2010-06-30

James is bored again?

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by Neil Godfrey

Associate Professor James McGrath is apparently bored again, or maybe he is still smarting over his public inability to actually respond to anything I said with a reasoned and supported argument.

He has written a post linking three times to my blog posts and unfortunately demonstrates his understanding of “mythicism” is still egg-bound in his old misconceptions about the very nature of “mythicism”. But that is not surprising.

It is also interesting to see how he is subtly re-writing some of the more embarrassing details of his earlier exchanges. He now implies that certain accusations were made despite his having read so many books by mythicists. Of course, at the time he fully admitted that he was relying on blog posts for his understanding.

Oh yes, those three links to my blog he puts in his sentence: that sentence, surprise surprise, is what they call an of “untruth”. But I gotta admit it does serve the purpose of making his insults and strawmen look like a most formidable arsenel of intellect.

So much for professional ethics and intellectual integrity among some scholars of the Christian religion.

But I am bored with James and going over the same old. Is there any scholar anywhere who is prepared to discuss, explore, dialogue in a reasoned and civil manner any of the arguments I have presented in relation to this topic. I’m surprised, since I’ve argued nothing different from what secular and Old Testament scholars have all argued and asserted is a defensible starting point for historical enquiry. I don’t expect them to respond to this blog, but I would love to be told that the issues are addressed publicly somewhere.

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  • 2010-06-30 23:41:22 GMT+0000 - 23:41 | Permalink

    I’m not sure there are any NT scholars who are “prepared to discuss, explore, dialogue in a reasoned and civil manner any of the arguments [you] have presented in relation to this topic” but I’m sure there’s an oral tradition of this exchange out there somewhere.

  • Steven Carr
    2010-07-01 05:04:57 GMT+0000 - 05:04 | Permalink

    James is still claiming that nobody would have thought of a Messiah as being crucified.

    I simply do not understand his thought processes.

    Somebody came up with the idea that the Messiah was crucified. So why does McGrath claim it was impossible for anybody to think of a Messiah being crucified?

    Perhaps I simply have no idea what point he is trying to make.

    All I know is that McGrath cannot find any evidence that the Gospels are not Novels.

    And McGrath cannot produce any evidence why a crucified criminal was suddenly proclaimed as the agent through whom God created the world.

    • 2010-07-01 06:36:30 GMT+0000 - 06:36 | Permalink

      Somebody came up with the idea that the Messiah was crucified.

      Under the historical hypothesis, this isn’t quite true. Instead, a number of people believed a figure known to them was a very important saving agent of God (perhaps even a Messiah), then this figure was crucified. That’s perfectly consistent with the notion that no one would have conjured a crucified messiah without having a crucifixion of a real person that needed explaining.

      By way of analogy – in the distant future, Republicans have taken over the world and burned all the biographies and histories written by Democrats. The remaining books from the Nixon era consist of apologetics for Nixon, explaining why he was a great man and ahead of his time despite having left the office of President in disgrace. A future historian might use this as evidence against a theory that Nixon was invented by Republicans. Republicans would not have invented a Republican President who left the office in disgrace. It would not be a valid rejoinder to say … “but obviously some Republican *did* come up with the idea that a Republican President left the office in disgrace”.

      rey – the Christian New Testament refers to Jesus as the Messiah quite often, and most of it was written between about 50 and 100 CE. Justin Martyr hadn’t been born yet.

      • rey
        2010-07-01 06:43:24 GMT+0000 - 06:43 | Permalink

        “Under the historical hypothesis, this isn’t quite true.”

        Yet based on historical information and evidence it is very true. He wasn’t Messiah until 150, although he was worshiped as God before that. He became God long before becoming Messiah. He destroyed the Torah long before he said “Think not I am come to destroy the Torah.”

      • rey
        2010-07-01 06:45:57 GMT+0000 - 06:45 | Permalink

        The canonical gospels as we have them did not exist until after 150. Justin Martyr uses none of them but some other non-canonical gospel that not only has a different name (“memoirs of the apostles”) but different contents. And it is quite likely that he made this text up himself, and that he is the originator of the ‘orthodox’ gospel-story as found in our canonical gospels. Before him was Marcion’s gospel and perhaps others, but certainly no Matthew, Mark, Luke, nor John.

      • 2010-07-01 06:59:04 GMT+0000 - 06:59 | Permalink

        Ummm… there is a difference between the historical hypothesis and the mythicist hypothesis. Not just in terms of the dating of the Gospels.

      • rey
        2010-07-01 07:13:27 GMT+0000 - 07:13 | Permalink

        There’s also a difference in my position in that it is not 100% on either side. I believe Jesus historically lived but not that the canonical gospels are historical.

