2012-08-03

Only scholars can “know” Jesus existed

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by Neil Godfrey

I asked Dr Hurtado point blank:

I grant that there are many questions that require much training in order to make reliable judgements. But what specific expertise do I need to make “to make a reliable judgement” on whether or not Jesus was historical?

The good doctor explained most explicitly:

To answer (yet again, and hopefully for the last time!) your last question: The expertise you need to make a reliable judgement on whether Jesus was or wasn’t a historical figure is the expertise that scholars have to work up to present any judgement on the matter that might win the assent or at least respect of scholarly peers: You need a damn good knowledge of the languages of the original texts (so you can speak reliably to what they say and not be reliant on others); you need a damn good knowledge of the other historical sources of the time; you need a damn good familiarity with the intricate analysis of key materials (such as the Gospel tradition and its literary and rhetorical features and earmarks of provenance); you need a damn good knowledge of the ancient Jewish religious, social, and historical setting, and of the larger historical and religious environment; you need to hone analytical and judgement skills and have them tested and challenged by accomplished scholars; and you need them to publish work that wins the respect of competent scholars, demonstrating an ability to mount a successful case and withstand the (often fierce) criticism of other scholars. These are the sorts of things needed to have your judgement on matters taken seriously and possibly influential, Neil, if by “reliable” we man a judgment that doesn’t just satisfy you but that wins the respect of people with the cometence [sic] to assess it.

Now, does it matter that of those with this high degree of training overwhelmingly (I’d say unanimously but there’s sure to be some exception, as there almost always seems to be) the judgement is that the best conclusion is that Jesus of Nazareth lived, circulated in Roman Palestine, developed a certain following, and generated a sufficient opposition that it led to his execution. Should it matter to you that this is so, that this is the judgement of those (and I emphasize of various personal stances, including Jewish scholars, atheists or non-religious, as well as various Christian stances) with the sort of expertise that I describe? That’s for you to decide. But don’t try to justify a reluctance to accept this view as if you were doing so on some superior grounds.

So there you have it. If a poor Christian wants salvation now it looks like they need faith not only in Jesus but in the scholars who in their esoteric wisdom are the only ones who can truly know in any objective sense that Jesus did exist.

I think I’ll stick to the study of other historical persons even lay people can see the plain and clear evidence for  their existence.

What Dr Hurtado just may have given us in his reply is a clear pronouncement of the irrelevance of New Testament studies to the real world.

163 Comments

  • 2012-08-03 15:19:39 UTC - 15:19 | Permalink

    One can grant that he’s right without issue, since no one is entitled to correct beliefs about any topic. If one’s salvation were on the line, then it would be an issue between humanity and a good god, but in secular terms, “tough shit” suffices.

  • 2012-08-03 16:08:25 UTC - 16:08 | Permalink

    Did Julius Caesar exist?

    I can’t tell if Julius Caesar existed, because I don’t know any Latin.

    Dr.Hurtado, is , of course, an expert on the transmission of New Testament documents and on early Christianity.

    Asking him is like asking a Shakespeare scholar how historical the scenes in Macbeth are, when the said scholar is an expert on when folio editions of Shakespeare were printed, and the differences between one edition of the next,

    And, also, as Dr. Hurtado never ceases to deny, Carrier, Doherty, Thompson and Price have precisely the abilities that Hurtado denies exist in mythicists,

    But then, Hurtado has a fixed conclusion, and anybody who disagrees with him is an amateur, no matter how well-founded their arguments are.

    And, of course, the quest for the Historical Jesus has crashed and burned so badly that there is no such thing as a historicist who can justify that Jesus 100% existed, and for Dr. Hurtado to claim expertise is like him saying that we can trust experts to cure cancer, when cancer kills lots of people every day, and many experts in the field simply cannot cure cancer and are willing to admit that many of their ideas about cancer are just plain wrong.

  • RoHa
    2012-08-03 16:10:01 UTC - 16:10 | Permalink

    If God really wanted us to be Christians, he would either have provided us with all that knowledge, or found a way of making the truth obvious without the knowledge.

    “What Dr Hurtado just may have given us in his reply is a clear pronouncement of the irrelevance of New Testament studies to the real world.”

    Did we need him to tell us that?

  • 2012-08-03 16:56:37 UTC - 16:56 | Permalink

    The usual historicist explanations for early Christianity need huge amounts of scholarship to understand,

    Question. How did Jews come to eat (if only symbolically) the flesh of a recently crucified criminal and drink his blood in a ritual meal? Surely no Jew would do that unless the flesh and blood of the person had been as non-earthly and non-literal as a ‘circumcision of the heart’ is not a literal circumcision?

    Answer. This takes a lot of scholarship. We’ve studied Greek and Aramaic. We know the reason why Jews ate the flesh and drank the blood of Jesus in a symbolic meal is that Jesus told them to, just before he was betrayed. It says so in the Bible. That’s in Greek. We can read Greek, so it must be true.

  • 2012-08-03 17:02:20 UTC - 17:02 | Permalink

    Yep.
    That’s what one gets when a person starts with a firm conclusion, and then has to fabricate enough evidence to justify the conclusion.
    (And dismiss contrary evidence)
    That is the Theological Method.

    Whereas the Scientific Method the exact reverse.

  • 2012-08-03 19:42:39 UTC - 19:42 | Permalink

    Dr. Hurtado can say until he is blue in the face that NT scholars are scholars, authorities, and experts,

    But his own words betray the shocking state of incompetence among these people.

    He can’t even get his fellow scholars to agree on whether early Christians regarded Jesus as divine and worshipped him….

    I posted the following to Dr. Hurtado’s blog….

    Physicist Dave makes an excellent point. How can we recognise a successful field of study?

    Well, NT scholars can demonstrate success – look at the way they have shown that Q existed, or the masterful way they have settled the question of which of Mark, Luke and Matthew used the other and which other sources they have used.

    Job done, they have moved on to other topics.

    Of course, there are sometimes things which are less successful.

    Dr. Hurtado quoted on his blog the following ‘“The Markan community has failed to provide even the semblance of a control on readings of the Gospel of Mark. . . . .The reason for this is that virtually every scholar who discovers a Markan community behind the Gospel . . . discovers a different Markan community.” ‘

    ‘Numerous NT scholars have posited a “community” behind various NT writings. E.g., there is a whole industry devoted to identifying a community behind the Gospel of Matthew, and also behind the Gospel of John. Then, there is an vigorous body of scholars eagerly positing a Q-community, and even proffering an elaborate and multi-stage social history of the community!’

    Please remember that NT scholars are experts, and while virtually every scholar discovers a different Markan community ( a finding that can be repeated in virtually every aspect of NT scholarship), this doesn’t cast any doubt at all on the fact that the discipline is made up of authorities who are to be trusted.

  • Mud
    2012-08-03 19:46:57 UTC - 19:46 | Permalink

    Truth… a very hoary old concept indeed. It needs an intellect of Fox Mulder’s to indicate “truth”

    There is a get out clause inlcuded here. Knowing Jesus existed is not ever;

    “a reliable judgement on whether Jesus was or wasn’t a historical figure”.

    Mind you its the same glib rejoinder they would use when confronting a statement such as:

    “The sun will not rise on Sunday the fifth of August 2012”.

    The latter is definite and true, the former is hedging scholarly discussion and purports truth.

  • 2012-08-03 23:56:33 UTC - 23:56 | Permalink

    “You need a damn good knowledge of the languages of the original texts (so you can speak reliably to what they say and not be reliant on others)”

    This is especially ironic coming from a Christian Bible scholar as a key building block for Christianity was not having a good knowledge of the languages of the original texts.

    Just reading Hurtado you would think he does not know anything about Historical Methodology. All the requirements he lists above are secondary. No mention of primary criteria. Since our legal system (and his) is based on these criteria (credibility of witnesses) he must be aware of their existence so it’s not ignorance but denial.

    How many times does he/they have to be told, standards of evidence are absolute, not relative. The standard is what would be good evidence for HJ (Ehrman actually discusses this, which is the best part of his book, and than ignores his own discussion) and not what evidence exists. You have two potential good witnesses for HJ:

    Paul = has the position to be a good witness but not the credibility

    “Mark” = has a primary theme of discrediting supposed historical witness

    Most, if not all, subsequent Christian support for HJ is based on these two suggesting there was no credible historical witness available for those who wanted it. This is still more evidence for HJ than MJ since there is hardly any evidence for MJ, but a long way from proving HJ.

    Joseph

    • ROO BOOKAROO
      2012-08-04 22:15:06 UTC - 22:15 | Permalink

      HOW THE HJ – MJ DEBATE REALLY STARTED

      Joe: Good points, but honestly, there’ll never be “any evidence for MJ”. The only “evidence for MJ” is nothing more than disproving “evidence for HJ”.

      The MJ people never invoked J, it’s the HJ people who came to the forum waving their placards and banners, screaming “Hark! We’re preparing the way. J is coming, pay heed and be saved, ignore him and go to hell!” The MJ people scratched their heads and said: “Who is that new guy? J? A new kid on the block? Pray, tell us more.”

      That is how the debate started. The advocates of HJ had to produce their evidence in court. MJ people are just skeptical deniers. Their voice comes in only in second place, never in first.

    • ROO BOOKAROO
      2012-08-05 00:30:37 UTC - 00:30 | Permalink

      WHAT’S IN A WORD?

      To belabor the point. This debate again illustrates the importance of terminology and clear language. Christ Myth or Christ Myth Theory are meaningful because they insert “Christ”. Christ Myth can be defined only once Christ is defined.
      But Archibald Robertson coined the word “mythicist” in his otherwise excellent book, “Jesus: Myth or History?” (1946). He never used “mythicism” in that book, but the new word caught on, a practical and useful label for a complex theory.

      First it gave rise to a lot of fun derivatives: “mythtic” (a favorite of Hoffmann), misthtic, moustique (a mosquito in French), “myther”, etc.

      But second, it introduced the wrong idea that “mythicism” was a new theory which had something positive to offer, and required evidence to prove it. Hence, the fantastic confusion in the popular mind and lot of useless debates going nowhere, and in fact, a pure waste of time. The Internet debates are full of that meaningless rhetoric.

      Arthur Drews, trained as a German philosopher, hence able to use words in their most precise meanings, preferred to use the phrase “Denial of the Historicity of Jesus”, “Jesus deniers”, or “Jesus historicity deniers”, which were shortened into “non-historicists”, and even “ahistoricists”. This implied that first Jesus and his historicity had to be defined before deniers could come in and start “denying”.

      Jesus historicists thus have the privilege of being first at exposing and documenting their own view of history. Deniers just sit back, listen and start shaking their heads.

  • Willie Buck Merle
    2012-08-04 01:08:15 UTC - 01:08 | Permalink

    Historicity of Jesus = Chick-fil-A Controversy

    • ROO BOOKAROO
      2012-08-08 18:21:35 UTC - 18:21 | Permalink

      The cancer controversy? The same-sex marriage controversy? The Sunday-closing controversy? Which one? Why not use a few words and explain your = sign?

    • brettongarcia
      2012-08-08 19:52:45 UTC - 19:52 | Permalink

      Maybe this is right: Jesus is a politicized … chicken sandwich?

  • 2012-08-04 01:26:21 UTC - 01:26 | Permalink

    I notice that no one has pointed out one howling fallacy in Hurtado’s list of ‘reliabilities’ for damn well demonstrating the existence or not of Jesus. One has to present a case which will convince one’s peers. In the context of historicism, this would theoretically involve a presenter who a priori has adopted the assumption that Jesus existed and puts together a case which he thinks proves this. Then he would run it by peers who similarly have adopted the a priori assumption that Jesus existed and they would evaluate the strength of his case to arrive at–what else? Their a priori opinion.

    There’s another standard Hurtado doesn’t mention by which our two groups could be damn well measured. Never mind all the credentials business and the appeals to a biased authority, how effective has been each one’s addressing of the other’s case? Where are the comprehensive rebuttals to mythicism, the discrediting of their arguments, presented by historicist scholars? In the last half-century they have been almost non-existent, whereas mythicism has mounted a repeated expose of the historicist emperor’s new clothes. The Hurtado Haberdashery has tailored no new suits that are any more effective at covering up the emperor’s nakedness. As for the one effort recently mounted, Ehrman’s Did Jesus Exist?, that has been a disaster for historicism since his opening round on the Huffington Post.

    Neil recently demonstrated the abysmal knowledge on Hurtado’s part of what the mythicist case even consists of, never mind his failure to actually rebut it. “Mythicists claim Jesus never existed because there was no Nazareth”? The wall of ignorant smugness which historicists have built around themselves will never be breached until people like Hurtado adopt a bit of humility. And I don’t see that happening any time soon.

    • ROO BOOKAROO
      2012-08-05 03:25:40 UTC - 03:25 | Permalink

      I hate to barge in, but, honestly, I see no “howling fallacy” in Hurtado‘s statement.

      He starts explaining what “expertise you need to make a reliable judgement”, and his whole discussion is about what “reliable” means. He immediately proceeds to explain: this is a judgement that “might win the ‘assent’ or at least the ‘respect’ of scholarly peers”. The key words are “assent,” “respect” and the loaded word “peers”.

      So he simply repeats the traditional stance of all academic Biblical Studies scholars: You, Jesus denier, are still a college freshman suddenly intoxicated with the discovery of new ideas, and you want to convince us of their validity.

      But, kid, we are here in a select society, all of us heavyweight Ph.D.s, and if you want a chance to gain “assent” or “respect”, you have to become a peer of this company, prove your education, and pass the tests that give you membership in our club. Otherwise we’re not inclined to waste our time.

      No fallacy as far as I can see. Of course, there’s an awful trap lying in this innocuous invitation — the peers are nearly all opposed to the judgment the freshman has in mind. This in reality is a Catch-22 situation. Once the freshman has gone through the years and expenses of acquiring his languages, mastered the scholarship, passed the exam, got his prize Ph.D., and is finally ready to propose his great idea to his “peers”, it is to realize that all the peers are firmly opposed to his new, revolutionary, judgment. All the work was done in vain. This is exactly what happened to Gerd Lüdemann.

      As far as expecting “humility” from Hurtado, or Ehrman, or Hoffmann, this is a pipe dream. They have no reason to be humble. They are in power, they have the keys to the professorships, they are the ones to dispense the Ph.D.s, and the only authors welcomed by the big publishing houses. Why should they be humble? This sounds nearly like Christian wishful thinking. It won’t happen, and does not need to happen.

      Arthur Drews was facing the same situation in Germany in 1909. Hounded by all the scholars of the world, and savagely disparaged by all. He continued with his policy, by responding and systematically refuting his critics. Demolishing Ehrman your way, slowly roasting him on the slow fire of your instalments, is also the right response.

      However, now we are in far better circumstances than Drews in 1909. The voices on the Internet, the self-published books bypassing the indifference of major publishers, the constant examination of the traditional arguments of historicists, the constant panning of historicists’ half-baked responses, is a definite advance for the non-historicists.

      Moreover, one of the pundits has tried to write down in a hurry his view of the historicist case. And, as you mention and superbly demonstrate, and everybody knows, it’s been a lamentable job. Ehrman’s book is in fact a plus for the deniers of Jesus historicity. What are his arguments: invisible traditions, total independence of the Gospels and other 1st century documents, all arguments easily disproved by deniers. Soon it’s going to be the turn of Hoffmann to go through the same grinder. His majesty is preparing something far superior, so let’s wait for that master demonstration.

      Meanwhile every writer worth his/her salt is working on a huge historical review of the Deniers’ case, a reflection of the growing interest and resonance among the public. Writing about the denial of Jesus Historicity has become a craze, as it was exactly 100 years ago around Arthur Drews. The major difference is that most of the new writing is done by the deniers, and the historicists have become pretty quiet.

      No reason to be mad at Hurtado. The man is an honest scholar, and he delivers according to his position and label. Par for the game. We should be happy to deal with a man like him, who speaks straight and shoots from the hip, instead of vacuous McGrath or puzzling mercurial Hoffmann.

  • 2012-08-04 04:32:36 UTC - 04:32 | Permalink

    Just here, I feel compelled to repeat my comment from another site, which posted a quote from “Neither God nor Man” by Earl Doherty, which, however inadvertent, expresses the all-pervasive, fundamental, indisputable fallacy of the Mythicists’ argument.
    By way of pointed emphasis, I reproduce the quote in a paraphrase making but one change: the word “Christian” is replaced with the word “Universe”: “The advent of the Internet has introduced an unprecedented ‘lay’ element of scholarship in the field – the absence of peer pressure – has meant that the study of “Universe” origins is undergoing a quantum leap in the hands of a much wider consistency than traditional academia.” (Quantum and Relativity Physics).

    • 2012-08-04 04:44:45 UTC - 04:44 | Permalink

      Fortunately, in order to learn about Christianity I don’t need to build a particle accelerator in my back yard.

      • 2012-08-04 11:11:23 UTC - 11:11 | Permalink

        Tim, I will try to be more explicit. I am not making some case that the discipline of NT Studies is comparable in complexity to the discipline of Quantum Physics, if I have understand you. I now can see that one may so take it. The point I am trying to make is that it is as necessary, as a first step, for the critic of a particular discipline, to become credibly knowledgeable of its specialized areas of knowledge, even to the extent that one would expect of a critic of the discipline of Quantum Physics. My experience evidences a complete failure of the mythicists’ argument to take account of the present understanding of our top scholars of the Guild of NT Studies. Their works are fully public. Truly a paradigm shift in NT understanding has occurred and it needs to be understood.

        • Grog
          2012-08-04 13:37:10 UTC - 13:37 | Permalink

          Oh, this analogy so fails. One example: Charles Darwin, degree in (drum roll) theology, widely regarded as having overturned a paradigm and established the discipline of modern Biology. The former paradigm was staunchly supported by experts proper such as Louis Agassiz. Darwin would have, by Ed’s criteria, properly been ignored. However, in the sciences, what matters is the argument, not the credentials of the arguer.

          • ROO BOOKAROO
            2012-08-04 22:45:05 UTC - 22:45 | Permalink

            This is where I disagree. Yes, in a pure imaginary world of “the sciences”, if such a world exists, the “argument” is what wins the day.

            But in the human history of scientific theories, the success of a new theory (nothing much gained by using the word “paradigm”, a fancy contraption that adds no meaning to reality, contrived only to throw dust in the eyes of non-specialists) depends very much on its advocate — for its introduction, and its reception by the culture.

            Darwin came on with an immense reputation in English society, with an impeccable education and high-quality connections, and an unblemished reputation for honesty and competence. He had access to the Royal Society, and the support of some influential scholars. His argument didn’t win by itself, it was a social campaign, that lasted decades, and is not even completed now. Every new theory sparks off a debate, and a long battle for acceptance or refutation. Gaining a hearing is the first step for having a chance of recognition.

            The “argument” is vital, but the quality of the messenger as well. The story, according to which, Gregor Mendel sent his 1865 paper to Darwin, which was found, left unopened, upon Darwin’s death is significant: the notoriety of the messenger will give weight to the message and will provide it an audience in the establishment.

            That’s real human life, and there’s no escaping it by invoking a pure mental universe of the “sciences”, as has been especially constructed only for mathematics.

            • Grog
              2012-08-06 14:31:36 UTC - 14:31 | Permalink

              “This is where I disagree.”

              Yet, you say nothing of substance that disagrees with my point.
              –Darwin had no prior education in the natural sciences, though he had been employed as a naturist.

              –your disagreement with the term “paradigm” is meaningless.

              –I said nothing about “social campaigns” or lack thereof. I said his ideas overturned a “paradigm” which they did (whether you like the term or not).

              –Nothing you say about Darwin or Mendel is actually relevant to my point.

              You might want to put more substance into your disagreements otherwise it is pointless. My comment about 10,000 words in the most recent Vridar post was facetious by the way.

      • Michael Kingsford Gray
        2012-08-04 19:26:34 UTC - 19:26 | Permalink

        to the extent that one would expect of a critic of the discipline of Quantum Physics

        There is no such creature, apart from loons and the ignorant.
        And I am qualified to remark on such a thing.
        Or do you dispute my expertise?

    • 2012-08-04 05:04:58 UTC - 05:04 | Permalink

      This analogy assumes that the quality of evidence regarding early Christianity is equivalent with the quality of evidence in the hard sciences. If we are only looking at it from one point of view — Academia vs. Fringe — then the analogy fits. But that’s only how disinterested laymen would approach it, and rationally, should side with academia. But mythicists don’t seem to fit under the rubric of disinterested layman so some other analogy would have to apply. To be a correct analogy you should at least start with comparing it to a controversy in some other area of the humanities where the quality of the evidence is lackluster (i.e. very little empiricism).

      So no, the analogy is not a good one.

