Search Results for: myth


2014-09-09

Under the Grip of Christianity: New Testament Scholars and the Myth of Transparent Fiction

by Tim Widowfield
Engineer's Bench Vise

Engineer’s Bench Vise Source: Wikipedia

Under the Grip

I just noticed over on the Cakemix that Dr. McGrath is once again comparing Jesus mythicism to creationism. He writes:

Mythicism says: universities are so much under the grip of Christianity that mythicism cannot get a fair hearing.

As you know, the good doctor finds this idea laughable. Implicit in his short post is the notion that evolutionary biologists and biblical scholars are serious, trustworthy, trained professionals. Thus, to insist that NT scholars unfairly reject mythicism is to engage in conspiracy mongering. One of his fans (a guy named Jim) chimes in:

Yeah, great point. That’s why I disagree with the current value of the speed of light. It was arrived at by physicists, who are naturally biased because they had … well … advanced degrees in physics. The speed of light should have been determined by a group who is not biased towards physics, like say zoologists. :) Isn’t it weird how science departments are full of faculty that have science backgrounds, and departments focusing on Christian history attract an interest group like people with Christian backgrounds. … (just being a bit of a jerk here :) )

But Dr. Jimmy tells Mr. Jim:

I don’t think you’re being a jerk. I think such snarcasm is called for.

When considering NT scholars, McGrath, of course, isn’t talking about those teaching at universities with a confessional bias.

There certainly are scholars at religiously-affiliated institutions, and I could certainly understand atheists viewing such figures with suspicion and ignoring what they have to say. But people like Ehrman and myself who teach at secular universities do not need to be placed in the same category, do we? And as for having Christian backgrounds, how many professional scientists are from Christian backgrounds, and how many are at least nominally Christians? I am confident that, if such a background does not invalidate the conclusions of mainstream biology, neither does it invalidate the conclusions of mainstream history.

He’s got one thing right: I would never put Ehrman and McGrath in the same category.
read more »


2014-09-06

Why Historicist/Mythicist Arguments Often Fail — & a Test Case for a Better Way

by Neil Godfrey
Ananus [the high priest] . . . thought he had now a proper opportunity. Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned. (Antiquities, Book 20 [9,1])

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about a recent comment by a reader taking an opposing position to a statement of mine:

I don’t think Carrier is non-falsifiable (in the looser sense we have to consider non-falsifiability in the social sciences) — in fact, I happen to think it is pretty much falsified by the James passage in Josephus (not, of course, simply taking the passage’s authenticity for granted but considering all the evidence for and against it). I realize my viewing the James passage in Josephus as authentic is not a popular opinion around here, but it isn’t a stupid or ill-considered opinion; I’ve read Carrier and Doherty on the matter and don’t find them convincing at all. (my bolding)

I’ve addressed this sort of response before. One finds such grounds for rejecting opposing views all too frequently in the scholarly literature of biblical scholars. In response to a point made by Emeritus Professor Larry Hurtado I wrote

Of course we are all aware that the passages are found to be of interest in the pre-Christian Jewish tradition, but Hurtado dismisses those inconveniences on the grounds that they are “not necessarily persuasive” and amount to “only a couple” of instances. So we are allowed to dismiss evidence to the contrary of our theories if we only see it “a couple of times” and can dismiss it as “not necessarily persuasive”. True believers are apparently permitted to accord themselves little perks like this in debates.

Then when Professor Hoffmann offered a bizarre argument that Paul was fighting against a rumour that Jesus was the illegitimate son of Mary I refused to play the same game:

It is easy to dismiss his explanation as “not persuasive” or “speculative” but it is also important, I think, to be able to put one’s finger on precisely why a proposition is “not persuasive” or insubstantial. The effort of thinking it through may even lead one to appreciate that perhaps there is more to the argument than first appears on the surface. But even if one finds nothing of value in it, the exercise of examining it methodically can only be a good thing. Scoffing, saying something is bunk or absurd, relying on a vague feeling that something is “not persuasive”, are cheap substitutes for argument.

If a professor can’t explain to you how we know evolution is true or how we know ancient claims that Alexander the Great really conquered the Persian empire are true or the reasons we should be suspicious of paranormal claims you would be right to think there is a problem somewhere.

Another form of proof-texting

Back to the statement about “the brother of Jesus, called Christ, whose name was James” that is found in the writings of Josephus. So often we find defenders of the historicity of Jesus using these words in Josephus the same way different religious sects use proof texts to prove they are right and others are wrong. One professor frequently uses this approach in an attempt to refute young-earth creationists. The professor adheres to an old-earth form of creationism (via evolution — an oxymoron to anyone who correctly understands that the scientific theory of evolution has no room for a divinity at all) and posts regular “proof texts” from the Bible as an “argument” that “proves” his rival religionists are wrong. (The most recent instance of this: Psalm 148:4 Disproves Young-Earth Creationism. It does? Not to a young earth creationist.) He uses the same basic technique to argue against mythicists. Among other arguments he proof-texts from the Bible references such as Paul’s claim to have met the “brother of the Lord” or that we read somewhere else that Jesus was “born of a woman”.

