2011-04-17

Multiple Attestation and the usual straw man polemics from a certain blogger

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by Neil Godfrey

Completely ignoring all I have said in our past exchanges about the problem with multiple attestation, and completely ignoring all that his own biblical scholar peers have said about the fatal flaw at the heart of this criteria when applied to historical Jesus studies, and completely ignoring two of three of my analogies that made the message very clear, the usual suspect goes to town with the third analogy and writes a lot of truism as if it were a legitimate critique of what I said. Sorry, Dr McGrath, but it may disappoint you to know I agree with everything you said with reference to the UFO analogy, and that your “critique” actually supports the point I was making — which is not original but merely a repeat of what your own peers have written often enough:

If one person says they saw a UFO, we may well dismiss it. If a group of people unrelated to one another all saw something, we will take it far more seriously. It will remain an Unidentified Flying Object and does not by virtue of multiple witnesses become an alien spacecraft. But we will take the claim to have seen something seriously because of the multiple attestation.

Exactly!

I am overseas and away from my quick references at the moment, so do not wish to risk giving false citations (though I am sure Fredriksen and Porter are both well known to him for their statements discussing the limitations of the criteria), but Dr McGrath surely knows as well as any of his peers why multiple attestation is flawed. He has certainly read exactly my own criticisms of it many times before by his own scholarly peers.

Multiple attestation is of itself NOT an indicator of the truth or interpretation of what is being testified. In a recent post McGrath tried to explain that words take their meaning from context, so I am surprised he did not understand the meaning of “UFO” when it is wedged between “alien abductions” and “homeopathy”. That context should have alerted any reasonably comprehending reader to understand UFO as a reference to the popular view of alien spacecraft visiting earth. Perhaps McGrath believes in homeopathy so missed the contextual cue.

Now that many people have independently reported alien abductions is not in doubt. I have no doubt that they experienced something. What is in question is the interpretation of their experiences. Where they reporting manifestations or interpretations of what is nothing more than sleep paralysis? Are UFO sightings, independently and multiply attested, references to weather balloons or Venus or Martians?

With respect to historical Jesus studies, as many of Dr McGrath’s peers have long observed, multiple attestation is only of value if we have reason to be sure that what they are reporting really is not itself a product of misguided or fabricated belief.

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  • Steven Carr
    2011-04-17 17:34:05 GMT+0000 - 17:34 | Permalink

    I thought multiple attestation consisted of splitting up, say Luke’s Gospel, into various sources,Mark, Q, L for example and then saying they were independent of each other?

    • 2011-04-17 22:07:50 GMT+0000 - 22:07 | Permalink

      True, that’s a big part of it that I’d love have fun with in a detailed post one day. But you are allowed to steal my thunder on that one.

      I’ve deliberately avoided that “nuance” in general discussions. Let’s not forget Casey’s Aramaic wax tablets. I can almost see Matthew jotting down notes as he wandered around Galilee with the merry band, and then the Beloved Disciple twittering a first hand account at the foot of the cross.

      • 2011-04-18 06:12:55 GMT+0000 - 06:12 | Permalink

        I’m wondering, though, do they really use multiple attestation as much as they say they do? For example, from McG’s Straw Man FAQ:

        #5. If you think that it is reasonable to expect the same evidence to be left behind by an itinerant exorcist and an emperor, you clearly have yet to begin giving this matter the serious thought it deserves.

        Leaving aside the fact that no mythicist or HJ-agnostic I know ever said Jesus should have just as much evidence left behind as Augustus (how would that even be possible?), there’s the tacit assertion that the NT is clear about Jesus being an exorcist. Did the writer of the Gospel of John think he was? Did Paul? Did the author of Hebrews think the Christ was an itinerant exorcist from Galilee? You need a long and tortured chain of assumptions to get a point where Jesus “must” have been a traveling demon-chaser.

        It reminds me of what Ehrman wrote in Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdalene: “Our sources are unified in presenting [Simon Peter] as a fisherman from rural Galilee…”

        Really? Does Paul portray him that way? I know he comes from “House-of-Fish” and “goes fishing” in Gospel of John, but is that his job? Other than the Synoptics, what other multiple independent sources say his trade was fisherman? I think the tendency to read the tradition into the sources is so overwhelming that people don’t know they’re doing it.

        • 2011-04-19 23:02:28 GMT+0000 - 23:02 | Permalink

          I wonder how many courses in biblical studies there are where students are seriously encouraged to critically question all they are taught. I wonder because one reads so many of these clearly shonky statements being asserted in a tone that suggests everyone who knows the field knows they are true — yet stuff like that should never be allowed to slip through classroom lectures or tutorials without fierce debate.

          I tend to think of university arts courses (those involving historical studies and literature, which were the fields I concentrated on the most) as being heavy with debate, and students researching to explore ideas and critically analyse what’s being presented. I have a hard time accepting there are many courses in biblical studies that are like that when I read the same sorts of questionable assumptions being touted as if no-one has ever thought to question them.

          Or are such classes dominated by the Christian attitude of everyone wanting to be “of one mind” and in harmony and respectful in the sense of defering to whatever The Teacher says?

        • 2011-04-22 01:28:53 GMT+0000 - 01:28 | Permalink

          […]there’s the tacit assertion that the NT is clear about Jesus being an exorcist. Did the writer of the Gospel of John think he was? Did Paul? Did the author of Hebrews think the Christ was an itinerant exorcist from Galilee? You need a long and tortured chain of assumptions to get a point where Jesus “must” have been a traveling demon-chaser.

          It reminds me of what Ehrman wrote in Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdalene: “Our sources are unified in presenting [Simon Peter] as a fisherman from rural Galilee…”

          Our sources are also all unified in saying that there was a tradition of releasing a [Jewish] prisoner because it was a [Jewish] holiday, and that this released prisoner was named Barabba and was a murderer and insurrectionist.