    • 2012-08-04 05:36:42 UTC - 05:36 | Permalink

      Thanks, Ed. Believe me, by now we’ve gotten your point.

      • 2012-08-05 10:13:54 UTC - 10:13 | Permalink

        Earl, Thanks for your reply, brief as it was. I take it that you got the point. I did find it necessary to offer some explanation for Tim’s reply. With the assortment of replys, I have yet seen no evidence that anyone has read or taken notice of my reference to Neil’s posting of: Ed Jones Dialogue – Vridar. It contains my reconstruction of Origins of Jesus traditions suggested by present understanding of the named top NT scholars. By any judgment this represents nothing less than a paradign shift in NT understanding. Engaging with this may well be my real “piont”. Needless to say your comment would be of much interest.

        • 2012-08-05 12:08:40 UTC - 12:08 | Permalink

          Ed, Earl argues that the Q community (the one responsible for many of the sayings in the Sermon on the Mount) was a rival or alternative strand of “Christianity” to that of the Christ Myth strand represented by Paul. Is not this the “paradigm” of Christian origins you are wanting us to grasp?

          • 2012-08-06 04:12:49 UTC - 04:12 | Permalink

            Neil. Thanks for replying for Earl. I find your reply to be a quite striking statement, perhaps the rarest statement here with which I might agree. My reconstruction of origins recognizes two movements (two “strands”): the first, the Jerusalem Jesus Movement with its Q material which includes the Sermon on the Mount (the strand of “the Q community with sayings in SM”) , soon followed by the Christ myth cult, a group of Hellenist Jews who took up the notion that Jesus’ significance was his death and resurrection which had salvific effects. Paul soon converted to this group, from which he derived his Christ passion kerygma (“the Christ Myth strand represented by Paul”). “The Q community – – was a rival or alternative strand – -to that of the Christ Myth strand”. So far so remarkably consistent with my reconstruction!

            • brettongarcia
              2012-08-07 00:25:56 UTC - 00:25 | Permalink

              Ed: your theory very, very, very closely ressmbles the standard, accepted account.

              But Ed, the problem with all such accounts: how do we know whether either one of them was based on an actual, historical person? Couldn’t either one or both of these two or more traditions, have been built around the same false folk legend about a “Jesus,” or “the lord”?

              What is there in your theory, that proves Jesus really existed?

              Just finding some old traditions, does not prove those traditions are correct.

              • 2012-08-07 00:45:20 UTC - 00:45 | Permalink

                Irrespective of expressed good will, the atheist stance is psychologically a declaration that the Guild of NT Studies is not a legitimate discipline, its scholars being deficient rationalist, faith led. To the extent that this is a controlling factor in secular critical thinking, one is not a legitimate NT historian. From this perspective I attempt set forth the following historical facts about the Guild over against pervasive misunderstandings.
                1. NT Studies has traditionally worked with two convictions: the Reality of God and the Authority of Scripture. Authority of Scripture, from its earliest beginnings, based on the conviction that the OT contains prophetic witness to Jesus, while the norm for the NT canon was apostolic witness to Jesus. One must take note of the fact that the Guild was perhaps the oldest recognizable discipline, pre-Copernicous.
                2. Until the Enlightenment there was little to question this traditional understanding of the Authority of Scripture. With the historicism of the 19th Century, the question of the real Jesus was posed, specifically with Reimarus challenge (1750): the Christ of faith is not the historical Jesus. “Search the Scriptures and see if Christianity was not based on an historical mistake.” To set off the Quest for the Historical Jesus, the search for the real Christian norm the most authentic apostolic Scriptural witness to Jesus. NT studies was confronted with a fundamental theological problematic, the question of traditions’ claim that the writings of the NT, the letters of Paul, the Gospels, as well as the later writings of the NT, are apostolic (thus the “Jesus Puzzle”).
                3. The Quest began with Neo-orthodoxy: the attempt to extract the real Jesus from the writings of the NT, recognizing that they were written in the context of imaging the Christ of faith, with over 200 yrs. of apologetics. Finally it became apparent that “from these texts the original teachings of Jesus cannot be reconstructed nor extracted in its entirety”. (Betz).
                4. “Over the last two centuries there gradually emerged a new access to Jesus made available through objective historical research.” (James M. Robinson) Only since the 1980’s has there developed a viable solution to the “Jesus Puzzle”, to finally identify the alternative to the writings of the NT, our most certain NT apostolic witness to the real Jesus. The historical Why and the How of this fateful mistake has also been adequately worked out calling for a new reconstruction of post-“Easter” Jesus traditions. (Ed Jones Dialogue – Vridar is such an attempt).
                The first task for the secular critic, to qualify as a credible NT historian, is task of taking account of present understanding of our top scholars of the Guild of NT Studies, at least to identify the appropriate critical target – this present claim to have identified our most certain Scriptural apostolic witness to the real Jesus. Of course it goes without saying, if there is no legitimate apostolic witness, no Scriptural source for the prior faith and witness of the disciples, then Mythicism raises its ugly head.

              • brettongarcia
                2012-08-07 09:02:38 UTC - 09:02 | Permalink

                Thanks for your summary of recent HJ study. But here’s the problem many of us see for that post 1980’s history: what parts of the Bible really stand up at all any more? It is hoped that we might find a few parts of the Bible that hold up, and describe Jesus accurately. But which parts are they, if any?

                For the last few centuries, 1) scholarship has rejected one bit of the Bible, after another, after another. Generally Christians in effect (and in spite of countless disclaimers) rejected the OT, as having been at least “fulfilled,” modified, by the NT; thus rejecting 4/5 of the Bible. Then the miracles were rejected; rejecting another 20 % of the remainder. Then the non-synoptic gospels and Paul. So the “valid” parts of the Bible are perhaps 2% of the total. But then? Then eventually, the HJ Jesus Seminar was said to gotten down to a few dozen sayings attributed to Jesus; and then finally one, or none.

                So that if we add it all up … there is nothing left.

                Since the time of Bruno Bauer – who played a key role in developing Q theory, but in the end doubted Jesus entirely – there has been interest in 2) attempting to extract a valid, historical Jesus. By suggesting that the original Jesus, was likely quite Jewish; and interested mainly in a very material “kingdom,” a conventional kingdom, headed by a Jewish – not Roman – Lord God; who at last defeated and ejected sinning foreigners from Jerusalem. While later material, that metaphoricalized all that – suggesting the “kingdom of heaven is” already “within you,” as a spirit – is thought to be later, rather Platonic material, from Paul and his ilk.

                That is one thesis on who the real Jesus might have been: a Jewish revolutionary, looking for a real, literal kingdom. Or 3) another? It is hoped that Jesus might be resurrected from “Q” material; from information found about Jesus in Matthew and Luke, but not in Mark. Like the Sermon on the Mount (“blessed are the poor”). This material, it is often implied, might add up to the “real” and historical Jesus.

                But now lots of us are noting problems with both of these two attempted reconstructions as well.

                So what is left?

                Here I’d have to suggest there is indeed, practically nothing left to work with any more. So that it’s time for mainstream critical studies to start very, very seriously and extensively, considering the thesis that it was all, almost entirely, Myth. (And theologically, the old ideas of Christ, amount to only the False Christs).

            • 2012-08-09 11:00:57 UTC - 11:00 | Permalink

              Neil, Thanks for your reply offering some of Earl’s arguments. His further arguments related to origins of Jesus traditions are of special interest. Might you induce him to comment a bit further?

    • muuh-gnu
      2012-08-04 19:01:54 UTC - 19:01 | Permalink

      > Just here, I feel compelled to repeat my comment from another site

      Apart from making a pun, your comment is completely devoid of any argument. Puns are not going to convince an uninvolved, but interested third party, which should be your goal.

      It would greatly help the jesus existed case if you and other historicists would just stop all the puns, all the smear campaigns, all the tedious meta talk about authority, credentials, academia, and all the other tedious distraction maneuvers and just cut to the damn chase already.

  • 2012-08-04 08:09:29 UTC - 08:09 | Permalink

    According to Dr. Hurtado, the fact that Paul made inquiries of Peter on his first visit to Jerusalem “readily falsifies the claim that Paul would have had no interest or opportunity to learn about a historical figure Jesus.” Having never written a peer reviewed paper on the subject, I might think that we needed to know what Paul made inquiries about in order to establish what he was interested in learning or had the opportunity to learn, but it is apparently enough merely to know that he made inquiries. Live and learn.

    • brettongarcia
      2012-08-07 16:25:39 UTC - 16:25 | Permalink

      Vinny: here in point of fact Larry Hurtado’s exegetical skills utterly fail, and prove entirely, utterly sophistical. In the larger context of what Paul says here, Paul is over and over again, adamantly, making precisely and exactly the opposite point to what Larry claimed. Larry wants to limit himself justly, to the first visit of Paul to the disciples in Gal. 1.18. Where he claims Paul wants to sit humbly at the feet of the other disciplines, and learn about Jesus from them. Thus disproving Doherty’s claim that Paul was the first, authoritative source on Jesus (with whatever minimal information Paul had).

      But Larry here is making an outrageous claim; one utterly, completely at odds with the larger picture; which shows Paul both before and during and after this isolated moment, criticizing the other disciples over and over; and in effect telling the other disciples their understanding of Jesus is false. Here we can offer at least a dozen points showing Hurtado’s presentation of the Bible is completely sophistical.

      1) IN Galatians 1.12, Paul first of all makes his famous statement that, regarding his knowledge of Christ, “I did not receive it from any man” (1.12). Then? 2) he notes it came “from revelation.” Then 3) Paul says “I did not confer with flesh and blood” (1.16); 4) “nor did I go up to Jerusalem to whose who were apostles” to get his revelations (1.17), for a long time. Finally 5) only after “three years” does he go to Jerusalem to meet Cephas and James (1.18), only. While 6) Paul does not specify the reason for meeting them; nor learning about Jesus from them. While indeed, Paul will go on to criticize Cephas/Paul severely.

      8) In fact, immediately after that brief meeting, content unspecified, 9) far from seeking out the other disciples for more info on Jesus, instead Paul goes fully 14 years before looking them up again (2.1). And 10) there he goes up “by revelation.” With 11) Titus, a Greek (2.3). 12) Noting the existence of false “brothers” (2.4), 13) Paul calls those who are said to be religious authorities, “reputed” pillars only (2.6). And regarding specifically and explicitly their knowledge of Jesus? Paul says “they added nothing to me; but on the contrary” (2.6-7).

      14) Not only is Paul NOT sitting humbly at the feet of the other apostles and pillars of Jerusalem, learning about Jesus from them; in fact by Galatians 2.11, Paul is explicitly denouncing Cephas or Peter, for making huge errors regarding the doctrines of Jesus. Paul calling Peter an “insincere” person (RSV), or a “hypocrite.” Paul violatently accusing Peter of making huge errors even in effect regarding a major doctrine of Jesus: Peter refusing to allow Jewish Christians to eat with/share table fellowship with (or ultimately communion with) gentiles, non-Jewish Christians (Gal. 2.11-13).

      When Larry Hurtado asserts that Paul did not know much about Jesus, but went to learn about Jesus from the others in Jerusalem? Hurtado’s assertion is exactly and precisely wrong; and is contradicted in fact by at least a dozen points.

      Here the score is Larry Hurtado 0; Mythicists 14.

      Larry Hurtado, asserting that his reading skills are far in advace of mythicists, is ironic in the extreme. Seldom in my many years of teaching the interpretation of texts in universities, have I ever seen a reading of a text so extremely, exactly wrong; as Larry Hurtado’s radical – and I would have to say, willful – misreading of Paul, in Galatians.

      • 2012-08-07 18:21:22 UTC - 18:21 | Permalink

        “Seldom in my many years of teaching the interpretation of texts in universities . . . “

        In what universities have you taught such courses? What were the courses, exactly? And why do you prefer to remain anonymous?

        • brettongarcia
          2012-08-07 19:25:17 UTC - 19:25 | Permalink

          I prefer to remain anonymous … because religion after all, is often still an explosive subject. Particularly in the Islamic countries where I sometimes live.

          Even the West, in the past those who disagreed with the prevailing religion were often jailed … or tortured to death as heretics. Though things are slightly better today, there are still many subtle patterns of discrimination against say the agnotic; particularly in some Religious Studies programs, and the religious world in general. Particularly in a still religiously-conservative America.

          Acknowledging this sort of thing in the past, historically many very great writers in the west often used a “nom de plume”; a pen name, a pseudonym. Simply to avoid prosecution or discrimination.

          This is considered acceptable in the western literary tradition.

          • 2012-08-07 19:32:46 UTC - 19:32 | Permalink

            You only responded to the last of my three questions. Care to respond now to #1 and #2? But even your answer to that third question does not convince. Nothing you have argued is on record in the present day and age as having inspired a murder. Do you think I or Doherty should go anonymous for fear of being murdered for our views?

            • brettongarcia
              2012-08-07 21:39:46 UTC - 21:39 | Permalink

              Neil:

              Normally I don’t cite my PhD; because it is only irregularly related to matters here. And because I like to meet people straight across; pretty much as we’re saying here: credentials aren’t everything. I only alude to by university experience now and then, in part when challenged directly by the likes of Hurtado; who might pick up the reference here. (Since his blog has apparently just shut off all further comments by anyone whatsoever; looks like he’s experiecing some negative feedback he wants to dodge). Or because anyway, my remarks here are often very informal; rough drafts.

              Of course I don’t think academics should literally fear for our lives by outing ourselves as agnostics, or Mythicists; but I’ve often made the point that we can academically “fear for our” professional lives at least in a religious market; by declaring too strongly against prevailing dogmas. Even in Academe. But even more in the world of more informal religious employment.

              By explaining why I favor anonymity – which is the blog standard in any case – I thought that would render superflous the need to more exactly identify my teaching experience and so forth; which would allow me to be recognized after all.

              Normally I don’t mention my degrees; just thought I’d subly alude to them for a moment – since Hurtado asserts that those who criticize him have no qualifications whatsoever.

              I’d like to more completely identify myself, to lend whatever authority I might have in support of your cause; unfortuntely though that is not politically possible; and in any case, professional credentials are very, very, very narrowly – and exclusivistically – defined by Hurtado. So any reference to same would probably be ineffective in THOSE circles any way.

              Sorry if you and I have occasionally butted heads discussing various particular cases; but I think you can see that overall my view has been QUITE supportive of your blog and general orientation.

              Just thought I’d vaguely hint at SOME professional training on my own side, without fanfare (earlier). For the sake of close readers. And for people who insist on such things.

  • Mud
    2012-08-04 11:29:49 UTC - 11:29 | Permalink

    Inquiries? Inquires?

  • Mud
    2012-08-04 11:38:46 UTC - 11:38 | Permalink

    One thing I am continually amased at is the equivalence of an argument in theology in comparison to science. History has enough problems and requires a lot of science and archaeology etc to untangle it.

    I would ask Ed to disabuse himself of hat habit of comparison to pure sciences let alone applied sciences, Theology has no equivalence in reality and fact to mere technicality. If a posit is being argued on its merits a posit is being argued on the merits with mythicism and theological position.

    Please, the comparison to pure science is an anecdote of Ed’s recent days.

    Ed, if Jesus is a historical figure,, He isn’t yet. You can argue the equivalence with your homeopath.

  • 2012-08-04 11:59:45 UTC - 11:59 | Permalink

    I would like to share my perspective of these issues if nobody minds. I think there is some unintentional crossing of certain boundaries here. To personally believe or not to believe that Jesus was historical does not require the training that Dr. Hurtado outlined. We all have the ability to make our own decisions about things based on our knowledge and experiences. And the usual assumption is that the more knowledge and experience you have in a given subject the more accurate your decision would be. Now if we were talking about biology, physics, or medicine that assumption would hold true most of the time. But the topic here is a unique figure from the distant past who is shrouded in mystery. And the point I am getting at is that through history, billions of people with varying levels of education have made decisions about Jesus, and they usually fall into three main categories. 1. Jesus was real and was exactly who the Bible portrays him to be. 2. Jesus was real, but he was merely an influential man, and not quite the one portrayed in the Bible. 3. Jesus was not a real person, and what the Bible says about him are made up stories. It should be obvious that the course of reasoning on the evidence for each of these three groups is not really compatible with each other. It should also be obvious that when group 3 tries to get group 2 to see things their way, or the other way around, this is crossing one of those boundaries, and it is a very difficult thing to do. Because each group has a long history of viewing the evidence in a way that conforms to their specific group.

    But here is my interpretation of what I think Dr. Hurtado was saying in what is quoted above. First I would like to use the cancer analogy that has been floating around. If you went to the doctor and he said you have cancer, and this is what I prescribe that should be done about it. The usual reaction would be for someone who is not in the medical field, well he is an expert in the medical field, I should TRUST what he says. Yes, some might get second or third opinions, but this is just a consensus of medical experts. So the bottom line is that you would either trust the doctor or ignore his advice and take your chances. But something only a fool, who never spent a day in medical school would do, is to try and argue with the doctor that his advice is flawed, and that you know of a better way to treat your condition. From the doctors perspective, this person does not have the required training to effectively argue his case concerning complex medical procedures.

    So I think Dr. Hurtado is saying you need this specific training if you want to effectively argue with him or other scholars, concerning the complex historical data relating to Jesus. I don’t believe he is saying you can not determine for yourself if Jesus was real or not based on your own conclusions. But it has been argued that some who reject Jesus as historical, do have this training. Well, going back to our analogy, If a doctor has treatments and procedures that are different than mainstream doctors, they might refer to him as an un-orthodox doctor. In the same way these scholars with the proper training may be referred to as un-orthodox scholars. But that in itself does not mean they are wrong. Just like the un-orthodox doctors, if their treatments can be shown to be superior to the treatments of mainstream doctors, their ideas will be vindicated.

    • muuh-gnu
      2012-08-04 19:32:18 UTC - 19:32 | Permalink

      > you need this specific training if you want to effectively argue with him or other scholars

      Irrelevant. Either you can effectively and clearly argue a point or you cant. Your training should be neither a part of your own argument nor a part of the counter argument.

      > concerning the complex historical data relating to Jesus

      Sounds to me like hiding behind complexity.

      > But it has been argued that some who reject Jesus as historical, do have this training.

      Now instead of discussing details about the historicity, we’re discussing details of peoples trainings. Thats a red herring.

      > if their treatments can be shown to be superior to the treatments of mainstream doctors, their ideas will be vindicated.

      Usually, unorthodox treatments like homeopathy are attacked directly: homeopathy is bogus because of x,y and z, studies proving homeopathic remedies ineffective are here, here and here. Q.E.D. I’ve never seen homeopathy being challenged by focusing on questioning the training of its proponents. Usually ad hominem arguments are only used when they are all you’ve got.

      For me (and not only for me), it is always a pretty good indicator that somebody is not acting and arguing in good faith when he starts sidestepping the issue in question and avoids cutting to the chase even after being asked to more than one time.

      • 2012-08-04 21:48:55 UTC - 21:48 | Permalink

        I feel you have completely missed the point of my comment.

        >Irrelevant. Either you can effectively and clearly argue a point or you cant. Your training should be neither a part of your own argument nor a part of the counter argument.

        How is it irrelevant? Can you clearly and effectively tell your mechanic how to fix your car if you have no training or experience in fixing cars? Can you clearly and effectively explain to your doctor how to remove your gall bladder, if you have no training in that field? Training and knowledge are very relevant in presenting an effective argument. But you missed my key point, I said it does not take this depth of training to argue if Jesus was historical or not, I said, It takes this depth of training if you want to effectively argue with NT scholars and historicists within their established procedures and methodologies.

        >Sounds to me like hiding behind complexity.

        Again you are wrong, I believe, even at a minimum, a person has the ability and the right to simply read the Bible alone and come to the conclusion that Jesus existed or not. It is the NT scholars and historicists that have created the labyrinth of complex details to analyze historical figures. And if you want to argue with them on the historical grounds of Jesus’ existence, you better damn well be aware of these complex details if you do not want to be shot down. I’m not saying it is right or wrong, I’m just reporting what I think Dr. Hurtado meant.

        >Now instead of discussing details about the historicity, we’re discussing details of peoples trainings. Thats a red herring.

        I don’t know for the life of me how you turned this around, but I was saying the exact opposite. I said it is the evidence and the case that you can present that will get you vindicated, regardless of what your qualifications are.

        >I’ve never seen homeopathy being challenged by focusing on questioning the training of its proponents. Usually ad hominem arguments are only used when they are all you’ve got.

        See above, I never made such a comment. Where did I question anyone’s training?

    • ROO BOOKAROO
      2012-08-04 23:37:04 UTC - 23:37 | Permalink

      Excellent point, Howard. Nice to hear from you again. Where have you been hiding all those days?