Proof-texting doesn’t work because different people have different ways of interpreting such “proof-texts”. read more »


2014-08-30

The Challenge for Pliny the Elder Mythicists

by Neil Godfrey
Pliny the Elder: an imaginative 19th Century p...

Pliny the Elder: an imaginative 19th Century portrait. No contemporary depiction of Pliny has survived. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A Professor of Religion, the Clarence L. Goodwin Chair in New Testament Language and Literature at Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana, USA, has given his online students a hearty guffaw with the following:

It would be an interesting thought experiment to see whether there is any epistolary reference by Pliny the younger to his uncle that a determined “Pliny the elder mythicist” could not interpret as referring to events that transpired in the celestial rather than terrestrial realm. (August 29 2014)

Apparently to assist his online class with this exercise Professor McGrath linked to the following reference in Pliny’s letter collection:

5. VIII. — To Titinius Capito

Again, there is a precedent in my own family which impels me towards writing history. My uncle, who was also my father by adoption, was a historian  

I guess such a brief reference, and one that spoke of adoption rather than a “natural” paternity, might really be compared with some references by Paul to Jesus.

For the benefit of those who would like to undertake the same exercise at a more advanced level, however, here are the remaining references Pliny the Younger made to his uncle in his surviving letters.

(I’m sure the Professor was pedagogically sound in not complicating the exercise for his typical online audience with such mass of detail.) read more »


2014-06-08

“It is absurd to suggest. . . . ” (A rare bird among the anti-mythicists)

by Neil Godfrey

3D Book cover_aGood old reliable Professor James McGrath and a few of his peers*, blissfully unaware of some of the highly respected names both within and outside New Testament scholarship who have happened to be bold enough to declare their maverick suspicions that there was no historical Jesus, make it clear that if you come out as seriously pondering such a view in their presence they will shut you up immediately scornfully mocking and insulting you. If you dare to ask why they insist the view is such a stupid one they will often enough declare that the arguments have been dealt with and laid to rest long ago.

In our previous post we introduced another early author who tackled mythicism, A. D. Howell Smith. We covered his overview of the various mythicist authors and ideas extant, along with their contemporary critics, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

This post continues a little series responding to the assertion that the Christ myth notion has long ago been dealt with and demolished. Rather, we will conclude that it has been more generally ignored. The most recent attempts to have dealt with it (McGrath, Casey) are more about character-assassination of those who post anything sympathetic to the idea and about ridiculing caricatures of the arguments. (Ehrman, as has by now been well demonstrated, appears not to have even read, or at least read incredibly superficially, the arguments he set out to refute.) I myself have never posted an argument for the Christ myth theory, but along with a good many others I can see some gaping logical holes in the arguments used to defend the assumption that Jesus did exist. In addition to rationalisations of this assumption we often encounter even liberal scholars resorting to rhetorical questions that essentially appeal to the expected ignorance or lack of imagination of their lay audience.

Of the names carelessly assumed to have long ago accomplished the intellectual demolition of mythicism we have seen that our first two, Goguel and Wood, explicitly stated at the outset of their works that they were NOT going to seriously address the arguments of the mythicists.

In our previous post we introduced another early author who tackled mythicism, A. D. Howell Smith. We covered his overview of the various mythicist authors and ideas extant, along with their contemporary critics, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Howell Smith was not a professional scholar so perhaps that is why his book arguing against the mythicists of his day is not so well known. His book, Jesus Not a Myth, however, is well informed by the scholarship of his day. As we saw in the previous post Howell Smith in 1942 noted how very few scholars in the English speaking world had taken up the case against mythicism and those who had were flawed by their conservative religious bias. It was for that reason he wrote the book I am discussing in this post, Christ Not a Myth.

Howell Smith’s work stands out for its occasional acknowledgement of strengths in some of the mythicist argument. I am not sure I have encountered any contemporary scholar who is prepared to concede any ground whatever to mythicist arguments, a trait that smells like polemics born of insecurity and fear rather than genuine engagement with the arguments. Here are some of my earlier posts covering Howell Smith’s refreshingly honest arguments.

James the Brother of The Lord

Yes, it really is possible to question that famous passage in Galatians where Paul speaks of the “James, the brother of the Lord” — a phrase that is most commonly misquoted as “brother of Jesus” by those using it to rhetorically hammer mythicists. Howell Smith, however, is confident enough to openly concede that scholarly arguments are not uniformly and utterly watertight:

read more »


2014-05-20

“It is absurd to suggest. . . “: The Overlooked Critic of Mythicism (+ A Catalog of Early Mythicists and Their Critics)

by Neil Godfrey

3D Book cover_aThis continues the little “It’s absurd to suggest that most historians have not considered the strongest case for mythicism” series inspired by the unbearable lightness of the wisdom of Professor James McGrath. The previous post saw how Professor Larry Hurtado’s source for the comprehensive rebuttal to all arguments mythicist, H.G. Wood’s Did Christ Really Live?, in reality explicitly points out to the reader that it is not a comprehensive rebuttal to all arguments mythicist. The next candidate for a publication having considered “the strongest case for mythicism” that I consider is A. D. Howell Smith’s Jesus Not a Myth (1942).

