Tag Archives: Christ Myth

O’Neill-Fitzgerald Debate the Christ Myth: #4, A False Dichotomy?

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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) excoriates Dave Fitzgerald (DF) for

consistently depict[ing] the topic as some kind of starkly Manichaean conflict between Christian apologists on one hand and “critics who have disputed Christian claims” on the other (O’Neill 2011)

What’s more, he produces the evidence. It’s found in the “first pages” of Nailed. By “first pages” he does not mean the first two pages — he skips those, and for good reason, as we will see — but the third and fourth pages where he complains that DF mentions

evangelicals, conservative Christians and populist apologists like F.F. Bruce, R. Douglas Geivett and Josh McDowell in rapid succession. . .

So from the start Fitzgerald sets up an artificial dichotomy, with conservative apologists defending a traditional orthodox Jesus on one hand and brave “critics who (dispute) Christian claims” who don’t believe in any Jesus at all on the other. And nothing in between.

This is nonsense, because it ignores a vast middle ground of scholars – liberal Christian, Jewish, atheist and agnostic – who definitely “dispute Christian claims” but who also conclude that there was a human, Jewish, historical First Century preacher as the point of origin for the later stories of “Jesus Christ”. . . .

Most critical scholars have no time for the McDowell-style Jesus either, so the Jewish preacher they present as the historical Jesus behind the later gospel figure is left totally unscathed by Fitzgerald’s naive arguments. (O’Neill 2011)

That sounds pretty damning.

To anyone who has read Nailed, however, it sounds pretty confusing.

Confusing because anyone who read the first page would wonder what TO is talking about. Anyone who went on to read the second page would wonder why TO has chosen to ignore DF’s clear statement of purpose for the book. TO claims to be “reviewing” the work so it is astonishing by any standard that he makes no reference anywhere to the author’s clearly stated intentions.

One would also wonder why the “reviewer” failed to notice how DF presented “scholars” and “historians” throughout Nailed, in particular the way they are so very often depicted as holding positions opposed to those of most apologists and conservatives!

Before continuing, I have an apology to make. I promised to keep posts in this series down to around 1000 words. In this instance, however, in order to do justice to the claims of both TO and DF that is impossible.

So let’s begin. How does DF explain what the book is about and what its purpose is? Let’s start with the first two pages — the two pages TO overlooked.

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O’Neill-Fitzgerald Debate #3, Are Most Biblical Historians Christian Preachers?

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

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In Nailed David Fitzgerald (DF) wrote:

It’s true enough that the majority of Biblical historians do not question the historicity of Jesus – but then again, the majority of Biblical historians have always been Christian preachers, so what else could we expect them to say? (p. 16)

Tim O’Neill (TO) responded:

This is glib, but it is also too simplistic. Many scholars working in relevant fields may well be Christians (and a tiny few may even be “preachers” as he claims, though not many), but a great many are definitely not.

Leading scholars like Bart Ehrman, Maurice Casey, Paula Fredriksen and Gerd Ludemann are all non-Christians. Then there are the Jewish scholars like Mark Nanos, Alan Segal, Jacob Neusner, Hyam Maccoby and Geza Vermes. Even those scholars who describe themselves as Christians often hold ideas about Jesus that few church-goers would recognise, let alone be comfortable with and which are nothing like the positions of people like Geivett and McDowell. Dale C. Allison, E P Sanders and John Dominic Crossan may all regard themselves as Christians, but I doubt Josh McDowell would agree, given their highly non-orthodox ideas about the historical Jesus. (O’Neill 2011)

DF answered:

read more »

O’Neill-Fitzgerald Christ-Myth Debate; #2, Point of Agreement

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

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The Ambiguity and Difficulty of the Evidence

Tim O’Neill in his initial review:

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. This, of course, merely means the idea he did not exist is simply valid, not that it’s true. (O’Neill 2011)

Dave Fitgerald’s response:

So much of what I argue should not sound controversial. O’Neill admits as much when he dismisses Myth No. 1 (“The idea that Jesus was a myth is ridiculous!”) as “not really controversial” and that: “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.” He and I are in almost in perfect agreement here. (Fitzgerald, 2012)

In the following series of posts it might be worth keeping this little exchange in view.