      • Steven Carr
        2010-07-01 14:41:27 GMT+0000 - 14:41 | Permalink

        SMIJER
        The remaining books from the Nixon era consist of apologetics for Nixon, explaining why he was a great man and ahead of his time despite having left the office of President in disgrace.

        CARR
        This isn’t McGrath’s argument, which I admit I cannot understand.

        His argument is that calling a crucified criminal a Messiah is like Americans of today saying Lee Harvey Oswald became the President after he shot Kennedy.

        Nobody would dream of inventing an idea that the assassin of a President became a President.

        Because nobody would invent such an idea what must have happened is that Lee Harvey Oswald really did shoot JFK, and some people then had visitations from the grave of Lee Harvey Oswald, and this persuaded him that Lee Harvey Oswald was the True President.

        Of course, historians cannot investigate the nature of these ‘visitations’, but there must have been something about Lee Harvey Oswals which persuaded people that he had been the True President.

        But as I said, I don’t really understand McGrath’s argument, as his scenario of how Jesus became Messiah *fails his own test of explaining how it happened*, as McGrath has forcefully declared that historians cannot speak about the nature of any post-crucifixion experiences.

        McGrath’s argument seems to be ‘Mythicism is wrong, because mythicists cannot explain why people came up with that myth’.

        And his response to the question of how a crucified criminal was soon declared to be the agent through whom God created the world is ‘A True Historian cannot speak about that, as it is outside the realm of historical research’.

      • 2010-07-02 02:50:28 GMT+0000 - 02:50 | Permalink

        CARR
        This isn’t McGrath’s argument, which I admit I cannot understand.

        His argument is that calling a crucified criminal a Messiah is like Americans of today saying Lee Harvey Oswald became the President after he shot Kennedy.

        SMIJER
        I’d do well to let James speak for himself. However, I’ve never seen him say anything that would indicate he holds this understanding exactly as put. The standard argument (and best I can tell, James’ view of it) is that a historical Jesus who was crucified does explain why people would have no choice to report a crucifixion if they took Jesus for a Messiah. A mythical Jesus who was not crucified leaves a difficult question about why the followers of that myth would invent a crucifixion.

        In other words the discontinuity is why a crucifixion would be invented. You don’t have that same discontinuity with the historical angle, though you have the less difficult question of how followers of a crucified man would have continued to follow him and (presuming they did not hold him to be a messiah before the crucifixion) promote him to Messiahood.

        Oswald is a poor analogy because he had no followers prior to his disgrace. Perhaps, had Jim Jones had a large group of loyal surviving followers, his case might have made a better analogy. Then a historian would have to ask whether, had he not been real & served the Kool-Aid, why would such a story have been invented of him among his loyal followers?

      • 2010-07-02 04:44:56 GMT+0000 - 04:44 | Permalink

        “A mythical Jesus who was not crucified leaves a difficult question about why the followers of that myth would invent a crucifixion.” (smijer)

        But the answer to that is obvious and apparent. Without even believing that Jesus is a mere myth, I can answer that one.

        (1.) They needed the main character to die at the hands of Rome. (2.) Crucifixion was the Roman form of execution.

        Tada. Question answered. Every time you come up with a question that supposedly can’t be answered, I can answer it. Why make a crucified Messiah? Because he wasn’t Messiah until 150 and then he was made into ‘Messiah’ to create historic continuity with Judaism so it could be claimed the new religion was ‘ancient’ whereas before everyone was content with it being completely new. Why have a crucifixion to being with? Because that’s the Roman form of execution.

        Ok, then, smarty-pants, why did they need their character to die at the hands of Rome? Because as the transcendent God coming to confront the god of this world he must needs tangle with the greatest political power under the control of the god of this world, Rome. And to show his power over all the forces of the god of this world, he must needs be seemingly defeated by Rome and then nevertheless triumph, thus he is crucified then comes back to life.

        And if you factor in the earliest theology about the descent into hell, his death was a necessity to enter hell and clean it out of the souls that the creator of this world was tormenting there.

        But, as I said, none of this requires that the story is not historical. It is possible that historically our world was created by an evil god and that a Better God came to save us from him and died on the cross to purchase us from him and so on. It need not be fiction. I believe it is true. But I can also see how it could arise as fiction. This is why the word ‘faith’ is used so much–because there is no actual historical proof, and the sooner the ‘orthodox’ loons realize that the better. They are like crazed Nazis trying to force everyone to believe that for which there is no evidence, and if you will not believe then you get thrown into the fire they say. Thrown into the fire for not believing something for which there is no evidence? Their proof is nothing but strong-arming and fear-mongering, which shows once again there is no proof.