          But it seems as though the original gospel author dropped some clues that he invented that whole scenario; why would he imply for his reader that “bar” meant “son of” (Mk 10.46) and that “abba” meant “father” (Mk 14.35-36) if he didn’t intend for the astute reader to figure out what “Barabba” meant so that they could get the irony?

          How can there be “multiple attestation” when the other three gospels are reproducing this more than likely fictitious scenario? They all have to have read Mark or relied on some other source that read Mark.

          The gospels are less unified in the idea that Jesus was “from Nazareth” than this entire Barabba pericope. Yet the more unified pericope is more than likely an invention of one author.

  • 2011-04-17 22:11:28 GMT+0000 - 22:11 | Permalink

    UFO stands for “Unidentified Flying Object.” If I made an error, it was to assume that you meant what you wrote. People see lights all the time, and some misinterpret interesting but mundane phenomena as alien spacecraft. I thought this was relevant, and highlighted it. Nothing you wrote here leads me to change my mind about that.

    But obviously the big problem is that you seem to place whether a human being existed in the same category as seeing a flying saucer.

    • 2011-04-17 22:36:50 GMT+0000 - 22:36 | Permalink

      Dear Professor. Do kindly refer to my pre-recorded response #3:

      #3. “UFO” as a phrase in the abstract could theoretically mean any number of things, just as Bill Clinton illustrated that “is” and “sex” mean different things to different people and in different contexts. That doesn’t mean that, in a particular context or usage, their meaning may not be clear or at least clearer. Fundamentalists and historicist apologist doctors of theology enjoy exploring all the possible meanings of words like “sister” and “brother” (woops, sorry, “sister” does not have the same variants of meaning as “brother” in this argument where the rules are laid down in advance by the establishment) and “UFO”, but within sentences and specific linguistic and grammatical constructions, constraints are placed on meaning. Without context “I’m going to throw the party” could be ambiguous, but when followed by either “of 6 out the window if they don’t decide what to order soon” or “for him at 7pm – but don’t tell him, it’s a surprise,” the ambiguity is removed. So UFO clearly in many usages means any generic unidentified flying object, but in certain contexts, such as when wedged between words like “alien abductions” and “homeopathy” the popular meaning of alien spacecraft is what anyone with a common understanding of our cultural environment understands by the term.

      Now, since you are an intelligent teacher and professor and I am a mere layman, kindly explain to me in words of no more than one to three syllables (a rare 4 syllable one will be allowed if necessary) how my following statement supports the “logic” of your last sentence.

      With respect to historical Jesus studies, as many of Dr McGrath’s peers have long observed, multiple attestation is only of value if we have reason to be sure that what they are reporting really is not itself a product of misguided or fabricated belief.

      So do forgive me if I use an example like UFO to illustrate a simple point of logic. Perhaps you would learn to improve your own logical skills if you did pick up a popular book on elementary logic and practiced with a few similar concepts before going the next step and applying the fundamental principles of rational discourse to historical Jesus studies. You might learn some of the same humility you esteem highly in Dale C. Allison who has the clarity of thought (and humility) to acknowledge the circularity at the heart of historical Jesus methodology, and avoid public displays of embarrassing incompetence yourself.

    • 2011-04-22 04:21:40 GMT+0000 - 04:21 | Permalink

      Dr. McGrath wrote: “But obviously the big problem is that you seem to place whether a human being existed in the same category as seeing a flying saucer.

      I’ve been mulling over that line for days, and it still bothers me. Is this truly “obviously the big problem”?

      If I wanted to weigh a sack of feathers, a sack of manure, or a sack of gold, it would probably make a difference to me. I mean, as the observer or the “measurerer,” I care more about the sack of gold. But does it make any difference to the scales? I should hope not.

      What I’m trying to get at is that the observer may place the observed object or event in a different value category. However, the tool that measures it should be valid for use in any similar case. We may wish the tool to be more precise in come cases. We may check our work more often to ensure that we’re more accurate. But in the end, the same methodology should apply. If things didn’t work that way, then we’d be living in a random, chaotic universe.

      So let’s admit that a UFO and Jesus are in different value categories. As an armchair historian, I care more about the latter. That doesn’t change the validity of our methods for determining the veracity of testimony.

      Let’s use multiple attestation to evaluate the claim of a UFO sighting. First of all, did more than one person see it? If yes, then are the witnesses independent? It’s best if the multiple witness weren’t together when they saw the UFO, and they haven’t had a chance to compare their stories afterward.

      Say we have more than one witness and they’re independent. Are we done? No. We still need external corroboration. Were there any scorch marks on the ground? Did the object show up on airport radar or satellite imagery?

      Why is external corroboration necessary? Because in order to move beyond plausibility to probability, we need another independent data point. For the case of the historical Jesus I will concede that we’re extremely unlikely to find physical evidence for corroboration. It its place we can provisionally accept external contemporary attestation from a non-Christian source. (Note: Even if we accepted the citations in Josephus and Tacitus as reliable, they are too late and they are hearsay.)

      That’s how the tool works.

      1. More than one source.
      2. Independence of the sources.
      3. External corroboration.

      To this list we should add a fourth item: reliability of the witnesses. If we have two witnesses, but one is an untreated schizophrenic and the other is a Sterno bum, then we probably won’t continue the investigation. If a witness didn’t actually see the UFO, but is telling us what his cousin’s friend told him, that is not a reliable source.

      In the case of the historical Jesus, we have two problems. First, we’re lacking in external, contemporaneous corroboration. Second, witness reliability is in question. I would add a third problem: Lack of demonstrated source independence. I know it’s assumed in HJ studies that we have independent sources, but it would be nice to see an argument that supports that assertion.

      So the real obvious big problem is not that Neil thinks a UFO and Jesus are in the same category, but the fact that when one correctly applies the criterion of multiple independent attestation to the historical Jesus, it fails to sustain the hypothesis.

