2016-03-25

Carrier, Lataster and Another Small Stumbling Block

Creative Commons License

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

by Neil Godfrey

Raphael Lataster in Jesus Did Not Exist: A Debate Among Atheists shows readers that one does not have to personally like Richard Carrier to agree and critically engage with his arguments. Lataster addresses the “stumbling block” of Carrier’s abrasive blog comments and his promotion of controversial relationships values that have made and makes it clear that in both areas he, Raphael Lataster, stands in diametric opposition to Carrier.

It is worth noting that I have no great inherent desire to promote Carrier or his work –he is certainly no friend of mine. Some of what he says and dies is annoying, seemingly egotistical, and even offensive to me, and we are otherwise quite different. . . . 

Nevertheless, apart from his frankness, none of this is truly relevant. The man is a rigorous logician and undertakes interesting and important research. I do not need to judge how he lives his life; nor do I wish to poison the well, especially since I am upholding him as the exemplar for the mythicist position. I only wish to highlight that our relationship is strictly professional. We are bound by the same dedication to truth, logic, and sound methodologies.  (JDNE, Kindle, loc 5661-5672)

Lataster’s comments on Carrier are just an aside and not related to what this post is about.

My own stumbling block is a different one and here I post another quibble I have with both Carrier’s On the Historicity of Jesus and Lataster’s review of it. (See Carrier, Lataster and Background Knowledge Element 4: A Quibble for my previous quibble.) Don’t think from these posts that Lataster blindly follows Carrier in all his arguments, by the way. Lataster does have a few of his own criticisms. Here I am commenting where I part from them both.

Quibble #2

Carrier writes in OHJ, p 614 in relation to 1 Corinthians 1:23 (Paul’s preaching Christ crucified being a stumbling block to the Jews):

It’s worth emphasizing here that we have absolutely no evidence that any ancient Jews (much less all of them) considered the idea of exalting a slain messiah to be blasphemous or illegal or even inconceivable — that’s a modem myth. To the contrary, the evidence we do have (from the Talmud, for example) shows they had no trouble conceiving and allowing such a thing (Element 5). Nor would such a notion be foolish to pagans, who had their own dying saviors, historical (Element 43) and mythical (Element 3 1 ). So the only thing Paul could mean the Jews were stumbling over was the notion that a celestial being could be crucified — as that would indeed seem strange, and would indeed be met with requests for evidence (‘ How do you know that happened?’).

Lataster appears to support Carrier’s analysis.

Something is amiss here. A couple of things, actually. The imaginary rhetorical questions posed by the Jews would scarcely have arisen if, as is soundly argued elsewhere, Paul “knew” it happened because of revelation and scripture. Those to whom God revealed it knew it to be so just as they knew anything else God revealed to them by his spirit.

One would expect if Paul was responding to such questions he would simply have pointed to the scriptural passages that midrashically (not literally, of course) revealed the point.

Carrier supports his interpretation by pointing to the preceding verse faulting the Jews for asking for signs to prove a claim said to be divinely revealed. The Jews failed to believe Paul, Carrier argues, because Paul could produce “no sufficient signs” to prove it was God’s truth.

Again I have difficulty here. Paul also says he produced signs more abundantly than other apostles. Besides, he goes on to say that the gospel itself is a power or sign far greater than anything else. The Jews simply fail to recognize the sign.

Besides, as Carrier rightly points out,

A martyred savior was never a stumbling block to Jews nor foolish to pagans (Element 43). Nor did it require signs or mystical evidence.

Why should a martyred saviour be any more of a problem if the event occurred in a heavenly realm? Recall Daniel 7’s suggestion that the Son of Man in heaven represented the slain martyrs and how from this seed the heavenly messiah evolved into a literal figure in the heavens; and again in the Book of Hebrews the sacrifice could be reasoned quite logically as happening in heaven.

I’m more persuaded by Morton Smith’s explication of 1 Corinthians 1:23 (Was Paul Really Persecuted for Preaching a Crucified Christ?). What was the offence was not the crucifixion of the messiah itself but what this death meant. Paul was preaching salvation, adoption as an eternal son of God, by the abolition of the wall of the Law dividing Jews and Gentiles from each other and both from God himself. Now that gospel really does sound like weakness to Jews and folly to gentiles.

56 Comments

  • Paul
    2016-03-25 16:56:23 UTC - 16:56 | Permalink

    I think what was a stumbling block to the Jews was that since all this was supposed to have happened in their backyard, where was the evidence? Paul and the rest seemed to be preaching a non-event. (The secret hidden Christ of Mark, who came and went and needed faith to accept.) That was (one of the) problem, not the meaning of it. (I don’t agree that Paul thought it was all celestial. Perhaps there was some celestial counterpart to the earthly events, but I think he definitely thought it was terrestrial. The celestial sacrifice version I would put down to a heretical reaction or interpretation due to the lack of earthly evidence, or possibly misreading of the text which is supposed to be allegorical.) The other problem was the purpose of the Messiah as earthly king with thousands of his angels as predicted in the book of Enoch. Jews would accept one visitation but not two. I guess they would be arguing, what is the point of the first visitation? A bit like Celsus. Also Judaism was not a uniform phenomenon. Also Paul does not elaborate on exactly what he means.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2016-03-26 02:51:53 UTC - 02:51 | Permalink

      Your comment contains a series of speculations. Paul does explain very clearly why he is persecuted. It is because he teaches gentiles (at least) that they do not need to be circumcised or keep the law. He also explains that it is Christ’s death, Christ crucified, that is the reason for this. It is the implication of his gospel — freedom from the law — that is the stumbling block.

      Added later…..

      (I should add that I don’t know how much of Paul’s victim mentality is rhetoric. As you point out Second Temple “Judaism” was a very broad “church”. I find it hard to imagine (after reading Philo, for example) that Jews would necessarily and seriously “persecute” Paul for teaching gentiles did not need to be circumcised, or for teaching a celestially crucified messiah. I find it easier to imagine Paul’s abrasive personality and ego getting himself into lots of “victim” situations.)

  • C.J. O'Brien
    2016-03-25 19:26:56 UTC - 19:26 | Permalink

    “Nor did it require signs or mystical evidence”

    This seems wrong to me. “Conversion” seems largely out of place in a diverse, polytheistic religious milieu like the Greco-Roman world, but it did occur, and the one factor that crops up overwhelmingly in known cases is actual contact with the divine or supernatural (as perceived by the convert of course). Any change to an individual’s orientation to divinity was occasioned by “signs or mystical evidence”.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2016-03-26 03:05:08 UTC - 03:05 | Permalink

      I think so, too. (And even “weakness and persecution” itself is presented as a sign in 2 Corinthians 12.)

      1 Corinthians 1:23 might be addressing another facet of the question — a crucified messiah looks like “no sign” to Jews and “folly” to gentiles; but the meaning of this event is that by it alone people are united with God, saved, — now christ crucified becomes a mighty sign and great wisdom.

  • John MacDonald
    2016-03-26 16:19:46 UTC - 16:19 | Permalink

    Paul’s gospel is that “Christ died for our sins ACCORDING TO THE SCRIPTURES, 4and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day ACCORDING TO THE SCRIPTURES,… (1 Cor 15:3-4.” Presumably the crucified Christ was “to Jews a stumbling block” because Paul’s allegorical reading of the Hebrew scriptures which provided Paul with the true meaning of Christ’s death was at odds with how most Jews understood those scriptures.