Curiously I have not seen this book mentioned by any modern scholars who emphatically declare that mythicist arguments have long since been addressed and decisively demolished. This is curious because Howell Smith really does address the major mythicist arguments of his day. Similarly surprisingly few anti-mythicists today cite Schweitzer as having delivered the death-knell to mythicism. We will see an interesting similarity between ways S and H-S each argue their case for Jesus’s historicity.

I will save some of the details of Howell Smith’s arguments for my next post. Here I want only to introduce A. D. Howell Smith to those of us who only dimly recall my post on his Preface three years ago. I have reformatted it and added subheadings and bolding. Jesus Not a Myth was published in 1942, not long after the appearance of H. G. Wood’s title with the same purpose.

I conclude with a summary of the various Christ-myth views widely known at the time.

Something was sometimes different back then

Notice the way our author actually has some positive things to say about the mythicists he is about to debate. It sounds surreal to read such things given our familiarity with the demonization and gratuitous insults we routinely expect from the McGraths, the Hurtados, the Caseys, the Hoffmanns etc. McGrath, Hurtado and Casey would have readers think mythicism is no more rational or informed than are flat-earthers or moon-landing hoaxers. Seventy years ago Howell Smith (along with Goguel and Wood and Schweitzer and other critics) actually acknowledged the rational spirit infusing mythicism and the names of several prominent and esteemed scholars and others who at the very least toyed with the plausibility of the Christ myth idea. Today’s critics — are there any exceptions? — are far more universally savage in their personal attacks and far more dogged in their refusal to allow any mythicist proposition to be accorded the faintest touch of rationality. Is this a sign of some desperation that the idea just won’t ever seem to go away? Or is it a symptom of the crudeness of an American-Christian dominated scholarship by contrast with the kind of religious ambience of Europe in an earlier generation?

Within perhaps the last twenty years the denial that Jesus ever existed has been changed from a paradox to almost a platitude for an increasing number of Rationalists, and occasionally a Christian of strong modernist leanings shows himself more or less sympathetic to it.  read more »


2014-05-19

“It is absurd to suggest . . . . “: Professor Hurtado’s stock anti-mythicist

by Neil Godfrey

This post continues on from It is absurd to suggest. . . . It’s about a much lesser known anti-mythicist than Goguel but I will excuse myself for that anomaly on the grounds that Goguel’s book is freely available on the web and many would have read it already. Maurice Goguel is evidently R. Joseph Hoffmann’s favourite anti-mythicist; this time we look at the man in Larry Hurtado’s corner.

3D Book cover 2Larry Hurtado, Emeritus Professor of New Testament Language, Literature and Theology at the University of Edinburgh, turns to Herbert George Wood as the author of the once-and-for-all answer to mythicism.

But another reason for feeling it less than necessary to spend a lot of time on the matter is that all the skeptical arguments have been made and effectively engaged many decades ago. Before posting this, I spent a bit of time perusing my copy of H. G. Wood, Did Christ Really Live?, which was published in 1938. In it, Wood cites various figures of the early 20th century who had claimed that Jesus of Nazareth was a fiction, and patiently and cordially engages the specifics of evidence and argument, showing that the attacks fail.

So in one sense I think I’m not alone in feeling that to show the ill-informed and illogical nature of the current wave of “mythicist” proponents is a bit like having to demonstrate that the earth isn’t flat, or that the sun doesn’t revolve around the earth, or that the moon-landings weren’t done on a movie lot. It’s a bit wearying to contemplate! (My emphasis)

Hurtado can no more imagine Jesus being non-historical than he can imagine believing the earth is flat. He would even find the very prospect of trying to demonstrate “the obvious” “a bit wearying”. Once again we see a theologian equate his discipline with complexities and certainties found in the hard sciences like astronomy. Anyone who disputes the claims of either is a kook. (We addressed this fallacy in the first post of this series.)

Evidently Hurtado has never felt any need to update himself with mythicist arguments of today, nor even does it appear he has ever acquainted himself with any of them at any time. He read a book published in 1938 and that clearly put the whole question at rest as far as he is concerned. That book, he informs us, “engages the specifics of evidence and argument”, so what else can possibly be said?

Herbert George Wood, 1938

The dedication of Wood’s book reads:

To
BLIND LEADERS OF THE BLIND
in the hope that both
may open their eyes

In his Preface Wood worries about young people being led astray by the Christ Myth theory of his day:

More young people than we often realize are troubled or misled by the suggestion that Jesus never lived. We cannot rightly ignore the subject. And revivals of interest in the Christ-myth are not unlikely.

In Chicago Wood visited a Russian Workers’ Club and observed the equation of the Christ-Myth idea with “any Marxist anti-God campaign” . . . .

and this book may serve as a kind of spiritual air raid precaution — a preservative against poison gas.

I have thought it best not to traverse the stock arguments of Christ-myth theorists

Recall that Goguel made it clear in his preface that he had no intention of actually engaging with the Christ myth arguments themselves. Wood begins the same way: read more »


2014-05-18

“It is absurd to suggest that most historians have not considered the strongest case for mythicism”

by Neil Godfrey

This post continues from my previous one . . . .