      The issue is not the argument for the denial of Jesus historicity as such. The hoi polloi can believe what their family, schooling or environment suggests or indoctrinates them into. But for propagandists of a new, disturbing, theory, the issue remains, as it was for Darwin, getting a hearing at the Royal Society — and not just being relegated to shouting from a chair at Hyde Park corner — and then withstanding the assaults of the establishment. And from that vital social angle, Hurtado is right, and so are you.

      The denial of Jesus historicity has been formulated and honed for nearly 200 years now. But look at what happened to David Strauss and Bruno Bauer: barred from University life at a young age. Look at what happened to Arthur Drews: vilipended and threatened by the world’s theological establishment, and refused a University job all his life. William B. Smith, Paul-Louis Couchoud, George Albert Wells and Alvar Ellegard escaped this treatment and lived a secure life in academia only because their teaching job was in different specialties. Which of course, made them suspects for Hurtado’s strict list or qualifications. However, what about Gerd Lüdemann at Göttingen, a full Ph.D. and what not? His faculty could not expel him, but they demoted him to a dep’t of mere “History and Literature”.

      So Hurtado is right. The denial of Jesus historicity will remain a fringe theory as long as it makes no encroachments in the establishment. This is why “qualified” advocates are precious, not for the argument itself, but for “its being taken seriously”, its gaining a hearing and recognition.

      The establishment sensed in 1909 that Arthur Drews’s Christ Myth was setting off a major crisis in the field of NT studies, and time will only deepen this sense of crisis, especially with an increase in Ph.D.s favoring the cause of the non-historicity of Jesus. The establishment is threatened, and the establishment will fight back. This is real life, and it is for survival.

      Most members of the Dutch Radical School, from Pierson to van Eysinga, had reached the level of fulfilling all the Hurtado qualifications. Unfortunately most of their writings in Dutch are inaccessible to the rest of the world. It’s high time that they should be translated into German and English and given full recognition, as Hermann Detering is finally beginning to do at his site Radikalkritik.

      • 2012-08-05 01:40:21 UTC - 01:40 | Permalink

        Roo Bookaroo,

        I’ve been around here and there. And I am glad you understood my comment as it was intended. And I agree with your statement of, “The denial of Jesus historicity will remain a fringe theory as long as it makes no encroachments in the establishment.” However, I do not consider this a conscious conspiracy on the part of the establishment. I think the issue is more of a generational acceptance of the evidence. What I mean by that is, if I wanted to go to one of these institutions to get a degree in religious studies, I would be forced into rejecting the beliefs I currently hold that differ from what is being taught in this institution. That would be the case if I had any plans on passing the courses. The reason for this is because certain ideas were established a long time ago which seemed the most reasonable, and these ideas are merely passed down through the generations in these institutions creating younger copies of the older scholars. And anyone who goes too far out of bounds will not be accepted, and he will have to go out on his own. And yes, over time new ideas are accepted, but usually nothing as radical as a mythical Christ. And yes, the mythical Christ stance is a radical departure from the established (that which seems most reasonable) way of dealing with the evidence. Then again, as in the case of Darwin, just because something is radical, that does not mean it can not eventually be accepted. Which brings us back to the heart of the issue, for it to be accepted by the ones who stand by the established way of dealing with the evidence, the new argument must overturn the current view of the evidence. In other words, for mythicists, their argument needs to show that a mythical Jesus is a more reasonable explanation of the evidence. I understand that mythicists say this has already been established. However, most scholars disagree with their assessment. Why?

        If I might propose a rough analogy of this situation. First the only things we are certain of is that we have a Christian religion and a body of sacred texts. These exist today, nobody can deny that, but the question is how did we get these things. For the analogy, lets say we have a dead body and a crime scene. We have two things that are not in doubt, what is in doubt is how did it all come about. The police investigate the situation and find that the man had been shot in the head, but no gun was found anywhere at the scene. The most reasonable conclusion based on the available evidence would be that someone else murdered this man. Then someone else comes along and says I think he killed himself, and proposes a somewhat complicated theory of how he killed himself and how he got rid of the gun to make it look like someone else did it. Even though both conclusions are within the realm of possibilities, the first one is based on simple reasoning of the evidence, and it is a very similar scenario to other such cases that have been solved. The second conclusion is not only a rejection of what would naturally follow considering the evidence presented, its proposal is based on a set of unusual conjectures that are not common to other such scenarios. So it is not just a matter of presenting a good argument to be accepted by the scholarly world, under these circumstances, the mythical Jesus proponents have to discover the gun in a hole in the ceiling attached to an elastic cord. Therefore, I don’t think the answer is to accuse the scholars that their methodologies are flawed, I think the answer is to provide undisputed new evidence.

  • Mud
    2012-08-04 13:15:10 UTC - 13:15 | Permalink

    Howard, That is still arguing position.

    What is argued is the religious notions of then being compared to the religions notions of now. It is not comparing validity and certainly not the reality of then or now as it is absolutely clear that the religious writers of the time avoided their science and relateds. They clearly did not have a notion of history but had a profound notion of polemic..

    A theologist may argue that the weight of current notions is on his/her side. But equivalence holds between the two.

    Frankly, I prefer Neil’s theology posts as the allusions personal illusions of reality detract. The constant self and comparative evaluation is diluting Neil’s other superb posts. I was convinced that, that is what we are here for.

    Forgive typos etc… the fingers are willing but the eyes are weak..

    • 2012-08-04 21:53:48 UTC - 21:53 | Permalink

      Mud,

      I’m having trouble seeing how anything you said relates to my comment. So I do not know how to respond to it.

    • ROO BOOKAROO
      2012-08-04 23:42:42 UTC - 23:42 | Permalink

      Howard, I am with you. I don’t get that drift.

      • Mud
        2012-08-05 15:57:01 UTC - 15:57 | Permalink

        i would point out that either side of this very destructive online debate is making inference on the existence of an individual that will never satisfy all in this debate.

        We are looking at the thoughts of the self professed/entitled/pseudonymous from a very long time ago.

        But,.

        1) both would be insanely satisfied with the same fall back position.
        2) the scholars (both sides) are not appealing to authority rather than commonality
        3) the difference between a practitioner of self entitlement (for what ever merit) and an analyst of the thought of those practitioners renders those of the latter arguing equivalence. eg Arguing the astrology of the day versus the astronomy of the day makes only for comedy (but both sides miss the point in their discussions)
        4) both will repeat bizarre and uneducated (to the point of a ten year old enthusiast) remarks on sciences.
        5) observers/commenters will point out unwarranted to comparisons with Q.M. Theology and mythicism is the discussion of religious views of the folk who were out of step with the science of the day. The frontiers of any theoretical science in prediction or verification have nothing to do with this self examination..

        Both sides are happy with the compendium of myth. Both sides are inanely (yes) happy with construction and presentation.

        Now lets get down to shtick evaluation; The protective pomposity that started all this is evident. If one only goes back to similar statements made in debate with and interview of the author in question. I would agree that authority holds over entertainment but in the analysis of the protection of the historical “Jesus”….

        …..what historical Jesus?.

        The argument then devolves to a sasquatch or an ugly bear.

        The literature on sasquatches and bears is very fulfilling (look guys, no ground states mentioned!). Stunningly, the fallback for the cryptoid debate is the very same as discussed here.

        Please, I don’t try to offend folk. It just reads that way!

        That and the fingers are willing and the eyes are weak. Forgive typo’s and idiotic lapses as I spend a long time not trying to offend folk (my glasses are broken)

        PS I am VERY happy that Richard presented his binomial probability lectures. I’ve fielded a number of questions on this and have explained ow Richard is very discriminating in prior assignment but the message is blown up to something only the viewer/attendee leaves with.

        I was incredibly happy to field questions on the same when William presented similar. The caveat being, William had no idea of discrimination nor the concept of prior assignment and my discussion devolved to prior assignment.

        My criticism of Bart is; he was debating William when this was brought up. There wasnt a very good debate on the matter. How can public entertainment theology let us down so badly.

        My old students got far fairer bets than a steak dinner. It seems William and Bart both had a bare bread that night!

        • Bretton Garcia
          2012-08-06 04:21:48 UTC - 04:21 | Permalink

          Looks like you’re using some pretty sharp concepts from Analytical Philosophy here and elsewhere; thank you. Though I’d disagree on some things.

          Basically, Mythicism does NOT usually assert, or depend on, or assert, such firm proofs. Though of course it would not turn them down if they appeared. Or even appeal to authority or commonality either. Finding common elements in “different” thoughts, is not commonality. Nor is forming a united discipline commonality either. Etc..

          Basicially, better said by the way, what we are talking about here is not so much about “Mythicism” as MYTHOGRAPHY. A respectable sub-discipline of Anthropology, History, Literature. And? In a sense, Mythography is not as pretentious as Historicism; it knows fully well it is only employed, when there is very little material, scientific evidence; but when we still need to do the best we can, with what little we have. This is what we do, when there is not much evidence … ; but here we admit it, and move on as best we can in the fog. Theology is basically, a false discipline, characterizable as “unicorn Studies.” Mythography is superior, in that it at least knows it is studing not facts, but myths; “value systems.”

          In contrast, assertions of an Historical Jesus are far more naive. There is no independent 1) historical or 2)/factual/scientific case for the existence of Jesus. Not even independent subjective verification from contemporaneous secular/pagan observers. While of course the BIble itself is ruled out as evidence; as a partial and mostly scientifically false document.

          So when it comes to looking for the real Jesus, if any? We are of course, in the realm of “insufficient data”. But in that situation, the situation is not hopeless; in that realm, Myths – or better Mythography, the rational study of Myths in the Mist – holds sway.

          Mythography is the best we have available, when the data we want is just not there.

          As I would say to Larry Hurtado; if he didn’t have pencils in his ears.

  • 2012-08-04 04:51:07 UTC - 04:51 | Permalink

    Here are some fascinating reads on this issue. It’s pointed out at Freethought Nation that it’s silly to turn to NT scholars to get their approval on the case for mythicism when they know so little about it due to the fact that they are not required to study the case for mythicism in order to get a PhD. as it could mean an admission against their own interests.

    “New Testament and Biblical scholars are mostly ignorant of the case for mythicism, because a study of it is not any sort of requirement in order to receive a PhD. It needs to be pointed out that scholars do not hesitate to claim that the religions and deities of the ancient Egyptians, Sumerians, Phoenicians, Indians, Greeks, Romans and others are mythical; yet, these same scholars refuse even to consider that the Abrahamic faiths are also largely based on mythology. Instead of honesty and objectivity we get an endless stream of special pleading for Abrahamic religions.”

    The Mythicist Challenge Petition [Draft]
    http://www.freethoughtnation.com/forums/viewtopic.php?p=18271#p18271

    Evemerist vs. Mythicist Position
    http://www.freethoughtnation.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=16&t=2160

    Religion and the Ph.D.: A Brief History
    http://www.freethoughtnation.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=5&t=3110

    Here’s a link to “Scholarly Opinion” by Earl Doherty
    http://www.freethoughtnation.com/forums/viewtopic.php?p=16528#p16528

    The Mythicist Position

  • muuh-gnu
    2012-08-04 18:30:17 UTC - 18:30 | Permalink

    The job of a “scholar” is not only to understand a problem, but to simplify it enough to be able to clearly communicate it to non-scholars, who are paying for his work. What would be the point of scholarship if the only possible users of the knowledge created are other scholars?

    His point can be summed as “I can tell you Jesus existed, but I cant exactly tell you why, because the complete reasoning exists only in my head and is too complex to be brought to paper.”

    “We cant explain it to you, you wouldnt understand, just trust us, we’re the good guys.” is exactly the pretext the church has used for millennia to deliberately mislead people. Every time you read that pretext it is safe to assume that the speaker isnt acting in good faith and is trying to deceive you for some reason.

    My personal guess is that their reason to force-maintain a “real” Jesus is primarily future financing. They can keep getting financed by claiming to work on an “highly important part of western history”, but nobody would pay so many of them to analyze a few hundred pages of anonymously written works of fiction. Jesus not existing would greatly devalue them from “historians” to “mythologists”. Even though they all deny it (which is understandable) they all have a big stake in the outcomes of their “research”. My feeling is that all of them already have stoppead doing “research” a while ago, and have wholesale turned to apologist lawyers. Instead of sound, open-outcome reasoning, their job seems now to be twisting words, commiting fallacies and outright lying to protect Jesus from extinguishment.

    • muuh-gnu
      2012-08-04 18:39:25 UTC - 18:39 | Permalink

      I forgot to include a quote by Einstein which IMHO pretty much nails the gist of the dilemma: “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough”.

      • 2012-08-04 21:22:32 UTC - 21:22 | Permalink

        I have explained it bold face thanks to Neil. Only take the effort to read Ed Jones Dialogue – Vridar. Try to get beyond references to Hoffmann to read it as an attempt to reconstruct origins of post “Easter” Jesus traditons in light of present NT understanding by our top NT scholars. It treats not only the fateful mistake which accounts for the mythical character of the writings of the NT, but the WHY and the HOW of this mistake as well as the NT alernative.

    • ROO BOOKAROO
      2012-08-04 23:55:30 UTC - 23:55 | Permalink

      That is the underlying fundamental issue. And it goes back to Paul’s admonition that those who preach the Gospel, have a right to make their living through the Gospel.

      1 Corinthians 9:11-14 (ESV)

      11 If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? 12 If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more?

      Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ. 13 Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? 14 In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel

      And thus, a wholly new profession started in the West: professional Jesus Christ scholar. A profession which has prospered and become one of the best in the modern world.

      • Mud
        2012-08-05 16:03:21 UTC - 16:03 | Permalink

        Roo, that’s a bit cruel… but its enough to realise you picket your local chiropractors for far greater sins to science and health!.

        If not why not?

  • ROO BOOKAROO
    2012-08-04 21:46:57 UTC - 21:46 | Permalink

    I can’t resist adding my own quote, because it expresses so well what it means. It’s by Gustave Flaubert, a 19th French writer known for the precision and leanness of his style:

    Judge the goodness of a book by the energy of the punches it has given you. I believe the greatest characteristic of genius, is, above all, force.

    Now that is an elitist concept of writing, meant for an elitist readership, at a time when the costs of publishing were high.

    This market does not exist anymore. But think of it, Mark delivered the punch, the ,Communist Manifesto delivered the punch, the Christ Myth delivered the punch.

    But readers now don’t demand a punch, they want to be fed instant understanding and they require complete clarity, everything on the table, nothing left implicit. Doherty delivers, Zindler delivers.

    However Hoffmann never delivers a punch nor feeds understanding, because he is so desperate for something witty to say in every damn little sentence, that at the end, the thread is lost.

    But here, Hurtado delivers his punch. He says with great force (what Flaubert requires) what he wants to say. And his clever use of the device of repeating “you need a good damn..” four times, completed with two “you need..” twice is marvelous rhetoric. This is an anthology piece, which should figure in any encyclopedia of mythicism.

    Nobody has said it more clearly than Hurtado. To talk about Jesus and be taken seriously (the major challenge of Jesus deniers since Bruno Bauer and Arthur Drews), you need (a good damn) knowledge of :
    * Greek, Latin, and perhaps Hebrew (not absolutely essential since the NT only uses the Septuagint),
    * all other Ancient documents used as sources,
    * manuscripts and textual criticism (Bart Ehrman shines here),
    * Ancient Jewish history and religion (Hebrew would definitely be a plus here), and history and religion in Antiquity.

    Plus passing two critical tests of analysis and judgment skills:
    * Being tested and challenged by “accomplished” scholars — likely through peer-reviewed articles in the best journals;
    * Producing a work defending a case against the harsh criticisms of “competent” scholars thus winning their respect — likely a Ph.D. thesis.

    Something important is not listed, but probably meant implicitly: a super-good damn knowledge of the history of biblical scholarship and of modern competing scholars (Doherty and Price shine here).

    And thus, finally equipped and tested, we gain the right to ask an innocent, but profound question: “But where do we get our idea of Jesus Christ from, and why do we assume his existence?”

    Well Bruno Bauer and Arthur Drews fit the qualifications, and asked. And now, Price, Carrier and Thompson all fit the qualifications and keep asking.

    • Mud
      2012-08-05 16:18:04 UTC - 16:18 | Permalink

      Roo, are we smarting as a Port or Dragons fan from this weeks drubbings?

      If something real could be resolved on the basis of scholarly debate, we could have had internet on the basis of the aether…One has to take the position that a real fact places anyone of the Jesus’ (or anything) temporally and physically as a reference.

      Ask anyone of the above if they would be happy with a find that indicates that a jesus (who was some sort of recidivist) was crucified between 10BCE and 35CE..

      EVERYONE would be over the moon!

  • 2012-08-05 07:36:33 UTC - 07:36 | Permalink

    Dr Hurtado raises the problem of which scholarly disciplines are key to interpreting religious ideas. If some disciplines are privileged, and others excluded, a narrative can be constructed that ignores the evidence from outside the charmed circle. This indicates the need for the mythicist analysis to place the meaning of religious ideas within a philosophical framework that presents a persuasive explanation of the history of ideas.

    Newton famously said he stood on the shoulders of giants to develop the theory of gravity. But when we look at who these ‘giants’ were, such as Kepler, we find they had a worldview that differs markedly from modern scientific orthodoxy. Science emerged out of the hermetic rediscovery of classical thought. In formulating the modernist paradigm, focussed on empirical evidence and proof, the scientific enlightenment discarded the hermetic ideas that it condemned as magical and mystical. While justified on strong methodological grounds, this process of kicking away the ladder which thought had climbed to reach its new superior position embedded many assumptions into the philosophy of science, disparaging aspects of the older thought process that deserve attention.

    A similar process can be seen in Christianity. The ladder which was climbed to construct the story of the historical Jesus was the Gnostic cosmology. Just as science kicked away the hermetic tradition, Christian orthodoxy kicked away the Gnostic cosmology, and proceeded to vilify and disparage it in the most extreme terms to cover its tracks.

    To understand Christian origins, a dispassionate approach to the plausible relation between Gnostic philosophical ideas and the eventual Gospel narrative is needed. This is difficult, because the well has been polluted by the powerful incantations of orthodoxy which promote extreme suspicion of any thought considered to be heretical.

    Mythicism today is reassessing the merits of ancient heresies such as the Docetic view that Christ only seemed to be incarnate in Jesus. The spirit of inquisition is dormant in these more liberal times, but it lurks behind the motives of those who have an emotional attachment to the idea of Christian civilization as the primary force for good in the world. Mythicism has to deconstruct the emotional presuppositions and history of ideas that give historicism its social resonance. That is a complicated way of saying that a simple story of salvation is needed in which the invention of Christ is understood as an imaginative construction of social fantasy, bringing harm as well as benefit. The place of Christianity in society has to be seen against big ideas of human values, identity and politics. Showing that specific Christian claims are flawed and illogical is not enough; what is needed is a new positive framework that sets the emergence and evolution of the idea of Christ within a scientific understanding with a coherent ethical message.

  • steph
    2012-08-05 08:14:16 UTC - 08:14 | Permalink

    While Larry Hurtado is right about needing the training, knowledge and languages to analyse texts and make informed and qualified arguments, I think he overstated the issue. It is most certainly not about esoteric wisdom and it is definitely relevant to general interested audiences. Many scholars have summarised more complex arguments by writing books for the general audience, and unfortunately not many do that well. For example, Bart Ehrman does it badly and is generally wrong. But it’s ironic that Hurtado is so bossy about languages – he is not even a competent Aramaist. He is also a very very conservative Christian scholar who is opposed to interdisciplinary method. He came from America and controlled the highly conservative department of theology at Edinburgh in Scotland. Paul Owen, a known fundamentalist of Montreat College, is an example of a Ph.D graduate of Larry Hurtado. While I have many disagreements with his work, he is on a personal level, very kind.

    • steph
      2012-08-05 08:19:10 UTC - 08:19 | Permalink

      Actually read the last sentence as ‘I disagree completely with his work’. Also I oppose his attempts to control and limit the discipline. Edinburgh has quite a dubious reputation among critical scholars. Edinburgh has a reputation for being very conservative.

      • Bretton Garcia
        2012-08-05 09:10:51 UTC - 09:10 | Permalink

        Thanks for your help, Steph

    • 2012-08-05 12:05:08 UTC - 12:05 | Permalink

      Overstated his case or understated it? How can he really understand the proofs for the existence of Jesus without being a specialist in Aramaic?

      • Brettongarcia
        2012-08-05 15:06:30 UTC - 15:06 | Permalink

        Steph was once a terrible sinner: the most adamant of Historicists and linguo-centrists. But I’m hoping after our long conversations over on the Hoffmann blog, Steph has partially seen the light – and is willing to help us now and then as an a language specialist; without always insisting on the absolute primary of Aramaisms? If so, Steph can be a valuable new ally. Certainly both Steph and I both see the weaknesses in Hurtado’s arguments. And both of us see a non-scholarly, conservative, ideological element motivating many scholars, and programs like Edinburg.

