrum is to say that the resurrected Jesus filled everyone in about it afterwards. As Jesus was a very humble man, he would have wanted to recount an incident that showed a more vulnerable side than the one of hacking Pharisee strawmen to pieces and condemning people and towns to perdition. I think that’s why we have this story.

    Those that doubt this must also confront the most incontrovertible piece of evidence in the whole thing: resurrected people cannot tell a lie.

  • 2013-03-08 07:22:34 UTC - 07:22 | Permalink

    The problem with any argument against something, in the form “its hard to imagine it,” is that this kind of argument simply deifies someone’s lack of imagination.

  • Ed Jones
    2013-03-08 00:09:49 UTC - 00:09 | Permalink

    The real question: Why does the secular critic keep beating the dead, dead horse? Our top NT scholars now know not only that none of the OT writings are prophetic witness, but also that none of the NT writings are apostolic witness to Jesus, the sole criteria for judging Scriptural texts containing authentic witness. In addition we now have an outsiders historical science probe: “The religion of the NT acturlly has nothing to do with the person of the historical Jesus. The NT was written and assembled to fulfill Paul’s Roman agenda, not Jesus’ Jewish one. This is shown to explain the entire Christian myth.”

    • 2013-03-08 00:31:56 UTC - 00:31 | Permalink

      Please explain what an “historical science probe” is.

      • Ed Jones
        2013-03-08 05:36:33 UTC - 05:36 | Permalink

        [Please explain what an “historical science probe” is.]

        See your reply: 2013/02/13 @ 1:0 9 pm to: Is The Christ Myth a Threat to Christianity, at least to explain: “historical science”. This set off one of the most extended discussions I have witnessed here at Vridar. I have nothing to add to this, just wonder at your question.

        I must assume we have taken Christianity off the table as a source for the historicity of Jesus discussion.

        I must pause to express wonderment at having my comments published! The disconcerting experience of comment rejection, even to the extent of a published reply “Rubbish” to a rejected cmment is a bit overwhelming. I have some normal human self-image feelings even as a theist, here where to say Jesus existed meets with consistent knee-jerk response. I much want to continue this discussion. Now I need some period of adjustment.

        • 2013-03-08 09:18:00 UTC - 09:18 | Permalink

          Ed: “I have nothing to add to this, just wonder at your question.”

          In my previous comment I did point Neil to an article on “Historical Science.” But I don’t claim to understand what they’re getting at, and suspect that most of what its supporters talk about is gobbledygook. For example, I would call this research paper — http://web.archive.org/web/20130319072441/http://spot.colorado.edu:80/~cleland/articles/Cleland.Geology.pdf — pretty much total horsecrap.

          But I would like your opinion on what would constitute an “historical science probe.”


          Ed: “I must assume we have taken Christianity off the table as a source for the historicity of Jesus discussion.”

          I’m not sure what you mean by that. You know that at Vridar we focus on the origins of Christianity, because that’s our hobby. So it would be odd for me to take Christianity off the table when talking about its origins.


          Ed: “I must pause to express wonderment at having my comments published!”

          Really, Ed? Wonderment? Well, be sure to pace yourself. Remember, you’ve been published here on Vridar nearly 300 times. Drink plenty of liquids. Breathe normally.


          Ed: “The disconcerting experience of comment rejection, even to the extent of a published reply “Rubbish” to a rejected cmment is a bit overwhelming.”

          Here’s a tip for not getting stuck in the spam pile: Stop repeating yourself. We know you like Betz. We know you think the SM is authentic. When you paste the same comment onto every post, what do you expect? It’s like getting called by the same telemarketer over and over about lower interest rates on my credit card.


          Ed: “I have some normal human self-image feelings even as a theist, here where to say Jesus existed meets with consistent knee-jerk response.”

          What do you mean by “consistent knee-jerk response”?

          Neil and I have asked you to follow up on your assertions about these “top NT scholars,” but you retreat to an argument from authority. If an “historical scientific probe” has revealed the truth about whether Jesus existed, then certainly you or somebody out there should be able to explain those arguments.

          You know, back in August over on Hoffmann’s blog, you wrote:

          “I am by no way a supporter of Vridar. Only by the strangest of circumstances did I even become aware of Vridar. I commented as a critic.”

          It was somewhat discouraging to read that. I still think it’s possible to disagree with people strongly but still be friendly and supportive.

          • Ed Jones
            2013-03-09 05:04:41 UTC - 05:04 | Permalink

            Tim: Clearly we are at extreme opposite poles in worldview, to such an extent that I seriously question if it’s plausible to expect that further dialogue can reach any common understanding. Therefore, before further comment, I set up this thought experiment, which for me, the character of your response will decide if further discussion is worthwhile.

