Category Archives: Uncategorized


2016-04-05

Blinded by the Trivialities of the Mythicist-Creationist Comparisons

by Neil Godfrey

I believe Professor James McGrath is quite sincere in his inability to grasp why it is that Jerry Coyne (as one example of a mainstream public intellectual failing to be convinced by the claims of biblical scholars that Jesus existed) cannot see that mythicism is any different from creationism. McGrath has demonstrated repeatedly an apparent cognitive inability to actually comprehend and directly address mythicist arguments, invariably focusing instead on trivial objections, on red herrings, on straw men, on blatant misrepresentation. McGrath makes no secret of his visceral loathing of mythicism and of those who argue for it, and especially of those who attempt to hold him to account for his own arguments both against mythicism and for the historicity of Jesus. He is not alone. Colleagues of his have publicly appreciated his efforts to rid the world of a challenge to their fundamental assumptions about the evidence we have for Jesus.

So McGrath elects to write the following as a riposte to Jerry Coyne’s musings on the failure of biblical scholars to convince him that we have sound evidence for the existence of Jesus:

I’m always surprised at how much rancor is directed toward “creationists”—those who deny that evolution, whether on the macro or micro level, is the best explanation for the diversity of life on our planet. I’m also surprised at how certain many biologists are that evolution occurred (Jerry Coyne, to give a prominent example).

Yet although I am the first to admit that I have no formal training in science, I think I’ve read enough to know that there is no credible evidence for the reality of evolution, and that arguments can be made that evolution is a purely mythological notion, derived from earlier ideologies, which gradually attained “facthood.” As a historian, I’ll say that I don’t regard the evidence that evolution occurred as particularly strong—certainly not strong enough to draw nearly all scientists to that view. It’s almost as if rejecting evolution brands you as an overly strident religious person, one lacking “respect” for science. There’s an onus against creationism that can’t be explained by the strength of evidence against that view.

What McGrath demonstrates with these words is a failure of his to grasp the fundamental arguments of the mythicists. Unlike creationists, mythicists do not appeal to divine revelation or dogma to explain the evidence before them.

Creationists pose no threat to evolution; mythicism, on the other hand….  read more »


2016-04-04

Jerry Coyne Again Batting for Jesus Mythicism

by Neil Godfrey

From Jerry Coyne of Why Evolution Is True:

It’s time to ponder whether a Jesus really existed

I’m always surprised at how much rancor is directed toward “mythicists”—those who deny that there was a real Jesus who, whether or not he was divine, was the nucleus around which Christianity accreted. I’m also surprised at how certain many biblical scholars are that Jesus existed (Bart Ehrman, to give a prominent example).

Yet although I am the first to admit that I have no formal training in Jesusology, I think I’ve read enough to know that there is no credible extra-Biblical evidence for Jesus’s existence . . . . As a scientist, I’ll say that I don’t regard the evidence that Jesus was a real person as particularly strong—certainly not strong enough to draw nearly all biblical scholars to that view. It’s almost as if adopting mythicism brands you as an overly strident atheist, one lacking “respect” for religion. There’s an onus (animus?) against mythicism that can’t be explained by the strength of evidence against that view.

Coyne discusses the recent Brian Bethune’s Maclean review of Bart Ehrman’s and Richard Carrier’s new books:

[I] agree with Carrier that mythicism appears to be rejected by Biblical scholars for mere psychological reasons. . . . And I’m still puzzled why Bart Ehrman, who goes even farther in demolishing the mythology of Jesus in his new book, remains obdurate about the fact that such a man existed.

One can already hear the predictable responses from the anti-mythicist guild ….. area of expertise… not qualified… consensus…


2016-03-31

How Many Bible Verses Does It Take to Prove Jesus Existed?

by Neil Godfrey
The view from where I am writing this post.

A view from where I am writing this post.

There is no need for any argument to prove Jesus existed. In Galatians 1:19 Paul says he met Jesus’s brother so of course Jesus existed. What need is there for any further discussion?

That’s how the case for the historicity of Jesus goes. But some would say that I’m being unfair. Paul also says in Romans that Jesus was descended from David and again in Galatians that Jesus was born to a woman so of course Jesus was a real human being and mythicists who suggest Paul’s Jesus was an entirely celestial figure must be crazy. So some would say even though one verse is enough to prove Jesus existed they can nonetheless provide at least three — or more.

