Mark Goodacre, Criteriology, and the “Appearance” of Science

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by Tim Widowfield

In his latest podcast Mark Goodacre turns his attention to the problem of applying criteria selectively after the fact:

. . . I think that there can then be problems when one tries to make historical Jesus criteria like multiple attestation, like the criterion of embarrassment, do too much. When you take them beyond the introductory student level, into mainstream work on the historical Jesus — because after all, historians don’t work with a great big tool bag of criteria.  Historians don’t, you know, hold up a tradition and say, “OK, let’s kind of dig into the bag and see if we can find a criterion that satisfies this tradition.”  

I just don’t think that’s how historians work a lot of the time.  History’s much more complex than that.  It’s more nuanced; it’s more detailed.  We’re looking at things in all sorts of different ways.  And so I think we have to be a little bit careful about the way that we react to these kinds of criteria.  They can be terribly wooden.  They can be excuses often not to think very clearly.

And worst of all, sometimes what historians of the New Testament — sometimes what historical Jesus scholars do — is they’ll take a tradition they rather like the look of subjectively and then they’ll find some criteria that they can use to make it sound like it’s more plausibly historical.  So the criteria are often applied after the fact, rather than before the fact.  So there’s sort of the appearance of science, the appearance of a sort of scientific validity to what they’re doing.  It’s often just an appearance.

This kind of honest discussion is a breath of fresh air.  For years now, Vridar has been the lonely voice in the wilderness, warning that the historical Jesus scholars were using their criteria to do too much. Besides trying to use criteria that were designed to assign relative probabilities to determine absolute historicity, we’ve noted here countless times, again and again, that HJ scholars appear to apply the criteria selectively, after the fact in order to prove what they wish to be true.

Kudos to Dr. Goodacre. Maybe the next time we have another friendly tussle with Dr. McGrath, Mark will come to our defense — you know, on the side of right — instead of coming to the aid of a beleaguered fellow member of the guild who has once again gotten in over his head.

Same Miracles, Same Arguments, Different Gods

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by Neil Godfrey

"Jupiter and Mercurius in the house of Ph...
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Anyone who reads the Bible should read it in context and see how similar the other religious stories about other gods were in those olden days. Anyone who hears an argument for the truth of the Bible and its God should hear the same arguments being advanced to prove the truth of other religious tales and gods in those same ancient times.

Here is myth preserved by a Roman poet, Ovid, about the time two gods visited earth, met a pair of humble mortal god-fearers, performed some miracles familiar to readers of the Bible, and finally rescued them from a general disaster that befell all their neighbours.

Readers familiar with the Bible will be reminded of

  1. heavenly visitors, appearing as mortals, coming to the tent of Abraham and Sarah, and the hospitality that couple lavished on their guests
  2. the general wickedness of mankind highlighting the piety of the pious hero
  3. the heavenly visitors grant what the pious couple most desire
  4. heavenly visitors coming to the house of Lot and rescuing his family from the general destruction by taking them out to a mountain
  5. they turn back to look at the destruction — in the Bible this results in a transforming punishment (salt); in the Roman myth, in a transforming reward (marble)
  6. the pious mourn the destruction of the wicked
  7. the miraculous manner in which a bowl of wine or oil never ran out as it continued to be poured out
  8. the appropriately pious response of those who see this miracle
  9. the changing of a mortal into another element, in the Bible narrative into a pillar of salt

Modern readers may scoff at the possibility of such tales being true. Devout modern readers who believe the Bible may scoff at the same stories being told of the nonbiblical gods and heroes.

But look at the arguments used to persuade the pagans of the truth of those tales and see how they are no different from some of the arguments used today in an effort to convince nonbelievers of the truth of the Bible: Continue reading “Same Miracles, Same Arguments, Different Gods”