        Even Joe Hoffmann himself might be redeemable, one day. His more recent posts on “Jesus Minimus,” and “The Canonical Historical Jesus” seem quite moderate and even conciliatory; Hoffmann seems to be arguing that indeed, the status of Jesus has been shrinking; while in “The Canonical” piece, Joe even seems willing to at least consider the possiblity that the historical details or historical status of Jesus, was not necessarily original; but was added in, by a Church eager to bolster Jesus’ “real” status.

        http://rjosephhoffmann.wordpress.com/2012/08/01/the-canonical-historical-jesus/

        • steph
          2012-08-06 03:04:07 UTC - 03:04 | Permalink

          Bretton Garcia

          If you think I have changed my mind over any of these issues, or that Hoffmann, Casey or Crossley would disagree with anything I’ve written, I’m sorry but you’ve misunderstood us all completely. We wouldn’t be compatible working together if we disagreed on foundational matters like these. Both Casey and Crossley have published and are in the process of publishing more, severe criticism of Hurtado. I will always be a sinner. 😉

          • steph
            2012-08-06 03:23:27 UTC - 03:23 | Permalink

            Also Bretton, none of us, including Hoffmann, would dispute or have ever disputed the fact that supposed historical details about Jesus or supposed historical statuses of Jesus were not orginal but are later accretions. The canon is not a historical account. It was created by the later church. I know no critical scholar who would dispute this fact.

      • steph
        2012-08-06 02:55:26 UTC - 02:55 | Permalink

        Neil

        There isn’t proof – it’s evidence and argument. Also arguments for evidence of Aramaic sources aren’t arguments for historicity on their own. Aramaic on its own does not imply historicity or give an indication of date, contra Ehrman. Not that Ehrman demonstrates the competence in Aramaic to devise competent and convincing arguments. His ‘arguments’ are assumptions and not remotely like any source theory that I’ve discussed and I doubt he’s read them. Bart said to me when I asked about Casey’s work which he doesn’t seem remotely ‘familiar’ with, “Yes, I’m familiar with his work… I disagree with him on a number of issues (Aramaic origins of NT books, etc.).” This is rubbish as Casey never argues for ‘Aramaic origins of NT books’ at all. Ehrman isn’t familiar with those arguments and hasn’t got the competence in Aramaic.

        I meant that Larry has overstated his case in that he created an impression that untrained people couldn’t possibly understand convoluted complex arguments (can he?). But some scholars have attempted to summarise their more academic work and publish books that are accessible to interested audiences in the hope that they can begin to understand the ideas. I hope more scholars take up the challenge, as many who have, have not necessarily done it well or efficiently – or had convincing arguments in the first place! If I didn’t have my own training and evolving arguments and evidence and those of others, including interdisciplinary arguments which Larry opposes, and relied entirely on Larry’s ‘arguments’ controlled by his convictions, that Jesus, with all Larry’s beliefs and peripherals attached, existed, I wouldn’t be convinced. I’d think he was wrong. He hasn’t however got the skills to make a plausible case (and I don’t think he’s tried). Ehrman has tried and has failed. He’s also assumes the existence of an implausible document “Q” and Aramaic sources which he hasn’t the competence in Aramaic to argue. It’s not remotely related to any hypothesis which involves Aramaic sources which I’ve discussed. He doesn’t have plausible method or criteria.

        I apologise for the length.

        • ROO BOOKAROO
          2012-08-06 03:37:16 UTC - 03:37 | Permalink

          I think you touch on a serious real problem: immense inflation of scholarship.

          Not only scholars follow their particular field of interest, which is natural, but they can’t even gain a real grip on the huge amount of material produced in the past, over now say nearly 250 years.

          And, in addition, they are unable to cope with the humongous task of getting familiar with all the work done by living contemporary scholars, because there’s just too much of it. So now the result is, every scholar has a good, but still fragmented, patchwork notion of what’s going on in his area of expertise, but not a comprehensive grasp of all the ramifications of the field, and probably nobody does.

          This is true of any scholar, not just Hurtado, but also Hoffmann, Lüdemann, Carrier, Price, (strictly mentioning only Ph.D.s) etc…

          • steph
            2012-08-06 04:18:36 UTC - 04:18 | Permalink

            Certainly true of certain scholars but I would not include either Hoffmann or Luedemann. They are both competent critical scholars who have the broad learning and skills to deal with complex material with the right discernment and skepticism.

            • 2012-08-06 04:48:32 UTC - 04:48 | Permalink

              See Hoffman’s excellent article on the Jesus Tomb at http://rjosephhoffmann.wordpress.com/2009/05/15/the-jesus-tomb-debacle-rip/ for examples of his clarity of insight.

              • steph
                2012-08-06 05:11:50 UTC - 05:11 | Permalink

                Yes indeed. A very wise and amusing response to the James Tabor ‘claims’ at that time.

              • 2012-08-06 06:05:54 UTC - 06:05 | Permalink

                And to the claims that Jesus had a brother called James who was a leader of the early church.

              • steph
                2012-08-06 07:12:31 UTC - 07:12 | Permalink

                Not claims. Joe’s conclusions are based on evidence and argument whereas Tabor has made up his own evidence.

              • 2012-08-06 16:20:33 UTC - 16:20 | Permalink

                Hoffman’s conclusions are based on evidence that Galatians 4:4 is an interpolation, and that the reference to James the brother of Christ in Josephus is an interpolation.

                I will quote Hoffman’s article ‘It is sometimes pointed out that Paul makes reference (Galatians 4.4) to Jesus having “been born of a woman, under the law,” but it is widely believed that these words are an insertion into the text of Galatians: Marcion, our earliest witness, does not know them, and as Hilgenfeld once noted, if his opponent, Tertullian, could have quoted them against Marcion, a docetist thinker, to prove the essential humanity of Jesus, he would have. We are left with the bare fact that Paul knows nothing of the human family of Jesus.’

                It is good to see Steph praise this article as based on evidence and argument.

        • 2012-08-06 13:25:55 UTC - 13:25 | Permalink

          Steph, it sounds like you are saying, nonetheless, that “the evidence” for the historical existence of Jesus is not so much “evidence” but rather a conclusion derived from complex arguments. What you would like to see are these complex arguments presented in a way that allows the public to appreciate that scholars do have a handle on being able to establish the historicity of Jesus. Is this correct or have I misunderstood?

          • maryhelena
            2012-08-09 16:58:58 UTC - 16:58 | Permalink

            Neil, I like that sum up…“the evidence” for the historical existence of Jesus is not so much “evidence” but rather a conclusion derived from complex arguments.”. That, methinks, should be shouted from the hilltops….

            It’s the arguments, not any evidence, that the JC historicists are basing their position on. And to add insult to injury, these arguments are not really arguments at all – they are simply interpretations of the gospel storyline. The ahistoricists/mythicists come alone and offer another interpretation of the same gospel story. But their interpretation is judged to be out of court – not within the accepted limits, the boundaries, of that gospel game. i.e. the lines are draw up by the consensus – historical JC lines. The JC historicists want to play the game on the fine green lawns of Wimbledon – the ahistoricists/mythicists are bored with such culture and want to play where the ball can bounce freely on the beach or street….;-)

            That said, I do think the JC historicists have the more easily comprehended ‘argument’ – which is obviously why their ‘argument’ has had such a long innings. It really is an easy story, is it not. A Jewish preacher figure, deemed, by his followers, to be a messiah figure, executed by Roman agents. There is nothing complicated there! An ahistoricist/mythicists comes along with one hell of a complicated storyline re it all began in the mind of Paul – and Paul was so great a charismatic figure that he was able to convince lots of people that his vision, his idea, was the greatest thing since sliced bread 😉

            One ‘argument’, the JC historicists ‘argument’, lays a claim on history. The ahistoricist/mythicist ‘argument’ lays a claim in a vision. Really now – come on folks – which ‘argument’ has the better chance of gaining converts? Yes, of course, the JC historicists have no evidence for their claim – as, likewise, the ahistoricists/mythicists, cannot claim any validity for someone having a vision. Check-mate. Back to the drawing board…

            Regardless of the fact that the JC historicists have no evidence for their claim, they do have one fact in their favour. A fact that gives them the edge in this historicist/ahistoricist debate. The claim on history. Ideas, and visions, are floating abstractions, needing no connection to reality for their creation. Wild and wonderful ideas can come about through nothing else but pure imagination. That is their beauty but also their downfall. Ideas are fickle, they come and they go. For ideas to have any benefit to how we live our lives they need to relate to reality, to how we experience our lives. That means, in the context of the JC historicist/ahistoricist debate – history matters. And that’s the edge the JC historicists have – however far off the mark they are with their claim for historicity for the gospel JC. They refuse to let go of a historical relevance for the gospel JC story.

            The ahistoricist/mythicist ‘arguments’ are not going to be able to penetrate this historical last stand of the JC historicists by offering a vision of Paul. If someone wants apples one does not offer them oranges. What all this is suggesting is that the ahistoricist/mythicist position cannot move forward until it can present an historical counter argument to that of the JC historicists. That means that the relevant Hasmonean and Herodian history has to be considered. Turning the tables requires a historical argument not more interpretations of the NT storyboard.

            • 2012-08-09 21:30:41 UTC - 21:30 | Permalink

              Hi Mary — There is also such a thing as a history of ideas; and that’s where I see a fascinating area of study: how and when and why did certain strands of Second Temple sectarian literature evolve into the quasi and then full Christian literature. Surely the destruction, very likely both destructions (70 and 130s), of Jerusalem was at least one major factor.

              You have often made passing allusions to the Hasmonean and Herodian histories in connection with the emergence of Christianity, and I seem to recall in the past you have at times given a fuller exposition of your views. It’s an area of history that not many of us are familiar with, unfortunately, at least in the detail to which you are. It would be easier to engage with your views if you could either point us to a past post where you have spelled them out in more detail, or — as you know I’ve mentioned before — prepare a fuller discussion. It might need the headers and formatting I have done for some other posts to help those not familiar with the details to follow them easily.

              • maryhelena
                2012-08-09 22:37:05 UTC - 22:37 | Permalink

                Hi, Neil

                I suppose I should have expected you to ask for more re my post!. But, Neil, the relevant, the basic, Hasmonean and Herodian history is pretty easy to come by. Wikipedia is available..;-) Yes, obviously, the history that we do have is primarily from Josephus – and has to be treated with circumspection. However, the basics are there in Wikipedia. All I have done is use that basic history as a measuring stick, if you like, by which to line up the gospel JC story. i.e. line up the JC pseudo-history alongside actual history. Below is a link to a chart I put up recently on FRDB – detailing the historical backdrop for the JC storyboard.

                http://www.freeratio.org/showthread.php?t=313038

                Yes, of course, there is history of ideas. Which is important. But ideas don’t just fall from the sky – that is apart from pure imagination. Ideas, to be relevant for living our lives, need to be based on something tangible. They need relevance. And for the JC story that means historical relevance.

                Re 70 c.e. and the 130 c.e. history. For the gospel JC story that’s far too late. It’s the 37 b.c. siege of Jerusalem that is primary. That year saw the end of the Hasmonean rule, the end of Jewish rule in Jerusalem. Herod’s siege of Jerusalem taking no pity on the aged nor the infants.

                “….so they were murdered continually in the narrow streets and in the houses by crowds, and as they were flying to the temple for shelter, and there was no pity taken of either infants or the aged, nor did they spare so much as the weaker sex….yet nobody restrained their hand from slaughter, but, as if they were a company of madmen, they fell upon persons of all ages, without distinction.’ Ant. Book XIV ch.XVI. par.2.

                Why go as far back as 37 b.c.? Well, Luke did so. gLuke has Lysanias of Abilene in his 15th year of Tiberius table of rulers. But Lysanias of Abilene ruled in 40 b.c. – the very year that Herod became King, in Rome, and Antigonus became King in Jerusalem. That suggests we are dealing with a 70 year historical period. And that number 70 suggests we are dealing, in the gospel JC story, with prophetic history; dealing with pseudo-history or ‘salvation’ history.

                So, if we want to get beyond the gospel story to try and discern why that story, why that idea, arose when it did, we need to consider the relevant Hasmonean and Herodian history for those 70 years. That is what I have done in a basic outline in the FRDB chart.

                Sure, I could do with getting my head around the idea of collecting and presenting my theory re the gospel JC story, in one place, so to speak – someday maybe…Right now all I’m trying to do is get people to consider the relevant history; history from which the idea of JC sprung. And, seemingly, for many ahistoricists/mythicists, the very idea of there being a historical core to the gospel story is something they are seeking to run a mile from….That there was no historical gospel JC (of whatever variant) does not mean that history was irrelevant to the creation, to the ideas, that that story has endeavoured to present.

                PS: Another link with some charts – (yes, I like charts) – dealing with the TF, which might interest some people.

                http://www.freeratio.org/showthread.php?t=316340

          • steph
            2012-08-10 00:37:17 UTC - 00:37 | Permalink

            Neil, Yes you’ve misunderstood. The last clause sounds like Hurtado’s implication. To demonstrate historical existence there are lots of pieces of evidence which are tied together in arguments to demonstrate the evidence, and conclusions are reached. What I would like is for individual scholars to demonstrate their arguments with clarity so that more interested people can understand them perhaps, but not in order to show scholars have a handle on everything and you don’t, which is more precisely what Hurtado is implying. Not all scholars do, and some scholars haven’t the historical linguistic contextual skills, and some are just biased. Consider our mutual disagreement with Ehrman and Hurtado. I think my maiin objection is to Hurtado’s assumptions about knowledge.

            It was only a fluke I spotted this – I haven’t had any pingbacks for any blogs for over two years. I’m not sure what I did but I seem to have stopped them even if I tick the box.

            • 2012-08-10 05:57:40 UTC - 05:57 | Permalink

              Hi Steph, I am afraid I am not sure if I really understand still. I was not addressing Hurtado’s but your own earlier words and I placed the word “evidence” in quotation marks to address the debatable meaning of the word in this context. Your second explanation sounds very much like an affirmation rather than a correction of what I was in fact suggesting.

              Let me try to explain: Data only becomes evidence when it is given meaning by a human interpreter. Evidence must by definition be evidence “for” something. So a blood-stained knife by itself is only a blood-stained knife. It is not evidence for anything of and by itself. It only becomes evidence that a cook cut herself while working in the kitchen, or that surgeons had performed an operation, or evidence that an animal was slain for food, or evidence that there had been a murder, if it can be demonstrated that it can be related to other data — a cut finger, a cadaver with a knife wound, etc.

              When you speak of “lots of pieces of evidence which are tied together in arguments to demonstrate the evidence” it seems to me that you are using the word “evidence” to mean two different things: the first time you use the word to mean “data” and the second time you use it to mean “data that can be meaningfully related to other information and is thus evidence for something”. If I understand where you are coming from correctly, I think you would say that certain infelicitous Greek passages in Mark’s Gospel — that is, data — can be demonstrated to have a relationship with certain Aramaic phrases, and that these problematic Greek words are therefore evidence for an Aramaic source for Mark’s Gospel.

              And so on. Through a string of arguments like this about the data, weaving the data into evidence for increasingly complex arguments and conclusions, is the way scholarship works.

              What this means, if so, if that my original statement was a correct understanding when I wrote: “it sounds like you are saying, nonetheless, that “the evidence” for the historical existence of Jesus is not so much “evidence” but rather a conclusion derived from complex arguments.”

              That is, we have lots of data for lots of things, and all this data is argued to be related to other information in order to build an argument that we declare in the end is evidence for the historicity of Jesus. If so, we have no direct evidence for the historicity of Jesus, — the only evidence we have is really a set of complex arguments about a range of data.

              Is that correct?

              • steph
                2012-08-10 13:24:52 UTC - 13:24 | Permalink

                “I think you would say that certain infelicitous Greek passages in Mark’s Gospel — that is, data — can be demonstrated to have a relationship with certain Aramaic phrases, and that these problematic Greek words are therefore evidence for an Aramaic source for Mark’s Gospel.” No I wouldn’t say that at all. It’s the wrong approach anyway. And neither is it all about Aramaic. Even evidence of Aramaic isn’t evidence on it’s own for historicity. And “proof” is a photograph or a film clip. Evidence and argument are how scientific hypotheses are developed and refuted or improved. Bad analogy, as analogies are always ‘wrong’ – but it’s the best I can do: Big Bang. I’m not a scientist but Stephen Hawking has made it accessible in a moment in time, with a nice explanation for we amateurs, and it sounds convincing – the best ever – and hasn’t been refuted. I doubt it will – but new evidence might improve it. I’m not the best person to explain it to you. I give up:)

              • 2012-08-10 14:10:36 UTC - 14:10 | Permalink

                I only tossed in the Aramaic thing to try to illustrate the point about data being a different concept from evidence. You can substitute any other of your arguments for the same effect. The point is that data itself is not evidence — and the evidence for Jesus is the conclusion of bringing together arguments about data. Yes?

              • steph
                2012-08-10 21:50:43 UTC - 21:50 | Permalink

                You have implied in your responses that the ‘data’ is manipulated through argument to fit the conclusion. You said you were interpreting my words but you were influenced by what Hurtado had written and I had not suggested or implied or said anything remotely like you suggested. That elitist bossy attitude is contrary to Antipodeans’ sensitivities. It’s the same sort as the male chauvinist ‘there there don’t bother your pretty little head’. Convincing you that he ‘knows’ belongs to Hurtado or conservative scholarship. Demonstrating to you with argument and evidence is not. Evidence is not proof. Historical evidence is not the same as modern historical evidence. So methods of reaching conclusions are using different types of evidence. Worse analogy is your detective case. Who shot the ferryman? The gun by the body is not proof. The fact the bullet in the body came from that gun not proof either. The owner of the fingerprints on the gun is not proof. They are pieces of evidence which build a rational case and suggests a conclusion beyond reasonable doubt. I said I had given up.))

              • 2012-08-11 10:30:30 UTC - 10:30 | Permalink

                Hold on there Steph! You might like to know wherever I have encountered sexist ways of addressing you on this blog I have deleted those comments. Why on earth are you turning my attempt at a genuine discussion of the nature of evidence into a personal attack? This is entirely unprovoked. I had actually begun to think that you were changing your manner and beginning a new mellow and more productive style of exchange.

                You are gratuitously reading attitudes into my words that are entirely generated in your own imagination and using them to attack me personally.

                My point about the difference between data and evidence and the function of argument is informed by my background in historical studies and information science. It is outrageous that you would interpret my argument as suggesting that argument is some sort of illicit “manipulation” of data for self-serving ends. And especially outrageous that you interpret my words as a sexist put-down of you.

                But to turn to the content of your argument, you are jumping into a concept of “proof” which I had never addressed at all — quite purposefully. My argument is about what we mean by data and evidence and you have avoided that with a personal attack and deflection into another concept altogether!

                I really had hoped that you would address my actual words and not what you imagine me to be implying but simply do not.

                (P.S. I have attempted the same exchange about the nature of data and evidence with James McGrath, the same arguments, and he likewise walked away. At least he did not accuse me of what you have, though. It seems that biblical scholars have a problem facing up to analytical discussions about their methods. Hurtado even confuses data with conclusions!)

              • steph
                2012-08-11 10:39:03 UTC - 10:39 | Permalink

                I didn’t interpret it as a personal attack. I interpreted it as a misunderstanding in your attempt to interpret what I wrote. Oh dear.

              • 2012-08-11 11:01:06 UTC - 11:01 | Permalink

                I have re-written and combined some of my earlier comments here:

                Steph, I did not say you interpreted my words as a personal attack, though I can understand how my words might have been understood as saying that. What I meant was that you were turning my post into an opportunity to personally attack me.

                You wrote: “That elitist bossy attitude is contrary to Antipodeans’ sensitivities. It’s the same sort as the male chauvinist ‘there there don’t bother your pretty little head’.”

                I certainly took those words of yours as a gratuitous personal attack on me. Perhaps you were not directing them at my comment after all?

                I also do think that your words indicate you took my initial comments as more than a simple misunderstanding — you imputed into them an offensive attitude towards you — a personal attack, if you will.

                Would you like to engage in a clear headed and unemotive analysis of the difference between data and evidence and proof? I have yet to find a biblical scholar who is prepared to do this, even though they use those words, especially the E one, a lot.

              • steph
                2012-08-11 11:50:25 UTC - 11:50 | Permalink

                oh no! I was (and probably shouldn’t have been) attacking Hurdado. Oops.

              • 2012-08-11 20:02:24 UTC - 20:02 | Permalink

                Evidence can point two ways.

                Just 3 years ago, the evidence led Hoffman to declare in unequivocal terms that James was not the biological brother of Jesus, that Galatians 4:4 was an interpolation.