Hence some people (even scholars) can read Richard Carrier’s peer reviewed On the Historicity of Jesus and have nothing more to say of its 600 page argument than that it is wrong because Galatians 1:19 says Jesus had a brother.

I have said before that there is a chasmic disconnect between the way theologians or other biblical scholars “do the history” of Jesus or Christian origins and the way critical historical research is undertaken in history faculties. I don’t have ready access to some of the books I own explaining to doctoral students how to do historical research but I am sure my memory is not failing me when I say that one key step they all point out is that the historian must test his or her documentary sources before knowing what sort of information they might yield.

One form of test is to check to see if a document is genuine or a forgery. Another is to ascertain its provenance. That can have two meanings: one, to know where the manuscript was found, by whom, under what circumstances, etc; two, to know who authored it (not just the name, and not even necessarily the name, but the background and interests/motivations of the author) and when. It is also important to understand its genre in order to assess its probable function and/or purpose. The manuscript history is important. And also important is to learn of its context. It is one thing to make sense of the contents of a document but we fall into a circular trap if that’s all we have to go on. At some point we need to know where and how the document fits into its wider context. What other sources do we have that are related to it in some way? What was its status, or the status of its author, in relation to other sources? How does the content in the document cohere with that derived from other sources? read more »


2016-03-29

Blocked Again … oh dear….

by Neil Godfrey

Someone alerted me to James McGrath’s general amnesty for all commenters and since that time I have posted comments twice on his blog. The third time I attempted to do so was in response to http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2016/03/the-ethics-of-conspiracy-theories.html. My attempt to comment was met with the following message:

Screen Shot 2016-03-29 at 10.03.35 pm

Now why was that?

My first comment was in response to http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2016/03/the-fundamentalist-mind.html — The Fundamentalist Mind:

I wrote:

Samantha Field does not speak of a desire for “clarity” as an indicator of fundamentalism. That’s been added by James McG in his post. Whenever speaking about fundamentalism we need to keep in mind the double binds (very conflicting “clarities”) in the thinking of fundamentalists.

I find myself agreeing with Samantha’s post, by the way (that is, the explanation she herself offers and not their slightly tilted paraphrase here). Her views gell with my own experiences completely.

I don’t know of any atheists who argue for mythicism who came out of fundamentalism. The few who once were fundamentalists, to my knowledge, actually came to atheism via a detour in liberal or progressive Christianity — the very sorts of people Samantha acknowledges are among her friends and who are NOT the “fundamentalist atheists” being criticized. It’s a matter of record that most mythicists came from liberal Christian backgrounds — some are still Christians.

My second comment was to: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2016/03/without-using-the-bible.html#comments — which contained a fundamental factual/methodological error. I wrote:

Is this post a joke? Of course we have evidence attesting to Socrates from contemporaries and non-disciples. Everyone knows about Aristophanes for starters, surely.

Apparently that was enough to have McGrath ban all further comments from me on his blog. Some professors really do not like laypersons pointing out fundamental undergraduate errors in their posts, do they.


2016-03-26

Scholars Who Fear Sharing Knowledge Democratically

by Neil Godfrey

Anyone following biblical studies on the web soon learns that there are some scholars who fear the potential of the internet. Anyone following certain scientists with larger than average egos also soon learns that some of them, too, don’t like what damage the web can do to their influence. And anyone attempting to engage in a scholarly or professional manner with political and social viewpoints that are very controversial in some quarters soon learns that some people cannot handle a truly free exchange of ideas and information.

Everybody, but scholars especially, should welcome the full potential of knowledge sharing that the internet has made possible. The Open Access movement can be said to have begun with the Budapest declaration of 2002:

By “open access” to this literature, we mean its free availability on the public internet, permitting any users to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of these articles, crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software, or use them for any other lawful purpose, without financial, legal, or technical barriers other than those inseparable from gaining access to the internet itself. The only constraint on reproduction and distribution, and the only role for copyright in this domain, should be to give authors control over the integrity of their work and the right to be properly acknowledged and cited.

What is the point of OA?