  • babaganusz
    2016-04-04 23:11:26 UTC - 23:11 | Permalink

    “Paul also says he produced signs more abundantly than other apostles.”

    what would make such a claim *by Paul* necessarily anything more than preaching to the choir (i.e. not actually requiring him to back the claim up with, you know, signs)?

  • Darth Ballz
    2017-05-20 22:03:49 UTC - 22:03 | Permalink

    What I find a little offsetting about Carrier and Lataster is their sometimes evident inflated sense of their own abilities. Carrier will often say things like “As I ‘proved’ in chapter 6,” when really all we can say is that he “argued for it in chapter 6.” Carrier also frequently throws out barbs like his opponents are lying or crazy.

    I have just started reading Lataster’s new book and you can detect a hint of this inflated sense of his own abilities when he says things like: “My work in the philosophy of religion … has given me the ability to easily – and brutally – identify logical errors (Lataster, JDNE, 10).”

    • A Buddhist
      2017-05-21 00:51:06 UTC - 00:51 | Permalink

      In all fairness, opponents of mythicists also frequently insult them.

      • Darth Ballz
        2017-05-21 01:54:54 UTC - 01:54 | Permalink

        Carrier boldly claims: “There is only about a 0% to 33% chance Jesus existed.”

        Given the ambiguous nature of the biblical evidence, I don’t believe Carrier’s math is reasonably argued.

        • Neil Godfrey
          2017-05-21 07:49:08 UTC - 07:49 | Permalink

          Have you read Carrier’s arguments and his grounds for his figures? I’d be interested in a particular example of where one of his points is not reasonably argued in the face of the ambiguous nature of the biblical evidence.

          As for Carrier’s “sometimes inflated sense of his own ability”, yes, I do sometimes think Carrier comes across as overconfident, but no more in his book than many other scholars writing in similar fields, and I don’t restrict my claim to biblical scholars either.

          • Darth Ballz
            2017-05-21 15:25:11 UTC - 15:25 | Permalink

            The Rank-Raglan mythotype, for example, does nothing to show that Jesus did not exist. Scoring high on the scale may just as well reflect legendary embellishment of a historical core of the Jesus story, as it would a mythical genesis of it. Raglan did not categorically deny the historicity of the Heroes he looked at, rather it was their common biographies he considered as nonhistorical.

            • Darth Ballz
              2017-05-21 15:47:40 UTC - 15:47 | Permalink

              Due to the ambiguous nature of the evidence, I agree with Lataster’s position of being a Jesus agnostic, not Carrier’s position of being a Jesus mythicist.

            • Darth Ballz
              2017-05-21 17:53:45 UTC - 17:53 | Permalink

              The haggadic midrash/mimesis argument is equally as useless in establishing Jesus did not exist. It cannot be established whether the writer started with facts about the historical Jesus, and then embellished them to make it seem like a Hebrew Scripture text, or whether the writer started with the Hebrew Scripture text and simply re-wrote it using Jesus as the central character.

            • Neil Godfrey
              2017-05-21 21:02:56 UTC - 21:02 | Permalink

              I think you have missed Carrier’s point of the Rank-Raglan type. You are quite correct that scoring high on the scale does not prove a person did not exist but that is not Carrier’s argument for Jesus’ nonexistence. Some critics seem to have misrepresented Carrier’s argument; perhaps they never really read it themselves. I have discussed this point in several posts: see http://vridar.org/?s=rank+raglan+carrier

              As for the midrash/mimesis argument, that is only true to a certain point. We have many cases, ancient and modern, where historical persons are described with reference to (or even as deliberately imitating) past legendary or mythic figures. In every case the historicity of such persons stands firm independently of the mythical embellishments.

              Thus the Roman emperor Hadrian liked to dress up as Hercules, it appears. But it is impossible to think Hadrian did not exist or that he was really just another rewrite of Hercules. A more lowly figure (not a great political and military leader) was Socrates who has been described with mimetic allusions to Achilles. Yet we have ample reason from the same documents to know Socrates was not simply another version of Achilles and that he had an existence apart from the literary “mimesis”.

              It is quite a different matter when a character consists entirely of mythical or mimetic allusions and has no other existence apart from those allusions.

              That does not prove that a historical figure stood behind such a literary creation, but it does not give us any reason to think such a figure existed in the first place, either.

              • Darth Ballz
                2017-05-21 22:26:26 UTC - 22:26 | Permalink

                Neil said “It is quite a different matter when a character consists entirely of mythical or mimetic allusions and has no other existence apart from those allusions.”

                It’s unclear what you mean here. Jesus’ crucifixion by Pilate may “possibly” be reduced to mimesis, but I would hardly say you can demonstrate that is “probable.” Similarly, there are certainly mimetic elements in Mark’s portrayal of John the Baptist, describing him in the light of the Elijah/Elisha motif, but that isn’t the same as thinking you have “positively” demonstrated, in your words, “a character consists entirely of mythical or mimetic allusions and has no other existence apart from those allusions.” This doesn’t help the mythicist argument, as I said, because there is no way to determine what percentage of the Baptist periscope is mimetic. Maybe the mimetic material is just a few allusions that came about after the fact.

                Neil said “That does not prove that a historical figure stood behind such a literary creation, but it does not give us any reason to think such a figure existed in the first place, either.”

                Then what do you think Carrier demonstrates in a positive sense toward mythicism that shows the likelihood Jesus existed is 0-33%?

              • Neil Godfrey
                2017-05-22 02:54:05 UTC - 02:54 | Permalink

                What aspects of Jesus’ character stand independently of any “mimesis” or “midrashic” source? This point is not, by the way, some unique “mythicist” argument. You are probably aware of Kee’s list of over 140 OT allusions in the last few chapters of Mark, of Dale Allison’s detailed identification of the Moses tropes overlaying Jesus in Matthew….

                The crucifixion is entirely mimesis and intertextuality — and countless apologists publish endlessly on all the prophecies it supposedly fulfilled, verse by verse. Of course they are not prophecies but the textual sources the evangelists used to create their narrative.

                If the mimetic material is really just a few allusions added after the fact, then what prior facts about the career of Jesus do we see in the gospels? None that I know of — or can think of at the moment. That is the significant difference between Jesus and known historical persons who are said to emulate mythical heroes or gods.

                Ditto with Mark’s John the Baptist. He is entirely “midrashic”. There is nothing about him that can be separated from the Elijah and Voice in Wilderness motifs of the OT: his mission, his appearance, his message, his geographical setting.

                As for your last question, are you asking me to summarize the arguments of his book? Can I ask how much of his book you have read?

              • Darth Ballz
                2017-05-22 16:52:07 UTC - 16:52 | Permalink

                @ Neil:

                (1) Regarding the crucifixion, there is nothing in the Hebrew Scriptures that suggest the messiah would be killed by the ruling powers.

                (2) Regarding John The Baptist, there is nothing in The Hebrew Scriptures that suggest the messiah would be baptized by a prophet. Certainly some themes in the initial John The Baptist pericope mirrors earlier texts, but this is hardly reason to think the whole baptism event is non historical.

                Price sees this as a problem for the mythicist’s haggadic midrash position, so he invents a highly improbable parallel between Jesus and Zoroaster:

                – “The scene in broad outline may derive from Zoroastrian traditions of the inauguration of Zoroaster’s ministry. Son of a Vedic priest, Zoroaster immerses himself in the river for purification, and as he comes up from the water, the archangel Vohu Mana appears to him, proffering a cup and commissions him to bear the tidings of the one God Ahura Mazda, whereupon the evil one Ahriman tempts him to abandon this call.”