                Now, the very same evidence leads Hoffman to declare in unequivocal terms that James was the biological brother of Jesus, and that Galatians 4:4 was not an interpolation.

                The evidence has not changed, or at least Steph has not get around to documenting this new evidence, but the conclusions to be drawn from this evidence are the exact opposite of what they were 3 years ago.

                It’s a funny old game, interpreting evidence…..

  • 2012-08-06 11:23:11 UTC - 11:23 | Permalink

    I have removed two comments that belong more appropriately to another forum and that were posted since my “Comments on Vridar” post.

    • 2012-08-06 13:16:36 UTC - 13:16 | Permalink

      I have removed another comment that referred to Stephanie Fisher with a disparaging epithet.

  • Pingback: Hoffmann: James was NOT the biological brother of Jesus « Vridar

  • ROO BOOKAROO
    2012-08-07 09:10:50 UTC - 09:10 | Permalink

    Since the subject of competent critical scholars who have the broad learning and skills to deal with complex material with the right discernment and skepticism, one tiny comment to illustrate.

    Once the chorus as sung its effusive paean on the Greek stage, a lone voice rises..

    As an example, I had to chuckle when I read the superficial evaluation of one major scholar, who likes to pose as the pope of the “majority of scholars” in the States, and who glibly badmouthed Arthur Drews as a “proto-Nazi”.

    Whereas we can bet that this epitome of scholarship has never read Drews, and we also can reasonably assess that, by temperament, and the force of his personal blinders, he is congenitally incapable of any objective evaluation of such a maverick and protean (the counter-chorus is piping in) philosopher as Drews. But this paragon of scholarship likes to sound off as a know-it-al, something which can impress only the same majority of scholars who know even less than he does.

  • Mud
    2012-08-08 00:09:08 UTC - 00:09 | Permalink

    This is getting a bit indulgent.

  • brettongarcia
    2012-08-08 09:28:07 UTC - 09:28 | Permalink

    We might seem a little self-indulgent for a minute, at the close. But?

    Look back, and I think anyone would see that a LOT of solid core material on Mythicism has been presented in this particular series of posts. By lots of well-informed contributers.

    I’d say this particular series of comments, and the entries on the “Cheshire Cat,” might even serve as a pretty good introduction to the New Mythicism.

    • brettongarcia
      2012-08-08 19:49:25 UTC - 19:49 | Permalink

      Lots of people think that History advances just thanks to the influence of just a few “Great Men.” Like say, Jesus. But that may be a simplistic view of History. The fact is that all of us – even allegedly great men, real and imagined – are trained, created, by our Culture; which includes thousands, millions of influences. So History isn’t advanced by any single person, or even hundreds of Great Men; but by hundreds of thousands, millions of less obvious contributers.

      So? I’m grateful for the contributions of lots of people here in these comment boxes; forming a pretty good basic intro to what we should probably call “The New Mythicism.” Which builds on the old Mythicism, but shows signs of being a last a popular, more widely-influential form of it.

      To be influential, we’re going to need not just obscure scholarly efforts, but also a lot of very clear, factual outlines, historical summaries. To introduce this subject to the larger population. And a few simple images – like the Cheshire Cat for example – can start to do that job. As well as quite a few summaries of Historicism, and the history of Mythicism. A lot of that seems usefully sketched out here, in “com boxes”; the concerned citizens’ forum.

      And in a way Jesus himself, if he actually existed, probably would be a little too proud, if he every explicitly said he was “Son of God”; it would be better to see the mythic or even any “real” Jesus as a product – even many of would way, a “composite” – of many manifold processes that went before him. Including lots of legends, and myths. Even the Jesus of the Bible acknowledged “sources” of “food” or sustenance, that his apostles and Jewish gatekeepers did not know about. Probably Samaritan and Greco-Roman sources; like the non-Jewish Samaritan woman at the well, etc… (John 4.7-31; cf. 32 ff).

      • 2012-08-08 20:05:40 UTC - 20:05 | Permalink

        Bretton — can you summarize your meaning here in just 50 words or less, and without? any gratuitous question marks! along? with some awareness of historiographical flavours, such as when the “great man” view of history was and was no longer in vogue?

    • 2012-08-09 01:34:28 UTC - 01:34 | Permalink

      test

  • ROO BOOKAROO
    2012-08-08 21:49:28 UTC - 21:49 | Permalink

    Totally in agreement with Neil Godfrey.

    Brettongarcia is absorbing a lot of knowledge, but the digestion is not completed, and the rendition is confusing.

    He is giving us a pell-mell of abstract ideas that con only confuse any reader. Even abstract ideas have origins and creators. When Arthur Drews, a trained philosopher, mentions the same concepts, he automatically credits the creator, so that the reader gets a historic grasp of how ideas were formed in the past and are being formed or discussed in the present.
    When Godfrey issues a new posting with a new idea, the first thing he does is to indicate the writer and the book where it was found. That is the only scholarly way of handling ideas.

    When Brettongarcia starts with:

    Lots of people think that History advances just thanks to the influence of just a few “Great Men.” Like say, Jesus. But that may be a simplistic view of History. The fact is that all of us…

    I cringe. After reviewing how Arthur Drews exposes the idea of the Great Personalities as being a fundamental principle of the Romantic historians, originating with Hegel and continued all the way to at least Schweitzer and WWI, I feel that the anonymous presentation of Brettongarcia of the major ideas in Jesus criticism is misleading.

    Wikipedia justly characterizes all these descriptions as weasel words, the question being: Who? When? Where? In What Exact Words? Please insert quotations.
    And then, comes the refutation with “The fact is…”. Which fact? Demonstrated by whom? Is that “floating in the air”? Another weasel expression to avoid like the pest.

    This comment leaves me in a state of complete confusion and despair. How can one make sense of history and the battle of ideas with such a jumbled manifesto. “Old mythicism” and “New Mythicism”? Who invented these categories? When? I can only compare this language to the way Arthur Drews describes these concepts with great clarity and extreme concision, so that the reader can understand and assimilate the ideas.

    Even “mythicism”, a wonderful shortcut for a historical theory, is an unclear idea when used for the public without context. It is too close to “myth”, “mythology”, “mystique”, “mystical”, “mytheme”, etc…It was clear within Archibald Roberston’s book called Jesus: Myth or History?, because the words used within that book automatically referred to its title Jesus. But without the context of Jesus, those words become ill-defined and confusing. That is why trained philosophers and linguists pay extreme attention to style and definition of words. You can’t just go around and wave all kinds of abstract words. This is no explanation.

    [That by the way is one of the main difficulties of the language of the early Christian documents: “Son of Man”, “Son of God”, “Kingdom of God”, “Spirit of the Lord”, “Brother of the Lord”, etc…what are those ideas? Never defined anywhere, used without a precise context. Then follow two thousand years of head-scratching and scholarly hair-splitting.]

    Arthur Drews specifically spoke of Christ Myth and Jesus Denial, all focused on the question of the historicity> of Jesus. Those words are much clearer. They involve “Christ”, “Jesus”, and “historicity”, giving meaning and definition to “myth” and “denial”. They immediately convey their meaning, contrary to the words used by this commenter.

    Same thing happens with the weasel responses of apologists: “Oh, the lame theory of non-historicity of Jesus has been refuted a long time ago. When, please? Do you mean Shirley Jackson Case? Frederick Conybeare? Maurice Goguel? Who, and how?

    All those appeals to the mists of ideas, or the mists of history are counter-productive. R. Joseph Hoffmann adores this game. It allows him concocting all kinds of witty asides, chuckling to himself, that he is the only one to appreciate. Instead of promoting knowledge and clarity, they promote confusion and misconceptions. Then Richard Carrier, with his hyperlogical mind, starts lamenting: “And then trained historians have to come along and waste an inordinate amount of time dissipating the confused ideas of amateur theologians and historians.”

    Sorry, Neil Godfrey, for the length of this comment. But it is such a vital point, and I feel that is the idea implicit in your comment, but nobody seems able or willing to make it explicit.
    When you speak of ideas and history facts, you have to mention the creators, the times, and the sources. Ideas are not floating in the air. Otherwise we’re just painting another Jackson Pollock picture.

    I only bemoan the disappearance of such old-school writers who had elegance, style, and relevance: Couchoud, Wells, Loisy, Schweitzer, Drews, Robert Ingersoll. They all had studied logic, ancient Greek (probably the clearest of all languages known to us), a bit of mathematics and sciences. What we now get are academics like Ehrman, Hoffman, or McGrath, who know only theology, and most of them rambling discourses adding no light, only spreading more darkness and confusion in ill-informed minds.

    Zeus, spare me your thunderbolts!

    And even the use of

    • brettongarcia
      2012-08-09 02:58:56 UTC - 02:58 | Permalink

      Why document a refutation of the Great Man Theory … when 1) Roo had just spent so much time demonstrating Drew and others’ exposure of that as just a Romantic cliche? Why duplicate what Roo already just did? My own comments were merely meant to piggyback on Roo’s earlier comments and historical exposition.

      To make things simple, I should stop here. But for those who want more, I suggest the following:

      2) Regarding the “Great Man” approach to history, and a wellknown refutation of it, you might start with for example, a simple, standard encylopedia source on: the Annales School. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/1364891/Annales-school

      3) Then read say, Sidney Hook.

      4) Especially I personally use a modification of the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis. And the hypothesis that many of the values, ideas of a culture are often built into the language itself; so that simply by learning a language, one is learning a Tradition. Extending this, I use the Poststructuralist idea that culture and life are therefore a “text”; and in effect, we are “written beings.” Being “written by” Language in effect.

      5) For a simple, wellknown, popular quote? The famous thinker who, when congratulated on his greatness, said: “I am standing on the shoulders of giants” before him. For some time many of us have been adding that we are all standing on the shoulders of the Culture all around us. The books we read, and so forth.

      6) Can we even imagine a Great Man … who did not speak a language, and today, never read the books of others?

      Therefore, even the best ideas of a great man come at least in part from Culture. Or you might say, Education.

      7) So for us to call any man “great,” is as naive as “hero worship” is thought to be in many circles.

      8) My own approach to Jesus here is to regard him as a “written being”; who is thought to be a real hero, but who is written by any number of intersecting myths, fictional texts. Which in effect is the standard account by Mythicism; though presented here with lots of academic names behind it.

      • ROO BOOKAROO
        2012-08-09 05:21:40 UTC - 05:21 | Permalink

        Sorry, Brettongarcia. I missed the connection you had in your head. My error. Like Richard Carrier, I have adopted the policy of acknowledging my mistakes immediately without any false pride.

        I hastily thought that you were using Drews without mentioning him. This has happened to Drews so often, especially after his death, that I get a bit upset when this happens.
        On purely reading your text, the connection to a previous comment was not obvious.
        All Jesus deniers following him have used Drews’s arguments without even giving him the slightest credit. And it has happened not just about Jesus, but about Wagner, Nietzsche, Pantheism, etc…He was a prolific thinker, and a sharp one too, so he’s given ideas to many people in many areas.

        So, to avoid misreadings by your readers, it is simple to insert a reference to make the reader share the connection in your head, by saying for instance, “as I mentioned above,” as “Neil already remarked,..” etc…Then we follow your mind’s movement instead of having to guess, and usually guess wrong.

  • brettongarcia
    2012-08-09 06:25:04 UTC - 06:25 | Permalink

    To explain my understanding of the importance of our discussion on Drew, but also specifically on The Great Man Theory, it might be useful to summarize a few points. In general, the important thing here is to answer a very, very common objection to Mythicism: that surely there could not have been such a major Christian movement as we have seen in the last 2,000 years … unless there had been a real Jesus to follow. “Surely” it is claimed (and scholars like Hurtado might like to assert too), that “the huge historical success of Christianity could only have come if people saw and talked to a great man; a real historical Jesus.”

    This is a very, very common argument against Mythicism. And yet however, as some of us have been noting here and elsewhere, there are lots of general things wrong with this all-too-common notion. Since 1) we can easily think of lots of examples of millions of people followin, and even dying for, people or gods, that were not quite historically real. For example, millions of Greeks and Romans in the centuries long before Christianity, followed countless essentially Greek gods; like Zeus, and Aphrodite. And yet however, clearly the gods they followed were not in any obvious way based on known historical individuals. Or based on living leaders. “Zeus” is sometwhat human; but not clearly historical.

    That would form the first answer to the objection that Jesus must have been real, or else no Christianity would have come about: we know that many people have often followed made-up figures. (For that matter, the Bible itself often warned about “false gods.”).

    But in addition to this argument against a real Jesus, there is 2) another possible second reason: here the mention of Drew’s refutation of the “Great Man Theory” of History is possibly also relevant. The Great Man theory is to some extent found in many cultures; though Drew suggests that the idea was particularly popular in the 19th century: the idea finally being that mankind progresses, thanks to being lead by very, very “great men.” Like Socrates, and Plato, and Alexander (“The Great”), and so forth. Including possibly for example, Jesus Christ.

    The idea that historical changes can only come from great historical individuals is a common way of thinking. One that is not just found in one era; many people naturally seem to hold to it. But in any case what is relevant here is that there have been many theories – as in the Annales School of history – that this common idea is just not true. Many historicans today suggest that it is not just single individuals, but many people, in united cultures … that really make the most things happen. It is all people, the culture as a whole; and not just the leaders, as some might say, that make things happen. (While for that matter, Humanism suggests that men collectively make up their gods; their legends of Gods.)

    So here is yet another academic answer, to a very common argument against Mythicism: the argument that the success of Christianity proves that Jesus must have been a real historical individual; since such a major movement could never have come about, without an historical person at its origin. And yet however the fact is that in many academic theories, it is not so much just a few historical great men that make things happen; as much as many human beings, contributing to a larger project.

    While arguably in fact, even our “god”s are ultimately, not necesarily single human beings. But are just the products of the human imaginations of many dozens, hundreds, even thousands of human beings. Who created them in their imagination and legends.

    These things are very widely known to competent, real Historians. But one often wonders whether they are known to everyday believers; or even to conservative religious scholars, “historians” of religion.

    • brettongarcia
      2012-08-09 07:11:59 UTC - 07:11 | Permalink

      Which returns me to the specific question here: are religious scholars (alone or otherwise), really qualified, when they tell us that Jesus really exists? I’d suggest they are using a very narrow and privileged methodology. One that would be instantly rejected by real historians.

      The first line of defense of the Mythicist thesis – should indeed be an attack on the all-too-privileged and suspect methodologies of theology and Historical Jesus studies. Which would never hold up at all, unless partially sustained by blind faith.

  • Ed
    2012-08-10 07:00:52 UTC - 07:00 | Permalink

    Dr Hurtado’s answer is nonsense AND self serving. To evaluate if Jesus existed one does not need to have a DAMN good knowledge of ancient language or a DAMN good knowledge of ancient history. But you do need judgement. You need to know is that there is less than a thousand words written about Jesus in non biblical texts combined – mainly Tacitus, Seutonius and Josephus.. You need to know that these sources are not refered to in early church writing – and of course would be if they had been know back then. You need to know that many scholars question if those ancient writers even wrote the lines so often quoted, siting contextual and language problems. There are many great books and sites on that subject.

    Now I KNOW that Julius Caesar extisted. Ancient historians have dealt with him extensively. They have written thousands and thousands of words about him. More than thirty different authors have written about Ceasar, and each of these authors were contemporaries of Caesar or lived less than two hundred years after his life ended. I know that Caesar existed because he himself has written extensively and no one disputes the authorship of works that bare his name. I know Caesar exited because archeologist have found and documented inscriptions writen in various places tha refer to him. I know Caesar exited because coins struck during his time refer to him.I know Caesar existed because there are still a few extanct statues or him.

    I do not need to be an expert in Latin or Roman culture to know there was a Caesar. I know there was a Caesar from the evidence.

    At the same time I do not know that there was a Jesus because there is not historical evidence for his existence. If you want to learn if there was a Jesus do not ask for the help of someone who will DAMN near lead you astray.

    • 2012-08-10 07:54:42 UTC - 07:54 | Permalink

      Larry has in his latest post turned to saying Hillel and Abika etc were all historical, and we know this, because, well, we scholars judge them to be historical. The fact is that we cannot “know” that these people were historical or that they did or said the things attributed to them at all, and on Rabbi Akiba I recently posted such an analysis on this blog. We can surmise Hillel was historical, but that’s all. His historicity is as much taken for granted as is that of Jesus. I want to do another post on the paucity of Ehrman’s and Hurtado’s grasp of the nature of historical evidence and how we can know or merely surmise someone existed in ancient times.

  • P W
    2012-08-10 07:07:54 UTC - 07:07 | Permalink

    Thats the biggest load of hog wash I have ever read! I guess scholars think they are the ones that know anything about this jesus myth crap! I have not read a scholar yet that I have any respect for! They are all a bunch of book learned nin kin poops that could not find their way out of a dark room if they knew where the light switch was! Seems they think that people who have not spent a 1/2 million dollars going to some fancy university and earned a piece of paper thats not worth the ink its written on! For all the lay people put there STOP BUYING their damn BOOKS and let’s see how lomg they LAST!

    • 2012-08-10 07:56:08 UTC - 07:56 | Permalink

      This is perhaps a little harsh. They are not really complete idiots. There are a lot of scholars who really do do relevant and meaningful work.

  • 2012-08-11 12:24:06 UTC - 12:24 | Permalink

    Neil, I just wanted to point out something that appears to be missing in your evidence, data, and proof discussion with Steph. And that would be the importance of the questions you are asking about the data. Because the type of questions you ask will change the validity of the data or evidence. Let me try to illustrate.

    Lets say a man walks into his office and he notices his favorite pen is missing off his desk, where he always leaves it. The missing pen is a piece of data. Now if the owner of the pen asked the question, “who took my pen off the desk?” It just so happens that the man’s office is under video surveillance. So he goes and checks the video footage for the appropriate time. On the footage, he sees a co-worker walk into his office, pick up the pen off his desk, use it then lay the pen down on a bookcase and walk out of the office. In this case, the assertion made about the data was validated by the video footage, which is also evidence. This evidence shows that someone did in fact remove his pen from the desk. Now if the owner of the pen had ask, “who stole my pen?” This assertion of the data is not valid because the video footage does not confirm the act of theft, as the co-worker never removed the pen from the office. So even though two people can examine the same data, it is the assertions they are making about the data, that will be validated by the evidence or not. Now since we do not have video footage of Jesus as proof of his existence, this validation can only be in degrees of probability. So in the real world, two opposing assertions about the same data really comes down to what is the most reasonable assertion of the data, and backed up by the most reasonable related evidence. To be clear, the evidence, as in the case of the video footage that I mentioned, may be things not directly connected to the data in question. For example, if Paul says something not so clear in one of his letters, by looking at how other authors of the same time period used a similar phrase, this could be used as evidence to make an assertion of what Paul meant.

    • 2012-08-11 12:38:00 UTC - 12:38 | Permalink

      Agreed, Howardma. Data has no meaning of itself. It is only the questions we apply to it that create meaning, and that can turn data into evidence for something. This is the flaw in Steph’s and many others’ claims about so-called “evidence” for the historical Jesus. We do have evidence (not “proof”) for the historicity of Socrates, but when it comes to Jesus we have only data that must be argued into assertions that Jesus was historical. The data is not directly related to the existence of Jesus at all, but must be heavily interpreted and argued to bring it to the point where it is claimed that it serves as evidence. In other words, there is no evidence for the historical existence of Jesus, only complex arguments that are, of course, open to counter-argument.

      • 2012-08-11 13:40:19 UTC - 13:40 | Permalink

        Neil, you said, “In other words, there is no evidence for the historical existence of Jesus…”

        Well, I would say that statement depends on what you mean by evidence. For example, would you say you were 100% certain that any ancient figure actually existed, where the only knowledge we have about them is in writing? What I am getting at is that I am sure that some ancient figures are presumed to have been historical based only on written documents. If that is true, then the real problem comes down to the documents themselves and the premises about them. Basically, you say the documents were created to invent a religious leader, and historians say, the documents were created to record the actions and teachings of a real religious leader.

        So let me ask you this, would you still hold to this view, if Christianity never took off and we only know about the NT because some old manuscripts were discovered 100 years ago?

        Again, what I am getting at is in a lot of cases, the only records we have about some ancient figures are what they themselves or others wrote about them. That is our only evidence, and their friends and students and other historians and admirers that wrote about them are usually given credibility for the most part. And in the end we can reasonably assert that they were probably historical. However, this reasoning is completely rejected because the authors who wrote about Jesus were Christians. It just seems that anyone who wrote about Jesus that had that appellation is not credible. I feel your premise is flawed, because if you used that same reasoning of questioning the documents that inform us about any ancient figure, hardly any could be given the status of historical. It would be like saying that anyone who talked favorably about Socrates, what they said would not be credible. So you are correct that if we do not include the NT writings and other Christian writers as evidence, yes, there is no evidence for an historical Jesus. Now the question is why are writings connected to Socrates considered evidence, but not the NT or other Christian writings?

