Monthly Archives: October 2012

Carrier: Understanding Bayesian History

Richard Carrier addresses two online criticisms of his book, Proving History: Bayes’s Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus, in a new blogpost, Understanding Bayesian History.

I took time out from my own chapter by chapter reviews of the book to read a history of Bayes’ Theorem by Sharon McGrayne, The Theory That Would Not Die. I’d like to return to discussions of Bayes’ rule with that additional reading background. One thing that stands out from reading the way Bayes’ theorem has been successfully applied and the social and political struggles it has had for open acceptance (it has much more often been covertly accepted) until today is that the more complexities and nuances their are impinging upon any question, the more appropriate is the use of Bayes’ theorem to help resolve them. That means that those arguments that history is too complex for Bayes to be of use fail to understand that it is complexity and nuance of so many unknown quantities that Bayes assists us in handling.  McGrayne’s book also shows us that some of the arguments used against Bayes today are identical to the ones that were used long ago until they were eventually proven unfounded.

Carrier is responding to criticisms by an atheist-mathematician-with-New-Testament-interests on Irreducible Complexity.

Richard Carrier writes:

When Ian isn’t ignoring the refutations of his own arguments in the very book he’s critiquing, he is ignoring how applications of Bayes’ Theorem in the humanities must necessarily differ from applications in science (again for reasons I explain in the book), or he is being pointlessly pedantic and ignoring the fact that humanities majors need a more colloquial instruction and much simpler techniques than, for instance, a mathematical evolutionist employs.

To illustrate these points . . .

 

 

 

Falling out

Recently anyone would think that I have come out and “attacked” and “abused” Acharya S / D. M. Murdock and others when all I have done is allow some discussion in which I insisted that the standard rules of evidence be foundational for conclusions and said that methods that do not follow such standard rules are unscientific.

I have over the years avoided addressing the works of Acharya S / D. M. Murdock for no reason other than that I have never spent much time reading any of them and have had no personal interest in her perspective on things. From time to time someone supporting her views has commented on this blog and I have never had a problem with that. (What I have objected to is when anyone repeatedly comments in a way that indicates they are regularly attempting to evangelize for some particular belief — mostly these are Christian fundamentalists or mystics of some sort. Once I realize what is going on I usually put a stop to their comments.)

D. M. Murdock herself has posted comments on this blog at least three times:

/2006/11/21/the-jesus-puzzle-did-christianity-begin-with-a-mythical-christ-early-doherty-canadian-humanists-1999-review/#comment-5037 — in response I purchased her book Fingerprints of Christ and have browsed through much of it a few times, but I have not seen anything in it to capture my interest enough to write about. I have no problems with its content. It is okay — nothing new from my perspective, I would not condemn it. There are many basic works on mythicism that have little interest for me mainly because I am so familiar with the sorts of things they say and I have moved on from such things. That’s not to say they would not be of interest to others, of course.

/2012/02/06/earliest-manuscript-of-the-gospel-of-mark-validates-earl-doherty/#comment-23189
and
/2012/06/18/did-they-really-think-like-this/#comment-30983

I have never banned Murdock’s comments. I have several times expressed my outrage over the abusive insults so many others have directed at Murdock/Acharya and have never indulged in such abuse against her myself. Tim has had the same approach — deploring the way many others have spoken of her with contempt. I have twice expressed my own discomfort with Richard Carrier’s insulting language directed not only at Acharya but others, too. I do not agree with his rationales for it and do not engage in his sort of personally insulting language here. I do not agree with some of Carrier’s efforts to shut down discussions through insult. It is important to provide rational and clear responses to irrational and muddled ideas.

I accepted Acharya’s Facebook invitation to be added as a Facebook friend — though I scarcely ever use Facebook at all for quite some time now. My blog posts, someone told me, are linked there, but that’s all. (She has since removed herself from that status.) I have recently a few times had occasion to speak critically of some of her approaches to things where I have felt it appropriate to do so — but that is not personal abuse.

I was recently prepared to engage Robert Tulip and others in discussion about astrotheology, and I was at some pains to reassure him that my initial scepticism had nothing to do with prejudice. For heaven’s sake, I have been through enough to not be embarrassed or prejudiced against about holding a minority viewpoint. But I have also been through enough to know just how easily I can be wrong about so much. So what is so very important to me is understanding how valid logic works, how we know what we do and how we justify the conclusions we draw from our information. I am never content to rely on secondary sources but always want to understand the primary material any knowledge is based upon before committing myself in discussions such as the ones I address here. I have mentioned in my biographical notes elsewhere the point at which I realized what it was going to mean to attempt as far as I could the path of intellectual honesty.