Which one of the debaters does in reality concede that any point relating to the historical existence of Jesus might indeed by “ambiguous” or “difficult to interpret with any certainty”.

In the following post we will see TO accuse DF of framing the debate in a black and white manner, but readers should note the ensuing exchange and decide which of the contestants is taking a dogmatic stance and denying any possibility of ambiguity or “uncertain interpretation” in the evidence under discussion.

 

 

The O’Neill–Fitzgerald Debate over the Christ Myth: Round 1, the Agenda

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

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I don’t imagine very many people interested in the debate over the historical existence of Jesus would have the time to read Tim O’Neill’s 12,000+ word response David Fitzgerald’s response (10,000 words) to Tim O’Neill’s review (7,500 words) of David Fitzgerald’s Nailed: Ten Christian Myths That Show Jesus Never Existed At All. Even fewer interested readers, I am sure, would have the time to stop and compare each of O’Neill’s points with its related Ftizgerald passage. However, it is only by comparing point by point claim and counter-claim that one can make a fair assessment of the validity of each of O’Neill’s responses.

Well, it has been a very quiet set of rainy days here so I have had time to set out the three articles side by side in columns and colour-code the matching sections of the discussion. So that makes it a little easier for me to follow and evaluate the arguments that have spanned tens of thousands of words and two full years.

But I promise I will not attempt to cover it all in a single post. I’ll do it in small chunks — I really will try to keep every post to around 1000 words — one point at a time.

I will attempt throughout these posts to censor O’Neill’s language to make it fit for readers who prefer exchanges to be civil and respectful in tone. And as usual all bolded font is my own emphasis. I’ll be adding my own perspective from time to time, too.

The Agenda!

One of the first points O’Neill made against Fitzgerald was that he represents a group of Christ Myth theorists who are driven by a desire to undermine Christianity. read more »

Comedian Tim Minchin Explains McGrath’s Problem with Mythicism

The honorable associate professor of Butler has once again posted mischievous assertions that I wrote things I did not at all write in my recent post, When “Trusting the Expert Consensus” is Wrong. It makes perfect sense that James McGrath would want to misrepresent this post of mine since in it I explain why the sorts of appeals to authority that the theologian himself is fond of making are fallacious. (This is a common tactic of McGrath, Larry Hurtado, Maurice Casey, Bart Ehrman, Rabbi Joseph Hoffmann, and a handful of others.)

So there is no rule against calling McGrath a mendacious idiot?

Professor Paul Krugman could almost have had James McGrath’s (and the other names above) track records of responding to mythicists in mind when he wrote in an article, Do You Know Who I Am?,

But academic credentials are neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for having your ideas taken seriously. If a famous professor repeatedly says stupid things, then tries to claim he never said them [see, for example, the “McGrath Wisely pretends he never said that” refrain in Carrier’s post], there’s no rule against calling him a mendacious idiot — and no special qualifications required to make that pronouncement other than doing your own homework.

Conversely, if someone without formal credentials consistently makes trenchant, insightful observations, he or she has earned the right to be taken seriously, regardless of background.

English: Tim Minchin at the Melbourne Comedy F...

Tim Minchin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If only the honorable theologian had taken time out from watching Dr Who to listen to the occasional address of Tim Minchin that he gave on the day he was awarded an honorary doctorate of letters [See the video clip at this post]. He would surely have come to his senses and grasped what I actually wrote and never have ventured to resort, yet once again, to blatant falsehoods.

Tim Minchin’s point number five:

5. Be Hard On Your Opinions

A famous bon mot asserts that opinions are like arse-holes, in that everyone has one. There is great wisdom in this… but I would add that opinions differ significantly from arse-holes, in that yours should be constantly and thoroughly examined.

