2011-04-17

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

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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! Continue reading “Multiple Attestation and the usual straw man polemics from a certain blogger”


2011-04-16

Logical confusion on the historical Jesus side of the debate

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Various commenters have referred me to a list of pre-recorded responses, any one of which can be prompted to “reply” to any question raised that seeks a justification of an argument in favour of Jesus being historical. That sounds like a very efficient way for a Jesus historicist to completely avoid addressing the question of mythicism altogether. I am sure there are still plenty of self-help type books on the market that continue to advise readers that the best way to persuade someone against their point of view is to seriously listen to what they are really saying and avoid the trap of having a prepared response in your mind that you are simply waiting for the chance to release and end the discussion.

But recorded response number four is the one I want to address in particular because I simply do not understand it. This worries me a little because it appears to be an attempt to explain something major about the strength of the historicist argument, and if that is the case then there is something seriously askew in either a mythicist’s or a historicist’s grasp of logic.

This is “Beep: Recorded Response #4”:

#4. The quest for the historical Jesus and the criteria of authenticity do not presuppose the historicity of Jesus. They seek to demonstrate it in the only way possible. One cannot demonstrate the historicity of Alexander the Great in fashion separately from all evidence for things he may have said, done, or had inscribed. The same is true in the case of Jesus.

How can I search for the Yeti if I do not presuppose, even if only hypothetically, that it exists? I have never gone looking for a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow because I presuppose it does not exist. I suppose if I ever came to believe that there is a possibility that there might be a pot of gold there then I just might think I have nothing to lose and go looking for it. Continue reading “Logical confusion on the historical Jesus side of the debate”


2011-04-14

Jesus Potter Harry Christ ch.2: The mythicist controversy ancient and modern

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

So what has kept the mythicist controversy alive despite frustrated assertions among biblical scholars that the debate was settled long ago? Derek Murphy demonstrates in chapter two of Jesus Potter Harry Christ that the modern controversy over the historicity of Jesus “has a long and substantial history, and that, in effect, the jury is still out.” Derek Murphy is well aware that some of the works he uses have been questioned and disputed with the advance of academic research. His purpose is thus limited to showing the existence and heritage of the debate.

My goal is only to demonstrate that a modern controversy over the historical Jesus exists, that it has a long and substantial history, and that, in effect, the jury is still out.

I also want to show that certain claims regarding Jesus are not modern delusions of “fringe” scholars — in fact there are few claims made about Jesus today that were not made centuries earlier. (p. 47)

Dismay among many believers in the historicity of Jesus reminds us that few people are aware that the question can be raised at all, and that the evidence used to support Jesus’ historicity is not universally accepted. Continue reading “Jesus Potter Harry Christ ch.2: The mythicist controversy ancient and modern”


2011-04-12

Paul as a Witness to the Historical Jesus: Gerd Ludemann

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Raphael, St Paul Preaching in Athens
Image via Wikipedia

Professor of History and Literature of Early Christianity at Georg-August-University Göttingen, and director of the Institute of Early Christian Studies, Dr Gerd Lüdemann, concludes an essay published in 2010 with this sentence:

In short, Paul cannot be considered a reliable witness to either the teachings, the life, or the historical existence of Jesus. (“Paul as Witness to the Historical Jesus” in Sources of the Jesus Tradition: Separating Jesus from Myth, p. 212)

So what is his reasoning or understanding of the letters of Paul that leads him to such a conclusion?

Earlier in the same essay Dr Lüdemann also wrote:

In short, while Paul is far from a systematic biographer, it is incorrect to say that the earthly Jesus did not matter to him. (p. 200)

Lüdemann argues that it makes no sense to speak of Paul’s view of “the historical Jesus”, since this concept is the product of a scholarly study of the texts. Rather, he speaks of Paul’s interest in “the earthly Jesus”.

Lüdemann interprets passages such as Galatians 4:4 (born of a woman) and Galatians 1:19 (James the Lord’s brother) as references to the earthly Jesus.

So I am posting this to present a different viewpoint on the question of Jesus’ historicity. Continue reading “Paul as a Witness to the Historical Jesus: Gerd Ludemann”


2011-04-11

Paul: a recycled Peter and Jesus

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Saints Peter and Paul shown on the coat of arm...
Image via Wikipedia

This post cannot explore all the ways in which the life of Paul in Acts has been shown to be borrowed from the narratives about Jesus and Peter, but I will touch the surface of the general idea for now. I am relying on two works (I’m sure they’re not the only ones) that argue that the details in Acts (not the epistles) of Paul’s miracles, speeches and even some of his travels and adventures are literary borrowings from the lives of Jesus and Peter:

Literary Patterns, Theological Themes and the Genre of Luke-Acts by Charles H. Talbert

Parallel Lives: The Relation of Paul to the Apostles in the Lucan Perspective by Andrew C. Clark.