GoguelMaurice Goguel, 1926

Maurice Goguel prefaced his book against mythicism, Jesus the Nazarene, Myth or History?,  with these opening words:

The question of the historical character of Jesus is one of present-day interest. It has once again been ably raised by Monsieur P. L. Couchoud in a small volume of considerable literary value and high spiritual inspiration. (Preface)

I have covered the contributions of Paul-Louis Couchoud to mythicist argument in a series of posts now archived at Couchoud: Creation of Christ. Of all mythicists prior to Earl Doherty Couchoud’s thesis comes very close to that of Doherty’s in many respects. Both argue for Christian origins with a Christ who was evidently a spiritual and heavenly figure at all times in the writings of Paul and the other pre-gospel writings. Doherty had come across Couchoud’s work in his own early explorations but the arguments in The Jesus Puzzle and Jesus: Neither God Nor Man nonetheless bear the marks of independently arriving at several of the same conclusions.

Of Couchoud himself Goguel wrote a few lines later:

The intellectual loyalty of M. Couchoud, the sincerity and vigour of his thought, the loyal effort which he has made to penetrate into the spirit of primitive Christianity, are worthy of full respect, but this homage which it is a pleasure to pay him does not prevent our seeing in his book the dream of a poet rather than the work of an historian. (Preface)

Some modern anti-mythicists could learn how to engage in debate with a little civility from Goguel.

So what is Goguel’s purpose in his book? Is it to engage and rebut the arguments of Couchoud and other mythicists? Or is he going to bypass mythicist arguments and argue separately why he believes Jesus was historical?

The problem of the historical character of Jesus is one of fact. It is entirely in the region of fact and by this historical method that we shall attempt its solution to decide whether modern criticism since the eighteenth century has entered a blind alley . . . . (Preface)

That sounds as though Goguel’s primary interest is to show what he believes are the facts supporting the historical existence of Jesus. He gives no hint that he is going to actually address Couchoud’s or others’ arguments.

He makes this intention clearer a little later in his opening chapter. read more »


2014-04-30

The Myth of Judean Exile 70 CE

by Neil Godfrey
English: Jews in Jerusalem

English: Jews in Jerusalem (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While we have “sacred space” and religious violence in our thoughts, it’s high time I posted one more detail I wish the scholars who know better would themselves make more widely known.

The population of Judea was not exiled at the conclusion of the war with Rome when the second temple was destroyed in 70 CE. Nor was it exiled after the second (Bar Kochba) revolt 132-135 CE. The generations following that revolt witnessed the “golden age” of Jewish culture in the Palestine (as it was then called) of Rabbi HaNasi, the legendary compiler of the Mishnah.

In the seventh century an estimated 46,000 Muslim warriors swept through Judea and established liberal policies towards all monotheists. Arabs did not move in from the desert to take over the farmlands and become landowners. The local Jewish population even assisted the Muslims against their hated Byzantine Christian rulers. While the Jews suffered under the Christian rulers, no doubt with some converting to Christianity for their own well-being, many resisted as is evident from the growth in synagogue construction at this time. Under Muslim rule, however, Jews were not harassed as they were under the Christians, yet there appears to have been a decline in Jewish religious presence.

How can we account for this paradox? Given that Muslims were not taxed, it is reasonable to assume that the decline in Jewish religious constructions can be explained by many Jews over time converting to Islam. Certainly David Ben-Gurion and Yitzhak Ben-Zvi in 1918 published their hopes that their Muslim Jewish counterparts in Palestine might be assimilated with their immigrant cousins.

There never was a mass exile of Jews from Judea/Palestine. At least there is no historical record of any such event. Believe me, for years I looked for it. In past years my religious teaching told me it had happened, but when I studied ancient history I had to admit I could not see it. Sometimes historian made vague generalized references to suggest something like it happened, but there was never any evidence cited and the evidence that was cited did not testify to wholesale exile.

Who started the myth?

It was anti-semitic Christian leaders who introduced the myth of exile: the “Wandering Jew” was being punished for his rejection of Christ. Justin Martyr in the mid second century is the first to express this myth.

So where did all the Jews that Justin knew of come from if they were, in his eyes, “a-wandering”?

read more »


2014-04-18

Maurice Casey’s Failure to Research Mythicists — More Evidence

by Neil Godfrey

We know Maurice Casey has claimed to have researched the backgrounds of mythicists and claimed that the evidence is clear that most of them are reacting against fundamentalist or similarly strict and closed-minded religious backgrounds. Other scholars such as James McGrath, Jim West and James Crossley have picked up Casey’s claims and repeated them in their online and print publications. They were only too keen to believe Casey’s declarations, of course, and did not even bother to check the evidence Casey presented in his own book, Jesus: Evidence and Argument Or Mythicist Myths?

So I took note of all the evidence Casey himself cited and drew it up in table format. Lo and behold, it turned out that contrary to Casey’s own claim the evidence he cited demonstrated that the least likely predictor of a person who has published a mythicist argument is a fundamentalist or strict/conservative religious background. Quite the opposite, in fact. The most likely predictor is one who has a liberal (including liberal Catholic) or no church background at all.