      If I’m wrong, please show me where.

  • 2011-04-18 04:25:35 GMT+0000 - 04:25 | Permalink

    You still seem to be running together an event and the interpretation of it. If hundreds of people claimed to see a UFO, we would probably, unless we had good reason to think that they were all lying to perpetrate a hoax, believe that they had seen something, even though we might dispute their interpretation of it as an alien spacecraft. Or in the case of homeopathy, we might acknowledge that plenty of people who use homeopathy also recover from illnesses, and simply point out that there is no evidence for a causal connection between that recovery and the water they overpaid for.

    Sorry that homeopathy has so many syllables, but you brought it up.

    • 2011-04-18 09:48:15 GMT+0000 - 09:48 | Permalink

      #23. Please stop. You’ve said that before and now you’re just wasting my time.

      If you wish to engage in a meaningful conversation kindly read my previous comment and post. Then before making any further response sum up what you understand me to be saying so you can seriously justify your reply in terms of my own argument.

    • 2011-04-18 10:28:27 GMT+0000 - 10:28 | Permalink

      From the wikipedia article on UFOs: “the term UFO is ambiguous – referring either to any unidentified sighting, or in popular usage to alien spacecraft” — Now refer to your own pre-recorded response #3 for the way you tell everyone else how to identify the meaning of a word. By insisting on a single meaning despite the ambiguity in popular usage you are beginning to sound like an apologist who demands a favourite word means only one thing no matter what the context. (Your studied avoidance of both words I used to surround UFO is, um, curious, yes?)

      But McG, I would interested to read a response from you to Tim’s post #4 below.

    • Steven Carr
      2011-04-18 16:49:47 GMT+0000 - 16:49 | Permalink

      ‘we would probably, unless we had good reason to think that they were all lying to perpetrate a hoax, believe that they had seen something, even though we might dispute their interpretation of it as an alien spacecraft. ‘

      Think they had seen something?

      Has McGrath found somebody who named himself as seeing Jesus.

      This is a breakthrough in historical Jesus research.

      Or is McGrath simply bluffing, comparing his ‘multiple attestation’ to eyewitnesses, rather than to the multiple attestation of Sexton Blake, of whom no fewer than 200 people wrote about?

      It is difficult to debate rationally with somebody like McGrath, who appears unable to distinguish between eyewitness testimony and anonymous works which plagiarise each other.

  • 2011-04-18 05:31:01 GMT+0000 - 05:31 | Permalink

    Before we all get lost in a discussion on what UFO means I’d like to examine this paragraph from the McG’s Matrix:

    But third and most disturbing – and reminiscent, I might add, of the similar problem with various forms of creationism – is that all the “criticism” offered is akin to what we get from those who complain that the judicial system is fundamentally flawed, because it at times allows the innocent to go to prison or a criminal to go free, but without offering any suggestion on how the system we have can be improved upon, and what better criteria of evidence would allow juries to convict fewer innocent parties and acquit fewer guilty ones.

    Here we have real insight into the mindset of apologists and many mainstream scholars who cling to the canon and are convinced it contains truth — either total truth for the apologists or “some” truth for the scholars. The problem lies not so much with the methodology as with the evidence itself.

    Suppose McG. visits the police station to report a murder. As evidence he produces a few letters with cryptic references and four anonymous diaries that appear to have been written decades after the fact. Everyone mentioned in the letters and diaries is dead, so there’s no one to question. In fact, there are no public records of anyone involved. There’s no corpse. Most of the landmarks described in the diaries have been razed.

    If the detective on the case threw his hands up in resignation, I would be the last person to complain that a guilty person was walking the streets. In fact, I’d rather live in a society that sometimes accidentally lets killers loose than one that frequently executes innocent people in the name of justice.

    “I need witnesses. I need evidence. A body would really help your case, too,” says the detective.

    “But I do have evidence!” McG. spreads the pages over the detectives desk and points. “These are my witnesses.”

    But it doesn’t work like that, does it? Just because we don’t have living witnesses or signed affidavits doesn’t mean we can promote an anonymous diary to the status of witness. Even to entertain the idea of multiple attestation is rather charitable, given the fact that the provenance of the source documents is in question and the fact that the “witnesses” can’t seem to get their stories straight.

    Now to take this tortured analogy to its obvious conclusion, suppose the detective says as he tries to usher the good doctor out of his office, in the gentlest way possible, “I’m sorry — there’s nothing I can do. Try not to get too worked up over it. You know, it’s possible that the people in those old anonymous diaries never existed in the first place. Heck, they might just be forgeries.”

    McG. stops in his tracks and swears that he’s sorted through the “evidence” and through the use of very clever criteriology has come up with a list of sayings and deeds that are probably true. “Unless you can come up with better methodology, how dare you criticize my belief that somebody really lived and really was murdered?”

    But it isn’t the job of the detective to prove that the murder didn’t happen. It isn’t the job of the criminal justice system (at least in my country) to prove innocence. Defendants plead guilty or not guilty, because it’s the prosecution’s job to prove guilt — to prove something happened.

    The Historical Jesus Hypothesis makes positive claims that require evidence and logic to support them. If the evidence at hand does not support the hypothesis, it is not my fault. It is not my job to invent new criteria. That doesn’t make me a Creationist. It doesn’t put me on the same level as a Holocaust-denier. (Oh, how easy it is for them to resort to slander.) It does not mean that I’m trying to get back at Christianity.

    Finally, lest anyone disunderstand my parable, let me state clearly that I do not expect HJ proponents to establish their case “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Our imaginary detective rejected the case because it does not even rise to the level of requiring investigation to establish probable cause. I reject the HJ hypothesis for the same reasons.

  • Steven Carr
    2011-04-18 07:39:58 GMT+0000 - 07:39 | Permalink

    If something is not multiply attested, that means it happened , because our sources were too embarrassed to mention it.