Beginning with Clark’s book, we read:

[E]very miracle performed by Peter has its parallel in one wrought by Paul. . . . In addition to the miracles performed by Peter and Paul, Acts records other miraculous or supernatural events which they experienced, and in these too many parallels between the two may be observed. (p. 209)

Andrew Clark explores these parallels in minute detail according to six specific criteria (outlined in an earlier post here). I don’t have the time to give examples in this post, but I would like to discuss a few of the cases in depth when free to do so. Here I will list the parallels that he lists before undertaking his detailed study of each. If one reads around the particular passages one will also note a broader contextual set of parallels. Continue reading “Paul: a recycled Peter and Jesus”


2011-04-10

Jesus Potter Harry Christ: Reviewing Part One (chapter one)

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Although it is easy to accept that Rowling crafted the literary character of Harry Potter after the figure of Jesus, shouldn’t it pique our interest that Jesus — a monumental figure in modern world religion generally believed to have been historical — has so much in common with the obviously fictional fantasy world and character of Harry Potter? (Preface, p. viii, Jesus Potter Harry Christ)

It’s a good question. It appeals to me personally because I have a particular interest in the gospels as literature. I am convinced that they need to be understood as literature before we can decide if and in what manner we might seek to extract historical information from them.

This post is a first draft of a review I am preparing for the book, and covers so far only the first of the book’s three sections. I am posting this now for the simple reason that I fear too long a time gap before I will be in a position to post a completed review of the entire book. So serialization it is for now. Continue reading “Jesus Potter Harry Christ: Reviewing Part One (chapter one)”


Gaddafi: the millennia old Messiah figure is still with us

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

The messiah myth, millennia old across north Africa and the Middle East, is still alive in Libya today. Words recently spoken by Gaddafi were scripted long ago by the Pharaohs of Egypt and the Kings of Mesopotamia, and are found in the Psalms of David and in the proclamations of Jesus Christ. I repeat a few of them here, then place Gaddafi’s perception of his messianic role beside them.

Interesting also is the motif of family relationships Gaddafi ascribes between himself and Nasser of Egypt and even the U.S. President Obama. All this is, one might truly say, “so iron age”. It is the stuff one reads on monuments of ancient kings.

More extracts are found in my earlier post, Jesus A Saviour Like the Kings and Gods of Egypt and Babylon, which are in turn extracted from Thomas L. Thompson’s book The Messiah Myth. This work demonstrates that biblical motifs attached to David and Jesus were part and parcel of the expected “messianic” salvation functions of kings and gods embedded in ancient Egyptian and Babylonian culture. Continue reading “Gaddafi: the millennia old Messiah figure is still with us”


2011-04-09

How (not) to decide the historical facts about Jesus

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Richard C. Carrier in a chapter entitled “Bayes’s Theorem for Beginners: Formal Logic and Its Relevance to Historical Method”* conveniently lists seventeen “representative” criteria that have been developed by various scholars in an effort to determine the historicity, or what could be established as truly historical, about Jesus. Many of them are presumably taken from Stanley Porter’s list that Carrier addresses. Continue reading “How (not) to decide the historical facts about Jesus”


2011-04-06

Struggling with a date for Paul’s letters

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

This post is a kind of “thinking aloud” series of responses to Doherty’s list of reasons for adhering to the conventional wisdom on Paul. I am primarily concerned with the relative dates of the letters. It makes no difference to me if the real person behind them was Buttox who sold the world on his pen-name Paul. What counts is the place of the letters in the history of Christian origins.

Earl Doherty’s reasons (reduced to dot-points in my previous post) are in bold type, with my reflections following. There are, of course, various other arguments than those addressed below for sometimes dating the letters well into the second century. But I am only considering these few explicit arguments for the first century (really meaning pre 70 ce) date here.

# Paul’s epistles do not reflect orthodox beliefs in historical Jesus. We would expect them to reflect this if they were second century. Continue reading “Struggling with a date for Paul’s letters”


Reasons to assign Paul’s letters to the first century (distilled from Doherty)

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

I have attempted to distill the key points from Earl Doherty’s recent comments to sum up his case for maintaining the assigning of Paul’s letters to the first century. I will post my own thoughts on these in a later post. I have not included here details of some previous discussion in which Doherty responds to specific objections or questions, but I have extracted a few summary points he included in his responses.