I have since been alerted to another published mythicist I overlooked in my earlier table and have now added Ken Humphreys to the list. Ken is neither an American (a species of human for whom Casey seems to have a special loathing — see my earlier posts, especially those dated 8th and 10th of March) and is reputed to have been an atheist all his life. So I guess that evangelical angry lying Jimmy West will have to start blaming the “angry atheists” for this mythicism business now.

Who’s Who Among Mythicists and Mythicist Sympathizers/Agnostics

(Heading above links to the original post)

Fundamentalist Background

Roman Catholic Background

(Note N. American/Australian Catholicism is a notoriously liberal form of Catholicism)

Liberal or No Church Background

Unknown

Tom Harpur (very positive towards Christianity) Earl Doherty Richard Carrier ["Freethinking Methodist"] “George Albert Wells” (? — see comments below)
Robert M. Price (very positive towards Christianity) Thomas Brodie (Irish Catholic. Very positive towards Christianity) Roger Viklund (Den Jesus som aldrig funnits = The Jesus Who Never Was) [Source: comment] Peter Gandy
Frank R. Zindler Roger Parvus (Paul) Derek Murphy (Jesus Potter Harry Christ) [Episcopalian]
Jay Raskin (The Evolution of Christs and Christianities)
David Fitzgerald (Nailed) Joe Atwill (Source: Caesar’s Messiah) Dorothy Murdock [liberal Congregationalist]
Stephan Huller
Raphael Lataster* René Salm (now Buddhist and atheist) Timothy Freke [Source: ch.3 Mystery Experience]  Charles O. Wilson
Francesco Carotta (very positive towards Christianity) Herman Detering (Paul — also denies HJ) (very positive towards Christianity)
Raphael Lataster* Sid Martin (Secret of the Savior: source online email)
Ken Humphreys (jesusneverexisted.com) [no church background]
Raphael Lataster*

2014-03-24

Maurice Casey’s Mind “Boggles” Reading Thomas L. Thompson’s Messiah Myth

by Neil Godfrey
Cover of "The Messiah Myth: The Near East...

Cover via Amazon

Maurice Casey (Jesus: Evidence and Argument Or Mythicist Myths?) critiques Thomas L. Thompson’s The Messiah Myth without giving his readers any idea of its stated purpose or overall argument. I suspect Casey himself did not know what it was about and could not explain its argument if he tried since he had made up his mind before reading it that it was an attempt to prove there was no historical Jesus.

Casey is already on record as being quite perplexed when he encounters new perspectives on old problems and he remains true to form when confronted with Thomas L. Thompson’s work.

I will explain what Thompson’s was attempting to achieve with the book in a moment but notice that Casey from the start faults it for not being about what he thought it should be about:

A supposedly scholarly attempt to cast doubt on the historicity of the teaching of Jesus is an extraordinary book by the Old Testament ‘scholar’ Thomas L. Thompson, The Messiah Myth, published in 2005. It demonstrates lack of knowledge of first-century Judaism and of New Testament scholarship, and has remarkably little to say about Jesus. (Jesus: Evidence and Argument, p. 221)

Casey cannot even bring himself to fully acknowledge Thompson’s credentials as an Old Testament scholar of high international standing. What Casey means by The Messiah Myth‘s “demonstration of lack of knowledge of first-century Judaism and NT scholarship” and its paucity of information about Jesus is that the book is not about Casey’s assumptions of what first-century Judaism looked like, nor is it about NT scholarship or Jesus as these are traditionally addressed in studies on the historical Jesus. Casey might as well have added that the work “demonstrates a lack of knowledge of” knitting and abseiling.

Thompson’s book is about the messiah myth as it is found throughout ancient Middle Eastern literature. It is an attempt to offer a new perspective for how scholars might approach the Bible as historians. Too rarely biblical scholars have stopped to ask if the authors of the historical books of the Bible had the same sense of past history as we do. The first task of historians should be to fully grasp the literary and theological nature of the works they are studying. Full justice to that enquiry can only be accomplished if the historian first and foremost has a thorough grasp of comparable literary and theological sources throughout that region’s cultural history. Before we assume that the narratives in the biblical works are windows to historical events it is better first to acquaint oneself with other literature of that cultural region and what it often meant to convey when speaking of the past.

The assumption that the narratives of the Bible are accounts of the past asserts a function for our texts that needs to be demonstrated as it competes with other more apparent functions.

. . . . Are archaeologists and historians dealing with the same kind of past as the Bible does? This, I think, is the central question of the current debate about history and the Bible, rather than the questions that have dominated. Can biblical stories be used to write a modern history of the ancient past — whether of the individuals or of the events in which they participate? . . . The Bible uses . . . historical information for other purposes, in the way that literature has always used what was known of the past. (The Messiah Myth, p. x)

At this point I think I can justly point to some recent posts I have written about the nature of ancient historiography. Ancient historians were quite capable of fabricating stories about the past when it suited their ideological or pedagogical purposes. Those fabrications could well be considered “true” if they were written “true to life”, that is, realistically. read more »


2014-03-09

Who’s Who Among Mythicists and Mythicist Sympathizers/Agnostics

by Neil Godfrey

This is a followup to my previous post, Casey’s Mythicist Myth Busted, where I set out Casey’s list of

the most influential mythicists who claim to be ‘scholars’ today (p. 10)

Casey’s list counted seventeen names. Of those seventeen we saw that six were not mythicists at all (e.g. Bart Ehrman) and one was deceased some years before Casey even began to write his draft for his book.