            Quotes from Quantum Questions – Mystical Writings of the World’s Greatest Physicists, by Ken Wilber: “In the midst of this mélange (the raging debate over the nature of science and religion) it seemed a good idea to consult the founders and grand theorists of modern (quantum and relativity) physics on what they thought about the nature of science and religion: Einstein, Schroedinger, Heisenberg, Bohr, Eddington, Pauli, de Brogue, Jeans, and Plank. I was quite surprised to find a very general commonality emerge in the worldviews of these philosopher-scientists. They all espoused a form of mysticism as confirmed theist,

            The great difference between old and new physics is both simpler and more profound, both the old and the new physics were dealing with shadows-symbols , but the new physics was forced to be aware of that fact – forced to be aware that it was dealing with shadows and illusions, not realty. Eddington: “The essential fact is simply that all of the pictures which science now draws of nature, and which alone seem capable of according with observational fact, are mathematical pictures . . . They are nothing more than pictures – fictions if you like. If by fiction you mean that science is yet not in contact with ultimate reality. We are still imprisoned in our cave, with our backs to the light, and can only watch the shadows on the wall.” (Plato’s cave allegory) – Plato announced that the whole of physics was, to use his terms, nothing more than a “likely story” since it depended ultimately on nothing but the evidence of the fleeting and shadowy senses, whereas truth resided in the transcendental Forms beyond physics (hence metaphysics). Democritus, on the other hand, put his faith in “atoms and the void” since nothing else, he felt, had any existence – a notion so obnoxious to Plato that he expressed the strongest desire that all the works of Democritus be burned on the spot. I will offer more if desired.

            • 2013-03-09 16:17:01 UTC - 16:17 | Permalink

              Ed, I regret to say that you are probably right — we are likely beyond any hope of reaching an accord. After all, you quote from a book by Ken Wilber, who is nothing but a charlatan. On the cover of his Quantum Questions we see a prominent quote from another purveyor of mystical horseshit: Deepak Chopra. The mind reels at the amount of wasted ink, paper, money, and time.

              You can read more about Wilber’s claptrap here:

              http://www.skepdic.com/news/newsletter38.html

              Note that Wilber has another big-time fan, Tony Schwartz, a hollow, self-promoting carnival barker of the worst sort.

              And as for Plato, I have to tell you I’m not a big fan. Yes, I’ve read the dialogs and they’re oh-so-clever. But I don’t believe in a Platonic universe. Do you? Does anybody? As you recall, Alfred North Whitehead wrote:

              The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.

              That’s a funny line, but I think it is better characterized as a long, grueling recovery program — like trying to beat heroin and nicotine at the same time.

              I wish we had more of the writings of Heraclitus. And I’d rather go drinking with Democritus than Socrates any day.

              Ed: I will offer more if desired.

              It is not desired.

              • James D. Williams
                2013-03-10 06:11:36 UTC - 06:11 | Permalink

                τηαναταπηοβια I imagine staring at a cave wall for nine years ( I did once for two seconds.) might produce an irreducible sense of existence.

          • Ed Jones
            2013-03-10 06:57:36 UTC - 06:57 | Permalink

            If origins of Christianity is your hobby, obviously as it bears on the mythicist argument, and “we” say Christianity has nothing to do with the HJ, then something is screwed up! The mythicist argument is based on a non existent Christ myth, with which “we” agree, while “we” locate a NT apostolic witness to the HJ. To be credible, the secular cretic needs to fnd a new target.

            • 2013-03-10 14:55:09 UTC - 14:55 | Permalink

              First, I’m not a mythicist; I’m a Jesus-agnostic. Second, I don’t really know what you’re talking about. What do you mean by a new target?

            • 2013-03-10 16:45:02 UTC - 16:45 | Permalink

              Ed, I , too, am quite open to the existence of a Palestinian (non-Pauline) Jesus who taught the sorts of things we read in the Sermon on the Mount. If you can tell me where Betz (or any other “top scholar”) establishes the existence of this person then please let me know. (I have with me Betz’s commentary on the Sermon on the Mount and do not yet see his argument establishing that this sermon originated with an historical Jesus. Do you have the page references?)

              • Ed Jones
                2013-03-11 04:40:54 UTC - 04:40 | Permalink

                Vridar is truly a roller-coster ride I had adusted to the “knee-jerk” notion that the exchange: Ed: “I will offer more if desired”, Tim: “It is not desired”, might be the ultimation – bug out!. It now seems to be desired that I offer more. I am pleased to try to comply. First to answer Tim’s question: “What do you mean by new target?”.