The argument is that a first-century picture is “thoroughly coherent”:

  1. Paul’s epistles do not reflect orthodox beliefs in historical Jesus. We would expect them to reflect this if they were second century.
  2. Claims that Paul’s epistles reflect Marcionism are weak.
  3. Sections in Paul’s letters that have been said to reflect anti-Marcionite polemics are best explained as later ad hoc orthodox editing.
  4. The slightly “jumbled, inconsistent” character of the Pauline epistles is what we would expect from uncoordinated and mostly occasional writings spanning years and different situations. (Notwithstanding some clear tampering in the second century as well.)
  5. “A strong indication of some degree of authenticity is the personality of a writer who is engaged in the type of apostolic work being presented. The strong and emotional personality that emerges in the genuine Paulines is not conceivable as the product of a deliberate forger living in a later time and slaving over a writing desk to create a fictional character of a century earlier.”
  6. Paul is mentioned in 1 Clement and the letters of Ignatius (probably written in his name, but early in the 2nd century). Continue reading “Reasons to assign Paul’s letters to the first century (distilled from Doherty)”

2011-04-05

Does the notion of a crucified messiah need a historical easter experience?

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

It's the Easter Bonnie!
Image by Tabbymom Jen via Flickr

It is interesting to read in a short section of Paul the Convert Alan F. Segal’s case for Christianity originating in an easter-type of experience of disciples of a historically crucified Jesus.

Having run across so many references to Segal’s book when I was reading about the heavenly ascent mystical experiences among Second Temple Jews and early Christians (blogged about in several posts in the first two weeks of March this year) I knew I could not continue posting along this line until I had read Segal’s book for myself. But this post addresses Segal’s encapsulation of the case that Christianity began when disciples of Jesus grappled with theology to explain his death. (I am aware Segal has only recently passed away, and I by no means intend any of the following post as a criticism of Segal personally. I hope it can be read as an impersonal argument. I find much of value in Segal’s works, including Paul the Convert, and of course in Two Powers, and respect him highly as a scholar.)

Segal’s argument

During the period of Jesus’ ministry some of his followers thought he was the messiah. Segal says only that it is “likely” that some of them did, but his argument depends on some of them certainly thinking so. Segal begins his explanation with this:

Since Jesus died a martyr, expectations of his resurrection would have been normal in sectarian Judaism. [Reference here to Segal’s Rebecca’s Children, pp. 60-67, 78-95] Continue reading “Does the notion of a crucified messiah need a historical easter experience?”


A James McGrath–Earl Doherty Exchange

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

James McGrath blogged with reference to the recent interview with and follow up comments by Earl Doherty here, and Earl Doherty has replied here.

For ease of reference I bring the two — McGrath’s post and Doherty’s response — together in this post.

James McGrath’s post

Earl Doherty Believes Paul Existed…For Much the Same Reasons Historians Believe Jesus Existed

Neil Godfrey has kindly posted an interview with Earl Doherty and then Doherty’s response to a question from Evan, who also frequently comments here at Exploring Our Matrix. The question relates to whether and why Doherty accepts the existence of a historical Paul, but not a historical Jesus.

It is a fantastic question.

If mythicism emerges out of a principled stance that literary documents alone, or in particular literary documents all from a particular religious tradition, cannot serve as historical evidence for the existence of persons, then there ought to be no difference in how the two are viewed. The difference of genre between letters claiming to be written by Paul and Gospels claiming to be about Jesus is for all intents and purposes irrelevant when it comes to this question, since there is no more difficulty forging letters from a fictional person than in “forging characters” in a fictional narrative.

Doherty, in fact, believes that a historical Paul makes better sense of the evidence. That is, of course, precisely the stance of historians when it comes to the question of the existence of a historical Jesus.

I am curious whether Neil Godfrey, Evan, and others will criticize Doherty for this or will be pleased with his answer. Either way it should make for interesting discussion.

Posted by James F. McGrath at 10:58 PM

.

And Earl Doherty’s response:

First let me comment on Jim McGrath’s remarks posted on his blog.

If Jim really believes that there is no difference between the evidence for Paul and the evidence for Jesus (regardless of how they are to be ranked), if he believes that accepting one figure requires that we must accept the other, he has very little understanding about the arguments for mythicism. And he is ignoring the very differences I pointed out in the posting he has quoted from this blog.