For easy reference I set out here in two tables the names of

  • genuine contemporary mythicists along with their religious backgrounds,
  • others who raise the question of mythicism or examine Christian origins without reference to assumptions of a historical Jesus.

Three possible conclusions to be drawn from these tables (updated 10th March):

  1. Liberal religious backgrounds are twice as likely as American Fundamentalism to breed future mythicist or mythicist sympathizers (15 to 7);
  2. Ex-fundamentalists who are mythicists are more as likely to be favourably disposed towards Christianity as disinterested in or opposed to it;
  3. Pending further investigation, it appears that American Fundamentalists are the least likely to gravitate towards mythicism or mythicist sympathies than those with liberal or no religious backgrounds.

I’m tongue-in-cheek, of course. But the tables do demonstrate that claims that mythicism is a symptom of psychological derangement among ex-fundamentalists is as ignorant and bigoted as stereotyping Jews with hook-noses and greedy.

Since Casey proposes what he calls the “striking fact” that . . .

the majority of people who write books claiming that Jesus did not exist, and who give their past history, are effectively former American fundamentalists, though not all are ethnically American (p. 2)

. . . I list the names according to their past religious affiliations using Casey’s own accounts as my primary source. (Casey’s point about “claiming to be ‘scholars’” is a bit of puerile churlishness that I ignore. Earl Doherty does not claim to be a professional scholar and other names are well known to have recognized academic credentials in related or other fields.)

I have added seven names to Casey’s list. Two of those have not published arguments that Jesus did not exist but they are of interest in this context because they have written (in print and/or online) radical hypotheses on the identity of Paul. The names of those whose methods of argument are controversial among mythicists and/or who appear to be promoting a belief system that approximates to a contemporary version of gnosticism (Freke and Gandy) or pantheism (Murdock) are in italics.

Let me know if I have overlooked any significant names. (HJ = Historical Jesus)

Mythicists

Fundamentalist Background

Roman Catholic Background

(Note N. American/Australian Catholicism is a notoriously liberal form of Catholicism)

Liberal or No Church Background

Unknown

Tom Harpur (very positive towards Christianity) Earl Doherty Richard Carrier ["Freethinking Methodist"] George Albert Wells
Robert M. Price (very positive towards Christianity) Thomas Brodie (Irish Catholic. Very positive towards Christianity) Roger Viklund (Den Jesus som aldrig funnits = The Jesus Who Never Was) [Source: comment] Peter Gandy
Frank R. Zindler Roger Parvus (Paul) Derek Murphy (Jesus Potter Harry Christ) [Episcopalian]
Jay Raskin (The Evolution of Christs and Christianities)
David Fitzgerald (Nailed) Joe Atwill (Source: Caesar’s Messiah) Dorothy Murdock [liberal Congregationalist]
Stephan Huller
Raphael Lataster* René Salm (now Buddhist and atheist) Timothy Freke [Source: ch.3 Mystery Experience]
Francesco Carotta (very positive towards Christianity) Herman Detering (Paul — also denies HJ) (very positive towards Christianity)
Raphael Lataster* Sid Martin (Secret of the Savior: source online email)
Ken Humphreys (jesusneverexisted.com) [no church background]
Raphael Lataster*
R. G. Price [See comment below]

* Raphael Lataster, author of There Was No Jesus, There Is No God, had has quite a spiritual journey. Unfortunately Casey does not have a category for  ambiguity. read more »


2014-03-08

Maurice Casey’s Mythicist Myth Busted

by Neil Godfrey

devil_450If Maurice Casey’s book Jesus: Evidence and Argument Or Mythicist Myths? were about Jews or Gays or Blacks or the Disabled he and his publisher may well be charged with inciting hatred against “the other”. Mythicists are portrayed as all alike, they are all psychologically twisted and motivated by evil intent, their faults are never innocent but always wilful, and they are a baleful influence on society generally. This book demonizes “mythicists”.

And like racist or homophobic literature it peddles its own myths and falsehoods.

There is never a lighter moment of human understanding and toleration or acceptance that the different views of “mythicists” might be honestly informed and sincere. Casey hammers into readers the message that mythicists are flat wrong about everything and that’s because they are incorrigibly unlearned and without exception despise genuine scholarship. If their evil motive is not the consequence of the way they have been psychologically and permanently ruined by their past association with a fundamentalist form of Christianity it is because they are, well, “bizarre”.

This book is the equivalent of a McCarthyist or anti-semitic tract. We need a new term to describe this demonization of mythicists. In the wider community now we even have the equivalent of racist and homophobic epithets that convey the contempt and loathing of “the other”. Myther and mythtic join the ranks of wog and fag.