    The Gospel of John does not attest to a baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist.

    So by the principle of not being attested, it must have happened.

  • Pingback: The Historical Jesus hypothesis “does not even rise to the level of requiring investigation . . . “ « Vridar

  • Mike Wilson
    2011-04-18 18:59:13 GMT+0000 - 18:59 | Permalink

    Neil, it does often seem that you think that multiple attestation is in genral useless giving weight to an account. I won’t as you know, go thought and explain this out in detail with references to particular post, but it is just a note I will pass along to you. Next, I’m not sure about your own UFO analogy, “multiple attestation is only of value if we have reason to be sure that what they are reporting really is not itself a product of misguided or fabricated belief” A. no, if everyone in Australia said they saw an alien come out of a flying saucer, i would take it seriously, more attestations means more likelihood. We would have to be dealing with quite an impossibility if all observers could be wrong. B. What do you mean by sure? we have to be sure, without significant doubt, the event or thing occurred before we accept any amount of attestation? I can’t imagine any historian taking such a low opinion of narrative evidence. Under such a set up the report of a room full of witness to a speech would not be useful evidence unless some one electronically recorded the speech. You thinking make no sense. Or do you mean that the basic claims that reports make are of impossible things? I’m not sure how someone making a pithy statement would be impossible. Either way this post makes no sense. I’m sure I have only misunderstood it and you and Tim and Evan all share some esoteric metaphoric language, but if you want to communicate to people like McGrath, i recommend translating to a normal form of communication and not nonsense riddles like this.

    • 2011-04-18 21:32:26 GMT+0000 - 21:32 | Permalink

      You are right. If everyone in Australia said they saw an alien come out of a spacecraft I would be absolutely convinced and truly believe that they had all seen the same movie.

    • 2011-04-19 02:35:42 GMT+0000 - 02:35 | Permalink

      Mike: “I can’t imagine any historian taking such a low opinion of narrative evidence.”

      This is what I mean by “disunderstanding” — the active, deliberate misunderstanding of what we’re saying in favor of a straw man.

      Look, the point is not that I reject literary or narrative evidence. The point of the critique of multiple attestation is that it has many caveats that HJ scholars frequently gloss over. Sometimes they address the weaknesses up front, but then set them aside because they so dearly want things to be true.

      Weakness 1: Our multiple sources have to be independent, or they don’t count. If Matthew is copying Mark word for word in a passage, then we don’t have two sources; we have one source copied by another author. HJ scholars talk about multiple independent attestation. Is John independent in his description of the crucifixion? Crossan and others say, “No.” If he’s right, then we have only one witness (or one “tradition”) and three people who copied.

      Weakness 2: Multiple independent attestation by itself can only establish that an account is older. I keep quoting Paula Fredriksen, but you don’t seem to get it. Let’s try it one more time:

      “Multiple attestation of itself demonstrates not authenticity, but antiquity: a given tradition predates its various manifestations in different witnesses, if those witnesses are independent. What is attested still needs to be critically assessed. Most scholars see traditions about Mary’s virginity at the time of Jesus’ conception, for example, attested independently in both M and L, as evidence for the ways in which early Christians had begun reading the LXX, not evidence for knowing anything about the actual sexual status of Jesus’ mother. Jesus raises the dead both in the Synoptics and in John. Scholars usually do not infer, on the strength of this independent attestation, that such traditions preserve historically true reminiscences of what Jesus of Nazareth actually did, but of what he was thought to have done — a big difference.”

      By “critically assessed,” I submit that tossing out miracles and calling the rest “probably true” is not sufficient. (See the warnings from William Wrede over 100 years ago.)

      I don’t have a low opinion of narrative evidence. Stop saying that. I just happen to know that you can’t use multiple attestation to prove something happened without some external control. I think the NT is a great for finding out what early Christians believed. As a record of early Christian thought, it’s priceless and endlessly fascinating. But as a tool to uncover probable historical facts about Jesus and his disciples? Not so much.

      • Mike Wilson
        2011-04-19 04:08:23 GMT+0000 - 04:08 | Permalink

        Tim, I was responding to Neil’s remarks, which implies he no interest in reports unless he is sure by other means that the event in question took place. I have no idea what you think.

        On your critique of multiple attestation, I agree, and so do most of the major HJ scholars. I think you guys have this construct in your head that any one who thinks it is likely Jesus existed and was the figure on whom Christianity was based are apologist for Christianity and the only possible non-apologetic position is one where it is unlikely that Jesus existed. So if someone says that the multiple attestations of a deed or saying increase the odds it went back to Jesus, you read, proves Jesus did/said it, which is a very difficult if not impossible thing to state. Some may take that tack, but no one I read does, but it seems to be used to describe the whole field, including people who have made the point to explain all this. The constant bemoaning of straw men here is in light of this, ironic, since it seems the the subject of much of the polemic here is twisted though a lens that can’t comprehend that honest, intelligent people think it probable Jesus existed and did and said particular things.

        It is however a tool to uncover probable, if not provable, if probable means a probability and not, probably occurred, though in some instances this is a possible outcome, if not in HJ studies, in other forms of history.

        • 2011-04-20 02:12:42 GMT+0000 - 02:12 | Permalink

          Mike: “So if someone says that the multiple attestations of a deed or saying increase the odds it went back to Jesus, you read, proves Jesus did/said it, which is a very difficult if not impossible thing to state. Some may take that tack, but no one I read does…

          So you don’t read Bart Ehrman, E.P. Sanders, Dale Martin, John Dominic Crossan, etc., etc.? The dominant mainstream position that Jesus did exist and that we can know that he said certain things and did certain things depends on multiple attestation.

          Crossan says he is absolutely sure Jesus was crucified by Pilate, and he knows that because of multiple attestation, along with the criterion of embarrassment, which depends on multiple attestation. Ehrman says he knows for certain that Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet because our earliest multiple sources attest to that “fact.”