Now Murdock’s supporters are pointing to one period of my past life to paint me as an ongoing cultist in my thought patterns. They have obviously missed the rest of my biographical details in my “About Vridar” page and also in my recent post, “A Little Biographical Footnote“. It is because of lessons I have learned from my past experience in a cult that I can smell certain kinds of fallacious arguments a mile off.

So yes, method of argument is important to me. How we justify the conclusions we draw is important — more so or at least as important as the conclusions themselves.

I do not rely on secondary literature. I use secondary literature to gain access to new ways of understanding our sources, and that’s why my library and reading has become so vast. One book will often lead me to read half a dozen other books. And I will be studying the primary sources, too, and studies made about them. So when Murdock or others say a certain book is “the definitive” or “must read” answer to a question, I generally do not agree. I will read what others have to say about it — scholarly reviews — as well as read carefully what the author has to say, and I will usually find much more qualifications by the author than found among some over-enthusiastic readers.

So it is with disappointment that I find the following remarks now being spread about me on Acharya/Murdock’s discussion board: read more »

Christ’s Ventriloquists

Many of us may be interested in David Hamilton’s recent post of a list of “lessons learned” [Link no longer active: 5th August 2015] from his reading of Eric Zuesse’s Christ’s Ventriloquists: The Event that Created Christianity.

This work argues Paul’s letter to Galatians effectively marks the birth of Christianity. [Eric Zuesse has since commented that I am flat wrong here — see his comment below. 12:00 pm]

I had a different perspective on the book that I may discuss some time here, but till then have a look and a think about David’s views.

One note from David:

I found Eric’s methodology to be interesting, but not quite convincing. He is onto one thing though: even scholars who claim to not be captured by confessional interests still do not question all of their assumptions, such as the assumption that Paul was (or was not) honest.

Another work by Seuss

Confusing “Narrative Voice” of Gospels with “Historical Truth Claims”. . . . Jesus, Criteria, and the Demise of Authenticity, ch. 2 final

Revised 23rd May 2016

Jens Schröter writes what in many respects is an admirable lesson for scholars of Christian origins on how really to do history. I can only spot what I believe is one oversight in his lesson where one suddenly hears in his words echoes of apologists and fundamentalists.

This post concludes my review of chapter 2, “The Criteria of Authenticity in Jesus Research and Historiographical Method”, by Jens Schröter, in Jesus, Criteria, and the Demise of Authenticity. In my earlier posts I used introductory presuppositions in Schröter’s chapter as a starting point from which to detail the fundamental, culturally inherited assumptions that are never questioned by most theologians exploring Christian origins. In this post I will concentrate on the last part of Schröter’s essay in which he proposes a more orthodox method of historical analysis as a replacement for the criteria approach.

Schröter has more to say about the weaknesses of the so-called “criteria of authenticity” approach in historical Jesus studies, but most of his points overlap with what I have covered in reviews of earlier chapters of this book. He does add a couple of new criticisms but I will mention those at the end of this post (for sake of completeness) and not lose any more time getting straight to Schröter’s proposed alternative to the criteria approach. (All posts in this series are archived here.)

One gets the impression, on reading contemporary works by a number of New Testament scholars explaining the role of interpretation and imagination in the historian’s investigation of sources, that New Testament scholars generally really have been left behind in the dark as to how history has been known to work in more generally for a hundred years now. The following representatives of milestone developments in “how history works” outside Theology Departments appear to have remained unknown among most biblical scholars: read more »

The Gospel of John as a Source for the Historical Jesus: ‘Is This Not the Carpenter?’ chapter 9

Page 11 of the Introduction to ‘Is This Not the Carpenter?’ explains that one of hopes of its collection of essays

is to open a direct discussion of the question of historicity [of Jesus] much in the spirit of the more than decade-long discourse and debate by the European Seminar on Methodology in Israel’s History, which has been so profitably engaged in regard to the historicity of figures and narratives of the Hebrew Bible and the related construction of a history of ancient Palestine.

I understand that to mean that the book will introduce readers to a discussion of the question of the historicity of Jesus and a related construction of a history of Christian origins. All chapters till now have addressed this question from a range of perspectives.

So it is with disappointment that I finish reading chapter 9 without any further insights into the question of Jesus’ historicity or any further introduction to discussions of methods and interpretations that impinge upon the historicity of Jesus. James Crossley at no point raises the question of Jesus’ historicity (except in passing to mention the names of Thomas Thompson, Robert Price and Richard Carrier as the raising their voices through the Jesus Project to this effect.)