An old tradition and a new technology have converged to make possible an unprecedented public good. The old tradition is the willingness of scientists and scholars to publish the fruits of their research in scholarly journals without payment, for the sake of inquiry and knowledge. The new technology is the internet. The public good they make possible is the world-wide electronic distribution of the peer-reviewed journal literature and completely free and unrestricted access to it by all scientists, scholars, teachers, students, and other curious minds.

One might also argue that those who have had the privilege of higher learning have a responsibility to others in society. How can anyone justify keeping knowledge that has a public benefit away from the public, or how can one justify setting up hurdles to leap in order to access it?

Another benefit of OA is that it has the potential to keep researchers and academics generally just a little more accountable and honest. Surely most academics would presume that anything that works at increasing the appearance of public accountability is a good thing. Why would any object?

This is where we also enter the realm of free discussion. It is clear that too many scholars are not at all comfortable with defending their views in a public arena unless it is filled with sympathetic supporters of their ideas. The excuse sometimes given is that there are “trolls” out there, and time-wasters, and all sorts of problem commenters. Yup, there are. But that’s the beauty of the web — each of us has the ability to ban/delete etc the undesirables. Unfortunately too many researchers define undesirables so broadly as to include serious critics. Biblical studies seems far more than some other disciplines to be populated with scholars who are more interested in a form of evangelizing their own biases than in engaging seriously with critical discussion.

Some scholars are very stuck in an elitist pre-web mentality. They scoff at Wikipedia as a source when they could quite easily make a correction to an article they find in error. Do they despise the idea of getting their fingers dirty by engaging in a democratic sharing of knowledge?

They scoff at the bizarre ideas found “out there” — forgetting, it seems, that what they read on the internet are the same sorts of “bizarre ideas” that have always been in the public domain. Some of them even viciously insult those who remain committed to ideas and beliefs that they themselves once held before they learned better. They seem to forget, some of them, how lucky they have been to have been in the circumstances that allowed them to know better, to acquire a superior education. Does not such luck and privilege bring a responsibility with it? Not all seem to think so, unfortunately. Perhaps they believe they have had no luck or privilege at all but have worked and sacrificed hard to achieve their good fortune. If so, they still have more to learn, like how lucky they have been to have had the genes, the make-up from birth or environment, the opportunities, to apply such effort so successfully.

Added later….

pay

(One prominent scholar has placed a different kind of hurdle to leap for anyone wanting to hear him air his views on his professionally developed blog. One is obliged to donate to a charity of his choosing. That, too, is another elitist technique that functions to filter out those less likely to disagree with his view or at least risk offending him; it is also a barrier to all but the more affluent who have the means to donate to charities above and beyond what they already do. (I say that on the basis of my past experience in collecting for charities: many of us who have done that sort of work door to door learn that it is often the poorest who are the biggest givers.) Perhaps Bart Ehrman thinks the minimal amounts he is asking are hardly onerous. I guess that’s true for many Americans.

Does Bart really think his own approach is one that others should follow — so that everyone would have to be paying every time they want to tap in to a more privileged person’s learning?

Sorry, but Bart Ehrman would do everyone a greater service if he joined up with the open access movement and accepted the public responsibility that comes with (educational) privilege.

 


2016-03-25

Carrier, Lataster and Another Small Stumbling Block

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.


2016-03-24

Acts is historically reliable because its anonymous author says it is

by Neil Godfrey

[T]he author of the book of Acts explicitly tells us that he was concerned and committed to present a historically accurate account of the history of the early church. The author of Acts, of course, was the author of the Gospel of Luke, and the preface to Luke served as the preface to the entire two-volume work.  In that preface (Luke 1:1-4) the author tells us that he had “followed all things closely” and that he based his account on reports from “eyewitnesses and ministers of the word” – that is from those who were personally involved in the events he narrates and those to whom they told their accounts.  Moreover, he stresses that his ultimate concern is to provide an “orderly account” of all the things that had happened.  And so it was clearly his intention to write a historically accurate account.  That in itself does not prove that he did so, but it does prove that this was his goal.  He was not writing fiction but what he understood to be historical fact.  — Bart Ehrman, Is Acts Historically Reliable? The Affirmative Argument.