We must think critically, and not just about the ideas of others. Be hard on your beliefs. Take them out onto the verandah and beat them with a cricket bat. Be intellectually rigorous. Identify your biases, your prejudices, your privilege.

Most of society’s arguments are kept alive by a failure to acknowledge nuance. We tend to generate false dichotomies, then try to argue one point using two entirely different sets of assumptions, like two tennis players trying to win a match by hitting beautifully executed shots from either end of separate tennis courts.

Note again that last paragraph about nuance. read more »

Mythicism and Arguments from Authority

History is not rocket science. It is easy to explain to the general audience the evidence for the existence and career-outline and various assessments of the significance of Julius Caesar. Historical argument is as “easy” as presenting

  • the “historical events/hypothesis”
  • the sources upon which the above scenario is based
  • the evidence for our understanding of the nature of those sources
  • the reasons we interpret those sources and their contents the way we do.

That sort of information can be explained in a good, educational TV documentary.

Take Socrates, for example.

  • Hypothesis/events: Socrates was executed for inspiring others to question the traditional views and values of society
  • Sources: Plato, Xenophon, Aristophanes, Thucydides . . . . some self-attested pupils of Socrates testifying to Socrates as a contrary figure and the general social situation
  • Nature: Genre and style compared with other texts established by primary (“in situ”) evidence . . . apparent independence of sources of a “truth-message/fact-narrative” style . . .
  • Reasons: Analogy of past configurations to their equivalents in today’s first-hand established understandings . . . .

Now that’s not as strong as the evidence for Augustus Caesar that could be linked (at point #2, Sources) to coins and first=person imperial monuments, but it does have a lot of “probabilities” built in there and that your average literate person could understand.

So I cannot help but be quite dismayed reading a post commended by Richard Carrier, an academically qualified ancient historian, that tells all readers to rely entirely upon the counsel of the intellectual elite, to trust the academics, when it comes to questions about the historicity of Jesus.

Carrier commends an article by Finke, saying Finke Is Right. . . . when Dan Finke writes (my bolding)

I [Dan Finke] personally want to take this chance to discourage my fellow atheists who are not historians from publicly making a big deal out of the historicity of Jesus, and especially when engaging with Christians. Why? Because the historical consensus is that there was a historical JesusResponsible, mainstream, qualified history scholars who judiciously disregard supernaturalistic claims about Jesus and have no agenda to promote Christianity nonetheless, as a matter of academic consensus, believe there was a historical Jesus. Could they be wrong? It’s possible. But if they are, that is for qualified historians to prove, not laypeople. And it is for the field of ancient history to be persuaded to change its consensus before laypeople go around making claims that Jesus did not exist.

I don’t recall ever having to assert that the historicity of any event is something that can only be established and preserved by an intellectual elite such that all others can do nothing more than defer to their asserted conclusions.

The first clause that needs to be stopped for questioning in the above quotation is this

the historical consensus is that there was a historical Jesus

Garbage. There has been no “historical consensus” on this. There have been theologians and biblical scholars writing from the assumption of an historical Jesus, but that is not the same as saying that “historians” themselves have established some sort of “consensus” on this question. For that to happen, “historians” (not “theologians”, most of whom, even the most liberal ones, have a personal interest in maintaining the belief in an “historical Jesus” of some kind) would need to come together in an effort to address that very question — “Was there an historical Jesus?” — as opposed to simply making passing references to him as a taken-for-granted figure of popular culture the same way they assume the earth orbits the sun. Have historians “come to a consensus” of astronomy through themselves addressing the physical arguments or simply deferred to popular understanding on this? read more »

The Propaganda War Against Mythicism

As their weapon of choice against the Christ Myth hypothesis (“mythicism”), theologians, religion and Biblical scholars appear from where I stand to regularly deploy the instruments of propaganda. The motivations appear to me to be to maintain

  • their status and reputation in a society infested with critical and anti-establishment influences, and
  • their control over the terms of religious debates, dictating what are legitimate topics for review and what are not.