          Mike: “…it seems the the subject of much of the polemic here is twisted though a lens that can’t comprehend that honest, intelligent people think it probable Jesus existed and did and said particular things.”

          Where do you get that? The scholars who think it highly probable that Jesus existed and think they know some things that Jesus said and did are both honest and probably a lot more intelligent than me. What I’m trying to do is to shine a light on unexamined assumptions and bad logic.

          It’s like that line from Jesus Christ Superstar: “I look for truth, and find that I get damned.”

          • mike w
            2011-04-20 04:31:22 GMT+0000 - 04:31 | Permalink

            At a certain point, something that is well attested enough can be taken as a fact, yes. Proven? No, but presenting an alternate scenario at some point begins to strain credulity. Hence no one is looking for the satanic gang that may have killed Scott Peterson’s wife Stacy or Nicole Brown’s real killer.

            • 2011-04-20 05:35:04 GMT+0000 - 05:35 | Permalink

              Mike: “At a certain point, something that is well attested enough can be taken as a fact, yes.”

              No! Did you read the Fredriksen quote? Did you understand what she’s saying? If a deed or saying has multiple independent attestation, we can confidently say that it is the earliest belief of the community.

              The New Testament tells us that Jesus (and his disciples, later) raised people from the dead. It is multiply attested. I’m certain that early Christians believed it to be true. But that does not make it an historical fact.

              Mike: “Proven? No, but presenting an alternate scenario at some point begins to strain credulity.”

              At this point I’m unconvinced by any scenario. I’m intrigued by fresh analysis by Margaret Barker and Earl Doherty. But I remain a seeker. (And after much investigation, the dominant view — crucified man, worshiped as a god shortly after his death — truly “strains credulity” and utterly fails to convince me.)

              • mike w
                2011-04-20 07:30:53 GMT+0000 - 07:30 | Permalink

                We have an early and universal belief in Christianity that the movement was founded by a man, Jesus. Since movements are commonly founded by people there isn’t a lot of controversy here. It would be different if some accounts said Jesus founded Christianity and another said John the baptist did but Jesus was a a friend of Paul’s who took credit or something like that, but we don’t. Views that have attempted to account for this belief without a guy named Jesus have failed for lack of evidence. Your particular objection, crucified man, worshiped as a god shortly after his death, If we remove the point of contention, reads as this ‘crucified man, worshiped as a god” Now you may object to the man part, but Christianity readily believed Jesus was a man, and that Christians worshiped a Jesus, who they took to be a man, as God i don’t think is disputed by even you. I mean, that is you complaint, that they did this. So it isn’t impossible that people would worship a guy that isn’t really around anymore as a god. I’m not sure how it becomes impossible for this to happen if there was a actual guy in mind as opposed to something else.

                Apparently some people then were quite willing to believe that a guy could be god, or at least close. Even Jews. That is an indisputable iron clad fact backed by hard physical evidence. unless you are willing to believe that all the text of Christianity were not intended to reflect anyone’s real belief, you have to admit that people of that time thought it was possible for a man to be a god. So we have a universally agreed belief that Jesus was a man who founded Christianity, and proof that people thought men could be gods, that a recently crucified man was worshiped as a god “soon” after his death is the simplest explanation we have to account for the facts we have.

                Speculation that there was no Jesus in fact complicates the the process, so the burden of proof is on anyone that would argue for the more complicated scenario. What grounds do we have to question that Jesus was a person that people later thought was a god? You can speculate it isn’t so, but you have no evidence to press your case that the early Christians are mistaken in this claim. Maybe we will find some early book that will change our perspective on this, but I can hardly tout the supremacy of a hypotheses based on facts I could have. This is like the secret identical twin defense. Tim you need to do a little more investigation, challenge your assumptions, and apply some logic.

                You will find that most facts might be false, but it would be unwise to ignore them until you have “proof”.

              • Steven Carr
                2011-04-20 08:04:36 GMT+0000 - 08:04 | Permalink

                ‘We have an early and universal belief in Christianity that the movement was founded by a man, Jesus.’

                To translate this into English , the earliest Christians writer never claimed Jesus founded Christianity, or testified to this ‘new righteousness’, or appointed apostles, or preached a sermon,or performed a miracle, or did pretty much anything.

                In fact , when people say that ‘the movement was founded by a man , Jesus’, this means that the earliest Christian writer wrote ‘Paul, an apostle—sent not from men nor by a man, but by Jesus Christ….’.

              • mike w
                2011-04-20 08:00:48 GMT+0000 - 08:00 | Permalink

                To approach this from another angle, and maybe clear up some confusion, I would like to say the question is not “Did Jesus exist?” some people seem to feel that this is somehow putting forward a claim that has to be demonstrated. To use the court analogies you like so much, “did X commit the murder?” what we are really asking is, how did “Jesus” become associated with Christianity? In court terms “Who killed Y?” A claim that Jesus did not exist is making a claim about the origin of Christianity. It is a claim that some other means was the reason Jesus was associated with the beginning of Christianity. Not having enough evidence to prove X murdered Y, it does not mean y is now alive, and if no other scenario could have produced Y’s murder, and there is a plausible scenario for X to have, then we don’t need to have hard evidence. The circumstantial will work. Happens all the time. Ask Scott Peterson. So if we cannot prove Jesus existed, that does not mean less probable scenarios must have occurred, or that Christianity had no origin because no means of originating it can be proved.

              • 2011-04-20 11:40:57 GMT+0000 - 11:40 | Permalink

                OK, I’ll give it just one more shot.

                NT Writings: Late, anonymous, lacking eyewitness testimony, contradictory, of uncertain provenance, prone to copy error and scribal mischief.

                In the US legal system, they are equivalent to hearsay evidence at best, and inadmissible in a court of law. (Except in very rare occasions, and no, I am not a lawyer.)

