Only a day after posting the John Meier’s Nixon/Thales fallacy, as if right on cue Larry Hurtado has posted his own version of a similar fallacy, a comparison of the evidence for Buddha with that for Jesus.
Recall the Nixon/Thales comparison fallacy:
When John Meier in his opening chapter of volume one of The Marginal Jew discusses the “basic concept” of “The Real Jesus and the Historical Jesus” he creates the illusion of starting at the beginning but in fact he leaves the entire question of historicity begging.
- Of course we can’t know “the real Jesus” given the time-gap and state of the records; after all, we can only partially know “the real Nixon” despite his recency and the avalanche of material available on him.
- Of course it becomes increasingly difficult to assess “the historical” the further back in time we go; it’s hard enough knowing what to make of Thales or Apollonius of Tyana “or anyone else in the ancient world” and the evidence is just as scant for Jesus.
Owens identifies what Meier has done in making such comparisons (my bolding in all quotations):
An implication exists in the double comparison, which is that Jesus is as real as Nixon and as historical as Thales but the explicit point is that there is less ‘reality’ data on Jesus than on Nixon, and as meager ‘historical’ data on Jesus as on Thales.
We note that what we might consider the “first question” of any book purporting to deal with the issue of a ‘historical Jesus’ – the question of whether or not Jesus existed — is being set up to go begging. ‘Reality’ is impossible, and ‘history’ is impossibly difficult, so we are to assume both, as we do with Nixon and Thales.
(Owens, Clarke W. (2013-07-26). Son of Yahweh: The Gospels As Novels (Kindle Locations 216-221). Christian Alternative. Kindle Edition.)
See how Larry Hurtado has fallen into the same implicit fallacy with his Buddha comparison:
In the case of Jesus, we’re not entirely sure what year he was born (arguments typically ranging between ca. 4-7 BCE), or what year precisely to date his execution (between 28-34 CE . . . ) In the case of Gautama, it appears that scholars dispute which century in which to place him.
Neither left writings, and around each one a massive trans-local religious movement developed. In the case of Jesus, our earliest known accounts were written ca. 40+ years after his death . . . . . In the case of Gautama, the oldest biographical source is a poem, Buddhacarita, dated to the 2nd century CE (i.e., approximately 600 years after the time when most scholars think Gautama died).
Of course there is no question here that there was an historical Buddha (I don’t know how that could possibly be proven, but let’s assume his historicity for argument’s sake), and the evidence for Jesus is purported to be so much closer to his time and more explicit about his chronological setting, therefore, the implicit suggestion is that the grounds for Jesus’ historicity are so much stronger than they are for (the assumed historical) Buddha.
The question of historicity in both Meier’s and Hurtado’s analogies is left begging.
Besides, I don’t know what difference it would make if there were undisputed birth and death dates for Jesus in the literature. I suspect that the exact birth and death dates for most ancient persons are open to some doubt within a few years. No-one that I know of disputes the historicity of Jesus on the basis of such quibbles. (Some like G. A. Wells, Alvar Ellgard and G.R.S. Mead have, however, question the century the “Jesus” Paul speaks of lived in.)
Incidentally, Hurtado once again speaks of “the data” scholars have at their disposal in their studies of Jesus. Unfortunately our good professor has explained what he means by this “data” and it is in fact a list of theological interpretations, not raw data at all. See Who’s the Scholarly Scoundrel and a response by C.J. O’Brien.
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