Blocked Again … oh dear….

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by Neil Godfrey

Someone alerted me to James McGrath’s general amnesty for all commenters and since that time I have posted comments twice on his blog. The third time I attempted to do so was in response to http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2016/03/the-ethics-of-conspiracy-theories.html. My attempt to comment was met with the following message:

Screen Shot 2016-03-29 at 10.03.35 pm

Now why was that?

My first comment was in response to http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2016/03/the-fundamentalist-mind.html — The Fundamentalist Mind:

I wrote:

Samantha Field does not speak of a desire for “clarity” as an indicator of fundamentalism. That’s been added by James McG in his post. Whenever speaking about fundamentalism we need to keep in mind the double binds (very conflicting “clarities”) in the thinking of fundamentalists.

I find myself agreeing with Samantha’s post, by the way (that is, the explanation she herself offers and not their slightly tilted paraphrase here). Her views gell with my own experiences completely.

I don’t know of any atheists who argue for mythicism who came out of fundamentalism. The few who once were fundamentalists, to my knowledge, actually came to atheism via a detour in liberal or progressive Christianity — the very sorts of people Samantha acknowledges are among her friends and who are NOT the “fundamentalist atheists” being criticized. It’s a matter of record that most mythicists came from liberal Christian backgrounds — some are still Christians.

My second comment was to: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2016/03/without-using-the-bible.html#comments — which contained a fundamental factual/methodological error. I wrote:

Is this post a joke? Of course we have evidence attesting to Socrates from contemporaries and non-disciples. Everyone knows about Aristophanes for starters, surely.

Apparently that was enough to have McGrath ban all further comments from me on his blog. Some professors really do not like laypersons pointing out fundamental undergraduate errors in their posts, do they.

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63 thoughts on “Blocked Again … oh dear….”

    1. No, it was not deleted. I just located it and see that McG did in fact reply to it. He wrote @ http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2016/03/without-using-the-bible.html#comment-2579867912:

      James F. McGrath Mod Neil Godfrey 9 days ago

      It is things like this, pretending that matters had not been discussed (often more than once) in the past, that is typical behavior of mythicist trolls, and one of the things that got Neil Godfrey banned from here and the past, and which is one of the many kinds of despicable behavior that led me to stop interacting with him. I guess that trying to give him a third or fourth chance was pointless. Disappointing, but not unexpected.

      For those who’d like to see the previous discussion, it can be found here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/e

      In short, a Socrates mythicist would never treat a character in a play as evidence of a historical figure, did we not have other evidence indicating that. But as one can see, mythicists are not consistent in how they treat the evidence for Socrates and how they treat the evidence for Jesus – as has been shown here before, ad nauseam.

      His link to “previous discussions” in full is: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2010/10/mythicism-vs-the-socratic-historians.html

      Third of fourth chance? That was my second response. He had no complaint about my first, I think.

      A “mythicist troll”???? “Despicable behavior”???? What is he referring to, exactly, I’d like to know.

      Discussed??? Certainly no opportunity for me to discuss this point now, that’s for sure. But I do recall calling McG out several times in the past on his logical fallacies and factual ignorance over the Socrates comparison. The content of his reply here is at least different in part.

      1. Amnesty literally means “forgetting.” The Notorious Mickey G. must have forgotten that.

        And I’m sure if mythicists were presented with evidence of two students (like Plato and Xenophon) and a contemporary playwright (like Aristophanes) who all wrote about Jesus, they’d say, “That’s pretty good evidence.” I can’t imagine why they would treat the evidence inconsistently.

        As it is, they treat the much different evidence of Jesus differently, which is what you would expect in a fair analysis.

            1. If you pay your fees and do not challenge assumptions or hold the professors accountable for honest and logically valid arguments and conform to the conventional constraints you will do well.

              I enjoyed learning on xtalk some years back and in early years of this blog had some stimulating exchanges with scholars including McGrath. But as I learned more I was able to question more and when they learned I had given room to forbidden thoughts I was ostracised, insulted and slandered.

              The Chomsky model to a t.

              1. And Dr. McGrath’s perspective is malleable sometimes in the face of argument. He has long been hesitant to allow a connection between Isaiah 53 and the suffering of Jesus. Notice the evolution in his position in the comment section of this post as I try to connect the Suffering Servant (Israel) of Isaiah 53 with Jesus, who is standing in the place of Israel in the gospels:

              2. Most malleable indeed within the prescribed constraints. You yourself conform perfectly to the permitted limits of thought. You seem to be selectively noticing only certain points in my comments and not their totality. Recall I said I had stimulating discussions with McGrath — malleability in evidence on both sides — until I was associated with questions beyond the permitted limits.

                Perhaps you would like to go through the discussions McGrath invites you to review and identify what he calls my “despicable behaviour” and then ask why he portrays my comments in such a way.

              3. @NEIL

                Neil Said: “Most malleable indeed within the prescribed constraints. You yourself conform perfectly to the permitted limits of thought. You seem to be selectively noticing only certain points in my comments and not their totality. Recall I said I had stimulating discussions with McGrath — malleability in evidence on both sides — until I was associated with questions beyond the permitted limits.”