I’m not sure what Jim is so excited about, or what point he thinks he has scored. He claims that

“Earl Doherty Believes Paul Existed…For Much the Same Reasons Historians Believe Jesus Existed.

Doherty, in fact, believes that a historical Paul makes better sense of the evidence. That is, of course, precisely the stance of historians when it comes to the question of the existence of a historical Jesus.”

Yes, it may be their stance, but that does not make the two positions necessarily equal in merit, and certainly not for the same “reasons.” Every field of research, or some segment of it, will make a similar claim, that its current conclusion makes the best sense of the evidence. Until, that is, some other research comes along and demonstrates otherwise. And one case of such a claim can hardly be used to prove the legitimacy of some other case. This is a peculiar type of fallacy.

There is no question that historicists claim that the existence of an HJ makes better sense of the evidence. But are they justified in so claiming? Are they being unbiased and free from predisposition? Are they immune from reading one set of documents into another? Are their arguments coherent and free of fallacy? The mythicist position is that they are not.

The fact that we hold respective convictions that we’ve made the best sense of the evidence is not dramatic in itself and hardly proves anything. Jim seems to be suggesting that my acceptance of the likelihood of an historical Paul and my rejection of the likelihood of an historical Jesus is some kind of arbitrary eenie-meenie-minee-moe. Rather, it is a matter of subjecting each case to its own careful and unbiased examination.

One of the major differences I put forward was the nature of the evidence. We have writings purporting to be by Paul, but none by Jesus. Much of the ‘genuine’ Pauline letters have the sound of a real person with all its human emotions and weaknesses, its personal experiences and reactions to real-life situations. The “sound” of Jesus in the Gospels, on the other hand, is a bunch of set-pieces and mirrorings of scripture, almost nothing in the way of an identifiable personality. Even his third-person-related deeds are midrashic rewrites of passages from scripture. On the cross, Mark can give him nothing more to say than a line from Psalm 22. As for the epistles, they ‘recount’ Jesus’ life by paraphrasing lines from passages like Isaiah 53, as in 1 Peter 2:22. This is just one example of the differences between the two ‘records’ and why a conviction of reality in regard to Paul has its own reasons which are quite distinct from the reasons historicists may have for their conviction of reality for the Gospel figure. If Jim cannot recognize those differences and their quality, or chooses to ignore them, it is no wonder he finds the mythicist case so easy to dismiss.

Earl Doherty

Comment by Earl Doherty — 2011/04/05 @ 3:17 am


2011-04-04

Sifting a historical Paul from a nonhistorical Jesus: Doherty’s position

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Georg Gsell. "The Apostle Paul."
Image via Wikipedia

In response to the Earl Doherty interview posted here two days ago, Evan asked what evidence convinces Doherty that the Apostle Paul of Tarsus was a genuine historical figure, and in what way it is different from the evidence for the historical Jesus of Nazareth.

Earl Doherty responded at some length in listing factors that need consideration. I have taken the liberty of turning his reply into a post here, with slightly modified formatting and added subheadings, to make any follow up discussion easier to access.

Earl Doherty’s response:

Boy, nothing like a simple question to start things off. To answer it would take a book in itself. It’s really a topic for a proper discussion board, which I am not too sure is what Neil envisions his blog as being, or wants it to be. So let me just itemize a few points, rather than argue them in any detail.

The documentary record in relation to a first century Christianity and authentic Paul

Acts may be thoroughly unreliable as providing an actual history of the early Christian movement, but given an authentic Paul and a first century Christianity, the documentary record and its content as a whole has always struck me as much more coherent than what I would call ultra-radical alternatives which discard Paul and essentially shove everything into the second century.

There are just too many problems created, too many jerry-built measures which have to be undertaken, to try to make those alternatives work. It’s a lot like the no-Q position, the Luke used Matthew proposal. In my estimation, the latter runs up against too many problems that have to be ‘solved’ in ways I don’t regard as legitimate that it becomes a far less acceptable and workable theory than Q. Continue reading “Sifting a historical Paul from a nonhistorical Jesus: Doherty’s position”


2011-04-03

Tim Minchin on The Good Book, Brains Falling Out and Loving Jesus

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

In a world of book-burning bigots and murderous mobs it’s necessary to come up for some comedy air – – –

The Good Book

If you open your mind too much. . . . Continue reading “Tim Minchin on The Good Book, Brains Falling Out and Loving Jesus”