                Then, searching relentlessly for parallels, Price can’t find a Hebrew Scripture source for directly borrowing the heavenly voice, so Price needs to piece together a parallel from multiple sources:

                – “In any case, the scene has received vivid midrashic coloring. The heavenly voice (bath qol) speaks a conflation of three scriptural passages. “You are my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11) combines bits and pieces of Psalm 2:7, the divine coronation decree, “You are my son. Today I have begotten you;” Isaiah 42:1, the blessing on the returning Exiles, “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights;” and Genesis 22:12 (LXX), where the heavenly voices bids Abraham to sacrifice his “beloved son.”

                Mark is not inventing Jesus out of these scriptures here. All Mark is doing with the voice is identifying Jesus as his regal representative, which in no way means he is inventing the story out of The Hebrew Scriptures. For instance, Understanding the King of Israel as the “son of God,” we read in the Hebrew bible, for instance:

                (A) “I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name; and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me (2 Sam. 7:12-14).”

                (B) In Psalm 89, in which the psalmist indicates that David was anointed by God (that is, literally anointed with oil as a sign of God’s special favor; v. 20), he is said to be God’s “firstborn, the highest of the kings of earth (v.27).”

                (C)God says to the king: “You are my son; today I have begotten you (Psalm 2, v. 7)

                So, Mark identifying Jesus as regally selected in no way means Mark was “borrowing” this from the Hebrew Scriptures.

                Finally, Price continues:

                And as William R. Stegner points out, Mark may have in mind a Targumic tradition whereby Isaac, bound on the altar, looks up into heaven and sees the heavens opened with angels and the Shekinah of God, a voice proclaiming, “Behold, two chosen ones, etc.” There is even the note that the willingness of Isaac to be slain may serve to atone for Israel’s sins. Here is abundant symbolism making Jesus king, servant, and atoning sacrifice. In view of parallels elsewhere between John and Jesus on the one hand and Elijah and Elisha on the other, some (Miller, p. 48) also see in the Jordan baptism and the endowment with the spirit a repetition of 2 Kings 2, where, near the Jordan, Elijah bequeaths a double portion of his own miracle-working spirit to Elisha, who henceforth functions as his successor and superior.

                How is Price divining this parallel? John the Baptist didn’t bequeath a portion of his power to Jesus, it was heavenly adoption.

                And sometimes parallels are just a coincidence. By your reasoning, Neil, the parallels between Lincoln and Kennedy would be evidence Kennedy didn’t exist. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lincoln%E2%80%93Kennedy_coincidences_urban_legend

                There is a leap of faith done by mythicists to go from “there is ‘possibly’ a parallel here,” to “there is ‘probably’ a parallel here.” That is the problem with arguing from typology. It is undeterminable what percentage of imitation in a pericope is invented out of whole cloth.

                A few years ago I emailed one of the editors of “The Jewish Annotated New Testament,” Dr. Marc Brettler, and asked the following question: “Your co editor Dr. Amy-Jill Levine says Matthew’s Jesus infancy story recapitulates the story of Moses.  Does this mean (1) the author of Matthew started with facts about Jesus and then added material to make it resemble the account of Moses, or (2) The author of Matthew started with the account in the Old Testament about Moses and then rewrote it using Jesus as the central character?”  Dr. Brettler kindly emailed me back his response and said “You are asking a hard and sophisticated question.  Your two possibilities represent two poles of possibility, with lots of room in between.  I don’t know that we have enough information to answer that specific question—sorry.” 

                So, the midrash/mimesis/typology argument really adds nothing to the mythicist position, because even if we are confident a particular pericope is possibly based on imitation, there is no way to tell what degree of imitation is going on.

                The same is true of the Rank Raglan scale. Scoring high on the scale simply indicates that a large amount of legendary biography is involved. It shows absolutely nothing as to whether there is a core of historicity, or a core of the mythic, lying behind it.

              • Neil Godfrey
                2017-05-22 23:14:10 UTC - 23:14 | Permalink

                And there is nothing in the scriptures to say the messiah would be called Jesus or that he would be announced by a man called John.

                We are entering the fallacy of declaring any difference as an invalidation of a comparison where all comparisons and reasoning by analogy logically becomes invalid.

                That Kennedy-Lincoln parallel in fact demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of the argument. It is a straw man.

                Your last sentence is actually repeating a point I myself made earlier so I don’t know if you have actually followed my own comments on this topic.

              • Neil Godfrey
                2017-05-22 23:27:30 UTC - 23:27 | Permalink

                I have a link in the sidebar on this blog to Sandmel’s article on parallelomania.

                There is a difference between arbitrary or worse, tendentious, identification of parallels on the one hand and arguing a case for literary influence on the basis of evidence and historical context on the other.

                Elsewhere you seem to accept certain parallels in the gospels with other literature. Why? On what basis? Dionysus did not pour water into pots to make wine. So why try to “force” a parallel sometimes and not at others? What is your method of historical research?

              • Darth Ballz
                2017-05-22 23:43:24 UTC - 23:43 | Permalink

                @ Neil

                One egregious case of parallelomania by Price is his analysis of the empty tomb. Price writes:

                – Crossan (p. 274) and Miller and Miller (pp. 219, 377) note that the empty tomb narrative requires no source beyond Joshua (=Jesus, remember!) chapter 10. The five kings have fled from Joshua, taking refuge in the cave at Makkedah. When they are discovered, Joshua orders his men to “Roll great stones against the mouth of the cave and set men by it to guard them” (10:18). Once the mopping-up operation of the kings’ troops is finished, Joshua directs: “Open the mouth of the cave, and bring those five kings out to me from the cave” (10:22). “And afterward Joshua smote them and put them to death, and he hung them on five trees. And they hung upon the trees until evening; but at the time of the going down of the sun, Joshua commanded, and they took them down from the trees, and threw them into the cave where they had hidden themselves, and they set great stones against the mouth of the cave, which remain to this very day” (10:26-27). Observe that here it is “Jesus” who plays the role of Pilate, and that Mark needed only to reverse the order of the main narrative moments of this story. Joshua 10: first, stone rolled away and kings emerge alive; second, kings die; third, kings are crucified until sundown. Mark: Jesus as King of the Jews is crucified, where his body will hang till sundown; second, he dies; third, he emerges alive (Mark implies) from the tomb once the stone is rolled away. The vigil of the mourning women likely reflects the women’s mourning cult of the dying and rising god, long familiar in Israel (Ezekiel 8:14, “Behold, there sat women weeping for Tammuz;” Zechariah 12:11, “On that day the mourning in  Jerusalem will be as great as the mourning for Hadad-Rimmon in the plain of Megiddo;” Canticles 3:1-4, “I sought him whom my soul loves; I sought him but found him not; I called him but he gave no answer,” etc.).

                The problem with Price’s analysis here is that tombs and the rolling across them of large stones was a commonplace occurrence in every day life back then, so there is certainly no reason to demand that the inspiration for this story had to come from scripture.

              • Neil Godfrey
                2017-05-23 04:05:49 UTC - 04:05 | Permalink

                The problem with Price’s analysis here is that tombs and the rolling across them of large stones was a commonplace occurrence in every day life back then, so there is certainly no reason to demand that the inspiration for this story had to come from scripture.