      • 2010-07-02 05:38:10 GMT+0000 - 05:38 | Permalink

        REY
        Because as the transcendent God coming to confront the god of this world he must needs tangle with the greatest political power under the control of the god of this world, Rome. And to show his power over all the forces of the god of this world, he must needs be seemingly defeated by Rome and then nevertheless triumph, thus he is crucified then comes back to life.

        SMIJER
        Seems a bit of a stretch to me. But it is at least a positive approach to answering the puzzle. Your hypothesis – in this regard – has my respect if not my assent.

  • rey
    2010-07-01 06:01:39 GMT+0000 - 06:01 | Permalink

    “Somebody came up with the idea that the Messiah was crucified. So why does McGrath claim it was impossible for anybody to think of a Messiah being crucified?”

    This argument that nobody would come up with a crucified Messiah is absurd precisely because nobody did. [ETA: “nobody did” until Justin Martyr I mean. Nobody did until about 150, which is why their argument here is so silly.]

    What I mean is that all the evidence points to Jesus having originally been merely as a savior who came to destroy the Torah not as a “Messiah” of Judaism (he was even seen as a rival god come to defeat Yahweh). That was enough for the original religion which was focused on converting Jews and Gentile Jewish proselytes (what better way to convert them than by getting rid of the bondage or the Torah?) but when it began to try to convert Pagan Gentiles it ran into the problem of “your god is bran new, our gods are old, therefore your god sucks and ours are better” argument. To solve this argument, abra-cadabra, Jesus became the Jewish Messiah so that they could then claim their god was the same god as the OT god and thus their religion had been around since Moses who (of course, per Justin Martyr) is more ancient than the Greek poets who wrote of your gods.

  • 2010-07-01 13:05:28 GMT+0000 - 13:05 | Permalink

    This is my response to James’ review of the Price chapter:

    Of course McGrath has to resort to fatuous comparisons with creationism — and place himself in opposition to statements that do acknowledge the strength of certain mythicist arguments from the likes of Hoffmann, Davies, Avalos, Schweitzer. And he does this by his usual resort to conceptual confusion and logical fallacy. The argument “what is possible” is usually applied to oppose the miraculous. But James redefines “possible” to embrace the suspension or change of physical laws, thus stripping the word completely of all practical meaning and finding a unique way to turn logic into fantasy in support of his straw-man argument.

    What is also curious is his repeated tendency to associate my arguments with those of Price et al, when my critique is, on the contrary, towards the methodology of mainstream historical Jesus studies. All McGrath can do is repeat arguments from criteriology (See my post on historical methodology which includes a discussion of Scot McKnight’s criticism of criteriology.)

    His main foundation for historicism appears to be his fallacious argument from incredulity — that no-one would make up a story about a crucified messiah. This is repeated like a mantra, and like a mantra it requires no argument to justify it. Just repeating it is apparently meant to settle the question. This, despite the known fact that some Second Temple Jews did indeed “invent” the story that the offering of Isaac was literally a human sacrifice and resurrection, the blood of which atoned for sins of the nation, and that the blood of Jewish martyrs themselves likewise had an atoning power. It is no giant leap from Isaac and Jewish martyrdom and their atoning power to a messiah also martyred with salvific effects. Unless, that is, one insists on relying on evidence only applicable to towards the second century (as both Talmon and Fitzmyer demonstrate), that Jews came to think of a messiah as an imminently anticipated kingly figure, and insist that this was “the belief” of all Jews in the first century.

    So the argument from incredulity is not unlike Tertullian’s “I believe because it is impossible”. The gospels portray most Jews not believing Jesus was the messiah before his death, but on the strength of Acts scholars insist that these same Jews by their thousands suddenly came to believe he was the messiah in the wake of his crucifixion. And mainstream scholarship appears to be too lazy (see quotes from Liverani and Clines at end of this post on scholarly laziness) to even contemplate the real evidence for a more rational model of origins, and continues to rely on manufacturing evidence from criteria to fit the Bible’s implausible scenario.

    McGrath laments that the responses to Price will not diminish the interest in mythicism. Strange as it may seem to him, there are good reasons for this.

  • Steven Carr
    2010-07-02 03:29:20 GMT+0000 - 03:29 | Permalink

    SMIJER
    The standard argument (and best I can tell, James’ view of it) is that a historical Jesus who was crucified does explain why people would have no choice to report a crucifixion if they took Jesus for a Messiah.

    CARR
    That is McGrath’s point. A crucified person could not be taken for the Messiah.

    If McGrath really believes that, then he cannot explain why a crucified person was taken to be the agent through whom God created the world.

    McGrath’s point is self-contradictory.

    SMIJER
    In other words the discontinuity is why a crucifixion would be invented.

    CARR
    As I am not a psychiatrist, I cannot answer that question.