                The mythicist argument is based of the Christian myth which, as “we” have said has nothing to do with the person of the historical Jesus. “We” claim the HJ (his apostolic witness) is found in the alternative soiurce to the writings of the NT, the SM. The new target for the secular critic it to debunk this source. If it can be proven that this source is not apostolic, then at least the significance of the historical person Jesus is a legitimate question. Only then does his existence become This was the site Ed Jones Dialogue, now removed. It can be found at it;s original location: The Jesus Project: The Importance of the Historical Jesus. I posted this under some duress without editiing. It can be read, I will offer more.soon.

              • 2013-03-11 05:40:38 UTC - 05:40 | Permalink

                My comment “It is not desired” referred to your comments about men of science who believe in mystical nonsense. There are two reasons I asked for no more information on this subject. First, it has nothing to do with the topic at hand, which was about historical methodology and scholarly incompetence. Second, I have absolutely no interest in supernatural mumbo jumbo.

                Ed: “The new target for the secular critic is to debunk this source. If it can be proven that this source is not apostolic, then at least the significance of the historical person Jesus is a legitimate question.”

                I know of no historical method that could either prove or disprove that the sayings found in the Sermon on the Mount come from the historical Jesus. The closest I have seen is Perrin’s use of the double-dissimilarity criterion, which tries to tease out source material that probably did not come from “normal” contemporary Judaism and probably did not come from the early church.

                If you recall from this history of the quest in the 20th century, it was the paucity of information that Perrin-style analysis revealed which frustrated scholars like E.P. Sanders who threw up their arms and decided to focus on deeds not words.

                In general, disproving a claim (i.e., “debunking”) is quite difficult. Fortunately, the burden of proof rests with the claimant. If you say the SM is authentic material from the historical Jesus, you must prove it.

              • 2013-03-11 07:59:10 UTC - 07:59 | Permalink

                The mythicist argument is based of the Christian myth which, as “we” have said has nothing to do with the person of the historical Jesus.

                Ed, the reason I leave most of your comments in the spam bin lately is because you repeat this false and generally irrelevant claim ad nauseam.

                Firstly, your statement is false. It is wrong. It is not true. You just keep repeating it, however. You clearly have no knowledge or interest in understanding the mythicist argument because if you did you would not repeat this nonsense. I have pointed that out several times now but you just ignore whatever is said and repeat yourself as if no-one else has ever dealt with your claims.

                Secondly, it is irrelevant. It has nothing to do with most of the posts you try to send it to. Most posts here are not arguing for mythicism and have nothing to do with mythicism. Your obsession with mythicism is causing you to see mythicism where it is nowhere to be found.

                Irrelevant posts from anyone are consigned to the spam bin or trash. You are not a victim here. You have been treated with privileges we have given no-one else. In return, you are now expressing some hostility towards us when we say “enough is enough” and the rules must apply to you, too.

  • M. Bottus
    2013-03-09 06:23:27 UTC - 06:23 | Permalink

    Maybe the author of the “Agony in the Garden pericope” had read Tacitus’ account of the discovery of the Vittelius agonizing in his garden. After Vittelius was discovered by soldiers, there was an ear amputation, a public humiliation on the way to the execution site, and a memorable last statement. The Agony in the Garden story might be borrowed from a pagan history. Or Tacitus might have read a gospel, and borrowed some details to embellish his account about the capture and death of Vittelius.

    • 2013-03-09 08:22:31 UTC - 08:22 | Permalink

      From The Histories by Tacitus:

      Then, with characteristic weakness, and following the instincts of fear, which, dreading everything, shrinks most from what is immediately before it, he retraced his steps to the desolate and forsaken palace, whence even the meanest slaves had fled, or where they avoided his presence. The solitude and silence of the place scared him; he tried the closed doors, he shuddered in the empty chambers, till, wearied out with his miserable wanderings, he concealed himself in an unseemly hiding-place, from which he was dragged out by the tribune Julius Placidus.

      His hands were bound behind his back, and he was led along with tattered robes, a revolting spectacle, amidst the invectives of many, the tears of none. The degradation of his end had extinguished all pity. One of the German soldiers met the party, and aimed a deadly blow at Vitellius, perhaps in anger, perhaps wishing to release him the sooner from insult. Possibly the blow was meant for the tribune. He struck off that officer’s ear, and was immediately dispatched.

      Vitellius, compelled by threatening swords, first to raise his face and offer it to insulting blows, then to behold his own statues falling round him, and more than once to look at the Rostra and the spot where Galba was slain, was then driven along till they reached the Gemoniae, the place where the corpse of Flavius Sabinus had lain. One speech was heard from him shewing a spirit not utterly degraded, when to the insults of a tribune he answered, “Yet I was your Emperor.” Then he fell under a shower of blows, and the mob reviled the dead man with the same heartlessness with which they had flattered him when he was alive.

      • Blood
        2013-03-10 01:41:34 UTC - 01:41 | Permalink

        That’s a remarkable parallel.

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