                Price’s analysis? He is acknowledging his own sources for the parallels: Crossan and Millerx2. So let’s call it Crossan’s and Millerx2’s argument.

                So you think that since tombs and rolling stones in front of them was commonplace back then (I’m not so sure it isn’t an anachronism, but let’s leave that aside for sake of argument). I agree. But you have simply ignored the numerous parallels that Crossan and the two Millers identify and that are the basis of their argument when they set side by side the two texts.

              • Darth Ballz
                2017-05-22 23:56:18 UTC - 23:56 | Permalink

                @ Neil:

                Neil said: “Elsewhere you seem to accept certain parallels in the gospels with other literature. Why? On what basis? Dionysus did not pour water into pots to make wine. So why try to “force” a parallel sometimes and not at others? What is your method of historical research?”

                Back in 2015 I wrote this guest post for Vridar about the relationship between the New Testament and Dionysus – more specifically Euripides’ Bacchae:

                http://vridar.org/2015/09/27/new-testament-in-the-greek-literary-matrix/

                Today I said, regarding the Rank/Raglan scale, that all Carrier’s application of the Rank Raglan scale shows is that the legendary portrayal of Jesus may have been modelled on one or more of the figures the RR scale itself was modelled on (e.g. Oedipus). It wouldn’t be odd to think Jesus was partially modelled on the Greek figure of Oedipus, since in another context we know of Greek influence where Jesus is modelled on Dionysus (as in the Gospel of John’s wine miracle), and specifically the New Testament Narratives suggest strong influence Euripides’ Bacchae.

                The question is, why would I accept parallels in this case but not other?

                I don’t know. Maybe it’s just special pleading for my own favorite parallels?

              • Neil Godfrey
                2017-05-23 04:13:23 UTC - 04:13 | Permalink

                I like Sandmel’s paper on parallelomania. It prevents the nonsense we conjure up with the Kennedy-Lincoln (and similar) parallels.

                It’s an exercise in literary analysis. We can learn something from scholars who engage in comparative literary studies. There are usually criteria that are set out and followed to assess the probability of borrowing and if so, in which direction.

                The Lincoln-Kennedy silliness is not like that. It is not a serious comparative literary exercise but simply an armchair fun game of trying to imagine how many points in common we can find from any and every source we can think of.

                Jesus as a gospel literary figure is cut from the literary figures and motifs of the Jewish Scriptures — as many scholars have long recognized. It is only when mythicists pick up on their arguments (e.g. Crossan’s and Millers’) and draw not very different conclusions (that the gospel is not an historical account) that people seem to get upset.

              • Darth Ballz
                2017-05-23 16:22:55 UTC - 16:22 | Permalink

                @ Neil

                Neil said “Jesus as a gospel literary figure is cut from the literary figures and motifs of the Jewish Scriptures — as many scholars have long recognized. It is only when mythicists pick up on their arguments (e.g. Crossan’s and Millers’) and draw not very different conclusions (that the gospel is not an historical account) that people seem to get upset.”

                I don’t think anyone is getting upset. In the cases of possible mimesis in the Gospels, there is no way to choose between the ideas that

                (1) The gospel writer started with the Hebrew Scriptures and invented the pericope about Jesus out of whole cloth. Or …
                (2) The gospel writer started with some facts about Jesus and shaped them to resemble some theme from the Hebrew Scriptures.

        • 2017-05-22 01:26:56 UTC - 01:26 | Permalink

          I don’t think the problem is Carrier’s mathematics, so much as his possible overestimation of the “objectivity” of the probability he ends up with. It is a subjective probability, a statement about both the person making the estimate as well as the uncertain proposition being assessed.

          On the same facts as he estimates “1/3 or less” another equally skilled and well informed Bayesian might estimate “2/3 or more.” It’s even realistic that there would be a lot of spread given the thinness of the evidence, its often equivocal character, and the many varieties of “real historical Jesuses” on offer.

          • Neil Godfrey
            2017-05-22 03:01:31 UTC - 03:01 | Permalink

            I’d be interested in an example to illustrate the claim that on a particular point of argument in Carrier’s book that one person might estimate a very low probability and another a very high probability of the same point.

            I don’t see how that is likely if both parties are considering all the same background information. Can you think of an instance where I would be wrong?

            I presume we are aware that Carrier often sets ranges of probabilities, allowing for and following the most favourable odds for historicity.

          • 2017-05-22 10:02:05 UTC - 10:02 | Permalink

            @Neil

            I’m unsure what you’re looking for. You really have no examples already in hand from your own real life of two people holding different opinions about some uncertain factual matter? There’s no sports betting where you live?

            The Bayesian perspective is that all differences of (factual) opinion can be represented and analyzed as formal probabilistic relationships. Intervals are fine, but they have the same interpretation as the point-valued probabilities that make up the interval: somebody’s actual or ideally justified confidence about some uncertain matter.

            Conversely, you have no examples of anybody having more or less confidence than Carrier about anything discussed in his book? Ehrman has flirted with Bayes (but it didn’t stick; I suspect he didn’t get very far with it). Ehrman seems to be “2/3 or more” on something that Carrier is “1/3 or less.”

            But that can’t be what you’re looking for.

            • Neil Godfrey
              2017-05-22 11:50:12 UTC - 11:50 | Permalink

              Bayes isn’t about mere opinion of the odds of something happening out of the blue. In historical reasoning (and Carrier is not the first or only historian to apply Bayes to historical reasoning) Bayes works the same way as it does in solving any other problem it is seriously applied to. All the background factors are laid out and considered carefully before arriving at some probability estimate.

              Sports betting???? We are talking about Bayes, right? What does Sports betting have to do with anything?

              I sometimes wonder if quite a few critics of Carrier have never really bothered to read his first volume on Bayes or any other work on how Bayes reasoning is applied in historical or other inquiries.

              No, I have no example from my “real life” of two people holding different probabilities about something given all the relevant background knowledge. I used to use Bayes at work and invited people in to help flesh out all the background factors. Never did some people in the end decide probability of X was very high while other decided it was very low. That makes no sense. That’s not how Bayes works. Bayes is not about guessing odds in the absence of relevant background information.

              Ehrman’s flirting with Bayes, iirc, was a sham. He has no idea what it’s about and trusts his readers not to know any better either. Correct me if I am wrong, but my recollection is that he is merely playing to an “anti-Carrier” audience who are lapping up the put-downs of the maverick.

            • Neil Godfrey
              2017-05-22 12:02:17 UTC - 12:02 | Permalink

              It seems a number of us don’t understand what the Bayes’ theorem is about and are being misled by some sort of anti-Carrier brigade. I can understand people being offended by Carrier’s tone often enough, but don’t let personal dislikes get in the way of what’s really what here. I can highly recommend a book by Sharon McGrayne, “The theory that would not die: how Bayes’ rule cracked the enigma code, hunted down Russian submarines, & emerged triumphant from two centuries of controversy”. Take a look. And maybe pass on a hint to Ehrman that he might learn something from it, too.

            • 2017-05-22 14:51:45 UTC - 14:51 | Permalink

              @Neil

              > Bayes isn’t about mere opinion of the odds of something happening out of the blue.

              It is when that is all you’ve got. Many post-WW II “orthodox” Bayesians have been overtly comprehensive – you supposedly always have a “best” estimate of the odds, regardless of how “good” that estimate is.