    But it is just an argument from incredulity. McGrath cannot believe that something could happen, so it could not happen.

    That is literally the argument of a creationist, which is why McGrath is so keen to project his creationist arguments on to others.

    But a priori arguments from incredulity cannot stand in for historical research. Historians have to do history, rather than declare that human beings cannot think certain thoughts – which is a remarkably naive declaration.

    • 2010-07-02 04:13:05 GMT+0000 - 04:13 | Permalink

      Two issues: 1) self-contradictory, 2) argument from incredulity

      1 –
      CARR
      A crucified person could not be taken for the Messiah.

      SMIJER
      Not the historicist position. The historicist position is that crucifixion is incompatible with Messiah-hood* in the minds of 1st century Jews. So the position isn’t that no crucified person could ever be taken for the messiah. It is no one would say that their Messiah was crucified unless he really was.

      *In the same way that getting caught screwing male prostitutes is incompatible with Great Evangelical Preacher-hood (see Ted Haggerty). The fact that people still think Ted Haggerty is a great Evangelical Preacher does not mean that they don’t think he was caught srewing a male prostitute.

      2) I see it as an argument to best explanation. It isn’t controversial that Messiah-hood is a non-shameful position. It isn’t controversial that crucifixion is shameful. The fact that needs to be explained is that we have a story of a crucified Messiah. The historicity of the crucifixion explains it well. Mythicist leaves it explained poorly as some unknown bit of psychology.

      McGrath (& all historicists as far as I know) agree that it is possible that the crucifixion was an invention. They hold it as less probable since it explains an important fact poorly.

      • Steven Carr
        2010-07-02 04:37:51 GMT+0000 - 04:37 | Permalink

        SMIJER
        It isn’t controversial that crucifixion is shameful.

        CARR
        I see.

        All those Jews who died at the hands of Romans are regarded as shaming Judaism.

        Rather than as heroes?

        Have you seen Spartacus? All those shameful rebels. They were a disgrace. Crucifixion was too good for them.

        Christians even claimed the thief on the cross got to Paradise, rather than being covered in shame for dying a shameful death.

        Of course, some people really did think that crucified criminals were scum who had it coming to them.

        Let us see what Paul had to say about crucified criminals.

        Romans 13
        Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. 4For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.

        No wonder Christians couldn’t sell the idea of a crucified criminal being the Messiah.

        Even Paul regarded Jesus as scum, who got what he deserved – punishment by God’s agents, sent to bring terror to wrongdoers.

      • 2010-07-02 04:44:51 GMT+0000 - 04:44 | Permalink

        Ok – I’ll accept disagreement on whether crucifixion was shameful to the 1st century Jewish mind & retract my statement that this claim is uncontroversial.

        This issue is tangential to the debate, but if indeed crucifixion was seen as other than shameful and consistent with messiahood, this certainly weakens this aspect of the historicist argument.

  • Steven Carr
    2010-07-02 04:31:45 GMT+0000 - 04:31 | Permalink

    SMIJER
    Not the historicist position. The historicist position is that crucifixion is incompatible with Messiah-hood* in the minds of 1st century Jews. So the position isn’t that no crucified person could ever be taken for the messiah. It is no one would say that their Messiah was crucified unless he really was.

    CARR
    WHich is like claiming that as no assassin of a President could be taken for a new President, then Lee Harvey Oswald could not be taken to be the True President unless he really was.

    It is self-contradictory, which is why nobody claims Lee Harvey Oswald became the President after he shot JFK.

    But Jews are alleged to have claimed that a crucified crimimal was the agent through whom God created the world. (A claim which would have resulted in instant stoning)

    This cannnot have happened for the same reason we don’t see people claiming Lee Harvey Oswald became the President.

    And, of course, Daniel prophesied a Messiah who would be killed, so the claim that nobody would invent a Messiah who died as a suffering servant, taking the sins of Israel upon him, is ludicrous.

    And McGrath’s historicist explanation cannot explain why Paul wrote entire books of theology without ever once thinking anything his Lord and Saviour had done was relevant, or telling people that Jews could hardly be expected to believe in Jesus, until they heard about him through Christians sent to preach about him.

    • 2010-07-02 04:56:37 GMT+0000 - 04:56 | Permalink

      CARR
      It is self-contradictory, which is why nobody claims Lee Harvey Oswald became the President after he shot JFK.

      SMIJER
      Nobody claims LHO became pres after shooting JFK because he didn’t become president after shooting JFK. If the structure of the argument is self-contradictory, then show me how my Ted Haggerty example is wrong and self-contradictory.

      CARR
      And, of course, Daniel prophesied a Messiah who would be killed, so the claim that nobody would invent a Messiah who died as a suffering servant, taking the sins of Israel upon him, is ludicrous.