Okay, that is the opening argument of an affirmative side of a debate. But it’s presented by “a critical scholar”. How can even a critical scholar come up with such a facile and naive argument for a work being written with the goal of genuine historical accuracy? Presumably Ehrman will in the reply of the Negative team respond with a bit more common sense, but how could a critical scholar even present something so naive as we read above in the first place? That is an argument of pure and simple apologetics. It has no place in a critical analysis of any literature.

A critical analysis obviously begins with the context and identity and motivation and audience and circumstances of the writing of the text. Only an anti-intellectual apologist would even suggest that we should apply a “hermeneutic of charity” and believe the unknown author’s words unless and until we are hit smack in the face with a reason not to. A critical scholar could argue an affirmative case without resorting to such puerile nonsense.

Next, Bart Ehrman like so many others in his academic guild is also closing his eyes to uncomfortable published scholarship that refutes his interpretation of the phrase “eyewitnesses and ministers of the word”. Does anyone know of a scholarly rebuttal anywhere to an article by John N. Collins published in 2010? For details see

Ehrman also just blithely claims as unquestionable fact that the same author wrote both Luke and Acts despite critical arguments to the contrary or at least offering more nuance. Again, this is not the way a critical scholar is (or should be) expected to conduct a serious debate.

I won’t pay to read the rest of Ehrman’s debate. He is putting out bait for readers to do so but he is clearly opposed to the very idea of open-access of public research or simply doesn’t understand it. I give to charities of my own choosing and find Ehrman’s attempt to be different and opposed to public access of his knowledge to be old fashioned at best, snobbish, elitist and deplorable at worst.


2016-03-23

What ISIS Plans for Europe (and Beyond)

by Neil Godfrey

Less than a week ago I ended a post with

One holds one’s breath to see which way ongoing losses of ISIS territory might play out in the U.K. and other Western countries.

Today Scot Atran with far more insight posted something more pessimistically specific:

I suspect that ISIS is planning a coordinated attack across multiple cities in Europe to ramp up the process of extinguishing the gray zone, and to also shift the focus of its possible adherents away form its increasingly noteworthy military containment in Syria and Iraq.

Atran describes the “apocalyptic mindset” of ISIS inspired and directed terrorists and what it is about contemporary Western culture that they loathe.

In After Brussels, ISIS Has Plans for Even Worse, Uglier Things Across Europe: ISIS has a plan for taking down Europe. Do Europeans have one to stop them? he explains:

Today’s Brussels attacks represented only the latest in an ever-more effective series of hits intended to foment chaos in Europe and thereby “Extinguish the Grey Zone,” in the words of a 12-page editorial in ISIS’s online magazine Dabiq in early 2015.

The Grey Zone here is the twilight area occupied by most Muslims between good and evil—in other words, between the Caliphate and the Infidel—which the “blessed operations of September 11” brought into relief. The editorial quotes Osama bin Laden, for whom ISIS is the true heir:

“The world today is divided. Bush spoke the truth when he said, ‘Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists,’ with the actual ‘terrorist’ being the Western Crusaders. Now, the time had come for another event to… bring division to the world and destroy the Grayzone everywhere.”

The idea is for ISIS to fill the void wherever chaos already exists, as in much of the Sahel and Sahara, and to create chaos that it can then fill—as its working to do in Europe.

I’ve posted on the Islamist plans for targeting the Grey Zone before and Scot Atran’s article further elaborates on the worst sorts of responses Westerners can have; the best responses to follow; and immediate (military) and long-term methods required to defeat ISIS. Meanwhile, he reminds readers of the key maxims found in the manuals followed by the terrorists (with my own bolded highlighting):

The following axioms are taken from “The Grey Zone”, and from The Management of Chaos-Savagery, published in 2004, that’s become required reading for every ISIS political, religious and military leader, or amir. The group’s actions have been, and likely will continue to be, consistent with these axioms:

Diversify the strikes and attack soft targets—tourist areas, eating places, places of entertainment, sports events, and so forth—that cannot possibly be defended everywhere. Disperse the infidels’ resources and drain them to the greatest extent possible, and so undermine people’s faith in the ability of their governments to provide security, most basic of all state functions.

Motivate the masses to fly to regions that we manage, by eliminating the “Gray Zone” between the true believer and the infidel, which most people, including most Muslims, currently inhabit. Use so-called “terror attacks” to help Muslims realize that non-Muslims hate Islam and want to harm all who practice it, to show that peacefulness gains Muslims nothing but pain.