A major theme of Maurice Casey (and one persistently expressed by his student and carer, Stephanie Fisher, in her almost 300 comments left on this blog two to four years ago) is that most mythicists are psychologically bent. The reason is simple. They (most of them) were once fundamentalists. Reading Casey’s book is a tiresome déjà vu experience: I find myself reading the same phrases, the same accusations, the same projections, the same misunderstandings as Stephanie continually unleashed between 2010 and 2012 on Vridar. At the time Stephanie petulantly repeated her threat to “go and tell” her “big brother surrogate”, Maurice Casey, all the complaints she had against me and to persuade him to write a book exposing me and all mythicists. So here it is. Steph’s revenge!

Sorry, Steph, but I cannot take it seriously. Anyone who does take it seriously despite the obvious vindictiveness that pervades it is not worth worrying about. It is a joke. My greatest amazement is that a publisher accepted it in the first place. Surely there’s a story to be told there one day.

Steph used to repeat the nonsense over and over that anyone who was a mythicist was motivated by a hatred of religion. And here we see the same old myth: when those who are now mythicists left their former religions they switched to being just as fundamentalist in their hatred of all forms of Christianity. They hate God and Jesus so much that they are determined to believe neither exists. The exceptions to the rule are, as we just noted, “bizarre”.

This crudely bigoted portrayal of mythicism was apparently picked up by Casey from Stephanie Fisher. In his Preface he writes:

Stephanie Fisher persuaded me to write this as she was concerned with a growing phenomenon, enhanced by amateur blogs on the internet and inspired partly by publications by Price and Doherty, that there was no historical Jesus. . . . She felt this mythicist element was fuelled by atheism and anti-religion which attacked scholarship as religiously motivated. . . . She therefore persuaded me to write this book.

Something “bizarre” often happens whenever Casey quotes words by those who have crossed him or his carer Stephanie. He quite often demonstrates a distinct inability to detect nuance and humour. Tim Widowfield and Richard Carrier in other posts have pointed out his failure to recognize humour in works he believes to be by mythicists; the same applies to nuance.

So, for example, when Casey finds an author whom he wishes to compare with mythicists he quotes him saying that a particular period of the Roman history is “one of the most historically documented times in history”, Casey immediately assesses the claim through either/or categories: “This is not the case”, he jumps in emphatically — look, “a normal province in the British Empire in the nineteenth or twentieth centuries” is far more “well documented” than “first-century rural Galilee”!

Or when another writer speaks of Joseph and Mary taking the baby Jesus down to Egypt and later “returning” to Nazareth, Casey cannot accept that the author might be using the term “return” in a general or short-hand sense and that he does not literally mean to imply that Jesus was born in Nazareth. Everyone knows the birth took place in Bethlehem, but it seems Casey is a product of a low-context culture and needs to have every nuance explicitly spelled out for him.

The pity of this is that Casey (and Stephanie) have embraced a black-and-white, one could even say Manichaean, two-dimensional view of those with whom they find themselves in disagreement when it comes to what they see as certain fundamentals.

And their inability to understand others in any normal rounded sense is not restricted to those they believe are mythicists. Casey uses this book to kick hard and personally at a number of scholars who have nothing to do with mythicism — apparently for no reason other than that they have criticized his work in the past. Americans particularly come in for a sound hiding. Casey stereotypes “the others” and their views.

So, with the occasional exceptions, for Casey

  • Americans are regrettably deficient in every way — in scholarship, in social decency, and so forth;
  • To move from fundamentalism to atheism is a mark of improper extremism: Casey even remarks (surely with a touch of ASD?) that such people could not have been aware that there are many “decent and reasonable Christians” who are not fundamentalist!
  • Any argument that concludes that Hellenism more than Judaism is to be found in the earliest evidence for Christianity must by definition be anti-Jewish.

My next point may not really be related, but it comes to mind so I’ll leave it here in passing. Casey’s style is marked by starkly uniform, dogmatic, simple sentence expressions. He varies his style very little. His tenses are often bluntly simple with fewer subtleties (past perfects, third conditionals) one normally associates with educated expression. Grammatically complex sentences that manage to carry multiple thoughts related to each other with any degree of complexity — the sorts of expressions one expects to find in scholarly literature especially — are noticeably absent from Casey’s writing. The overall effect is that one feels one is being bludgeoned page after page with dogmatisms. Casey lacks any ability to engage the reader in a vicarious dialogue.

Dominant message

It is very striking that the majority of people who write books claiming that Jesus did not exist, and who give their past history, are effectively former American fundamentalists, though not all are ethnically American. (p. 2)

This was a major theme introduced in the Preface and on page two it is launched. But an irony is soon to follow. read more »


2014-02-05

How History Was Done in Bible Times: Myths about Herodotus and Thucydides

by Neil Godfrey

Was it acceptable for Greek, Roman and Jewish historians to invent accounts of the past?

Did even historians imitate and creatively reproduce entire passages from the great epic poems and tragic plays of their day?

Can we trust ancient historians who declare they relied upon eyewitness reports?

How does our understanding of history differ from the ancient concept of “historia”?

What implications do the answers to these questions have for the way we interpret the historical books of the Bible?