              That Bayes makes no necessary distinction between the 50-50 that might arise, say, from “the principle of insufficient reason” (aka the Bayes-Laplace rule) and the 50-50 that arises from the the industrialized minting of modern coins is a frequently heard criticism lodged against Bayes.

              > Sports betting???? We are talking about Bayes, right? What does Sports betting have to do with anything?

              For starters, if a theory of uncertain reasoning can’t handle how to bet in the NBA play-offs, then maybe settling the historical Jesus problem is still a tad out-of-reach.

              More crucially, if you really think that betting is somehow foreign to Bayes, then you might consider a move from Carrier and popular journalism to De Finetti (“definetti gambling semantics” is searchable).

              > Never did some people in the end decide probability of X was very high while other decided it was very low.

              Thank you for answering my question, then. Nevertheless we do know that in this domain, confidence in a historical Jesus ranges from near-certainty in favor (like Ehrman, who often forgets the “near”) to … well, Carrier is less than about 1/3 for the same proposition.

              > That makes no sense.

              That is, nevertheless, what Bayes predicts in the absence of either revelation or copious and conditionally independent evidence.

              What alternative force do you propose that would coordinate and align human estimation if not evidence?

              > Ehrman’s flirting with Bayes, iirc, was a sham.

              I don’t know the man personally. What I saw impressed me as a good try, but if you know it to be a sham, then I defer to you. That would be an example of two people, you and me, having divergent probability estimates about an uncertain matter.

              > It seems a number of us don’t understand what the Bayes’ theorem is …

              But another number of “us” do. Bayesian and near-Bayesian methods are a very popular and well-known approach to uncertain reasoning, whose scholarly literature is enriched by legions of contributors.

              It’s not about being anti-Carrier. It’s about recognizing his contribution for what it actually is, which is not bad, but there is no surprise that there are people who bear Carrier no ill-will, but who disagree with his conclusion without rejecting Bayes.

              • Darth Ballz
                2017-05-22 19:29:25 UTC - 19:29 | Permalink

                @Paul the Uncertain:

                Isn’t it just easier to talk in terms of:

                Certain
                Very likely
                Likely
                Possible
                Unlikely
                Very unlikely
                Impossible

                Rather than trying to figure out what 23.6% probability means? After all, even if we attain a mathematical probability, we still have to translate this into normal language.

                And after all, people often come to different conclusions about the same evidence all the time. Wouldn’t that be the same in trying to assign probability to somewhat ambiguous historical evidence about Jesus?

              • 2017-05-22 20:46:34 UTC - 20:46 | Permalink

                Howdy, Darth

                > Isn’t it just easier to talk in terms of … [your scale]

                Sure, people do that. It often works fine.

                > Rather than trying to figure out what 23.6% probability means?

                Depends on the application whether three significant figures is worth the trouble. A lot of research science is done with that precision or even more. I defer to ancient historians (which I am not) about what practical use they could make of the differences among “about 1/4,” 23.6%, 23%. “between 20% and 30%,” and “unlikely.”

                > And after all, people often come to different conclusions about the same evidence all the time. Wouldn’t that be the same in trying to assign probability to somewhat ambiguous historical evidence about Jesus?

                Yes, I think so.

              • Neil Godfrey
                2017-05-22 22:58:05 UTC - 22:58 | Permalink

                I don’t think we are talking about the same thing. You seem to be overlooking the fundamental point of constant revision of odds in the light of each piece of background evidence.

                What do you see is at fault in my own application of “Bayesian reasoning” with the question of James the Brother of the Lord: http://vridar.org/2012/04/22/putting-james-the-brother-of-the-lord-to-a-bayesian-test/

                There is nothing arbitrary or subjective to the point of arbitrariness in the fundamentals of Bayesian methods.

              • 2017-05-23 01:22:43 UTC - 01:22 | Permalink

                @Neil

                > I don’t think we are talking about the same thing. You seem to be overlooking the fundamental point of constant revision of odds in the light of each piece of background evidence.

                Since I don’t think I have overlooked it, and you haven’t explained why you think I have, I’ll move on for now.

                > What do you see is at fault in my own application of “Bayesian reasoning” with the question of James the Brother of the Lord:

                I don’t recall commenting on that post. I re-read it for this reply. It seems OK to me. I didn’t check your arithmetic, I don’t necessarily agree with you point-by-point, but your take-home message is fine by me (that Paul’s mention of James as BoL doesn’t settle the issue or even come close), and you got there within the norms you aspired to apply.

                The sensitvity analysis you did afterwards might offer food for thought (it’s not a fault – it’s great). If you might have estimated a range of 1/2 to 2/3 (approximately), do you claim that another rational person considering the same factors, could not possibly have estimated in the range 1/3 to 1/2?

                If that is possible, then doesn’t one person finding 1/3 to be admissible and another finding 2/3 to be admissible suggest that if we kept adding people to our population, then eventually somebody would estimate “low” and somebody else would estimate “high”?

                What force do you think would prevent this, if you think it wouldn’t happen?

                > There is nothing arbitrary or subjective to the point of arbitrariness in the fundamentals of Bayesian methods.

                I don’t recall having criticized any subjective probabilitst for “arbitrariness.” There’s nothing wrong with subjectivity in the sense the noun phrase “subjective probability.”

              • Neil Godfrey
                2017-05-23 04:39:50 UTC - 04:39 | Permalink

                What force do you think would prevent this, if you think it wouldn’t happen?

                Let’s stick to background evidence in historical inquiry. Using my James post as an example, select one point of data where two people are likely to come so such opposing extremes of probabilities? I suggest if that did happen on any particular point of discussion then one person or both are not taking on board all the arguments, pro and con, but are being tendentious and thus declare themselves to be incompetent historians.

                If all parties are trying to be fair and reasonable with each piece of data and there really are extremes of views then it is quite valid for each party to set out their reasons for their estimates and their resulting conclusions so others can compare and evaluate.

                I would consider it quite a valid exercise – one I would love to see – if someone decided to go through each piece of background data Carrier addresses and using their own arguments, including an assessment of Carrier’s, to come up with their own probability in each case. Then we could compare and evaluate.

                In other words, prove Carrier’s method as a means to inquire into the historicity of Jesus really is fallacious.

                If you are going to reply, please include a piece of data or background piece of information that either Carrier addresses or that I address in my post to be used as a case study. Let’s see what happens.

              • 2017-05-23 08:52:06 UTC - 08:52 | Permalink

                @Neil

                > select one point of data where two people are likely to come so such opposing extremes of probabilities

                Say what? Bayes teaches us that the cumulative effect of several small disagreements has the same consequences as a major disagreement on just one.

                Let’s take your initial assessment. You color coded about eight factors, say 4 positive and 4 negative, arriving at an odds ratio of 19 (probability of .95) favoring typicality.

                Another person could have said, “I’ll start my investigation at 50-50, and update that using Neil’s factors.” For simplicity let’s say for this person all the reds have the same likelihood ratio, and all the greens have their same LR, and the person thinks the eight factors are conditionally independent. Going forward with two significant figures:

                prior odds = 1.0, 4 pluses at 2.2 and 4 negs at .95 = 19

                This person agrees with you about typicality, and their formulation of the problem is allowed within Bayesian norms. Enter a second person, same assumptions, same estimate of the directions of bearing, but their plus ratios are 1.05 while their negatives are .45:

                prior odds = 1.0, 4 pluses at 1.05 and 4 negs at .45 = 1/19

                or a probability of about .05 after eight observations.