                Circumstantial Evidence: Forensic evidence, indirect testimony (not a direct witness of the crime, but an eyewitness to some other event that establishes likelihood of culpability).

                Scott Peterson case was not convicted on the basis of hearsay evidence. The prosecution used the typical trio: motive, opportunity, and evidence. Granted, the evidence might seem thin to you, but it was there. And generally speaking, forensic evidence is more reliable than eyewitness testimony.

                ————–
                So all things being equal, is a historical Jesus more likely than a mythical Jesus? I’ll leave you with a quote from Richard Carrier, which I hope you will mull over and take to heart. Referring to the book he’s trying to get published on historical method and the historical Jesus, he writes:

                “Then I have one chapter before all this establishing prior probability. I show certain characteristics of the Jesus story — even from very early on — are more typically characteristics of mythical people than historical ones. So the prior probability already favors his non-existence. I give a rigorous demonstration of that. I don’t just presume that. So I have a chapter on that.

                So if the prior probability favors myth, even by a little bit. It doesn’t matter how much, even by a little bit, and all the consequent probabilities favor myth. Then by necessary deductive logic, myth is more probable than historicity.”

                http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=10150

                What “certain characteristics” might he be talking about? How about being named Mr. Savior Messiah? Or seeing the heaven split in two at his baptism? Or casting out demonic spirits? Or raising the dead? Or being transfigured on a mountain with Moses and Elijah? Or healing the blind? Or walking through walls? Or walking on water? Or rising from the dead?

                If you look at the whole of the gospels, and not just the skeleton that remains after the HJ scholars have excised the implausible parts, you’ll see a story about a character who lives on a supernatural plane, battling evil and proclaiming the coming kingdom of his father — God himself. Hell, the whole purpose of John’s gospel, says its author, is to tell you about the signs and wonders so that you may believe!

                Stripping out the supernatural in order to fabricate a historical Jesus does even more violence to the text than gospel harmonizations that NT scholars make fun of.

              • 2011-04-20 12:27:33 GMT+0000 - 12:27 | Permalink

                A slight correction. The typical trio are (of course) “means, motive, and opportunity,” with evidence being necessary to prove the case.

                http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Means,_motive,_and_opportunity

              • Mike Wilson
                2011-04-20 16:28:27 GMT+0000 - 16:28 | Permalink

                “Late, anonymous, lacking eyewitness testimony, contradictory, of uncertain provenance, prone to copy error and scribal mischief.

                In the US legal system, they are equivalent to hearsay evidence at best, and inadmissible in a court of law.”
                They are however routinely used in history, probably because historians don’t get to send people to prison, just blacken their names for posterity. But if history isn’t your cup of tea, I won’t try to change your mind.

                On Carrier I’ll have to see his book to pass judgment on his statement. I don’t know what his arguments are that led him to that conclusion. I will say, that while I have liked some of his work, and think he is the most level headed person to argue that Jesus is a myth, he isn’t a great historian or anything like that. Maybe if his ideas about Bayne’s theorem catch on, that will change. At the present, I don’t drop what I’m doing when I hear Carrier speak.

                On the miraculous and historicity, it does drop the reliability of the text, but it is hard to say that indicates the subject doesn’t exist, I have read a lot of books where miracles were attributed to people whose existence is well documented, some are alive today.

                As for violence on text, I don’t think any one doing history should fabricate their findings to preserve peoples fantasies. Historians routinely bust bubbles on what was assumed to be true in the past. It may not be as exiting to to read Herodotus or Exodus knowing that it isn’t “true”, and some may not read it for that reason, but is better to know the real truth I think.

              • Steven Carr
                2011-04-20 16:33:18 GMT+0000 - 16:33 | Permalink

                Mike Wilson continues to complain that True Historians use anonymous, unprovenanced works which plagiarise each other.

                Meanwhile, New Testament scholars like Larry Hurtado say that newly discovered Lead Codices should be treated as fakes as they ‘lack provenance’ – a rule which they dare not apply to their own fields of work, as they are would be like turkeys voting for Christmas.

              • 2011-04-20 17:15:47 GMT+0000 - 17:15 | Permalink

                Mike: “But if history isn’t your cup of tea, I won’t try to change your mind.

                Actually, I have a degree in history. It is very much my cup of tea.

                My irony-meter is broken. You’re not trolling me, are you?

              • 2011-04-20 18:51:25 GMT+0000 - 18:51 | Permalink

                “Late, anonymous, lacking eyewitness testimony, contradictory, of uncertain provenance, prone to copy error and scribal mischief.

                In the US legal system, they are equivalent to hearsay evidence at best, and inadmissible in a court of law.”

                They are however routinely used in history

                They are? I studied history for many years but never knew this. So do enlighten me. Tell me where late anonymous works of uncertain provenance prone to scribal mischief etc are “routinely used in history”.

              • Mike Wilson
                2011-04-21 04:14:25 GMT+0000 - 04:14 | Permalink

                Neil

                “Tell me where late anonymous works of uncertain provenance prone to scribal mischief etc are “routinely used in history”

                The Iliad, the odyssey, the book of kings, the Babylonian kings list, virtually all the text in James Pritchard’s The Ancient Near East: and Anthology of Text and Pictures, The Spring and Autumn Annuals, Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Saga of Erik the Red, Grœnlendinga saga, The Annals of Wales, Annals of Xanten, Historia Norwegiæ, Ágrip af Nóregskonungasögum, The Secret History of the Mongols, to name some. You may be able to add to the list.

                These come up a lot. Well, I admit I’m not as familiar with the Norwegian works beyond the ever popular Vineland Sagas. There may be an argument for abandoning the use of these works for historical inquiry but I haven’t seen that made yet, and as a limitation of doing business, I feel compelled to work within the existing framework of historical research and not invent a whole knew way of doing things before I even complete graduate studies.