      SMIJER
      Are you referring to Isaiah’s suffering servant? I thought only Christian apologists saw this figure as messianic. And even this figure was not killed as a criminal. Yes, this was a text that was recontextualized in the NT to parallel Jesus – but only after the evangelist had to accept and explain a crucified Messiah.

      A better parallel might be the story of the Maccabean brothers who suffered for Israel. Again, not a Messiah, and again, not crucified as a criminal.

      It seems you are now arguing that Messiahood and crucifixion were not incompatible. If that is the case, I disagree, but it is certainly a valid approach.

      But given McGrath’s (and most historicists) non-contradictory premises about the ignominy of crucifixion and its incompatibility with Messiahood, the probabilistic conclusion from the story of the crucifixion in all Christian literature follows logically.

    • 2010-07-02 05:03:04 GMT+0000 - 05:03 | Permalink

      CARR
      And McGrath’s historicist explanation cannot explain why Paul wrote entire books of theology without ever once thinking anything his Lord and Saviour had done was relevant,…

      SMIJER
      Speaking of which, Paul’s self-purported only mission was to preach Jesus Christ and him crucified.

      McGrath and other historicists recognize the force of the argument from Paul’s silence as to Jesus’ biography. It isn’t inexplicable, but it is odd, and no single explanation carries a helluva lot of confidence. I personally think Paul had little knowledge of Jesus’ biography.

      or telling people that Jews could hardly be expected to believe in Jesus, until they heard about him through Christians sent to preach about him.

      For my purposes, rhetoric of this type is not extraordinary and doesn’t demand much in the way of explanation. And, I’m not really trying to relitigate the debate. I started off focused on a specific point. I hope I have addressed it well.

  • Steven Carr
    2010-07-02 04:50:01 GMT+0000 - 04:50 | Permalink

    Paul claims ‘the rulers of this age’ crucified Jesus.

    And that the Romans crucified people who had it coming to them, as the Romans were God’s agents, sent to punish wrongdoers, but who held no terror for the innocent.

  • Steven Carr
    2010-07-02 05:40:17 GMT+0000 - 05:40 | Permalink

    SMIJER
    I personally think Paul had little knowledge of Jesus’ biography.

    CARR
    That explains why it was the historical biography of Jesus that persuaded Paul that a crucified criminal had been the Messiah.

    The historicist explanation is that the life of Jesus was reinterptet to become the life of a Messiah, which doesn’t entail that people had much knowledge of the life of Jesus.

    • 2010-07-02 05:47:31 GMT+0000 - 05:47 | Permalink

      CARR
      That explains why it was the historical biography of Jesus that persuaded Paul that a crucified criminal had been the Messiah.

      SMIJER
      One needn’t know the details of a person’s biography to know that they were famously crucified. I know almost nothing else about Haggerty apart from his tryst with a male prostitute.

      Historicists hold a variety of positions on how much of Jesus life was ‘reinterpreted to become the life of a Messiah’, and how much correct historical information is recorded about him in the Gospels. Most historicists believe that some of what we find in the synoptics reflects information that goes back to historical events in Jesus life, and I agree with them. The minimalist position is that the only points preserved accurately are the association with Galilee, the baptism by John, and the crucifixion. However, anything less than that is very difficult to swallow based on the historicist reading of the evidence.

  • Steven Carr
    2010-07-02 05:48:16 GMT+0000 - 05:48 | Permalink

    SMIJER
    Nobody claims LHO became pres after shooting JFK because he didn’t become president after shooting JFK

    CARR
    That’s McGrath’s point. Jesus didn’t become Messiah after he was crucified for the same reason that LHO didn’t become president after shooting JFK.

    Shooting a president disqualifies you from being President, in the same way that McGrath claims being crucified disqualified you from being the Messiah.

    But perhaps I misunderstand McGrath as he cannot explain why Christians decided a crucified criminal was the Messiah. Indeed, he has declared that such a topic is not one historians can speak about, as it involved experiences of a resurrection.

    So McGrath’s ‘superior historical explanation amounts’ to claiming that he cannot explain it, just as it would be totally inexplicable if a group of people appeared tomorrow and started claiming that Lee Harvey Oswald was the True President.

  • 2010-07-02 05:53:24 GMT+0000 - 05:53 | Permalink

    —} SMIJER
    Nobody claims LHO became pres after shooting JFK because he didn’t
    become president after shooting JFK

    CARR
    That’s McGrath’s point. Jesus didn’t become Messiah after he was crucified for the same reason that LHO didn’t become president after shooting JFK.

    SMIJER
    If you are misreading me this badly, then I understand how you are misreading McGrath & the Historicist camp this badly.