        Another problem that confuses me a little is when you say, “but when it comes to Jesus we have only data that must be argued into assertions that Jesus was historical.”

        What data are you referring to? If you are referring to the NT writings, and your premise is correct, then there really is no data, just a bunch of fools trying to formulate coherent arguments from non-existent data. If you are saying the data is real, what data is this, it can not be the NT writings as this would be in opposition to your premise. So if you could clarify this a little for me.

        • 2012-08-11 14:14:06 UTC - 14:14 | Permalink

          I have never said that we doubt some persons simply because we have only written evidence for them. Not at all. It comes down to the nature of the written evidence and whether it is independently verified.

          In the case of Jesus we only have “faith documents” — twice scholars have recently lambasted me for using this term, but I have recently found it used by other well-respected New Testament scholars to describe the NT literature, too — and the narratives of the gospels cannot be independently verified as having a historical basis. Rather, we have evidence that the narratives are derived from literary and theological sources. (The fact that they contain historical persons and real settings does not prove their narratives have a historical foundation any more than real persons and settings in ancient novels means those stories are true.)

          When it comes to other ancient persons we have first of all primary evidence — testimony physically grounded in the time the people lived, such as coins and monumental inscriptions. But there are many other ancient persons for whom we don’t have such evidence. What we do have are written documents — histories, letters, essays. . . — that can be taken as evidence for the historicity of many others. We first of all in very many cases know who wrote these texts, when and where and we know a bit about them. We can also in many cases indirectly or directly confirm their existence by primary evidence. But even if we lack primary evidence, the written documents we do have do not function as attempts to persuade others to believe in a certain person for religious purposes. Genre potentially tells us something about the intent of the authors or at least functions of the documents. They can be taken as references to the facts of the real world and persons in it. Provenance tells us who wrote them and why in many cases. Many of their documents are at some level independently verified as “genuine” or referencing some real events. So we can be pretty sure that Tiro, Cicero’s slave, was historical for all of these reasons.

          But in the case of Jesus we only have religious propaganda and it is not independently verified. The first non-religious propaganda we read about Jesus appears in texts that have debatable authenticity and could well have derived from information from Christians themselves.

          Maurice Casey and others don’t deal with evidence for Jesus. They deal with discrete units of data, such as grammatical or syntactical relationships between Greek and Aramaic phrases, and then press arguments about such data into a larger edifice of “evidence” (argument, really) for the existence of Jesus.

          • 2012-08-11 15:14:40 UTC - 15:14 | Permalink

            Forgive me if I misrepresent any of your concepts, I am trying to get a handle on the Jesus myth ideas and there are a number of different positions in these comments.

            You mention “faith documents” and “religious propaganda” as reasons to doubt their authenticity, but the problem is that the NT writings are religious documents, so how would someone go about finding historical cores in religious writings, when you seem to be saying the fact that they are religious in nature negates the possibility of authenticity?

            In my opinion, the NT writings are analogous to the Hebrew scriptures, they are also faith documents and religious propaganda, not to mention a lot is of the same literary style when discussing the lives of individuals, such as David. Are the Hebrew scriptures based on any history or is it all myth in your opinion? And if it is based on myth, why is it not discussed more as the foundation of Jesus and the NT writings in the Jesus myth discussions?

            But I’ll tell you what I have the biggest problem with. First, like I said before, anything is possible, and your view of things are in the realm of possibilities. But I think the mythicist case is based on too much unusual and conjectural ideas. For example, when someone argues that Mark created his gospel from the sayings and religious ideas found in Q and that the other gospel writers copied and added to Mark, this is conjecture upon conjecture. There is no evidence that Q ever existed. There is no evidence that Mark used such a source. It has not been proven that the other gospel writers used Mark. And all this goes against what the authors say in the gospels.

            (Luke 1:1-4) “Whereas many have undertaken to compile a statement of the facts that are given full credence among us, just as those who from [the] beginning became eyewitnesses and attendants of the message delivered these to us, I resolved also, because I have traced all things from the start with accuracy, to write them in logical order to you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know fully the certainty of the things that you have been taught orally.”

            • 2012-08-11 16:06:20 UTC - 16:06 | Permalink

              There’s a difference between rejecting belief in historicity and being agnostic about it.

              I don’t say that religious documents should be doubted because they are religious documents. I say that we can see a clear agenda in such documents and until we have independent or external support for their agenda-driven narratives we have no reason to assume they have historical roots. They may have historical cores, but how do we know? How do we independently confirm this? We can’t.

              Most of us require a good reason before committing to a belief in something. We don’t believe the first thing we hear or embrace something that does not come with some confirming evidence or support.

              For example, we have only one source for the stories of alien abductions — believers in alien abductions. There are no independent supporting accounts that I know of. More than that, we have evidence that many of the stories are ultimately derived from film and literary motifs. I do not question the sincerity of those who are believers, but I do remain sceptical about the truth of their narratives.

              As for the sources of the gospel narratives, there is little doubt that many of them are inspired re-writes of Old Testament stories. And as for Luke’s prologue, we have many prologues in ancient literature like that. Do we always take them at face value? Should we? On what grounds? Who even wrote this? When? For whom? Why? A methodical approach to dating Acts — a scientific approach, if you like — puts it in the second century and within the context of an anti-Marcionite dispute.

              • steph
                2012-08-12 02:20:07 UTC - 02:20 | Permalink

                I know ‘data’ is a convenient term in computer technology, but it’s not the same as ‘evidence’ in historical methodology. When is evidence proof without demonstration? A modern photograph is not proof of identity. It is evidence which needs to be demonstrated as proof of the identity of a particular person. We can then establish identity, or proof, beyond reasonable doubt. I think there is a subtle discrepancy in the definition and interpretation of ‘proof’ and modern expectations cannot be homogenously expected of scientific theory such as Big Bang etc. Historical evidence is obviously not the same, but it also needs to be demonstrated with argument. But the whole idea that there isn’t ‘any’ evidence within material contained in the ultimate synoptic gospels at all – or, if you like, “faith documents” – is just prejudice against the “faith” which is represented in the finished products. The process of identifying “historical cores” is methodology including Sitz im Leben of each piece and features of Judaism which wouldn’t be found in Hellenistic novels. Some demonstration may include independent attestation in evidence found in for example Jewish sources but even a murder case doesn’t always have a witness to the crime other than the deceased victim.

              • 2012-08-12 02:50:36 UTC - 02:50 | Permalink

                Steph, you have not engaged with my argument. What you are saying to “counter” my point is actually the point I was making — that data is not the same as evidence. (My use of data is not limited to computer science — when I spoke of “information science” I was referring to philosophical studies on knowledge and information — nothing at all to do with computer science. I was also referring to studies in historical methodology that make the same point with the same meaning of the word “data” as opposed to evidence.)

                I am making very clear distinctions between data, evidence and proof. I was attempting to focus on difference between “raw (uninterpreted) data” that the historian begins with, and how this differs from (and becomes) evidence through interpretation.

                (I’ve been shying clear of “proof” as something too absolutist in this context — “proof” would seem to me to put us beyond a discussion of variable probabilities, yet it is probabilities we are dealing with for most part in questions of ancient history.)

                I get the impression that you are biased against anything I say and will find some way to say whatever I say is wrong. I was making the very same point you were using to supposedly contradict me.

                You even imply I say there is no evidence in faith documents and am for that reason prejudiced against faith documents. I am treating the biblical texts no differently from any other source of information. I have never said anything remotely to suggest “faith documents” don’t have “evidence” as such. You do not appear to have read my point except with an intent to find fault or contradiction — even where none exists.

              • steph
                2012-08-12 03:28:09 UTC - 03:28 | Permalink

                I reckon this is a pretty good invitation for me to stay away. Please don’t take offence as none is intended. I’ve tried to be careful and failed. Maybe it’s been an interesting experience. Of course I’m not ‘biased against anything [you] say’ and neither is everything you say wrong. You referred to my me, ‘This is the flaw in Steph’s and many others’ claims about so-called “evidence” for the historical Jesus’ in a reply to Howardma and I my comment was an attempt to clarify, as you still think you were making the same point as me. And of course I’m not implying you said there was no historical core in the finished gospel. That is the extreme mythicist assumption. You said they may have historical cores but we can’t be sure what. I didn’t think it necessary to repeat everything you wrote. The point about the term ‘data’ was nothing to do with anything you’ve said about ‘information science’ or ‘philosophical studies on knowledge and information’. The point was merely referring to your replacement of the noun evidence with ‘term’. I’m sorry we can’t have a civil conversation. C’est la vie. Have a nice day anyway. 🙂

              • brettongarcia
                2012-08-12 04:37:27 UTC - 04:37 | Permalink

                Steph: I see you as consistently taking a position about 5% to the right of straight hardcore mythicism. You would be a Mythicist agnostic, I guess.

                That means a great deal of agreement – but also a consistent small amount of disagreement; on that final 5 %.

                Still, I personally have greatly appreciated your support on what we DO agree on.

                As a person who is occasionally active in political issues, I believe in the “Big Tent.” Emphasizing the points of agreement – and not disagreement.

                Thanks for your occasional help to date; especially with Hurtado.

              • 2012-08-12 07:31:50 UTC - 07:31 | Permalink

                You are free to walk away, of course, but you have left me with a perception of a flaw in the arguments and claims of biblical scholars that none has yet been willing or able to answer.

                Scholars like Hurtado, Ehrman, McGrath, Casey and yourself (among others) speak of “evidence” for the historical Jesus when what they (and it appears you) really mean is a set of complex arguments about lots of data that can, in reality, be legitimately argued to lead to quite different conclusions. The nature of what is said to be “evidence” for the historicity of Jesus is a starkly different concept from what we understand to be the evidence for the historicity of other ancient persons.

              • steph
                2012-08-13 02:49:58 UTC - 02:49 | Permalink

                Brett,
                Scholarship is evolutionary. It operates on the basis on recurrent inquiry, reflection, and reexamination of old evidence, new evidence, conversation, rethinking and re-evaluation. That is also how science works. If the facts don’t fit the theory, you can’t change the facts, vur the theory is revised, but the mythicists won’t revise their theory.

                I was agnostic about the existence of Jesus for years as an undergraduate and following years of research as a graduate. I also read a lot of good and bad scholarship from different disciplines and learned to distinguish the difference as I learned new skills. I am no longer agnostic, but I can appreciate some of the reasons some are and recognise the impression ‘academia’ can give them when distinctions are missed. I initially commented to distinguish Hurtado from critical scholarship. He is the epitome of an extreme end of conservative scholarship and damaging to learning and interdisciplinary training. But I have been met with misinterpretation here and I will now be misrepresented. I was foolish to remark in the first place. However I appreciate your genuine conversations with me.

                Major political parties necessarily operate with big tent approaches, don’t they. The Tories and Labour end up a bit centre without much difference between them. Ones who don’t operate ‘big tent’, are destined to be minor parties, like my own party, the Greens. I have been active in political issues of social justice and environmentalism but I am a believer and practiser in my homeland of sustainable living, self sufficiency and independence. That is, I live self sufficiently and believe in small cooperative communities with less dependence on government. It’s convenient I am a fruvegrian.:) Philosophically I am a pacifist.

              • steph
                2012-08-13 02:55:57 UTC - 02:55 | Permalink

                Neil,
                Why are you lumping us together and particularly Casey and me with Hurtado and McGrath and Ehrman? You might as well lump yourself with the Rational Response Squad members. See how ridiculous that is. We approach the literature in a vastly different ways with vastly different perspectives on life. Second, why is the evidence ‘starkly’ different from what we understand to be the evidence for the historicity of other ancient persons? Because the evidence ended up in documents which became part of a Christian canon? Because other evidence comes from contemporaneous Jewish sources? Because the evidence is in Koine Greek and not ancient Greek? And more is Aramaic not Hebrew? Because traditions ended up as part of a canon of another religion than that of the culture in which the traditions arose?

                Traditions ended up as part of ‘biographies’, ‘community Law’ and Plato, religious documents and stories. Traditions are evidence. Historical contexts and the genre, vary, but the traditions which are evidence, contained in these contexts is variable too. The methods of identifying tradition from redaction and accretion varies according to historical context and genre. The methods must understand these. The traditions or evidence is not always historical but it is relevant to discussion. To apply the same methodology without variation to all historical investigations, will reconstruct histories in historically unrealistic ways. When I studied modern history, I wouldn’t use the same historical methods as I would in the classics department for ancient history. Historical methods used by historians of recent history are not appropriate for ancient history. That is why the efforts by some are predictably going to produce unrealistic pictures of history, characters out of context who would not have existed at all. The conclusions of the Jesus Seminar reflect such errors. There are analogous things to much older literature happening in NT studies and the methods ANE scholars apply appopriately to ANE literature are arguably similar to those involved in the Redescribing Christian Origins group influenced by Burton Mack’s work.

                What Kloppenborg conceded is true, despite the fact he went on to do what he said wouldn’t work and create a myth with a mythical community too: “hypotheses are simplifications … [p]arsimony, however, is a virtue of explanatory logic; it is not a feature of historical or literary realities”. Simplistic homogenous approaches to different historical contexts and genres, don’t work. They begin with the wrong end of the stick. Some even believe Shakespeare didn’t exist. Perhaps they just don’t like his plays. It is a different situation with the character known as Moses.

                Whatever I write here may be misunderstood and misrepresented and I am not implying necessarily by you Neil. There are many contributors here who take the liberty of misrepresenting and mocking me, and my colleagues. I was foolish to attempt conversation here. I’ve even been accused of attacking you when I was criticising Hurtado. I’m glad I don’t get reply notifications. I did say have a nice day, so have another one too. And I mean that. The first day of spring, September 1st, coincides with a full moon, and where I will be finally, will be Mahia peninsula, Aotearoa, watching it rise over the horizon. Glory and peace. Horizons at last. Bye bye Neil. (and I apologise for the length – I couldn’t make it any more concise:(

              • 2012-08-13 08:45:41 UTC - 08:45 | Permalink

                Steph, will reply more fully later, but I was very specific and clear — I was mentioning names that represent a RANGE of approaches and views that nonetheless do have the one point in question in common. That is quite legitimate. I embraced names from a wide spectrum to demonstrate a common point of error — one not reserved to any one subgroup of biblical studies.

              • steph
                2012-08-13 02:57:33 UTC - 02:57 | Permalink

                vur and appopriately? I can’t sound my r’s and vur shouldn’t exist.)

              • 2012-08-13 09:18:47 UTC - 09:18 | Permalink

                Steph, you wrote: “I’ve even been accused of attacking you when I was criticising Hurtado.”

                No, Steph. No-one accused you of that at all. Here is the exchange to which you refer:

                Steph: “Neil, Yes you’ve misunderstood. The last clause sounds like Hurtado’s implication.”

                Neil: “Hi Steph, I am afraid I am not sure if I really understand still. I was not addressing Hurtado’s but your own earlier words . . . ”

                Steph: “You said you were interpreting my words but you were influenced by what Hurtado had written and I had not suggested or implied or said anything remotely like you suggested. That elitist bossy attitude is contrary to Antipodeans’ sensitivities. It’s the same sort as the male chauvinist ‘there there don’t bother your pretty little head’.

                Now if anyone is doing any accusing in that little exchange it is not me, Steph. I did go on to pull you up over accusing me of a sexist attitude towards you, yes. It would even be nice if you acknowledged what I pointed out at that time — that I have removed the comments with sexist references to you (and anyone else).

                You then proceeded to ask me “Second, why is the evidence ‘starkly’ different from what we understand to be the evidence for the historicity of other ancient persons? ”

                I would have prepared an answer — I have posted on this many times — but you apparently were not wanting my answer because you went on to impute to me “answers” that have never been part of my argument. If you are really wanting an exchange of views then why not ask a question in a genuine spirit of wanting to know that the other person really does think and argue?

                You say “traditions are evidence”. Yes, they are. But traditions that are nothing more substantial that scholarly constructs (postulations, conclusions, hypotheses) are not evidence.

                You write: “Historical methods used by historians of recent history are not appropriate for ancient history.” The data available and the types of questions that can be explored are different, but the same logical and methodological principles of inquiry are applicable to both. McGrath has suggested Prevenier and Howell as a good discussion of historical methods. I would challenge you or anyone to give an example of how the fundamental logical and methodological approaches to sources and hypotheses building is any different across the different areas of history.

                I’m glad you don’t like being mocked and attacked here because I have taken the liberty a few times to remove any comments that are abusive towards you and others. Perhaps you might like to ask Hoffmann and Casey to apply the same rules.

              • steph
                2012-08-13 09:55:26 UTC - 09:55 | Permalink

                No Neil. It was this “You are gratuitously reading attitudes into my words that are entirely generated in your own imagination and using them to attack me personally.” We are both Antipodean Neil, with the same egalitarian sensitivities. The attitude I was referring to was Hurtado’s which you had appeared to impose on me. It really doesn’t matter Neil. There are no rules Neil. I’ve finished here, have a nice day.

              • steph
                2012-08-17 08:41:45 UTC - 08:41 | Permalink

                Kia ora – From your response above, Neil…

                “you wrote: “I’ve even been accused of attacking you when I was criticising Hurtado.”
                No, Steph. No-one accused you of that at all. Here is the exchange to which you refer:
                Steph: “Neil, Yes you’ve misunderstood. The last clause sounds like Hurtado’s implication.”
                Neil: “Hi Steph, I am afraid I am not sure if I really understand still. I was not addressing Hurtado’s but your own earlier words . . . ”

                Neil. That was garbled. That was not the ‘exchange’ to which I was referring. When I said you were interpreting my words but you were influenced by Hurtado, it was because you were interpreting me to sound like Hurtado as if I shared his attitude NOT YOU! Do you understand yet?

                I was referring to your accusation that I was accusing you of a sexist attack on me. Your original description of me made ME sound like Hurtado who I described as bossy like a sexist is patronising to women. His influence caused you, I was suggesting, to impose his attitude on me. In fact I didn’t even accuse Hurtado of ‘sexism’ – I compared bossy approaches with sexist ones – ie both are patronising. So your perception that you have ‘pulled me up’ is your misunderstanding of what I wrote. I have never had cause to accuse you of sexism. It is something you clearly cannot be accused of from everything I have read from you. Your friends can but not you. ‘This lady’ ‘Girl Friday’ by Humphrey and Buckaroo Roo are clearly sexist. You have never said anything sexist to me. Quite frankly it is beneath you and like me, contrary to your Antipodean sensitivities. While I don’t care to be mocked with sexist labels, it reflects badly on the sexist mocker so I don’t having a comment or two removed as a token gesture of whatever, means little. There are plenty of others there, including in blog posts on this site and not always necessarily sexist, such as ‘like a vampire’. I don’t care – it’s no reflection on me. There are plenty of comments and posts mocking me and my colleagues here. So whose rules do you apply? I don’t actually care.

                You had said “The nature of what is said to be “evidence” for the historicity of Jesus is a vastly different concept from what we understand to be the evidence for the historicity of other ancient persons.” I asked why, because it clearly isn’t starkly different, not because it is different. I think you misinterpeting my question as confirmation rather than rejection. Scholars of faith perspectives often treat it as if it is different, but that is of scholarship which view the biblical literature as ‘sacred scripture’ and such things. Critical scholarship approaches all ancient documents with the same awareness: as to the type. There are legal documents, bios, documents of trade, letters, etc. Careful consideration of the historical cultural context is necessary applied with analysis etc. These are the variables which require the method of interpreting evidence vary. The social class and biases and reasons for writing etc are going to affect the nature of differences between secondary and primary evidence. Scholarship is evolutionary. It operates on the basis of continuing inquiry, reflection, and reexamination of old evidence, new evidence, conversation, rethinking and re-evaluation. This is also how science works. If the facts don’t fit the theory, you can’t change the facts, but the theory is revised. The fundamental flaw in mythicist arguments is that they won’t revise the theory. As to method, it is something we clearly discuss and debate in departments and conferences and published literature. Method is constantly critiqued and application of method also as evidence and scholarship evolves. I don’t find my colleague Joe and Maurice incorrect or inappropriate in their critiques of mythicists’ misunderstandings and mistakes.