I use the term “propaganda” because it’s yet another valid way of explaining what is happening. Simpler expressions are “labeling” and “framing the debate”. Adding the concept of “propaganda” to the list might help us understand more clearly what is actually happening in these “discussions”.

Lasswell

Harold Lasswell

To me the word “propaganda” stands for the opposite of true education, democratic or honest intellectual engagement and dialogue. Here’s a description of “what propaganda is” from some passages from the classic article “The Theory of Political Propaganda” by Harold Lasswell and first published (as far as I am aware in 1927) in the American Political Science Review:

Propaganda is the management of collective attitudes by the manipulation of significant symbols . . . Collective attitudes are amenable to many modes of alteration . . . But their arrangement and rearrangement occurs principally under the impetus of significant symbols; and the techniques of using significant symbols for this purpose is propaganda. . . . [As opposed to education] propaganda to the creation of valuational dispositions or attitudes. [What I would call honest dialogue] implies the search for the solution of a besetting problem with no desire to prejudice a particular solution in advance. The propagandist is very much concerned about how a specific solution is to be evoked and “put over.” And though the most subtle propaganda closely resembles disinterested deliberation, there is no difficulty in distinguishing the extremes. (my bolding)

Propaganda, I suggest, is the primary weapon used by the academy of biblical scholars and theologians against the Christ Myth theory. I have encountered very few genuine efforts of academics to “educate” the public (that is, “educate” as opposed to sway them by “propaganda”, given that “propaganda” is a process akin to “indoctrination”) or even to “educate” their peers of the deficiencies in any one of the “mythicist” cases.

One of the key characteristics of propaganda is that it manipulates symbols with the intent of bringing about social control. The symbols must have major significance for the audience, significant enough for them to hold real power over tan audience’s emotional reactions — “ideally, symbols of the Sacred and the Satanic.” (Alex Carey, Taking the Risk Out of Democracy, p. 12)

Understand the power of symbols.

Symbols are related to the psychological phenomenon of the stereotype. A stereotype is a seeming value judgment, acquired by belonging to a group, without any intellectual labor. . . The stereotype arises from the feelings one has for one’s group, or against the “out-group.” . . .  In propaganda, existing stereotypes are awakened by symbols. (Jacques Ellul, Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes, p. 163)

Probably the most used symbol in the propaganda war against mythicism is “The Scholar”. This symbol has siblings: “peer review”, “published in a reputable/academic journal”, “PhD”, “scholarly training”, “skilled in relevant languages”, to identify some.

Now I know some people will jump on that above sentence and accuse me of suggesting that “scholarly training” and being “skilled in biblical languages” are nothing more than worthless empty symbols. And such an effort will itself be demonstrating how propaganda works. By ignoring nuance they will be reinforcing the power of the symbol itself and the mechanics of propaganda. They will be reaffirming that “The Scholar” is sensible, wise, naturally right, while the critic who is associated with the enemy, “mythicism”, is vacuous, unavoidably silly, dumb and risible.

Recall the Sacred and the Satanic. read more »

Amanda Witmer on “Jesus, the Gospels and Historicity”

It seems the topic of the day is Amanda Witmer’s article in The Bible and Interpretation, Jesus, the Gospels and History. It covers many points I have addressed often enough here, and that others have addressed at length, so I will refer only in brief to some of these arguments in my little contribution to the discussion below.

Amanda begins her argument by erroneously framing the Christ Myth position as an extreme form of dogma that insists on absolutes. The same paragraph ironically calls for the necessity for “an open and enquiring mind”

In some quarters it is now fashionable to argue that Jesus did not exist! At the opposite end of the spectrum we find the position that every word of the Bible is literally true and that the gospels provide us with an unfiltered historical account of Jesus’ life. This is a false dichotomy rooted in our human tendency to insist on absolutes and true or false claims. Neither position takes the evidence seriously. As it turns out, historical information about Jesus can be found, but sifting through the data requires some work. An open and enquiring mind is also a necessary requisite.