    I’ll leave you alone & you can take the last word.

    • Steven Carr
      2010-07-02 05:56:13 GMT+0000 - 05:56 | Permalink

      I cannot understand what you are talking about.

      All you have to do is explain why people thought Jesus had been the Messiah.

      And why Paul thinks that crucified people deserved everything they got because God’s agents were there to punish the wicked.

  • Steven Carr
    2010-07-02 05:54:02 GMT+0000 - 05:54 | Permalink

    SMIJER
    One needn’t know the details of a person’s biography to know that they were famously crucified.

    CARR
    So being crucifed is what *made* Jesus the Messiah , in the eyes of Paul?

    How can that be? What was it about being crucified that made Jesus the Messiah?

  • Steven Carr
    2010-07-02 06:00:07 GMT+0000 - 06:00 | Permalink

    SMIJER
    Speaking of which, Paul’s self-purported only mission was to preach Jesus Christ and him crucified.

    CARR
    This makes no sense on a historicist viewpoint, as getting crucified is not supposed to be the only thing Messiahs did.

    What else did Jesus do, in the eyes of Paul? (apart from help to create the world, and guide the Israelites in the Exodus)

  • 2010-07-02 06:09:33 GMT+0000 - 06:09 | Permalink

    Steven – I don’t see much hope that you & I will even understand each other – much less come to agree. I’m not going to invest more time with it. Sorry if I came off snitty saying that you misunderstand McGrath for the same reason you misunderstand me. It may be that you understand both of us & I just fail to understand your criticism of our position. One way or the other, it doesn’t look like we are doing much to the advance the debate here, so I’m going to let it drop. Nice chatting with you.

  • Steven Carr
    2010-07-02 06:12:54 GMT+0000 - 06:12 | Permalink

    I already explained that I do not understand McGrath’s position.

    I just want somebody to tell me why Paul thought a crucified criminal had been the Messiah, had helped to create the world, and guided the Israelites in the desert.

    Is that so hard for historicists to do? All I have got so far is that Paul had little knowledge of Jesus’s biography.

    Historicists crow about how their explanation is so superior.

    Just tell me what their explanation is. Don’t boast about it. Tell me it.

  • 2010-07-02 07:00:35 GMT+0000 - 07:00 | Permalink

    CARR
    I just want somebody to tell me why Paul thought a crucified criminal had been the Messiah,…

    SMIJER
    I’ll do my best. Please bear in mind that historicism is a diverse position, that historical scholarship is always probabilistic and nearly always leaves some questions unanswered or unanswerable, and that I am a layman. This will be my last try.

    Jesus was a dude with followers in Galilee and possibly parts of Judea including Jerusalem. For reasons at least partly unknown (and not central to this discussion), he came to be revered greatly by his followers. It is not impossible that he was also viewed as a messiah by many or most of his followers, but for purposes of this discussion, he need not have been *that* highly regarded. It is only important that he was held in very high regard.

    Jesus was crucified by the Romans as a criminal, ordinarily a shameful fate.

    After he was crucified by the Romans, for reasons at least partly unknown (and not central this discussion) certain among his followers came to believe that he had been seen alive and possibly also that his tomb had been found unexpectedly empty.

    Because of this belief, because of his prior reputation and their prior reverence for him, these followers searched for an explanation for his crucifixion – and presumed resurrection – consistent with their reverence for him. This enabled them to continue to think of him reverently. Their attempt to understand these things led them to re-contextualize Jewish scripture and folk belief in terms that would explain how a figure worthy or reverence could suffer an ignominious fate. Stories that spoke of a suffering servant who was “bruised for our iniquity”, of Maccabean heroes who were killed to save the Israelites, and others that fit the events needing an explanation were used.

    Certain of his followers (either while he lived or after he died) held an apocalyptic world-view. Expecting God to establish his rule on earth during their time, they searched their memories and their scriptures for a messiah figure to serve as God’s agent (messiah) for bringing this about. They chose th one person they reverenced so highly, and interpreted the mode of his establishment of God’s rule in a way that fit their re-contextualized view of Jewish scripture and folk religion as they applied it to Jesus.

    They used these scriptures to explain the otherwise unthinkable, and did it convincingly. They did it convincingly enough that they continued to gain followers.

    Paul had an adversarial relationship with this group of Jewish followers of Jesus, but through his contact with them did become familiar with the broad strokes of their beliefs. When he had a vision of Jesus rebuking him directly for his persecution of these people, he converted to their beliefs as he understood them.

    This is why Paul believed in a Messiah who had been crucified as a criminal.