                As you recall, I asked you earlier whether, based on your sensitivity analysis, if you’re assessing odds between 1 and 2, might not somebody else assesss odds between 1/2 and 1? Behold, about that much disagreement on individual issues cashes out at .95 versus .05 after these 8 steps.

                > In other words, prove Carrier’s method as a means to inquire into the historicity of Jesus really is fallacious.

                I didn’t object to his methods. Experience in other domains suggests that historians might well accept Bayes or near-Bayes as a framework for some “piece by piece” joint estimation exercise like the one you’d love to see.

                But agreement on methods doesn’t imply agreement on conclusions. In this domain, that’s partly because even when people agree on the direction of bearing (“Oh, that’s a negative”), there is little of impersonal validity to coordinate their estimates of strength (“I see that likelihood ratio as .95, not .45 …”).

              • Neil Godfrey
                2017-05-23 09:55:31 UTC - 09:55 | Permalink

                So you are not prepared to take a real-life example? …. as I suggested?

              • 2017-05-23 13:02:35 UTC - 13:02 | Permalink

                @ Neil

                > So you are not prepared to take a real-life example? …. as I suggested?

                What you suggested was

                “If you are going to reply, please include a piece of data or background piece of information that either Carrier addresses or that I address in my post to be used as a case study. Let’s see what happens.”

                I picked the first assessment I found in the specified post which you pursued to a quantitative value. That was the issue of typicality. I used your own number for it, probability 0.95. You did not narrate any details of how you arrived at that number, but did inventory the factors you considered, and the direction of each factor’s bearing.

                That’s what I went with. There are unboundedly many ways to arrive at 0.95. I named one, a simple one, because so far, arithmetic hasn’t been an issue. For the comparison numbers, I used ones similar to what had appeared in your own sensitivity analysis that was presented in the same post, which had already been mentioned in our exchange.

                If your own request, choice of factors, description of your deliberation, sensitivity analysis and conclusions aren’t “real life” enough for you, then that’s not my look out, is it?

  • Neil Godfrey
    2017-05-23 23:58:40 UTC - 23:58 | Permalink

    @Paul the Uncertain

    You are still talking in abstractions and I cannot see how your claims have any relevance to anything I argued in my post on James. You simply say another person comes in with very different numbers etc but don’t explain anything concrete.

    Tell me how anyone could justify vastly different probabilities. That is, what new background information would they introduce? On what piece of evidence of background information would they have a very different assessment of probability?

    Be specific with real arguments — not just theoretical “they could just have a different number or starting estimate”. Give me an actual plausible illustration — citing the piece of evidence or information in question.

    Select from my own James post contents if that’s easiest. Or take one of Carrier’s points and demonstrate your argument in a concrete real life case study.

    (No your theoretical discussion is not “real life enough” for me: I’m asking you to prove it with a real life illustration. Don’t be so condescending in your exchange, either. You may actually find you communicate with people better — but maybe you are trying to hide behind theory rather than discuss a particular example of how someone would arrive at a very different figure with the same or alternative background information.)

    • 2017-05-24 01:04:38 UTC - 01:04 | Permalink

      @ Neil

      You asked for an example from your post and I gave you one. Your first objection was that it wasn’t “real life.” Now it’s too abstract.

      It’s your example, Neil. Not mine.

      I have shown with middle school algebra that two Bayesians can markedly disagree. No difference in the factors they considered was needed. No disagreement about the estimated direction of bearing of any factor was needed. No one estimate needed to be dramatically different from the other person’s corresponding estimate.

      There is nothing controversial about this. Too bad that it doesn’t reflect your experiences in applying Bayes in the company of like-minded others. You didn’t mention whether those experiences were in a domain where Dr Carrier offers his expertise. Were they?

      • Neil Godfrey
        2017-05-24 01:35:28 UTC - 01:35 | Permalink

        You seem to be deliberately avoiding grappling with a real life illustration of how the same data can understood so totally differently as to lead to very different probabilities. Or describing a piece of new information that changes the probabilities in the mind of another.

        Tell us how someone would look at the same positive background information I set out in the James post and arrive at a very different figure from say .95 (or .75 to .95) — say something around .25. Explain how they would think and understand the evidence addressed in a way that would lead them to that opposite conclusion.

        Or tell us what other evidence has not been included that would change the balance.

      • 2017-05-24 03:01:34 UTC - 03:01 | Permalink

        We are going in circles.

        How did you manage to estimate odds of about equipoise and about 2:1 for that same proposition? Well, that’s how one person might manage to estimate a bit more than equipoise for what both agree to be plus factors while the other person estimates about 2:1. The situation is symmetric for what both agree to be negative factors.

        Given that you and I are going in circles, and the point is uncontroversial and of no theoretical interest within the actual Bayesian community, why don’t we just agree to disagree? My burden for making the remark was to state my reasons for it. I did. I have no obligation to convince you. Your dissent has been recorded.

        Perhaps it is best that we leave it there. Unless you have something further to add about my communication skills.

        • Neil Godfrey
          2017-05-24 05:41:11 UTC - 05:41 | Permalink

          You certainly are going around in circles — dancing around my one consistent query in order to avoid a direct answer. But you seem to be having some other difficulties I am unaware of given your condescending tone so I think it best you sort those out and then return to see if you can answer my question.

          Or you can try this time: take one particular question addressed by either Carrier or myself and explain to us all just how it is possible for two people to come to such very different odds. Explain to us with a case study of a particular question with its background evidence how it is possible for two people to have such divergent odds.

          Or try this: two people see a crime scene — a body with a knife in its back, fingerprints on the knife, and a blood stained man they caught fleeing the scene, and whose fingerprints also match the knife.

          Now, I suppose two people can come to very different odds estimates on the question of whether the man they caught was the culprit. But if they do, I suggest it is because one person has additional information that the other lacks. So what does that person do? He introduces the other evidence that opens the possibility that their prisoner was framed.

          And so on… the new data is assessed and odds change accordingly.

          Now you try and prove with a similar concrete example how Bayesian reasoning is invalid in such historical inquiries.

          Otherwise you come across as enjoying your own arguments so much that you have smugly lost sight of the questions historians, archaeologists etc work through and their processes as a guild.

        • Neil Godfrey
          2017-05-24 06:03:53 UTC - 06:03 | Permalink

          Or —

          if one person says the odds of X are 50-50 and another says they are 2 to 1 for the same X situation, then that’s fine in a historical inquiry because each would then state their reasons and and a discussion would ensue and either person is likely then to move their position somewhat. Otherwise, the range would remain between the two odds. No problem.

          Carrier in fact discusses such ranges and as a rule errs on the side of those that favour historicity. Others are free to discuss and challenge his odds and give their reasons.

          That is how the process works among scholars, archaeologists, detectives…. you name it.

          You said I did not explain how I arrived at a figure of .95 in an earlier post — but I did explain. I don’t think it is necessary to explain that numbers are simply representations of how strong our confidence is: well above 50 represents strong confidence, well below, low confidence.

          You are obviously enjoying your arguments but I am relating Bayesian reasoning to how people use it when at their best as professionals whether or not they introduce numbers to indicate their various confidence levels.

        • 2017-05-24 09:17:53 UTC - 09:17 | Permalink

          > Now you try and prove with a similar concrete example how Bayesian reasoning is invalid in such historical inquiries.

          That’s not a position that I have advocated, Neil.

          Our disagreement, ironically enough, is about whether two people can substantially disagree when furnished with the same observed evidence and access to all of each other’s background information.