Facts:

The Christ Myth idea is hardly a current “fashion”. It has been with us since the eighteenth century, and in some variant of its modern form since Bruno Bauer.

Advocates of the Christ Myth view, and others who are in some way neutral on the position, are no more “absolutist” in their claims than are most who argue for the historicity of Jesus. Given that a number of Christ Myth advocates do think that the Christ idea began with a belief in the appearance at some time of a human entity or a figure appearing as a human on earth, we have to acknowledge that there is as wide a range of discussion about the nature of the origins of the Jesus myth among “mythicists” as there is among “historicists” debating the nature of the historical Jesus and how much, if anything, can be known about him.

Witmer’s introduction unfortunately appears to be ignorant of the simple fact that the Christ Myth arguments are indeed arguments that address the scholarly literature and methodologies and are very conscious of the degrees of uncertainty that must necessarily exist on both sides of the debate.

Witmer is right to call for an open and enquiring mind, but if one wants to address an opposing argument one does need first to be open to enquiring what the opposing argument does argue. Witmer does not appear to have done that in the case of the Christ Myth theories; but the serious “mythicists” who appear to be concerning theologians today do know and understand and address the arguments of the historicists. Had she done so, she could not have written that the Christ Myth exponents are unaware of, or do not take seriously, the evidence that has been advanced in support of the historicity of Jesus.

As time passed and memories were formed, faith began to shape the way in which the early Christian community viewed and wrote about Jesus. As a result, the portrait of Jesus we find in the gospels is nuanced, containing a mixture of biography, historical information, memory, faith and myth. . . . It is now generally accepted that the gospels can be fitted broadly into the genre of ancient Greco-Roman biography.

Facts: read more »

Joel Watts Responds to Being Caught Out Liking a Mythicist’s Work

Updated about 90 minutes after original posting. 

Joel Watts, I am very happy to say, has for the first time ever addressed me in a civil tone. His first words to me were two years ago and are on record for posterity here. It was downhill from that point on. Until today when he left a comment (no, two comments) on my blog. (Gee, I wonder why he didn’t leave a comment on my blog as DMCA required him to do when he believed I was “stealing” his mental property.)

Of course, unless Joel Watts issues a sworn statement to the contrary (and we all know since his DMCA foray to shut down one of my posts that embarrassed his knickers down to his socks that he is fond of establishing his credibility through sworn statements) we all know that Joel Watts would never have come within two flicks of a coin toss to reading anything by Thomas L. Brodie had he ever known in advance that Brodie was “a mythicist”.

But in sweet ignorance he fell for his arguments hook, line and sinker. Brodie was “a giant”, his work “a masterpiece”. Delicious irony, in the same book Joel Watts says the work of “mythicists” is only “pseudo-scholarship”! (p. 3). So Joel Watts is caught out reading “pseudo-scholarship” and discovering (in blissful ignorance of its provenance) that it is really “a masterpiece”!!!

So what must Joel do now to save any face? Why, he must declare ME the in the realm of “fandom” (inference of mindlessness, of course) of Brodie. That’s the implication of his new post, How do you solve a problem like… Brodie fandom…

Never let anyone fault Joel Watts with reading and learning the facts before he writes what he wills. As anyone who has read my posts on Brodie should know, I do have some reservations about some of Brodie’s “parallels”. I do believe there are stronger cases to be made for alternative explanations in some instances. Frankly, I am surprised any mainstream scholar would have embraced Brodie’s The Birthing of the New Testament as wholeheartedly as Joel has done. (I recently posted some reviews of Brodie’s work here to give readers a taste of how Brodie’s work has been received by the establishment: reviews in post 1; reviews in post 2).