Thucydides has long been reputed to have been the first “scientific historian”. In his introduction he clearly indicates that his account of the Peloponnesian War is to be based on eyewitness reports and his own personal observations. He will eschew all myth and fable. His prose is austere, complex and compressed. He is accordingly judged to be a sober, critical, authoritative historian.

woodman

A.J. Woodman

Classicist A. J. Woodman in a 1988 publication, Rhetoric in Classical Historiography: Four Studies, showed us that these views of Thucydides were in fact myths. Moderns have naively taken Thucydides’ words at face value or sometimes misinterpreted them in the light of modern ideals of how history should be written. We have also failed to recognize that even this “founder of scientific history” is in fact writing creative fiction that very often has more in common with Homeric epics and Greek tragedies than dry, scientific history.

So how is this possible? And if we can err in attributing our ideas of historical interests to Thucydides can we be sure we are not making the same mistakes with, say, Luke-Acts?

Before Thucydides we have Herodotus. Woodman begins by pointing out a few important details about this “father of history” that we will soon see carry over to Thucydides despite the many obvious differences between these two historians. read more »


2014-02-03

O’Neill-Fitzgerald “Christ Myth” Debate, #10: Josephus as Evidence & the Arabic Version of the Testimonium

by Neil Godfrey

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All posts in this series are archived in the O’Neill-Fitzgerald Debate

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Tim O’Neill (TO) rightly says of some of the evidence for the historical existence of Jesus:

quote_begin After all, no-one except a fundamentalist apologist would pretend that the evidence about Jesus is not ambiguous and often difficult to interpret with any certainty, and that includes the evidence for his existence. (O’Neill, 2011) quote_end

Yet curiously not a single aspect of evidence addressed by either David Fitzgerald (DF) or himself in his reviews of DF’s work has hit on anything that he finds ambiguous or difficult to interpret. In every point of disagreement TO suggests DF is nothing but a liar or a fool.

The first unambiguous retort TO makes to DF’s treatment of Josephus is the dogmatic assertion that Josephus mentions Jesus twice. No argument. No ambiguity. No uncertainty.

Josephus does mention Jesus – twice.  So any Myther book or article [arguing the Christ Myth thesis] has to spill a lot of ink trying to explain these highly inconvenient mentions away.

Then again,

[T]he passage has Josephus saying things about Jesus that no Jewish non-Christian would say, such as “He was the Messiah” and “he appeared to them alive on the third day”.  So, not surprisingly, Fitzgerald takes the usual Myther [Christ Myth] tack and rejects the whole passage as a later addition and rejects the idea that Josephus mentioned Jesus here at all.

Interpolation a “mythicist” argument?

This is most curious. The actual fact is that most mainstream scholars until after the Second World War generally agreed that the entire passage was an interpolation. Or if not entirely an interpolation, the fact that it had been tampered with at all rendered it useless as historical evidence. I have quoted the evidence for the prevalence of these views in my post, What they used to say about Josephus as evidence for Jesus.

Today, however, it seems that “the majority of scholars” accept the contrary view, that Josephus did indeed say something about Jesus beneath the obvious Christian overlay. Given that most New Testament scholars are ideologically predisposed to belief in Jesus, and that Josephus’s testimony is the only non-biblical evidence we have from the first century for Jesus, I would not be surprised if a majority did think this. But so what? If a significant minority still leans towards the view that the entire Josephan passages is a forgery or useless as evidence, then it hardly seems reasonable to dismiss this view as the preserve of Christ Myth supporters.

Sociological explanation for the revised view of Josephus as evidence

The evidence is essentially the same. (Although in 1971 Arabic and Syriac versions of the Testimonium were also brought to light.) What has changed are the trends in interpretation of the evidence.

One sees a possible explanation for this new trend in Alice Whealey’s 2003 book, Josephus on Jesus, and again in her article, “The Testimonium Flavianum in Syriac and Arabic” in New Testament Studies, Vol. 54, Issue 4, Oct 2008, pp. 573-590. In the latter she explains:

In fact, much of the past impetus for labeling the textus receptus Testimonium a forgery has been based on earlier scholars’ anachronistic assumptions that, as a Jew, Josephus could not have written anything favorable about Jesus. Contemporary scholars of primitive Christianity are less inclined than past scholars to assume that most first-century Jews necessarily held hostile opinions of Jesus, and they are more aware that the line between Christians and non-Christian Jews in Josephus’ day was not as firm as it would later become. (p. 575)

This says loads. It is a virtual confession that the shift in interpretation has been motivated to a significant extent as a reaction against both real and perceived strains of anti-semitism in earlier scholarship. The error here is that the personal bias and values of Josephus himself are trumped by an impulse to undo an earlier generation’s sins of negative stereotyping. The context in which the passage occurs is also bypassed. Josephus personally loathed any movement that stood in opposition to the political and religious status quo under Roman rule. Taking seriously both the personal bias of Josephus and the context in which the Testimonium Flavianum is found (it is in a list of calamities befalling the Jews in which the TF fits as comfortably as a pimple on one’s nose), even the so-called “neutral” core of that TF is problematic. read more »