          That they can tells nothing about the validity of Bayesian methods in historical inquiries.

          > … No problem.

          Then why are you and I in disagreement? That’s all that happened in my analysis of your example. Obviously, discussion won’t always narrow differences, ours hasn’t, but 1:1 versus 2:1 isn’t all that much difference. You reported having experienced that much spread all by yourself.

          But 2:1 here and 2:1 there can “add up,” so to speak. That’s arithmetic, not something I need to “prove.” It is also a sufficient explanation, and a fully Bayesian explanation, of how two people with only moderate differences on each of several issues might disagree sharply about a proposition that depends on those individually slight-difference issues.

          That also tells nothing about the validity of Bayesian methods in historical inquiries.

      • Darth Ballz
        2017-05-24 15:39:32 UTC - 15:39 | Permalink

        @Paul the Uncertain

        Paul said “I have shown with middle school algebra that two Bayesians can markedly disagree.”

        Sure. It’s analogous to a school teacher marking a piece of narrative writing.

        When a teacher is making a judgement as to what grade a student gets on a narrative piece of writing that the student has submitted for a creative writing class, the teacher applies a rubric of assessment criteria judging such things as effective use by the student of:

        Ideas—the main message
        Organization—the internal structure of the piece
        Voice—the personal tone and flavor of the author’s message
        Word Choice—the vocabulary a writer chooses to convey meaning
        Sentence Fluency—the rhythm and flow of the language
        Conventions—the mechanical correctness

        So, for instance, if the student demonstrates creative and colourful use of sensory and emotive language appropriate to a student at that grade level, the student would probably receive a “B” for “Word Choice” from the teacher. The criteria are meant to standardize assessment so teachers try to avoid arbitrary subjective marking (e.g., that “looks like” a “B”).

        However, it is perfectly possible for two teachers applying the same assessment criteria to come up with two different grades for the same piece of student writing, especially if there is ambiguity in a particular criterion (like there is in the evidence for the historicity of Jesus). Hence, due to the ambiguity of the evidence for Jesus, we are left with an embarrassment of riches of Jesus portraits ranging from: Jesus as an apocalyptic prophet, charismatic healer, Cynic philosopher, Jewish Messiah, prophet of social change, or mythical celestial being.

      • 2017-05-24 17:53:16 UTC - 17:53 | Permalink

        Howdy, Darth

        Even the replicability of professional academic peer review judgments sometimes turns out to be limited.

        http://blog.mrtz.org/2014/12/15/the-nips-experiment.html

        NIPS stands for Neural Information Proessing Systems.

        Accept-reject judgments usually are performed with the aid of a structured form, often with overt prompts for specific dimensions of merit the reviewers are asked to evaluate. I don’t know whether NIPS held any discussions among reviewers to try to reconcile divergent assessments of the same paper (some conferences do, others don’t).

        In fairness to the home team, the basic historical Jesus question is better posed than quality assessment, since there is an ultimate fact of the matter (whose definition is itself subject to discussion, but roughly whether or not the “Christ Jesus” whom Paul is said to have written about was a real-life contemporary of his – yes or no). How much that helps when good quality evidence is in short supply is debatable.

        • Darth Ballz
          2017-05-25 17:50:11 UTC - 17:50 | Permalink

          @ Paul the Uncertaintist:

          Paul the Uncertaintist said: “How much that helps when good quality evidence is in short supply is debatable.”

          This reminds me of something Robert J. Miller said:

          “On specific issues in historical-Jesus studies, the evidence is often quite ambiguous and the use of methods and application of criteria are irreducibly subjective, so that, even within a group of fairly like-minded scholars, consensus is often elusive.” (Robert J. Miller, “When It’s Futile To Argue About The Historical Jesus: A Response To Bock, Keener, And Webb,”: Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus 9, no. 1 / 2011: 88.)

  • Neil Godfrey
    2017-05-24 00:11:27 UTC - 00:11 | Permalink

    @ Darth Balz

    In the cases of possible mimesis in the Gospels, there is no way to choose between the ideas that

    (1) The gospel writer started with the Hebrew Scriptures and invented the pericope about Jesus out of whole cloth. Or …
    (2) The gospel writer started with some facts about Jesus and shaped them to resemble some theme from the Hebrew Scriptures.

    My first question is: Why is there no way to choose between those two ideas? I think there is. We can easily identify cases where a historical person has had his life “overlaid” with mythical allusions. The historical elements stand distinct from the mythical additions. We see that all the time. Ancients recognized Alexander was not really Dionysus just because both supposedly conquered as far as India.

    We also see instances of figures having no identity apart from their mythical allusions. I don’t know of any such figure who is not considered mythical — Jesus as far as I know is the exception.

    My second question is re your point 2. Starting with “some facts” is how most authors start. Mark started with “the fact” that Jesus had a theological and spiritual role to play in the salvation of believers. Most writers start with some “facts” in their mind about a figure they plan to write about. Those facts may change as they write. There is no reason to assume any such facts in their mind are historical facts.

  • Neil Godfrey
    2017-05-24 00:27:42 UTC - 00:27 | Permalink

    @ Darth Balz — part 2

    In the cases of possible mimesis in the Gospels, there is no way to choose between the ideas that

    (1) The gospel writer started with the Hebrew Scriptures and invented the pericope about Jesus out of whole cloth. Or …
    (2) The gospel writer started with some facts about Jesus and shaped them to resemble some theme from the Hebrew Scriptures.

    If it is true that there is no way to choose between these two then we still arrive back where we began. Literary allusions and mythical/theological overlays do not disprove the possibility that there was a historical Jesus behind the narrative, but they do not give us any reason to assume that there was such a historical figure in the first place, either.

  • Neil Godfrey
    2017-05-24 01:24:26 UTC - 01:24 | Permalink

    @ Darth Balz — part 3

    And if we have no reason to assume either a historical person or no historical person as an initial inspiration for the Jesus figure in the gospel narratives, then the generally acceptable method to follow is Occam’s Razor and assume the conclusion that requires the least supporting entities. If we can explain the Jesus figure in terms of theological and literary sources then we have no need to assume a historical figure. Adding a historical figure to the equation would not add to our understanding of the evidence as we have it.

    This is not very different from what most critical biblical scholars do, actually. Most acknowledge the gospels do not portray a historical Jesus but a theological and literary one. What they do is try to look “beneath” the literature as we have it and postulate other texts in which we supposedly come “closer” to the historical Jesus. I don’t know of historians in other fields doing anything like this — that is, constructing hypothetical sources and traditions as the basis for their historical reconstructions.

    • Darth Ballz
      2017-05-24 15:11:58 UTC - 15:11 | Permalink

      @Neil:

      Neil said, “If we can explain the Jesus figure in terms of theological and literary sources then we have no need to assume a historical figure.”

      You could reverse the argument and say that since there is nothing in scripture about a messiah being baptized by a prophet or being crucified, there is no need to assume those pericopes were created out of whole cloth from scripture, but rather it seems that bits about Elijah/Elisha (in the case of Jesus and John the Baptist) and Psalm22/Isaiah 53 (in the case of the crucifixion) were simply added after the fact to embellish historical cores.

      • Darth Ballz
        2017-05-24 15:55:47 UTC - 15:55 | Permalink

        @Neil:

        Neil said, “If we can explain the Jesus figure in terms of theological and literary sources then we have no need to assume a historical figure.”