Moreover, I was writing about Brodie’s work long before, like Joel, I ever knew he was “a mythicist”.

But if a “historicist” (e.g. Watts) likes Brodie, he does so presumably because of superior cranial and synapse functionings. If anyone Watts chooses to label “a mythicist” likes Brodie, he’s a mindless fan. Whatever does he think of the frail Thomas L. Brodie himself whose shoulders are still bearing up the weight of one who has all this time thought him to be a “giant”?

So it’s a bit late for Joel to learn that, like Richard Carrier, I do not believe Brodie’s arguments are necessarily the strongest case for a Christ Myth hypothesis, though his arguments definitely do lead to that inevitable conclusion. Or is Joel smarting because he can see now that I was right to have recognized from the outset the mythicist implications of Brodie’s arguments?

But I do believe in getting the facts out. And that’s why I am doing a series now on one of Brodie’s books, just as I have done many other series on other works of mythicists and “historicists” alike. Perhaps the Master of _arts should read those posts and learn something.

So what must Joel Watts now do to save face over being caught out praising a mythicist argument to the high heavens?

Why, he must needs find a way to yap and nip at any apparent “mythicist” who ever saw merit in Brodie’s arguments.

But I especially love this concluding paragraph from Time Lord Dr What:

read more »

How Did McGrath Get Himself Inside Thomas Brodie?

psychological-projection-liberal-hatemongers-politics-1344032910James McGrath has posted a revealing reply to my critique of a single point in his review of Thomas Brodie’s Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus: Memoir of a Discovery. Ironically he appears to be unaware that his every point is illustrating the very problem I was trying to address and that is close to the core of the historical Jesus vs Christ myth controversy. (One can hardly call it a two-sided intellectual debate or exchange at this stage.)

I concluded with the message that McGrath “brings a hostile intent to every page” he reads by a mythicist.

In my critique of a single point in McGrath’s review of Brodie’s memoir I pointed out that McGrath unfortunately failed to establish his claim with any factual reference to what Brodie had written. Indeed, when one reads the pages that McGrath cited as support for his view, one finds that Brodie’s words belie McGrath’s claims. How is this possible?

McGrath explains

McGrath explains. He draws on his own personal experience and personal weaknesses and reasons that these should guide his and our reading of Brodie’s book. It’s called projection.

McGrath’s explicit reliance upon his own experience while at the same time dismissing and/or ignoring anything Brodie says to the contrary is a classic case of this all too common bit of the human condition. McGrath fails to see that his own experience is irrelevant unless he can directly relate it to the evidence Brodie states — not to “impressions” McGrath gets from putting unspecified inferences he brings together from various pages.

The point I was making in that section of my review was about the fact that Brodie drew a conclusion about whether Jesus was a historical figure even before learning how to do scholarship in the appropriate manner. I can tell you that I myself had all sorts of ideas that I thought were brilliant, publication-worthy insights as an undergraduate. Few withstood the testing to which I subjected them in my ongoing studies.

No, Brodie did not come to the conclusion that Jesus was not historical before “learning how to do scholarship”. McGrath originally said that that was his impression and now he is saying that this was “a fact” he was trying to point out. I have been discussing Brodie’s book in detail and it is clear that McGrath has nothing but his own “impression” — no data — to support what he now says is a “fact” about Brodie.

But it does not stop there. In his original review McGrath invites his readers to share in this projection. He does this by pointing to general motherhood statements that most others can relate to from their student days and invites readers to think of Brodie’s argument through this perspective. read more »

The Historical Jesus and the Demise of History, 3a: How One Popular Historian Follows Jesus to Scholarly Perdition (Part 1)

Michael Grant

Michael Grant

Sometimes when attempting to demolish the arguments of the Christ myth theory historical Jesus scholars point to a popular biography of Jesus, Jesus: An Historian’s Review of the Gospels, by a scholar situated well outside the faculties of theology or biblical studies, the classicist Michael Grant. The reason they point to Michael Grant’s book is to be able to say, “See, even a non-theologian, a secular historian, knows Jesus really existed.” The implication is that the normal methods of everyday historical inquiry (quite apart from anything theologians might bring to bear on the topic) are sufficient to “prove” that the person Jesus is a fact of history.