                What McGrath argues is irrelevant. I do not support or defend his ideas. He is not a colleague and I would not choose to work with him. If my explanation is still insufficient for you to comprehend, there is little more I can do in a blog comment. Perhaps one day I should write a book for students on the evolution and variables in approaches and applications of methodology and criteria to ancient documents. However these discussions are continuous in scholarship and are available in publications such as one forthcoming which includes a very sensible discussion by Mark Goodacre, for example, which critiques the method of application of particular criteria. (He sent me his article although the volume is yet to be released)

              • 2012-08-17 11:11:55 UTC - 11:11 | Permalink

                Hi Steph. Thanks for the Maori greeting. Much more pleasant than a Hebrew curse! 😉

                I’m sorry my words sounded as if they were addressing your attitude (and worse, sounding as if you shared Hurtado’s attitude.) I can assure you I meant nothing more than what I actually said, and that was an attempt to address the argument or how we analyse and approach “evidence” etc. Attitudes of anyone were the farthest thing from my mind. What shocked me was your response that my attempt to address an academic or intellectual question was interpreted as carrying so much baggage that was simply not there.

                I am also mystified by your claim that my removal of sexist posts is only a “token gesture”. If removing sexist comments is only tokenism, what would meaningful action look like? Tell me what more can I do that goes beyond mere tokenism.

                I do not accept that “there are plenty of other” abusive comments on this blog. You referred to one comment of mine that you regularly rip out of its context. I invite you to return to those discussions and see in hindsight your own vituperative personal attacks and accusations against others and then look at exactly what I said. I could explain in detail that context here, and your own tone and manner with others that led to my comment, but it would open old wounds. I am only relieved to find now that you appear to be leaving that style of communication behind.

                So whose rules do I apply? Well if you and a few others want to keep harping back to isolated words that were said many months and even years ago and ignore the general tone and standards that I have regularly sought to maintain — even to the point of writing posts calling on commenters to maintain a certain standard, and banning comments that are crude and abusive — then you are missing the rules that DO apply here. I am sorry that in the past they have on very rare occasions been broken. But I do not apologize for writing posts in which I express reflections on how I wish I said some things differently in the past, or on occasion went too far. But I do believe those times have been the rare exceptions to the overall tone of this blog, nonetheless.

                I don’t disagree with any of your points about biblical scholarship and what its practitioners say about evidence, methods, etc. These are all truisms. But a few scholars have seen things differently, and do believe that something fundamental has been overlooked. I have yet to find any scholar who is prepared to respond with anything more substantive than “bloody weird” to those criticisms and analyses. You and others have repeated often enough the truisms but that doesn’t address the criticisms that have been raised.

                P.S. While writing the above I noticed and deleted another comment addressing Steph in a manner that was clearly demeaning. Claiming that words like “woman” and “lady” are merely neutral nouns can be disingenuous.

              • 2012-08-17 15:04:13 UTC - 15:04 | Permalink

                I have removed three more comments from here, two of which were perpetuating personal offences against Steph and one which was resurfacing quotations (in protest, admittedly) of personal attacks on D.M. Murdock / Acharya S. My American work colleagues, friends and acquaintances have long given me reason to believe that addressing someone as “this woman” or “that lady” IS demeaning and offensive for more than just “antipodeans”. (Nor was it acceptable among the English speaking professionals with whom I worked in south-east Asia.)

                I have given very little attention to Murdock’s works since her approaches to questions have little in common with mine. But I am tired of reading insulting references to her.

                Leave such “witty satirical epithets” to the McGraths, the Hoffmanns, the Caseys. Steph said there are no rules as far as she is concerned but “no rules” does not apply here.

                I can cross swords with Steph and McGrath and others if and whenever the occasion arises. But personally demeaning labels and insults that we are used to seeing on some scholars’ blogs are not acceptable here.

              • steph
                2012-08-17 22:11:28 UTC - 22:11 | Permalink

                just nipping through. Of course I now deeply regret ever offering comment and criticising Larry Hurtado here at all. I should have saved my critique of his work and methods for other more appropriate contexts. This has benefited nobody and I have wasted my time. It is interesting you have started applying your ‘rules’. I wonder how consistent they will be. While I am not bothered it is interesting that it is not only the commenters but the authors of posts as well who have been responsible for mockery. And you yourself recommended Ken Humphreys. I’m not sure of your aim to advertise your cleansing of inappropriate ad hominen here. Never mind, no worries. The point I was making is that you never applied ‘rules’ before. ‘Curses’ directed at ideologies and not comparable to personal greetings directed personally to you. Perhaps I shouldn’t have offered a personal (and special as in ‘sacred’ to me) Maori greeting to you. No worries. Of course I wasn’t suggesting YOU were intentionally imposing Hurtados attitudes on me. I was suggesting you were imposing Hurtado’s ideas on me (not intentionally but his ideas they were, not mine) and I don’t approve of his ideas which I describe as arrogant and bossy. See? You misunderstand everything I say and nothing I say is clear enough. Sorry I have no more time to respond – we will clearly continue to misunderstand each other.:) The author by the way of “bloody weird” was not responding to those ‘criticisms and analyses’ as criticism and analysis, but as misrepresentation and misinterpretation and non understanding. He continues to be involved in debate and discussion and publish vigorous critique and revision of methodology.

              • 2012-08-17 22:24:52 UTC - 22:24 | Permalink

                Steph still blanks out from history all the ‘evidence and argument’ that Hoffman marshalled to claim that Galatians 4:4 was an interpolation, and that James was not the biological brother of history and that there were ‘many scholars’ who believed Hoffman was writing the truth.

                As Steph has to support Hoffman’s recent mythicist bashing exercise where he wrote the exact opposite (!) of his previous article, (the one where ‘many scholars’ (sic) believed Hoffman’s writings), she cannot bring herself to admit that Hoffman wrote such an article.

              • steph
                2012-08-18 01:12:54 UTC - 01:12 | Permalink

                Actually I have tried very carefully to explain that scholarship evolves, several times in my comments here Steve. Scholarship is evolutionary. It operates on the basis on recurrent inquiry, reflection, and reexamination of old evidence, new evidence, conversation, rethinking and re-evaluation. That is also how science works. If the facts don’t fit the theory, you can’t change the facts, but the theory is revised. The mythicists won’t revise their theory. I don’t hold to views I previously held and reach the same conclusions that I did in 1985 or even 2009. My thinking, like Hoffmann’s and Casey’s and Crossley’s and other honest critical scholars, evolves, as new evidence emerges and new arguments develop with discussion and debate.

              • 2012-08-18 01:33:57 UTC - 01:33 | Permalink

                Steph still can’t actually put any evidence or arguments in her postings to explain how Hoffman got the evidence and arguments so wrong in 2009 that he had to write the exact opposite in 2012.

                Nor can she explain how these fabled ‘many scholars’ of Hoffman’s 2009 article were all wrong, and all changed their minds together.

                Nor can she tell us any of their names or explain why they wrong then, when the Hoffman of 2009 told us they were right,

                Basically, if Hoffman says black is white one day, and white is black the next day, Steph will explain that Hoffman is basing this on ‘evidence and argument’ – without, of course, ever deigning to besmirch her postings with evidences or arguments.

              • steph
                2012-08-18 02:23:09 UTC - 02:23 | Permalink

                Steven Carr. Why is this even relevant to a thread originally discussing Hurtado? What is this ‘truth’? Joe formed arguments with evidence he had available at the time and reached conclusions honestly as all critical scholars do. And like science, as a result of recurrent inquiry, reflection, and reexamination of old evidence, new evidence, conversation, rethinking and re-evaluation, ideas evolve. Some critical scholars have accepted the ‘Q’ theory and later formed arguments concluding the theory is invalid. Some scholars have previously concluded that the authors of Luke and Matthew were independent, and since reached conclusions that suggest that Luke demonstrates more direct influence of what is written in Matthew. There is no ‘opposite’. Joe and I have both independently described the evolution of ideas and Joe has expained his arguments including in the long essay ‘A Consultation on the Historical Jesus’. If you have not comprehended it is through no fault of mine or of Joe’s. Surely you don’t hold convictions don’t allow you to change you mind.

              • 2012-08-18 09:15:54 UTC - 09:15 | Permalink

                Steph, you say you have “tried very carefully to explain what scholarship involves” and you have. But you are simply sidestepping each time the criticisms that are also leveled at the aspects of the methods that you avoid mentioning. Just repeating the motherhood statements and failing to address the criticisms is not going to make the criticisms go away.

              • 2012-08-18 09:38:03 UTC - 09:38 | Permalink

                Steph, you have leveled a very serious allegation against the standards of this blog. Yes, I have on rare occasions said something in a way I have regretted it. But I have never stooped to the level of constant abuse and even outright falsehoods one finds on scholars’ and students’ blogs against me, this blog and others. I have received many supportive comments, often from people I do not know, thanking me for the patience I have shown under very often extreme provocations and abuse by others (very often professional scholars!), including yourself in the past. Those who complain about the tone on this blog usually point to one or two incidents from years back that particularly offended them — or otherwise make blatantly false generalizations. (If you want to resurface my two-years’ old “vampire” comment again I will feel at liberty to direct readers to the entire passage and its full context so others can see what I really did say — and the context.)

                You speak of misrepresentation a lot but I have always apologized (twice at least, maybe three times) and made corrections whenever someone has pointed out where I did inadvertently misrepresent someone’s views. I have asked you to point out exactly how I have ever misrepresented anyone (including you) and you never have so I can dismiss your accusations.

                I don’t know Ken Humphreys and if I ever mentioned him I assume it was to a particular argument on his site. For you to extrapolate from that that I somehow support or recommend any other “sins” of his is outrageous. I even recommend some arguments by Ehrman, Hoffmann, Hurtado, Crossley — that does not mean I support everything or anything they have ever said or the way they have said things.

                Crossley did not at any point explain how or where I misrepresented him. Had he been able to do so I would have published a retraction and an apology. I approached his work from a viewpoint that was completely alien to his approach. It offended him. I demonstrated that his methods were attempting to build an edifice on sand. I pointed out logical errors in his interpretation of some evidence in Josephus, and (if I recall) his manner of using the New Testament as evidence for what was an original teaching of Jesus flouted all known methods of biblical criticism. Rather than argue the methods, he responded with a swear word and walked off.

                I have removed comments that were personally demeaning of you from this blog ever since you first appeared here. Now you say my removal of personally offensive (sexist and worse) denigration of you has been mere “tokenism”. You have not explained what I can do to go beyond “tokenism”.

                And please try to understand MY point — I at no point cared one whit about Hurtado’s attitude or views when I raised with you a question about the nature of evidence vis a vis data, etc. It was only YOUR views and thoughts I was asking you to address.

              • steph
                2012-08-18 09:38:50 UTC - 09:38 | Permalink

                ‘The criticisms’? How colleagues have reached particular conclusions in the past? …. and ‘motherhood’? ….. 😉

              • 2012-08-18 09:44:58 UTC - 09:44 | Permalink

                You’re not getting it Steph. I know how scholars work. I know their methods. They are all fine as far as they go. Yes, they are all found in the basic texts explaining those methods (hence “motherhood statements”). Do you know what the criticisms are, though? You have never addressed them so I wonder. Maybe you don’t. Just repeating what scholars do and why they do it is not addressing the criticisms.

              • steph
                2012-08-18 11:31:12 UTC - 11:31 | Permalink

                And this was something about Hurtado. Criticisms by whom of what and who, and even where, I wonder on this convoluted thread. So glad you know it all anyway including your ‘motherhood’ thing, whatever.

              • 2012-08-12 03:28:38 UTC - 03:28 | Permalink

                Neil,

                “I say that we can see a clear agenda in such documents and until we have independent or external support for their agenda-driven narratives we have no reason to assume they have historical roots.”

                Exactly what kind of independent or external support would you accept? Are you talking about a non-Christian contemporary of Jesus or Paul? What if because of the unique situation there is no such support? Would it be reasonable to make such a judgment? In other words, it seems like you are saying, even if something might be historical, if it is not supported by independent or external sources, there is no way to legitimately claim it has any historical basis. However, the bottom line is that there is in fact independent and external support a few decades later. The problem is that the majority of these sources are Christian writers which you summarily dismiss as being unwilling victims of the invented stories. And there are even non-Christians such a Celsus. Again, it seems that your rejection of this evidence is based on your premise, that the stories are inventions, instead of using this evidence to form a premise.

                “They may have historical cores, but how do we know? How do we independently confirm this? We can’t.”

                Why does it need to be independently confirmed to such a degree? Do you believe the planet Neptune exists? Have you independently confirmed this? Do you believe the earth is some 4 billion years old? Have you independently confirmed this? No, you take the word of experts in the field after reviewing their arguments and conclusions. And unless you have independently confirmed these things yourself, you need an ounce of faith that these experts are not involved in some conspiracy to commit fraud on the people. But in the end, there is a ton of circumstantial evidence and argumentation that confirms the assertion of an historical Jesus to a degree that is acceptable to millions of people. But if you are looking for undisputed validation, then good luck as that is not going to happen any time soon.

                “For example, we have only one source for the stories of alien abductions — believers in alien abductions.”

                This is actually a good analogy to confirm what I said above. If we can imagine a real alien abduction taking place, would it not share some of the details of these made up stories? After all there is just so many ways to describe how this might happen. The problem is, because of your reasoning, if it really did happen, you would just sweep it under the rug with the rest of the made up stories.

                “A methodical approach to dating Acts — a scientific approach, if you like — puts it in the second century and within the context of an anti-Marcionite dispute.”

                I don’t know if you believe that Luke and Acts are from the same author, but if you do and you are claiming a second century date for Luke as well, or any of the gospels, what is your opinion of the Diatessaron?

              • 2012-08-12 12:58:32 UTC - 12:58 | Permalink

                Howardma:

                “In other words, it seems like you are saying, even if something might be historical, if it is not supported by independent or external sources, there is no way to legitimately claim it has any historical basis.”

                Neil: Yes, that’s what I think. Most of us would agree with this as a sensible rule of thumb.

                Howardma:

                “However, the bottom line is that there is in fact independent and external support a few decades later.”

                Neil: Testimony is evidence of what people in their own time believe. When historians read a report that Luther committed suicide that first appears only twenty years after the death of Luther they reject it because it is not contemporary evidence and lacks any contemporary support. The first gospel accounts appeared at the very earliest 40 years after the supposed events they narrate. If we use normative scientific dating methods, however, we have to put them as late as the second century.

                Howardma:

                Why does it need to be independently confirmed to such a degree?

                Neil: Independence isn’t a matter of degree any more than is pregnancy. A source is either independent or it is not.

                Howardma:

                Do you believe the planet Neptune exists? Have you independently confirmed this? Do you believe the earth is some 4 billion years old? Have you independently confirmed this? No, you take the word of experts in the field after reviewing their arguments and conclusions. And unless you have independently confirmed these things yourself, you need an ounce of faith that these experts are not involved in some conspiracy to commit fraud on the people.

                Neil: This is a completely separate form of knowledge that I have addressed before. We are talking about historical evidence. Evolutionists can show me the evidence for evolution and I can believe in evolution because I find the evidence they make public is undeniable. Historians can also show the public the evidence for their various claims and this is easily confirmed by lay people. Only in the case of Jesus do scholars claim that the evidence is as technical and out of reach of lay people as is the evidence for the existence of Neptune.

                Howardma:

                But in the end, there is a ton of circumstantial evidence and argumentation that confirms the assertion of an historical Jesus to a degree that is acceptable to millions of people. But if you are looking for undisputed validation, then good luck as that is not going to happen any time soon.

                Neil: Circumstantial evidence and argumentation are always open to alternative interpretations and counter-argumentation.

                Howardma:

                This is actually a good analogy to confirm what I said above. If we can imagine a real alien abduction taking place, would it not share some of the details of these made up stories? After all there is just so many ways to describe how this might happen. The problem is, because of your reasoning, if it really did happen, you would just sweep it under the rug with the rest of the made up stories.

                Neil: I am willing to concede that the possibility of Jesus having been an historical figure, and even walking on water and really being resurrected, is just as likely as a real alien abduction taking place. In which case, yes, I have lost the argument. Anything is possible, they say. Even alien abductions.

                Howardma:

                I don’t know if you believe that Luke and Acts are from the same author, but if you do and you are claiming a second century date for Luke as well, or any of the gospels, what is your opinion of the Diatessaron?

                Neil: There is a growing body of opinion that an early/proto-Luke was reworked by a redactor in the second century who also wrote Acts. The Diatessaron is not affected.

              • maryhelena
                2012-08-12 19:19:24 UTC - 19:19 | Permalink

                Neil: They may have historical cores, but how do we know? How do we independently confirm this? We can’t.

                ————————————

                Perhaps not, at this stage, being able to offer proof re a historical core to the gospel pseudo-historical JC story. But arguments can be made – just as they can be made linking JC stories to OT figures or to mythological stories. Literary links, mythological links – and historical links. Sure, the historical links, in and off themselves, are not proof of anything except the linkage itself. (Links that I have detailed in my FRDB chart). But, Neil, what the historical links do is take us someplace real – Hasmonean and Herodian history. It’s then up to us to utilize the historical links in attempting to unravel the JC pseudo-history. What do we know about the historical figures the links point to? To write these historical figures of as irrelevant – then do the same for the literary and the mythological links. It’s all meaningless – one great stew pot of everything and anything – more fit for the dogs than for intellectual fine dining. 😉

              • 2012-08-13 04:54:10 UTC - 04:54 | Permalink

                Maryhelena, What are these FRDB charts?

      • 2012-08-11 13:46:17 UTC - 13:46 | Permalink

        The study of the historicity of Jesus Christ is akin to a detective case, with the data providing only fragmentary clues. In this context, it is useful to step back from the evidence question, and examine questions of motive. Did the authors of the Gospels and the Church Fathers have any motive to distort the evidence and data in order to construct a historical Jesus?

        The context of the construction of the story of Jesus was the existence of widespread mystery religions who sought to understand the connection between life on earth and an imagined eternal sacred absolute. As the Roman Empire consolidated, the Common Era strengthened the syncretism between these mystery cults, giving them motive and opportunity to forge a common story that would retain the most essential ideas of the various traditions. These various groups had clear motive to formulate a modus vivendi, a common denominator of shared religion.

        The Roman conquest of Israel had shown that military methods would not work against the Empire. For groups opposed to Rome, there was clear motive to forge a common story that would undermine the moral legitimacy of Rome.

        Popular skepticism about rival myths had produced the need for a religious story that claimed to be grounded in historical events, providing motive to transform early ideas of an eternal Christ, such as Philo’s Logos, into a historical fable, as John put it, the word made flesh.

        Overall, there was abundant motive and opportunity to convert an originally purely spiritual myth of Jesus Christ as Anointed Saviour into the historical fable we know from the Gospels.

        Against this context, the evidence from Saint Paul matches far better with the hypothesis that Christianity evolved from the conversion of spiritual myth into historical fable than with the conventional orthodoxy of Jesus as historical founder. Evidence has to be placed within a logical framework. The Church Fathers sought to cover their tracks, very successfully, by presenting ‘heresy’ as a later misreading of an original historicism. The far more likely explanation is that heresies such as the Docetic idea of Christ as eternal spirit were the real original foundation of the myth, and the historical fable was introduced to enable this myth to become the basis of a mass movement.

        • brettongarcia
          2012-08-11 18:09:35 UTC - 18:09 | Permalink

          Robert Tulip: The idea that religion, Christianity, might have started not with firm concrete realities, but with vague spiritual leanings – with say Plato, Philo, and Paul – and only later found concrete, material roots, at first seems strange and upside-down. We like to think that normally, things start with material reality, and only later get abstract, and spiritual. But in a way,we are all born “spiritual” or confused; filled with vague perceptions, that only later are firmed up. As we begin to understand the details of the physical reality around us.

          George Santayana said as much in his famous essay, “The Discovery of Natural Objects.” (Which was first published in 1905, and reprinted a hundred times).

          So that oddly, in some ways the natural progression of our awareness is NOT as most would think, from a firm concrete reality, to spiritual abstraction; but the othe way around. As George Santayana began to show, in his essay relating to the gradual emergence of Science, the firmer sense of physical reality, from vague spiritual sensations.

          Though in the particular case of the evolution of the “real” Jesus of course, this reification process lost its way. As a spiritual longing … was misdirected toward the wrong material/historical realities.

  • stevencarrwork@hotmail.com
    2012-08-12 19:17:19 UTC - 19:17 | Permalink

    McGrath is now reduced to claiming that there are not parallels between Old Testament stories and New Testament stories and that claims that there are are ‘parellelomania’.

    Scholars reduced to denying the facts that are blatantly obvious to anybody….

  • stevencarrwork@hotmail.com
    2012-08-12 19:29:50 UTC - 19:29 | Permalink

    Have you read Professor Maurice (I’m psychic,I am) Casey’s latest stream of consciousness outpouring at http://www.bibleinterp.com/opeds/cas368006.shtml

    Gosh, you would think Casey was at the Last Supper, the confidence with which he can tell you what all this (unrecorded) Aramaic actually meant.

    The man just produces nonsense, based on nothing more than his own imagination, which has now left all contact with any evidence.