Use social media to inspire sympathizers abroad to violence. Communicate the message: Do what you can, with whatever you have, wherever you are, whenever possible.


2016-03-21

It’s a living — being paid to pray

by Neil Godfrey

Today I returned to the Erawan shrine in Bangkok to see how it had fared since last year’s bomb attack (that the Thai government refuses to call an act of “terrorism”). There was very little to remind anyone of the carnage last August. It was very much business as usual. I do feel for the Thai dancers, though. They surely have one of the most gruelling jobs — hours every day sending up prayers to the god through their dance and chants.

Tourists (I’m sure they are mostly tourists, Chinese and Japanese mostly) and the occasional local drop by to pay for a blessing or prayer; the more they pay the longer of more effective the prayer, I think. Pay little and maybe only two dancers will do their act; pay lots and you’ll get the full house. The number of musicians remains constant.

It looks to me like the prayer or blessing one pays for is written on a piece of paper and handed to a lead dancer so she is sure to say the right things and decide how many should accompany her.

And whenever they get a chance for a break they get those crowns off their heads very fast and make the most of their short breaks — checking iphones, having a smoke. It was very hot work and they looked like they were fast wearing down in between dances.

I suppose you could call it a service industry. Those earning the money are giving hope and comfort, not unlike western psychiatrists, astrologers and priests, perhaps.

I try to imagine what Jesus would want to cast out here. Surely he’d have pity on the tedium and low pay that the dancers and musicians so stoically endure. Perhaps he’d be offended at the rip off prices charged for the holy trinkets, incense sticks, prayer scrolls — but he would want to be careful he did not leave the cleaners and maintenance staff without a job. But the prices don’t look all that “rip off” to an affluent Westerner like me. 25 baht is a little less than $1.

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Those dints in the plaque are probably a reminder of last August’s bomb blast. They weren’t there in June 2015 (the bombing was two months later) when I took the photo below:

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A $1 for a garland would be very expensive for the poorer Thais but hey, this is a Hindu shrine in “the land of the Buddha”. (Though Buddhists do seem to me to pray to anything that looks sacred.) Maybe Jesus would be angry that the prices prohibited the poorer Thais from participating. But on the other hand there don’t appear to be an over abundance of those poorest Thais in this central part of the big city dominated by multinational brand names no matter what direction one looks.

Maybe Jesus would just like to see the dancers, musicians and maintenance staff get a bigger slice of the day’s takings.

A few short clips:

Looks like two Chinese tourists planning where to place their garlands and incense sticks and one local (left) who has done it many times before. . .

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2016-03-19

Richard Carrier and Raphael Lataster on the Jesus Myth

by Neil Godfrey

The Jesus Myth Theory w/ Richard Carrier and Raphael Lataster

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My today began in Australia then spent most of its daylight hours in Singapore and is now in Thailand — and since it’s now over 26 hours since I’ve slept do kindly excuse the absence of comment. Just listen to a great discussion.


2016-03-18

Ethics of Conspiracy Theories

by Neil Godfrey

As a follow on from my recent posts on conspiracy theories here is a discussion from another slant:

The ethics of conspiracy theories

The page includes a link to the full audio interview with philosopher Patrick Stokes.

Previous posts:


2016-03-14

The Fundamentalist Mind of the Historicist Scholar

by Neil Godfrey

Continuing the pots and kettles theme . . .

The Clarence L. Goodwin Chair in New Testament Language and Literature at Butler University has posted the following under The Fundamentalist Mind:

Samantha Field has written an excellent post about the fundamentalist way of thinking. Far from being irrational, Field suggests, the fundamentalist might be called hyper-rational. There is a desire for absolute consistency and clarity, which is precisely why fundamentalist atheists who embrace mythicism, as well as fundamentalist Christians who embrace Biblical inerrancy, cannot tolerate the kind of uncertainty that historical inquiry, for instance, must treat as par for the course.