              • 2011-04-21 04:31:03 GMT+0000 - 04:31 | Permalink

                This is probably the first time in history that the words “whole knew way” and “graduate studies” have appeared in the same sentence.

                I think we’re all indebted to Gabby Johnson for clearly stating what needed to be said.

              • Mike Wilson
                2011-04-21 04:54:47 GMT+0000 - 04:54 | Permalink

                Glad to help you feel better.

              • 2011-04-21 07:50:10 GMT+0000 - 07:50 | Permalink

                Well Mike, you got me there. I had thought from your initial comment that you were seriously suggesting that nonbiblical historians use the sorts of texts to which you were referring in the same manner as biblical historians use the NT.

                Now what I have argued repeatedly is that the NT texts be studied in the same manner as those texts you list. The Iliad and Odyssey are used for certain kinds of historical information and they are set against certain historical backgrounds, but no historian uses them to try to reconstruct the historical Achilles or Odysseus, or to analyze why and how a Cyclops died or why Hector met his fate. Now don’t misunderstand, such things might be the topics of literature classes.

                Sorry I was being naive and not awake to your little joke in your initial post.

              • Mike Wilson
                2011-04-21 08:18:38 GMT+0000 - 08:18 | Permalink

                Neil, Biblical Historians attracts a wide range of authors, and I avoid ones that seem to be faith based apologetics and quit a bit of the material produced seems dubious. I have also seen some bad non-biblical history too. in genral around an ancient text there is a degree of haze so to speak and it is hard to be certain of things inside of it. We have to keep in mind that out text may be corrupt, that authors lie, and all sorts of other factors. For instance, archeology has established that the Vinland Saga is not a pure fairy tale, but I wouldn’t promote it as a book of facts on Eric the Red, or Greenland or what ever. But I would not, however, dismiss it as irrelevant to to the study of those things. The genral state of NT scholarship doesn’t seem to be terribly gullible if look at secular studies as opposed to some evangelical seminaries “scholars” (as the discussion on Diego shows as well, Vatican scholars are all for him existing, it is everyone outside the church that is skeptical), for instance the Jesus seminar found the Gospels to be about what, 20% sure/accurate on Jesus? One would like a biography to be a bit more accurate than that. Some of course ranked it higher, some much less.

              • 2011-04-21 11:32:19 GMT+0000 - 11:32 | Permalink

                What percent of the words of Odysseus or Achilles have been assessed as ‘historical’ by any scholar?

                Your comments illustrate a remarkable ability to confuse concepts and a total failure to comprehend the difference between the way the Iliad and Odyssey are used as evidence and the way the Gospels are studied by HJ scholars.

                Tim once advised you to study the Dunning-Kruger effect. Have you completed that assignment yet?

              • Mike Wilson
                2011-04-21 12:03:56 GMT+0000 - 12:03 | Permalink

                I didn’t realize you were so hung up on Homer, I had a whole slew of works of questionable historical value. Now regarding the Iliad and Odyssey, I think most historians would agree with me that the particulars of the two works is rather different and the result of that is the gospels are more useful for informing us about the events and people associated with than Homer is with his subjects. It would be very foolish to say they are of equal historical value or that we know more about Agamemnon than Jesus.

                Give my thanks Tim for the suggestion, but I try to receive my education only from competent individuals, it works better that way. For instance I’m not sure his method of retreat to insults when reason fails, will get me far. I’m sure he is convinced he is right and most historians are as stupid as he thinks I am, but that seems a bit crazy to me. If I were promoting ideas and methods with so little support, I would be more humble. I wish him luck finding a use for his history degree.

              • 2011-04-21 13:21:45 GMT+0000 - 13:21 | Permalink

                Mike: “I’m sure he is convinced he is right and most historians are as stupid as he thinks I am, but that seems a bit crazy to me.”

                It would indeed be crazy for me to think historians are stupid. After all, I studied history at the same school where Gordon W. Prange taught. It was a pretty good program, with a well-rounded faculty and very high standards. And if I thought historians were stupid, how would you explain the hundreds of history books that line my shelves?

                True, history is an avocation for me. But it’s still my first love, and I envy anyone who can study it full time. It is a great privilege.

                My problem is not with historians, but with Biblical scholars who think they’re historians, but who misapply historical methods and make claims that are unsupported by the evidence.

                My criticisms have led you on many occasions to impugn my motives and suggest that I don’t understand history. I hope I can be forgiven if I happen to find that absurd and worthy or ridicule.

                For many months I had made it a policy to ignore you. I shall now return to that policy. So long.

              • 2011-04-22 00:13:45 GMT+0000 - 00:13 | Permalink

                Mike Wilson, I wonder if you frequent the blog world because in real life you come face to face so often with others who make it clear to you that they find your manner of arguing a case unintelligent, ignorant, incoherent, illogical and arrogant.

                The first four could be forgiven, and you could learn to overcome them — but only if you first manage to conquer the fifth in that list.

              • Mike Wilson
                2011-04-22 08:01:33 GMT+0000 - 08:01 | Permalink

                Neil, firstly, no, every one finds me very persuasive when it comes to history. I’m not sure why you would think that someone unpopular here would be unpopular else-where, you’re the anti-establishment guy, people congregate here because no one likes their ideas elsewhere. On arrogant, I have questioned myself on commenting, here and whether I’m coming here for a cheap ego boost. But deep down, this is a great fishing hole. There is always action and people are passionate. At its best it is great fun. There are certainly people who are more equipped than I am elsewhere, but they have better thing to do but debate with people like me.