So this post looks at what Michael Grant himself said about the evidence, his methods and why he believed Jesus to be an historical person.

I wonder how many of these Jesus scholars have taken the time to read Grant’s book since none, as far as I am aware, has ever pointed to Grant’s own argument in that book against the Christ Myth view and his own justification for believing Jesus to have been historical. Or maybe it is because they have read it that they choose to remain quiet about Grant’s arguments.

Who was Michael Grant?

Michael Grant was a classicist specializing in the study of Roman coins who was responsible for over 70 books on historical topics.

Immensely prolific, he wrote and edited more than 70 books of nonfiction and translation, covering topics from Roman coinage and the eruption of Mount Vesuvius to the Gospels. He produced general surveys of ancient Greek, Roman and Israelite history as well as biographies of giants such as Julius Caesar, Herod the Great, Cleopatra, Nero, Jesus, St. Peter and St. Paul. (Wikipedia, accessed 2nd Feb 2013)

His reputation as an historian of ancient history was mixed:

As early as the 1950s, Grant’s publishing success was somewhat controversial within the classicist community. According to The Times:

Grant’s approach to classical history was beginning to divide critics. Numismatists felt that his academic work was beyond reproach, but some academics balked at his attempt to condense a survey of Roman literature into 300 pages, and felt (in the words of one reviewer) that “even the most learned and gifted of historians should observe a speed-limit”. The academics would keep cavilling, but the public kept buying.

(Wikipedia, accessed 2nd Feb 2013)

The work of his that I remember most clearly as an undergraduate was a collection of translated readings of Roman literature. This was supplemented by many other more comprehensive readings.

The “notoriously hard and challenging task”

At the end of Grant’s book on the life of Jesus he asks how we know if anything he has written is truly historical. read more »

A mythicist publishing in a peer-reviewed journal?

According to most scholars with anti-mythicist viscera I have come across, the very idea of a mythicist publishing in a scholarly peer-reviewed journal is not supposed to be possible. So it is heartening to see a mythicist’s publication in a pay-wall journal (you can’t read it unless you pay the publisher — and it doesn’t matter if you were one of those who contributed financially to Richard Carrier’s research grant) and not only that, but one that is noticed and publicized by a much wider constituency — Jerry Coyne’s Why Evolution Is True blog.

At least evolutionist Jerry Coyne himself is able to outline some of the pertinent points related to this argument. Richard Carrier himself blogs to point to evidence he did not cite in his article.

I’d be even more gobsmacked if I ever learn that Carrier at any point acknowledges any debt whatsoever to Earl Doherty for any point at all in his case about supposed Christian references in Josephus. read more »

Goodacre-Carrier Debate: What if . . . . ?

I have finally caught up with the comments by Dr Mark Goodacre [MG] and Dr Richard Carrier [RC] since their radio discussion on the view that Jesus did not exist.

While RC, without the burden of having to mark student papers, is able to add around 7,000 words of recap and elaboration to the case he made on his blog, MG is confined to making only a few brief comments, at least one of which is no better than the disappointment we found in Bart Ehrman’s Did Jesus Exist?

A horrible thought occurs to me. What if it’s never going to get any better? Is this the best we will ever hear from the historicists?

No-one is faulting MG for doing his job. What is disappointing for many, I think, is that it is just at the point where his input is most urgently needed that he is too busy to respond. Will there ever come a time when he (or anyone) will engage with the questions his claims have left hanging?

He himself has rightly said:

– Sorry to those who were disappointed with the show, or my part in it. Please bear in mind that this is just a show, a conversation, a chat, a debate even; it’s not a “case”. I must admit that I enjoyed the opportunity to engage with Richard, who is clever and lively and whose discussion of method repays reflection. However, any such conversation is only going to be partial, frustrating, incomplete.