        Suppose an alternate reality where everyone always assumed Jesus was a mythical figure, and some scholar comes out and argues Jesus really did exist. Then, to use your language Neil, if we can explain the Jesus figure as a historical figure overlaid with legendary material, like Ἀπολλώνιος ὁ Τυανεύς, then we have no need to assume a mythical figure.

  • Justin Sanity
    2017-05-24 18:44:59 UTC - 18:44 | Permalink

    I’m just learning about the application of Bayesian analysis to problems in Mythicism. I’m far from genuinely “getting it” at this point, I think.

    In any case, I was skimming through “Jesus Resurrection and Apparitions: a Bayesian Analysis” by Jake O’Connell, and came upon this statement:
    “But if Jesus was raised bodily from the dead, that would be an impressive vindication, for no one had ever risen from the dead before”.
    He’s contrasting being literally, fully restored to life ‘in the flesh’ type of “raised from the dead”, versus merely brought back as an apparition of your former self type of “raised…”.

    And I was thinking about what you’d said here, that it didn’t make sense for Jews to be trying to kill Paul only because he’d said a messiah had been crucified – that there must be something more to it.
    Well, there must be more to fanatical adoption of, and adherence to, belief that Jesus is the Messiah, the son of God, ‘The King of The World’, the saviour of mankind, etc., than His being raised bodily from the dead. Because, for the Apostles, it’s not true that “no one had ever risen [bodily] from the dead before.
    I don’t understand this. Perhaps you can give some insight?

    The Apostles are alleged to have witnessed Jesus raising several persons, ‘bodily’ from the dead. They witnessed the same type of resurrection happen to other people, before concluding something similar happened to Jesus, so His resurrection wouldn’t be a “never before in human history” event for them. Even if Jesus performing resurrections was only an after-his-death Gospel fabrication, when they consulted Old Testament texts for an explanation of dead Jesus’ tomb being empty, and then Jesus seen again by them alive and whole, they would have realised that Elijah had resurrected a dead boy – restoring him fully to life in the flesh. So this had happened before…
    But in the past, no one had concluded there was anything extraordinary about the person who WAS resurrected – just whatever power had restored them. None of them concluded that Lazarus was the Messiah, the son of God, ‘The King of The World’, the saviour of mankind, etc.

  • Darth Ballz
    2017-06-12 01:38:11 UTC - 01:38 | Permalink

    I have finally finished reading “Jesus Did Not Exist: A Debate Among Atheists (Lataster/Carrier, 2015).  I enjoyed the book, although I have 2 quibbles:

    (1) Lataster writes “The evidence Carrier used in deriving the crucial prior probability was basically that the Gospels portray Jesus in a way that is typical of entirely fictional characters. That doesn’t mean that Jesus didn’t exist, but it does mean that a low prior is justified and we would thus require extra evidence (quantitatively or qualitatively) than normal to be convinced of his historical existence (pg. 388).”

    – This comment by Lataster is absurd. Even if the Gospel of Mark is a literary narrative that doesn’t reflect the events in the life of the historical Jesus, this still doesn’t make more probable the theory Jesus didn’t exist. Maybe Mark wanted to write a narrative piece of eschatological or apocalyptic writing depicting historical figures he knew like John The Baptist, Pilate, and Jesus caught up in events at the end of time. After all, Acts is also a piece of historical fiction that is largely fictional but still about people that existed.

    (2) The Rank Raglan mythic hero archetype has nothing to do with the mythicist/historicist debate, because all Jesus’ high score on the Rank Raglan criteria might mean is that Jesus had legendary material added to his biography to make him imitate someone like Oedipus who scores on virtually every category of the Rank Raglan scale (portraying Jesus as greater than Oedipus, like the way the Gospel of John portrays Jesus as greater than Dionysus cf. on Dionysus and Jesus see Dennis MacDonald’s new book).

    • Neil Godfrey
      2017-06-12 04:13:15 UTC - 04:13 | Permalink

      What you say here is correct …

      Even if the Gospel of Mark is a literary narrative that doesn’t reflect the events in the life of the historical Jesus, this still doesn’t make more probable the theory Jesus didn’t exist.

      …. but that is not Lataster’s argument. He does not say the Gospel of Mark’s mytho-literary narrative makes it “more probable” that Jesus didn’t exist.

      He says, as you correctly quote him earlier:

      The evidence Carrier used in deriving the crucial prior probability was basically that the Gospels portray Jesus in a way that is typical of entirely fictional characters. That doesn’t mean that Jesus didn’t exist, but it does mean that a low prior is justified and we would thus require extra evidence . . . etc

      Scientific method is not about marshalling evidence to prove a hypothesis. Anyone can do that for any conspiracy theory or flat earth argument. It’s called confirmation bias. It’s how people argue to “prove” astrology and homeopathy and creationism.

      If what Carrier and Lataster were doing was to find reasons to argue for the Jesus myth hypothesis and set them all in a row, with the mytho-literary portrayal as exhibit #1, then they would be charlatans, presenting pseudo-scholarship, like creationists and even some (sad to say) historical Jesus scholars.

      You then present an alternative possibilities as “maybe” scenario. But you have also said in another comment you have no idea how to test that maybe possibility. In other words, it is an entirely speculative scenario with no means, as far as you are aware, of being subject to scholarly analysis and testing.

      Here is what the Carrier/Lataster argument is in this particular case:

      If all we have at the beginning is a piece of patent fiction about the life career of a person then of course that does not prove Jesus did not exist — and C/L say so. But if that is all we have at the beginning, then of course it gives us an a priori reason to suspect — suspect — the person is indeed fictional. That’s what Lataster means by a “low prior” — that means nothing more than an initial suspicion before one begins to investigate whether or not the person was indeed fictional or historical. It is not the conclusion.

      If, on the other hand, what we had at the beginning was a biography by someone with a reputation for writing biographies about real people, and it read just like the biographies of other people we know to have been historical, then of course that would not “prove” that the person was historical — our biographer could after all have been trying to write an ideal biography about an imaginary person for some reason — but it would certainly give us a a priori reason to suspect – suspect – that the person is indeed historical. We would begin with a high prior for historicity in that case.

      In both cases we would have to then do extra work to see which way the evidence — not just the fictional or non-fictional style of the text we begin with, but all the evidence — and shift our suspicions up or down according with each new piece of evidence we find.

      I have addressed your second point a number of times now. Of course the archetypes don’t prove or disprove historicity.

      But if we have nothing but archetypes in the life of a person and nothing else that can be verified outside the mythical tale then we have no reason to believe the figure was historical. If, on the other hand, we have historical context and independent testimony and events alongside the archetypes, as additions, then we have very good reasons for believing the person was historical.

      Have you caught up on my other replies to your comments? We have many reasons for believing that Acts was a piece of historical fiction but those reasons are not found in the Gospel of Mark.

      Anything is possible, but unless we can test our theory it is worthless. And testing means trying to disprove it, not simply prove it (as is done by astrologers, creationists, some historical Jesus scholars, etc).

      A way to test theories is to ask what we (or our opponents!) would expect to find in the evidence if they were true. What would we expect to find in the Gospel of Mark if it were a “typical historical fiction like Acts”? Check out Pervo’s arguments for Acts being historical fiction for starters on that one.

      By the way, very many historical fictions include in them people who really existed, and sometimes those people are doing what they did in real history, but other times they are simply doing what the author imagines them to do.

  • Leave a Reply

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