    Because the crucifixion (and equally, the supposed resurrection) was so central to the successful narrative of the early Jewish followers of Jesus, this was among a very few pieces of information that Paul learned from them, and among the very few pieces of information he cared about. Yes, messiahs were traditionally supposed to do a lot of other things, but in Paul’s mind, the crucifixion was sufficient by itself to save the world, and bringing salvation to the world was the most important role of a messiah as far as he was concerned.

    CARR
    …had helped to create the world, and guided the Israelites in the desert.

    These are secondary notions, involved in the evolving view of Jesus that took place after his death and continued until well after Paul was dead. Jesus was identified as God’s agent for the salvation of the world – through his crucifixion and resurrection – as described above. God was thought to have had agents working his will in the creation, in the exodus, and in other contexts. Sometimes this agent was identified with “the Angel of the Lord”. Sometimes it was identified with quasi-historical figures (like Moses and Enoch, for instance). Having established Jesus as the agent for the salvation of the world, his followers also gave him the role of agent in these other contexts – identifying him eventually as God’s sole Agent.

    CARR
    Just tell me what their explanation is. Don’t boast about it. Tell me it.

    SMIJER
    Obviously, thousands of books and papers exist to try to “tell it”. You just got the dime version from a layman. I hope that it is an adequate introduction – I fear it is not. But it’s all I can give you….

    It has been nice chatting.

    • 2010-07-02 08:10:23 GMT+0000 - 08:10 | Permalink

      I’m sure Steven will have a more pertinent and interesting response, but let me express my first response-difficulty with your explanation. You have paraphrased the Bible explanation for what happened among the followers of Jesus, but there were only a handful of those, and they died out. Other good men had been martyred — prophets were said to have been killed — but no one had such visions or sought to explain their deaths in such a way as you describe here. And what you dismiss as secondary accretions are actually part of the earliest evidence — the evidence is that these exalted views of Jesus were the earliest beliefs, and that the more human stories evolved later. And how could such accretions ever attach themselves to the story of a mere mortal? Your paraphrase is not explaining the evidence, but only repeating an imaginary story.

      But the bigger point is, the thousands who did not believe Jesus was messiah were the ones who were convinced he was after his death. You have not explained that.

      • 2010-07-02 10:12:07 GMT+0000 - 10:12 | Permalink

        It wasn’t my goal to explain every facet of early Christianity. I tried to explain the historicist position on why Paul could be convinced that a crucified criminal could be a Messiah. I believe that my view of how this came to be is more or less correct. No, I didn’t explain all the evidence, and no I didn’t explain how the popularity of the movement increased later. But the events as I describe them would explain how Paul (and other early Christians) came to see a crucified man as the Messiah. If it didn’t happen in that or some similar way, then maybe another explanation is needed – or maybe there is some reason that people of the same time decided to invent a savior and to include a crucifixion in the story they invented. Be that as it may – as I mentioned, you can fill libraries with the books and papers that argue the historical evidence and what it means. I’m not ambitious enough to try and recapitulate all of it in this comment thread.

      • 2010-07-02 10:28:21 GMT+0000 - 10:28 | Permalink

        Fair enough. I have read many of the scholarly arguments and hence many of my critiques of them on this blog. So far the only scholars to have responded to critiques of their works have done so not with argument, but with insult. Why can’t they respond with a reasoned argument and show me where I have got their arguments wrong? But where I have repeated their arguments with very little criticism some of them have responded very positively. So some can take the time to respond civilly if I agree with them — including McGrath when discussing his ideas on Joseph of Arimathea. Why do McGrath and Crossley simply abuse me when I point out the logical fallacies and contradictory evidence against their arguments?

        But your explanation for Paul’s conversion is simply to point to the Bible and say it was a vision from God. The history of Jesus’ life on earth had nothing to do with it. And he converted hundreds of others — presumably on the strength of his vision of a heavenly Christ and scriptural interpretations. And this is what Paul’s followers were persuaded to believe. Where does the life of Jesus become a factor in any of this?

      • 2010-07-02 10:47:57 GMT+0000 - 10:47 | Permalink

        In Paul’s case, the life of Jesus doesn’t come into it much. He is the earliest written reference to one key biographical feature of Jesus’ life – the crucifixion. I’m not quite a minimalist, but I am in the sense that I see fine shades of probability for many claims about Jesus’ life, excluding a very few core elements including the crucifixion. I think that for the crucifixion and a couple of other elements, we can have a reasonably high degree of certainty. The continuity/embarrassment argument dealt with in this thread is only one reason to suspect the crucifixion – there is also its universal attestation. Everything written about Jesus mentions it, including antagonistic references. It is not implausible. Crucifixion was a fact of life in the Empire. We even have candidates for a motive for execution (I favor active antagonism on Jesus’ part against the Temple protocol).