I am sure most of us enjoyed also listening to MG’s calm and pleasant manner in the way he engaged with RC. I am sure we all appreciated MG taking the time to be a part of this program. But unless there is some follow up from the historicist side even slightly comparable to the extent of RC’s followup, I think most of us will remain frustrated that one side of the debate is going to be forever partial, incomplete.

Maybe we have to face up to the reality that the historicist case is always going to be like that — that it will always lack the ability (including ability to find time) to advance a complete response to mythicism.

Interpolation: the same old . . .

Take this point for starters. MG in his latest response wrote:

– I think it’s worth underlining that the idea that 1 Thess. 2.14-17 [in which Paul appears to be saying that the Jews in Judea crucified Jesus] is an interpolation is made without any manuscript / textual evidence. Conjectural emendations are always possible, especially in weakly attested works, but should be avoided in cases like this where the impetus appears to be to eliminate a key piece of evidence, the apparent location of Jesus’ death in Judea.

Such a statement

(1) sidesteps the point I made about this passage and which (presumably) was partly the prompt for MG’s response here,

and it

(2) misrepresents the actual argument for interpolation. read more »

The Carrier-Goodacre Exchange (part 1) on the Historicity of Jesus

I have taken down the gist of the arguments for and against the historicity of Jesus as argued by Richard Carrier (RC) and Mark Goodacre (MG) on Unbelievable, a program hosted by Justin Brierley (JB) on Premier Christian Radio. The program is lengthy, so this post only covers the early part of the discussion. My own comments are in side boxes. Thanks to Steven Carr for alerting me to this recent program.

* Was this a slip of the tongue? Why presume anything? Decent books on history very often contain introductions setting out the evidence for how we know what we know about the figure under study. At the end of the program both RC and MG refer to arguing for the nonhistoricity of Jesus from the lack of evidence for his existence as “hyper-scepticism”. But such an argument is more than ‘hyper-scepticism’. It is the logical fallacy of arguing from ignorance.

But it is perfectly valid to avoid any presumption of the historicity of Jesus if there is no evidence for this.  It is perfectly valid to accept as a working hypothesis that Jesus is a theological construct (only) if the only evidence we have for this figure is that he is found only within theological contexts.

RC says he began in the same position as MG, thinking that the idea that Jesus was a myth, not historical, was nonsense. As a historian one starts with a presumption of historicity and one would need pretty good arguments to overthrow this. *

It was Earl Doherty’s book, The Jesus Puzzle, that made the most sense of a mythicist case. While not a perfect case, Doherty produced a strong enough argument to make the mythicist case genuinely plausible. It was this book that made RC think. For instance, Doherty pointed out that the case for the historicity of Jesus is often based on fallacious arguments and speculation (“just as much as mythicism is”). RC from that point considered himself an agnostic on the question.

RC does not think Earl Doherty has proven his case, but he also accepts Doherty’s point that the historicists have not proven theirs, either. “So someone needs to do this properly.”

JB raised Bart Ehrman’s objection that mythicism is motivated by an anti-theistic and anti-Christian bias.

RC: if one wanted to attack Christianity mythicism would be the worst way to go about it. To try to persuade other people one needs to find as much common ground to begin with, and saying Jesus did not exist is not going to help anyone trying to persuade Christians that Christianity is nonsense. RC was an atheist and against Christianity for a long time while still rejecting mythicism.

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MG: The more self-conscious you are about your biases and background and context the better historian you can be.

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JB: Asked RC to give the bare bones of his argument that Jesus did not exist:

RC: First, a qualification. RC does not think we can be certain that either way, that Jesus did or did not exist. But he thinks the preponderance of evidence supports mythicism. But the evidence for origins of Christianity is so scarce and problematic that we can never have certainty. read more »