Crossley’s chapter belongs with a publication that takes the historicity of Jesus for granted and that lacks any interest in challenging that assumption. It is entirely about the value of the Gospel of John as a source — compared with the Synoptic Gospels — for scholars who are seeking to reconstruct the historical Jesus.

The Introduction to this volume in fact gives a most adequate synopsis of Crossley’s argument. This is available online at The Bible and Interpretation site. Scroll down to the subheading “The Rewritten Bible” to locate it. But if you’re too lazy to do that here is a copy of the relevant section, but I have broken the single paragraph up for easier reading: read more »

Take Two: Chapter 2 of Jesus, Criteria, and the Demise of Authenticity

Continuing from Historical Method versus Jesus Research: Chapter 2 of Jesus, Criteria and the Demise of Authenticity. . . .

Jens Schröter reminds us of flaws with the criteria approach to find the historical Jesus. They encapsulate what I have covered in my posts on Chris Keith’s chapter one:

  1. Criteria were designed as a tool to assist with form criticism
  2. Form criticism assumed that Gospels could be peeled apart layer by layer to find sections originating with the Church, sections originating with Judaism and other sections that originated with the earlier oral tradition about Jesus independent of Judaism and the Church.
  3. Criteria were designed to assist with arriving that the earliest Jesus traditions.
  4. The earliest Jesus tradition was defined as “authentic” if it did not overlap with traditions that could be identified as belonging to Judaism or the early Church.
  5. Historical Jesus scholars came to reject form criticism but continued to use criteria of authenticity, but they used them to supposedly discover the historical Jesus. The criteria were originally designed only as a literary tool to locate the earliest traditions surviving in the Gospels — not as historiographical tools to find historical persons and events.
  6. So the criteria approach has been criticized as invalid as a tool to unearth the historical Jesus. (Criteria were originally part of the package of the literary study of form criticism.)

In response to the failure of the criteria approach have been those who advocated a “memory approach”, and I have discussed this also to some extent, in particular with respect to Le Donne’s presentation in a popular publication.The justification and the problem of this approach are that it does not claim to arrive at an “authentic” picture of the past, but only to some understanding — through the haze of “subjective recollections and interpretations” and potential “misperception, wrong information, oblivion and projection” — of “what might have happened”

One of the must fundamental principles every historian learns to apply before studying a source for the “memories” it contains or any other “historical information” that it writes about, is to analyse the source to ascertain exactly what it is, where it came from, who put it together and for whom. read more »

Historical Method Versus Jesus Research. Chapter 2 of Jesus, Criteria, and the Demise of Authenticity

I touched on one brief passage in the chapter by Jens Schröter in my recent post, Historical Jesus Studies ARE Different Methodologically from Other Historical Studies, and it’s now time to return to his chapter from Jesus, Criteria, and the Demise of Authenticity [JCDA] in more depth. Jens Schröter appears at several points to come so close to advocating use of the methods of other historical studies for the study of Jesus, but each time falls agonizingly short of what only those with eyes wide shut will miss.

Introduction

Historical Jesus research in recent decades has dwelt heavily upon the social, political and religious life of Judaism, Palestine and Galilee in the first century in order to explore the environmental factors that must have contributed to the personal make-up of Jesus and his mission.

A historical presentation of Jesus’ mission has to explain why it caused a new movement circled around his name and venerating him as “Lord Jesus Christ.” . . . . (p. 49, my bolding here and in all quotations)

Right here is the first problem of historical Jesus studies. Recently Larry Hurtado even declared that part of this proposition — that a new movement erupted from Palestine in the 30’s — was “data”* that the historian was required to explain.

But that is not data. What is data is the existence of narratives — the Gospels of Matthew, Luke, John and the Book of Acts — portraying a faith movement spreading from Palestine in the 30s. But narratives are not necessarily history.

Nor do we have any data to confirm that there was a Jesus mission in Palestine that caused a new movement. The data we have are stories about such a Jesus mission. But stories are not necessarily history.

  • Question: How can we know if a story is based on history?
    • If a story begins with, “This is a true story”, is that enough to rely upon?
    • What if the tale is told from the perspective of an all knowing authoritative narrator who speaks with authority. Is that the clue?
    • What if the tale is plausible and coherent and “rings true” — that is, is rich in verisimilitude? Is that a sure sign it really is true?
    • How many biblical scholars have ever stopped to think through questions like these in relation to historical figures (ancient, medieval and modern) generally?
  • Answer: We need some evidence external to the story itself that confirms for us that there were real events and persons upon which the story was based. For example: read more »