I think the Chair has missed some of the core points of Samantha Field’s article (an article that I largely agree with, by the way) and added some of his own elaboration (e.g. the reference to “clarity”) but it is interesting to compare his own dogmatic certainty about his opponents and his own absolute belief in the historicity of Jesus with the following passage from a mythicist who, I think, can be fairly considered to speak for Carrier, Doherty, Price and others:

All it [Bayesian reasoning in historical inquiry] does is indicate what theory is most rationally believed, at that time. Just like sound historical reasoning. There is a reason for that. Sound historical reasoning is Bayesian. Indeed, sound reasoning in general seems to be Bayesian. Bayesian reasoning simply symbolises and formalises what already takes place in the heads of logical people. In fact, we can take comfort by the fact that this probabilistic approach allows us to make judgements even when evidence is scarce, as it is with the issue of Jesus’ historicity. Bayesian reasoning informs us as to what is more reasonably believed, based on the currently available evidence. As we gather more evidence, our conclusions may change.

Even those that disagree with a scientific-mathematical representation of history can at least agree that history then becomes ambiguous and shall not give us certainty[ 545] – so that the inappropriateness of historicists claiming certainty is illuminated, and agnosticism over Jesus’ history is already justified. . . . 

While we may never know the truth with absolute certainty,[ 548] Bayes’ Theorem allows the scholar to objectively compare how revealed evidence and background knowledge fits various theories, and thus should prove to be very helpful in historical Jesus studies; more so than the popular Criteria.

Lataster, Raphael (2015-11-12). Jesus Did Not Exist: A Debate Among Atheists (Kindle Locations 3068-3086). . Kindle Edition.

Would that the Chair could demonstrate the same tolerance for ambiguity and uncertainty. . . . .

 


2016-03-12

The Ever Convenient Papias

by Neil Godfrey

I leave the following quotations from Bart Ehrman for readers to peruse and draw their own conclusions on what they indicate about pots, kettles and scholarly professionalism. My own bolded emphasis, I admit, is designed to lead you.

In Did Jesus Exist? (2013) Bart Ehrman on the reliability of the evidence of Papias . . . .

. . . The great church historian of the fourth century, Eusebius, dismissed Papias by saying that he was “a man of very small intelligence” (Church History 3.39).

Intelligent or not, Papias is an important source for establishing the historical existence of Jesus. He had read some Gospels although there is no reason to think that he knew the ones that made it into the New Testament, as I will show in a moment. But more important, he had other access to the sayings of Jesus. He was personally acquainted with people who had known either the apostles themselves or their companions. The following quotation of his work, from Eusebius, makes the point emphatically:

I also will not hesitate to draw up for you, along with these expositions, an orderly account of all the things I carefully learned and have carefully recalled from the elders; for I have certified their truth…. Whenever someone arrived who had been a companion of one of the elders, I would carefully inquire after their words, what Andrew or Peter had said, or what Philip or what Thomas had said, or James or John or Matthew or any of the other disciples of the Lord, and what things Aristion and the elder John, disciples of the Lord, were saying. For I did not suppose that what came out of books would benefit me as much as that which came from a living and abiding voice.2

Eusebius summarizes what Papias claimed about his sources of knowledge about Jesus, a passage worth citing at length:

This Papias, whom we have just been discussing, acknowledges that he received the words of the apostles from those who had been their followers, and he indicates that he himself had listened to Aristion and the elder John. And so he often recalls them by name, and in his books he sets forth the traditions that they passed along. These remarks should also be of some use to us….

And he sets forth other matters that came to him from the unwritten tradition, including some bizarre parables of the Savior, his teachings, and several other more legendary accounts….

And in his own book he passes along other accounts of the sayings of the Lord from Aristion, whom we have already mentioned, as well as traditions from the elder John. We have referred knowledgeable readers to these and now feel constrained to add to these reports already quoted from him a tradition that he gives about Mark, who wrote the Gospel. These are his words:

And this is what the elder used to say,

“When Mark was the interpreter [or translator] of Peter, he wrote down accurately everything that he recalled of the Lord’s words and deeds—but not in order. For he neither heard the Lord nor accompanied him; but later, as I indicated, he accompanied Peter, who used to adapt his teachings for the needs at hand, not arranging, as it were, an orderly composition of the Lord’s sayings. And so Mark did nothing wrong by writing some of the matters as he remembered them. For he was intent on just one purpose: to leave out nothing that he heard or to include any falsehood among them.”