    • ROO BOOKAROO
      2012-08-12 23:30:12 UTC - 23:30 | Permalink

      And on matter of textual style, note:
      * the overuse of [not] competent, incompetent, the usual accusation, as Lemche points out, against any opponent you don’t like;
      * the anonymous appeal to “it should be obvious to anyone with any knowledge of critical scholarship”, since it is obvious that Thompson never had a chance of acquiring any. Did David Strauss, Bruno Bauer or Rudolf Bultmann ever appeal to such an invisible crowd?
      * It makes perfect historical sense, yea, this is an ingrained sense special to dogmatic historians;
      * “including lots of Aramaisms”, without which Casey would have no “raison d’être”;
      * It is a “common mythicist fault”. Considering the heavy demands of deciphering the mountain of Aramaic documents produced by tradition and which have miraculously ended up in Casey’s hand, how has Casey been able to make a serious inspection of the vast literature produced by Jesus historicity deniers over more than 200 years to be able to catalogue what he calls “common faults” of hundreds of writers. Or, does he simply, a bit like Ehrman, simply construct his stereotypes?

      The quality of Casey’s argumentation is of too low quality to be taken seriously at face value. The whole demonstration of his lack of comprehension in the “high-context” issue has made me very skeptical of his conclusions.

  • 2012-08-13 02:42:33 UTC - 02:42 | Permalink

    Neil, thanks for indulging me in these questions about historical methodology, this is an area that I am not well acquainted with, but I am learning. So if I may continue, but I am going to put this on a new line.

    Neil: Yes, that’s what I think. Most of us would agree with this as a sensible rule of thumb.

    Howard: Then is this one of the complaints you have about scholars and historians, as they are claiming an historical Jesus without the necessary independent support, in your opinion?

    Neil: Testimony is evidence of what people in their own time believe. When historians read a report that Luther committed suicide that first appears only twenty years after the death of Luther they reject it because it is not contemporary evidence and lacks any contemporary support.

    Howard: This methodology can not be that simple, I would think it is much more complex than that. For example, I could write about some details of my great great grandfather’s life including his manner of death, because there is a family oral tradition that would have no reason to create a false agenda about the information, and this was more than 100 years ago. Not to mention that I personally knew his son, my great grandfather. Now considering the kind of life Luther lived, there would be many who would wish to falsify details of his life. So I do not believe it is just a matter of contemporary or not when you are determining credible testimony.

    Neil: If we use normative scientific dating methods, however, we have to put them [gospels] as late as the second century.

    Howard: I would be curious to know what these scientific methods are that can determine the date of an original composition based on a hand copy made years after the original? The only scientific methods that I am aware of are DNA testing of the animal skins, paleography, carbon dating, and maybe textual criticism. But these are all methods that are used on extant manuscripts and not to determine when the original was made.

    Neil: Independence isn’t a matter of degree any more than is pregnancy. A source is either independent or it is not.

    Howard: Yes, maybe I used the wrong terminology here and something that is independent is either independent or it isn’t. What I meant to imply was that the degree of probability rises as the number of independent sources rises. So even one source is enough to use as a piece of evidence (although not very strong) along with other evidence to assert that Jesus was historical. And even though most were Christians, there were many people talking about an historical Jesus. However, as far as I am aware, there was no one directly asserting that Jesus was a fabricated figure. What does that say about your independent support, if your view is the truth? Wouldn’t you also need independent support to claim that it was an historical event that some men created a fictional Jesus? After all, you just admitted above that I was right in saying that, “even if something might be historical, if it is not supported by independent or external sources, there is no way to legitimately claim it has any historical basis.”

    Neil: Circumstantial evidence and argumentation are always open to alternative interpretations and counter-argumentation.

    Howard: I agree, and there are two points I would like to make here. The first is that if this is true, then on a purely objective discussion, neither side can say I am right and you are wrong. It’s like saying I won, before the game is even over. The second point is that as in anything, the one who will convince the most people is the one who has the most convincing argument. That in and of itself does not mean it is right, just the most convincing to date.

    Neil: I am willing to concede that the possibility of Jesus having been an historical figure, and even walking on water and really being resurrected, is just as likely as a real alien abduction taking place. In which case, yes, I have lost the argument. Anything is possible, they say. Even alien abductions.

    Howard: Is it just me, or am I sensing some sarcasm here? If I am, I really don’t understand why. If you believe in evolution, you should also believe that other planets are capable of the same. Even the US just spent a billion dollars to go look for evidence of life on Mars, again. What is so strange in thinking that evolution occurred on another planet a million years earlier than on earth? Even Stephen Hawking advised not to try to contact aliens for fear of trouble, so I don’t understand the sarcasm, unless there wasn’t any.

    • 2012-08-13 10:28:39 UTC - 10:28 | Permalink

      Howard: Then is this one of the complaints you have about scholars and historians, as they are claiming an historical Jesus without the necessary independent support, in your opinion?

      Neil: It is my complaint about the grounds for their claims, yes.

      . . .

      Howard: This methodology can not be that simple, I would think it is much more complex than that. For example, I could write about some details of my great great grandfather’s life including his manner of death, because there is a family oral tradition that would have no reason to create a false agenda about the information, and this was more than 100 years ago. Not to mention that I personally knew his son, my great grandfather. Now considering the kind of life Luther lived, there would be many who would wish to falsify details of his life. So I do not believe it is just a matter of contemporary or not when you are determining credible testimony.

      Neil: There may have been many in your family who might have wished to have falsified some of your great great grandfather’s details, too. We don’t know. But the analogy is not correct. In the case of your great great grandfather you have multiple supporting evidence that he lived. There are family “relics”, no doubt, family and official records, probably you can visit his grave.

      . . .

      Howard: I would be curious to know what these scientific methods are that can determine the date of an original composition based on a hand copy made years after the original? The only scientific methods that I am aware of are DNA testing of the animal skins, paleography, carbon dating, and maybe textual criticism. But these are all methods that are used on extant manuscripts and not to determine when the original was made.

      Neil: http://vridar.wordpress.com/2012/01/01/scientific-and-unscientific-dating-of-the-gospels/

      . . .

      Howard: Yes, maybe I used the wrong terminology here and something that is independent is either independent or it isn’t. What I meant to imply was that the degree of probability rises as the number of independent sources rises. So even one source is enough to use as a piece of evidence (although not very strong) along with other evidence to assert that Jesus was historical. And even though most were Christians, there were many people talking about an historical Jesus. However, as far as I am aware, there was no one directly asserting that Jesus was a fabricated figure. What does that say about your independent support, if your view is the truth? Wouldn’t you also need independent support to claim that it was an historical event that some men created a fictional Jesus? After all, you just admitted above that I was right in saying that, “even if something might be historical, if it is not supported by independent or external sources, there is no way to legitimately claim it has any historical basis.”

      Neil: It is not the number but the types of independent sources that are of importance. People believed Ned Ludd was real very quickly after he was invented. William Tell was long believed to have been historical. Ditto for Juan Diego: http://vridar.wordpress.com/2011/04/20/how-quickly-a-historical-person-can-emerge-from-a-myth-a-case-study/

      No-one in the ancient record as far as I am aware accused Jews of having made up Adam and Eve or Noah or Abraham or Moses or the biblical united kingdom of Israel. Historians can work with the evidence to demonstrate how they did come to be fabricated. Ditto with Jesus.
      Neil: Circumstantial evidence and argumentation are always open to alternative interpretations and counter-argumentation.

      . . .

      Howard: I agree, and there are two points I would like to make here. The first is that if this is true, then on a purely objective discussion, neither side can say I am right and you are wrong. It’s like saying I won, before the game is even over. The second point is that as in anything, the one who will convince the most people is the one who has the most convincing argument. That in and of itself does not mean it is right, just the most convincing to date.

      Neil. Agreed. Each of us has to evaluate the arguments for ourselves.

      . . .

      Howard: Is it just me, or am I sensing some sarcasm here? If I am, I really don’t understand why. If you believe in evolution, you should also believe that other planets are capable of the same. Even the US just spent a billion dollars to go look for evidence of life on Mars, again. What is so strange in thinking that evolution occurred on another planet a million years earlier than on earth? Even Stephen Hawking advised not to try to contact aliens for fear of trouble, so I don’t understand the sarcasm, unless there wasn’t any.

      Neil: Belief in alien abductions etc is a modern counterpart to ancient beliefs in hobgoblins etc. But the point is that if a real historical event happened and it conformed to all the literary and mythical motifs that made up the many false accounts of such an event, and we had no independent attestation outside the believing community, then sadly we have no way of knowing that that historical event really did happen.

      . . .

      • 2012-08-13 11:50:18 UTC - 11:50 | Permalink

        Neil, just a few brief remarks to your comment.

        Neil: But the analogy is not correct. In the case of your great great grandfather you have multiple supporting evidence that he lived. There are family “relics”, no doubt, family and official records, probably you can visit his grave.

        Howard: My analogy was directed to your example of Luther, not Jesus. It was about credible testimony and not a question of existence. The biggest clue that this was not an analogy to Jesus is the fact that I exist. If my great great grandfather’s existence was in question, so would mine. 🙂

        Neil: Scientific and Unscientific Dating of the Gospels

        Howard: I do not think you have demonstrated that this is a scientific method. Even the person you are quoting says, “it is obvious to almost everybody else that this procedure has no claim to be called scientific.”

        Neil: No-one in the ancient record as far as I am aware accused Jews of having made up Adam and Eve or Noah or Abraham or Moses or the biblical united kingdom of Israel.

        Howard: I don’t think that mentioning other cases that also lack independent support absolves you of the necessity (your own words) to produce your own independent support for your proposed historical event.

        Neil: It is my complaint about the grounds for their claims, yes.

        Howard: Well considering that you have not provided any independent sources, that claim that the man Jesus was invented in the first/second century by a man/group, doesn’t that put you in the same boat?

        • 2012-08-13 12:18:10 UTC - 12:18 | Permalink

          Howard: Well considering that you have not provided any independent sources, that claim that the man Jesus was invented in the first/second century by a man/group, doesn’t that put you in the same boat?

          Neil: This is missing the point of how sources work. You don’t need a source to say explicitly, “This person was not made up but was a real person” or “That person was only made up by so-and-so.” I suggest we don’t have any sources claiming that “No-one made up Abraham Lincoln” either and assuring us “He was a real man in history”. The evidence is there without any need for such explicit testimony.

          • ROO BOOKAROO
            2012-08-16 08:15:24 UTC - 08:15 | Permalink

            Please, never forget what Ted Haggard said to Richard Dawkins: “You know a lot, but please, don’t be ARROGANT!”

            Who can forget Haggard’s face and especially his lips!
            This video is a classic. No Hollywood actor could have done better. No Actors Studio graduate.

  • 2012-08-13 06:24:37 UTC - 06:24 | Permalink

    Mythicists: Imagine, do but imagine, Doherty’s quote stated in the nonsensical context of the discipline of Quantum and Relativity Physics, over against the daily critical out pouring, with reckless abandon, evidencing complete disregard for the Guild of NT Studies having any legitimacy as a discipline, its scholars rationally deficient, faith led. Keying Earl’s Reply: “Thanks, Ed. Believe me, by now we’ve gotten your point.” To Earl’s credit, this is followed by Neil’s Reply for Earl, listing some of Earl’s arguments which are strikingly consistent, as far as they go, with significant points made in my reconstruction of origins of Jesus traditions, Ed Jones Dialogue -Vridar. However for Earl, this all seems to lead to quite different conclusions.

    Against the all too evident general misunderstanding of the Guild’s traditional basis of historical authority, I again repeat: the Guild, the oldest formal discipline, has consistently functioned on the conviction of two premises: the reality of God and the Authority of Scripture. As to the first, I make this aside: The history of history’s irrefutable fact that a significant number of the world’s finest thinkers, including a number of our most notable scientist were confirmed Theists. Including the founders and grand theorists of modern quantum and relativity physics: Einstein, Schroedinger, Heisenberg, Bohr, Eddington, Pauli, de Brogue, Jeans, and Planck. At least to say Theists stand in highest intellectual company.

    As to the latter, the Authority of Scripture: The historical norm for the canon of Scripture being the sources judged to be apostolic witness to Jesus, the original and originating faith and witness of the apostles, eyewitnesses to Jesus. This was the sufficient evidence for Jesus based on the claim of the church fathers. Until the Enlightenment, there was little to question the church’s understanding of apostolic authority. With the historicism of the nineteenth century, the historicity of the apostolicity of traditional canon was raised. Specifically in the challenge of Reimarus (1750): The Christ of faith was not the historical Jesus. “Search the Scriptures and see if Christianity is not based on an historical mistake.” Indeed the early church fathers had made a fateful mistake in judging the Scriptural sources of apostolic witness. So began the 200 year plus Quest for the Real Jesus. I am but repeating my above Reply to bettongorcia, 2012/08/07, “Irrespective of expressed good will – – “.

    For the remainder of this comment see my above Reply to brettongarcia: “Irrespective of expressed good will – -” , 2012/o8/07, begin with paragraph 4.

    The above post continued.
    The premise of the Authority of Scripture, the basis for the conviction that the norm of the NT canon was apostolic witness, has traditionally been taken as the reliable source for knowledge about Jesus. With Reimarus’ challenge, the Christ of faith is not the Jesus of history, the Quest for the real Jesus began. For the first 200 yrs. it took the form of Neo-Orthodoxy, an apologetic attempts to extract the real canon from traditional canon. Not until the 80s was it finally fully acknowledged (by our top NT scholars) that “we now know, given our present historical methods and knowledge, not only that none of the OT writings is prophetiuc witness to Jesus in the sense in which the early church assumed them to be, but also that none of the writings of the NT is apostolic witness to Jesus as the early church itself understood apostolicity”. (Schubert Ogden). Further, they have identified our most certain NT source of apostolic witness to the real Jesus, “an alternative to Gentile-Christianity.as known above all from the letters of Paul, the Gospels, as well as the later writings of the NT’ (Hans Dieter Betz). Hence we now understand how the “Jesus Puzzle” developed from this fateful mistake of the early church in missjudging the sources of apostolic witness. We can now know not only the details of the How and the Why of this historical mistake, but even more significantly, now can identify our most certain source of apostolic witness to the real Jesus, our source for knowledge of who he was and what he was about. This calls for a new reconstruction of origins of post crucifixion Jesus traditions for the period 30 CE-65 CE, before Christianity, before the Gospels, partly before Paul. This makes the term “Christian Origins” a misnomer. Christian was first used of Barnabus and Paul’s mission in Antioch, it was never used of the Jerusalem Jesus Movement. More later.
    This constitutes the Guild of NT Studies’ counter to the Mythicists argument: THE SUFFICIENT EVIDENCE FOR THE EXISTENCE OF JESUS IS THE NEW TESTAMENT APOSTOLIC WITNESS. I.e. The evidence rests “solely on the basis of their (the apostles) prior faith and witness”. (Schubert M. Ogden).

    • 2012-08-18 03:40:44 UTC - 03:40 | Permalink

      Steph STILL won’t tell us what this ‘evidence and argument’ was that persuaded Hoffman that Galatians 4:4 was an interpolation, (one backed by mysterious ‘many scholars’), and what this ‘new evidence’ was that changed the minds of all those mysterious ‘many scholars’ that Hoffman cited as support.

      Guess what? I don’t think there was any new evidence,

      I don’t think ‘many scholars’ changed their minds, in a tidal wave that revolutionised Biblical scholarship from 2009-2012..

      I think Hoffman just wanted to blast Tabor, so wrote down arguments blasting Tabor, and then wrote down arguments blasting mythicists, and hid from his readers that he was happy to talk from both sides of his mouth.

      • 2012-08-18 04:00:46 UTC - 04:00 | Permalink

        It is astonishing that you can so misrepresent what I wrote on a post about Hurtado. ‘A tidal wave that revolutionalismed scholarship from 2009-2012’? No, but you are convinced by your speculative ‘opinion’ and blame me for your incomprehension, while you are unwilling to revise your ideas, understand the concept of the evolution of ideas and try to understand what has developed. It’s ironic and slightly amusing, perhaps even ultimately useful as evidence of commitment to convictions for another project, but very very repetitive. 🙂

        • 2012-08-18 04:05:23 UTC - 04:05 | Permalink

          My apologies to Steph.

          There was NO tidal wave.

          Guess what? All those ‘many scholars’ who were on the side of Hoffman (They exist, because Hoffman is always right)

          It turns out that they didn’t change their minds after all. Who would have guessed that?

          . Steph mocks and ridicules anybody who thinks they did.

          So what new evidence was there that changed Hoffman’s mind that Galatians 4:4 was an interpolation, while ‘many scholars’ never changed their minds.

          Steph has just poured scorn on the idea that there was any real new evidence that overturned Hoffman’s article.

          But Steph will never admit that Hoffman is wrong about anything.

          If he was right about something in 2012, he is also right to have said the exact opposite in 2009, and people who ask what has changed will be simply scoffed at and told that there was no new evidence to change things…..

          • 2012-08-18 04:28:58 UTC - 04:28 | Permalink

            You haven’t responded to what I have written at all. Your apology is meaningless. I think you know your own sarcasm when you write it. In fact, I think you know it is purely your own mockery. Shrug. No worries. Tena koe (not a ‘sacred’ greeting, it’s just bye bye).

      • ROO BOOKAROO
        2012-08-18 04:22:29 UTC - 04:22 | Permalink

        Steven, of course you’re guessing right.
        But there’s another angle you’re missing.

        You see, you’ve never been trained in one of Harvard Graduate Schools. When you’re a graduate student at Harvard, you are trained to defend both sides of the same argument. That is what makes a highly trained mind. You have to learn to be the prosecution, and the defense as well. That’s the difference between a highly sophisticated brain and an ordinary, pedestrian one who thinks only based on gut feelings, emotions, childhood indoctrination, or freshman Cliffsnotes.

        The story about evolution, about changing when your information changes, etc…all that is banal platitude, baby food.
        At a higher level of sophistication, which side you decide to argue on a given occasion depends on circumstances, whom you’re dealing with or against, and how you read the situation. If your goal is to attack and demolish a specific opponent, then select the opposite view and just destroy him. Another time, if you’re facing a debater whom you dislike, but who happens to argue the side you were previously supporting, do not hesitate. Only second-class debaters hesitate. Attack that view, and use all the arguments you were previously refuting.

        That is how you show supreme skill of mastering the question, the ability of defending or attacking it from either side, depending on your goals and priorities. You can play from the baseline and you can go to the net. Attack and defense are as interlocked as the duality of thesis and antithesis in a nice Hegelian dialectic.

        R. Joseph Hoffman can do that any day. He is a supreme intellectual defense/attack critic, and he’s won my respect for that impressive ability. Plus the amusing quips he can use either way. He’s never boring, always entertaining. I am reviewing his output for 2012, and it is nothing short of remarkable.

        This is what’s exciting about American debates. Action all the time, and demonstration of superior ability and strength. Being just a nice do-gooder is boring, Hoffmann understands that better than anybody around. Debating should be fun, on either side.

    • 2012-08-27 00:18:46 UTC - 00:18 | Permalink

      35. Comment is continued below, scroll down 5 Relpes (all unrelated to 35.) to: “The above post continued”

      • 2012-08-27 00:25:43 UTC - 00:25 | Permalink

        Correcton: the bove comment should folllow 35, Comment located five Replies above.

  • 2012-08-15 11:14:59 UTC - 11:14 | Permalink

    Ed Jones – “Authority of Scripture” cut it at the Reformation 400 years ago. The modern world needs evidence to justify any claim. Argument from authority is fallacious and obsolete.

    Einstein said his use of the term God was like Spinoza’s, who was generally seen as an atheist for equating God and Nature.

    Einstein: “the idea of a personal God is an anthropological concept which I cannot take seriously. I feel also not able to imagine some will or goal outside the human sphere. My views are near those of Spinoza: admiration for the beauty of and belief in the logical simplicity of the order which we can grasp humbly and only imperfectly. I believe that we have to content ourselves with our imperfect knowledge and understanding and treat values and moral obligations as a purely human problem—the most important of all human problems.” “I believe in Spinoza’s God who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a God who concerns himself with fates and actions of human beings.”

  • 2012-08-17 14:38:14 UTC - 14:38 | Permalink

    STEPH
    I don’t find my colleague Joe and Maurice incorrect or inappropriate in their critiques of mythicists’ misunderstandings and mistakes

    CARR
    SO Hofffman was both ‘correct’ and ‘appropriate’ to claim that Galatians 4:4 was an interpolation and that James was NOT the biological brother of Jesus?

    And Hoffman was both ‘correct’ and ‘appropriate’ to claim that ‘many scholars’ believed that what he had written in 2009 was true?

  • 2012-08-18 09:41:56 UTC - 09:41 | Permalink

    Where a comment I have removed included linked replies I had to remove those replies as well.

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