        Other sources record his Galilean heritage, his reputation as a healer or magi, his reputation as an itinerant, and his association with the Baptizer. I think that the evidence from written accounts and arguments from continuity and embarrassment, and plausibility favor most of those pretty strongly as well. For the rest, it’s a lot more speculative, but sometimes interesting to look at.

        No, I’m not “just” pointing to the Bible. Yes, I use the Bible to create a plausible scenario under which Paul could be converted to follow a crucified man. That’s because this part of the argument – showing how it can simultaneously be true that people would not likely invent a crucifixion in an invented Messiah story and that people more likely might accept a crucifixion if it was unavoidable, and build a believable story around it. But yeah – this argument alone is insufficient for to make historicism decidedly more probable than mythicism. And yeah, just because this argument is plausible doesn’t make the Bible right on every aspect of the story.

  • 2010-07-02 11:25:40 GMT+0000 - 11:25 | Permalink

    It is the universal attestation we are seeking to explain. The earliest attestation attributes the crucifixion to demons. Later attestations attribute it to Herod and the Jews and exclude Pilate’s role, some to Pilate, some in the reign of Claudius, others, Tiberius.

    There is no primary evidence for the crucifixion of Jesus. We only have letters that speak of it as a theological event that was revealed in scriptures, and then a story that reads more like a midrashic parable than history, and then other adaptations of this that remove the parabolic elements and rewrite its theological and narrative details. And the existence of all of these stories is only first evidenced in the mid or late second century.

    Apart from that, we have Josephus whose Jesus passage was universally rejected as worthless until after the second world war, when there emerges a general move to rehabilitate Jews — e.g. Judas is excused, Jesus become more Jewish, Josephus becomes a credible witness. The shift in attitude towards Josephus has more to do with cultural shifts than any startlingly new scholarly or logical arguments. There is an abundance of external and internal evidence against Josephus having said anything at all about Jesus. See my Josephus archive for details.

    Then we have Tacitus’s witness and Nero’s persecution, neither of which anyone else knew about till many decades later. But even if we accept Tacitus as genuine, he tells us nothing original and is far from contemporary.

    There is no historical evidence at all for the crucifixion as an historical event. Scholars attempt to make up for this lack by introducing “criteria” to try to manufacture primary or bedrock evidence! That is not how historians work in any other discpline!

    But I am getting in the way of Stephen’s response. Should not have interrupted.

  • Steven Carr
    2010-07-02 14:49:14 GMT+0000 - 14:49 | Permalink

    SMIJER
    After he was crucified by the Romans, for reasons at least partly unknown (and not central this discussion) certain among his followers came to believe that he had been seen alive and possibly also that his tomb had been found unexpectedly empty.

    CARR
    As a True Historian, McGrath will tell you that historians cannot speak about that.

    So you have to expunge it from your explanation of why Paul thought a crucified criminal was the agent through whom God created the world.

    But if visions are what persuaded Paul that a crucified criminal had been the Messiah, just as visions persuaded Constantine that a crucified criminal had been the Messiah, then there is no need for a historical person to have existed.

    Just as there was no need for a Ned Ludd to start the Luddite movement.

    And we still have to explain why Paul was not immediately stoned to death as a blasphemer for preaching things like ‘We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one. For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.’

    And McGrath cannot explain why the apostles were not appointed by Jesus.

    ‘And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues.’

    Who were these followers of Jesus that became apostles and why did Jesus not appoint them?

    And where is the ministry of Jesus? In Paul’s view, there was no ministry of Jesus.

    ‘Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, fading though it was, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious?’

    ‘Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart’

    So where was Jesus revealing this new ministry of the Spirit?

    The whole of 2 Corinthians is about how the scriptures were being read anew – to reveal Christ.

    But surely Christ has been revealed by Jesus, on the historicist view.

  • Steven Carr
    2010-07-02 15:13:54 GMT+0000 - 15:13 | Permalink

    SMIJER
    Because the crucifixion (and equally, the supposed resurrection) was so central to the successful narrative of the early Jewish followers of Jesus, this was among a very few pieces of information that Paul learned from them, and among the very few pieces of information he cared about.

    CARR
    SO where was all this oral tradition that became the basis for the Gospels?

    Was Paul the only one not in the loop when it came to oral tradition?

  • 2010-07-03 01:04:47 GMT+0000 - 01:04 | Permalink

    Coincidentally, before seeing this recent McGrath-Vridar back and forth, I pondered on a post about an abbreviation to use after Jesus’ name for those time when Atheists who are discussing Jesus may also want to say, “he may be totally mythical”.

    M.O.E. (mythical or embellished) is the best suggest so far, I feel. Please add more or help me correct my thoughts on this if you have suggestions of how to help people accomodate and thus further the discussion.

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