So that is what Papias says about Mark. And this is what he says about Matthew:

“And so Matthew composed the sayings in the Hebrew tongue, and each one interpreted [or translated] them to the best of his ability.”

And he set forth another account about a woman who was falsely accused of many sins before the Lord,3 which is also found in the Gospel according to the Hebrews…. [Eusebius, Church History 3.39]

This is such a valuable report because Eusebius is quoting, and then commenting on, the actual words of Papias. Papias explicitly states that he had access to people who knew the apostles of Jesus or at least the companions of the apostles (the “elders”: it is hard to know from his statement if he is calling the companions of the apostles the elders or if the elders were those who knew the companions. Eusebius thinks it is the first option). When these people would come to his city of Hierapolis in Asia Minor, Papias, as leader of the church, would interview them about what they knew about Jesus and his apostles. Many conservative Christian scholars use this statement to prove that what Papias says is historically accurate (especially about Mark and Matthew), but that is going beyond what the evidence gives us.4 Still, on one point there can be no doubt. Papias may pass on some legendary traditions about Jesus, but he is quite specific—and there is no reason to think he is telling a bald-faced lie—that he knows people who knew the apostles (or the apostles’ companions). This is not eyewitness testimony to the life of Jesus, but it is getting very close to that.

Where conservative scholars go astray is in thinking that Papias gives us reliable information about the origins of our Gospels of Matthew and Mark. . . .

Bart D. Ehrman (2013-03-18 17:00:00-07:00). Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth (Kindle Locations 1510-1540). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

In Jesus, Interrupted (2009) Bart Ehrman on the unreliability of the evidence of Papias . . . .

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2016-03-08

For and Against the Anonymity of the Gospels — without table format

by Neil Godfrey

Here I have copied the previous post without the table format (which can only be fully seen on certain browser settings).

Ever since my earlier post Why the Anonymous Gospels? Failure of Scholarship in Pitre’s The Case for Jesus I have intended to address Brant Pitre’s grossly misleading suggestion that all our earliest canonical gospel manuscripts come with the titles we know them by today — Gospel According to Matthew or simply According to Matthew…. etc. and that the argument that the gospels were anonymous until the end of the second century is baseless. Time and other things got in the way but then I read Bart Ehrman presenting the argument for the gospels being anonymous until towards 200 CE and thought that should save me the trouble. So below I have posted side by side Pitre’s and Ehrman’s respective arguments. (In places Ehrman appears to claim the argument as his own but in fact one finds it in works of earlier scholars, too.) I have also included material that is from sources other than Ehrman. I don’t claim to have covered all possible responses to Pitre’s assertions and suggestions in this post, but hopefully there is enough to make a sound assessment of his claims. Feel free to add other points.

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The Case for Jesus: The Biblical and Historical Evidence for Christ / Brant Pitre

[I]n the last century or so, a new theory came onto the scene. According to this theory, the traditional Christian ideas about who wrote the Gospels are not in fact true. Instead, scholars began to propose that the four Gospels were originally anonymous.
Pitre, Brant (2016-02-02). The Case for Jesus: The Biblical and Historical Evidence for Christ (p. 13). The Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

It is especially emphasized by those who wish to cast doubts on the historical reliability of the portrait of Jesus in the four Gospels.  The only problem is that the theory is almost completely baseless.
Pitre, Brant (2016-02-02). The Case for Jesus: The Biblical and Historical Evidence for Christ (p. 16). The Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

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Jesus before the gospels / Bart Ehrman

In short, the Gospel writers are all anonymous. None of them gives us any concrete information about their identity. So when did they come to be known as Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John? I will argue they were not called by those names until near the end of the second Christian century, a hundred years or so after these books had been in circulation.
Ehrman, Bart D. (2016-03-01). Jesus Before the Gospels: How the Earliest Christians Remembered, Changed, and Invented Their Stories of the Savior (p. 93). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

The first thing to emphasize about Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John is that all four are completely anonymous. The authors never indicate who they are. They never name themselves. They never give any direct, personal identification of any kind whatsoever.
Ehrman, Bart D. (2016-03-01). Jesus Before the Gospels: How the Earliest Christians Remembered, Changed, and Invented Their Stories of the Savior (p. 90). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

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