                Now on Tim, I looked over the exchanges, and 1. Everyone here calls a spade a spade and there isn’t a lot of deference. In fact you and most of the regulars seem a little arrogant to me. 2. I feel bad I poked fun at his analogy, he already recognized its faults and there is no point rubbing it in. I’m always touch about sharing my poetry, but I probably wouldn’t write poetry as an attack on someone, (is James really just an apologists?) it invites an equal response. I won’t say that Tim or you are wrong, about taking James personally, he does think Jesus Myth is “pseudo-science”, so the implication is anyone promoting it hasn’t thought this through. 3. Tim can be vicious fellow himself, and he has been pretty insulting when I don’t see things his way. I don’t mind the insults, because I don’t find his arguments compelling. I would take it bad if someone just invalidated my argument. I would just as soon though just discuss the topics in a rational way.

  • 2011-04-18 23:48:53 GMT+0000 - 23:48 | Permalink
    • 2011-04-19 09:47:45 GMT+0000 - 09:47 | Permalink

      Humans are predisposed to believe or not believe things based on emotional and inductive responses. We all need to be aware of our instantaneous biases. They’re built into the brain’s hardware, honed razor-sharp by millions of years of evolution. It takes a great deal of effort to stay disciplined and treat all incoming data fairly and logically.

      Highly Recommended: The Science of Why We Don’t Believe Science

      “We push threatening information away; we pull friendly information close. We apply fight-or-flight reflexes not only to predators, but to data itself.” –Arthur Lupia

      • 2011-04-19 23:55:03 GMT+0000 - 23:55 | Permalink

        This Mother Jones article is important reading. It presents lots of tough challenges . . . .

        If you want someone to accept new evidence, make sure to present it to them in a context that doesn’t trigger a defensive, emotional reaction. . . .

        you don’t lead with the facts in order to convince. You lead with the values—so as to give the facts a fighting chance.

        • 2011-04-20 01:50:00 GMT+0000 - 01:50 | Permalink

          New facts that upset the status quo can’t come from people you don’t like. Here in the US, conservatives who deny Global Warming aren’t going to change their minds because some “ivory tower” scientist told them.

          “Conservatives are more likely to embrace climate science if it comes to them via a business or religious leader, who can set the issue in the context of different values than those from which environmentalists or scientists often argue.”

          In the case of Biblical Studies, bloggers (and nobodies like me who comment on blogs) won’t change anyone’s mind. Information has to come from authority figures in academia. I was reminded recently that in order to attain and maintain a position of authority in that field, one has to toe the line.

          Read how Thomas Thompson almost got tenure at Marquette, but became a Danish refugee instead:

          http://tomverenna.wordpress.com/2011/04/11/an-interview-with-thomas-l-thompson-part-1-of-4/

      • Mike Wilson
        2011-04-20 00:08:16 GMT+0000 - 00:08 | Permalink

        Precisely Tim, I recommend your link, or my old text book, How to Think About Weird Things, to all of you here.

        • TruthOverfaith
          2011-04-24 20:23:06 GMT+0000 - 20:23 | Permalink

          Mike said “I’m not sure why you would think that someone unpopular here would be unpopular else-where”

          Because, Mike, we here at vridar are bright enough to be reasonable judges of character-and we reason you to be a narcissistic,pompous,arrogant, . . . [deleted by Neil/blog owner] . . . . If you were half as smart as you seem to think you are, you might actually be interesting.

          Thanks for asking!

  • 2011-12-01 07:23:58 GMT+0000 - 07:23 | Permalink

    Ok, this thread is a bit old but seems the most relevant.

    What about the evidence and testaments for Śri Sathya Sai Baba (Sathyanarayana Raju)?

    Until very recently, a living God-being, worker of miracles, worshiped by literally millions with many who can personally attest to miracles, levitation, bilocation, healing, raising the dead.

    Evidence that is tens of thousands of times stronger than that for Jesus.

    Why aren’t all the Christians swarming to the swami?

    • 2011-12-01 08:41:43 GMT+0000 - 08:41 | Permalink

      I don’t know of any HJ or New Testament scholar who is seriously even attempting to challenge the mythicist position. (Of course there may be some I am unaware of. I would like to know about them.) The only reason I still keep peeking at Dr McGrath’s blog is because he insisted he has not yet given up on continuing his “reviews” (a satirical term) of Earl Doherty’s book. But I suspect he got so badly burned over the exposure of his failure to follow a simple logical argument and his failure to even address the key parts of the last pages he reviewed (and he still does not understand the logic of the argument according to an exchange I had a week or two ago — only that there is something there others are agog over) that he has been very slow to continue with it. But apart from his “reviews”, he has nothing but unsubstantiated polemic. He doesn’t even bother to try to understand or know the facts of what he is shouting against. He’s much more comfortable blogging about Dr Who and what he teaches in Sunday School.

      If you demonstrate point by point he is wrong in any of his assertions he merely replies you are a “denialist” or “just because you say you have rebutted me doesn’t mean you actually have.” He cannot rise above kindergarten level argument.

      Ditto with Maurice Casey. He only had sinister character portrayals to throw at mythicists — by contrast to the “pious” intentions of Christian scholars.

      Geoffrey Gibson is a bigot who wont even pretend to read what he attacks. James Crossley would rather swear at you than discuss a theoretical challenge to the fundamentals of his methods. And “Tim O’Neil” under whatever alias represents the nonscholarly crusaders against mythicism with pseudo-logic, character innuendo and more bombast than knowledge.

      If Bart Ehrman has anything substantive to say I am sure we would have heard it by now. I have found that I can usually purchase much more cheaply at second hand book stores on the net older books that have already said what he packages in new glossy merchandise.

      • 2011-12-01 16:41:02 GMT+0000 - 16:41 | Permalink

        > If Bart Ehrman has anything substantive to say I am sure we would have heard it by now.

        Ehrman, it seems, has been rewriting the same book for the past 15 years. Kurt Vonnegut appeared to be rewriting the same book from “Mother Night” through “Breakfast of Champions,” yet since each attempt was a masterpiece in its own right, I never felt slighted. With Bart, on the other hand, it’s just getting a bit tiresome. Yeah, I’ll still keep buying and reading his books, but he peaked at “The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture.”

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