                In what way can I improve my thinking?

              4. Read the history. Look at the exchanges between me and McGrath that he himself points to. Test his claims about my “despicable behaviour”. I do not dispute the malleability within limits. I even said I experienced exchanges with McGrath with malleability in evidence. Why is this? Look at our own earlier exchanges here.

              5. @ Neil: I added this to my posts with McGrath. Is that any better?:

                So, as we said above, Paul’s gospel is that “(a) Christ died for our sins ACCORDING TO THE SCRIPTURES, and that (b) He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day ACCORDING TO THE SCRIPTURES,… (1 Cor 15:3-4).” We were trying to understand what these “SCRIPTURES” were. Regarding (a), we found Jesus was representative of Israel, and so it would make sense that Jesus was thought in relation to the “Suffering Servant (Israel) in Isaiah 53. I would add that most commentators see a relation to Psalm 22 as well. Regarding (b) I would speculate that the SCRIPTURES Jesus’ resurrection may be thought in relation to could be (i) Psalm 16, and (ii) The sign of Jonah. Regarding (i), Peter stressed the significance of the resurrection and cited the prophecy predicting it in Psalm 16: “God raised him up, losing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it … Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we are all witnesses (Acts 2:24, 29-32).” Regarding (ii), Matthew 12:40 says “for just as JONAH WAS THREE DAYS AND THREE NIGHTS IN THE BELLY OF THE SEA MONSTER, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.…” I think these are the “SCRIPTURES” Paul is referring to when he says “(a)Christ died for our sins ACCORDING TO THE SCRIPTURES, and that (b) He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day ACCORDING TO THE SCRIPTURES,… (1 Cor 15:3-4).”

              6. I don’t recall the context of your above comment (re “according to the sciptures”). The scriptures you point to are ones that make sense to us as candidates for Paul’s claims but I don’t see any point in discussing the question with McG. He is not interested in discussing mythicism, only in viscerally denigrating it and its proponents. I don’t see him as part of the discussion.

              7. @ Neil – McGrath accepted that there was “some” relationship between Isaiah 53 and the suffering of Jesus because Jesus was portrayed in the typology of “Israel” in the New Testament, and Isaiah’s servant was Israel. Now I’m trying to see if McGrath will allow if there is some relationship between Psalm 16 and the Sign of Jonah, and the resurrection of Jesus. Baby steps lol. He still hasn’t answered and it’s been a few days now. I’m just trying to work this all out for myself. Did Jesus die, and then the disciples desperately started searching for scriptures to make sense of it, or did they invent the stories surrounding Jesus’ death, starting with scriptures?

              8. Deaths of messiahs were standard fare in pre-Christian and Jewish writings — starting with the high priest whose death liberated certain persons who had fled to cities of refuge.

                Look at Levenson, too. Christianity is a development of the Second Temple Isaac myth whose blood atoned for the sins of the Judeans.

                Hengel and Boyarin also demonstrated the pre-Christian understanding of Isaiah 53 as pointing to a dying/rising messiah figure among some Second Temple Jews.

  1. As you can see I reacted with some dismay when I read McG’s post because he indicated he was oblivious to a point I had made several times with him over the years. He comes across as fearful and incompetent (so of course he bullies and insults and lies) — but the worst part is he is taken seriously by a good number in the academy when he speaks in ignorance.

    He cannot address the arguments so always finds a need to attack the persons.

    I could respect him if he showed some humility.

  2. One of the most contentious passages in the debate between mythicists and historicists is Galatians 1:19, “But I did not see any other of the apostles except James, the brother of the Lord.” Carrier’s argument, if I remember correctly, is that “brother” here means “non-apostolic baptized Christian,” not “sibling” as is generally understood. Carrier’s thesis seems problematic on this point. Why is this idiosyncratic use of “brother” not found anywhere else in the Christian tradition? Moreover, if this usage was as widespread as Carrier thinks, why did it STOP? We don’t refer to Christians today in that way, nor is there a record that we ever did.

    1. Carrier’s method allows you to accept absolutely that Gal 1:19 means the literal brother of a historical Jesus. But if you do you have to weigh that against all the background knowledge and other expectations — that’s what Bayes is about. Carrier says you can can do this. He invites you to add your own probabilities. (I have my own views on the verse and have posted them here.)

      I know many churches that have and still do use the terms brother and sister for nonapostolic Christians. I have belonged to at least one of them.

        1. Just to quote the relevant section from OHJ:

          “Here I believe this is another fictive kinship title, not a reference to
          James literally being the brother of Christ. We’ve already seen how
          Paul can use the phrase ’brother of the Lord’ to mean Christian,
          since all Christians were brothers of the Lord, and why Paul would
          have needed to be more specific if he meant ’brother of the Lord’
          by birth and not adoption. So here he may be simply saying the
          same thing, that James was a fellow brother in Christ. Indeed, Paul
          goes on to say that this James (unless he means a different one) was
          one of the three pillars of highest repute in the church, ’James and
          Cephas and John’ (Gal. 2.9). The Gospels imagine these three as
          disciples, not the family of Jesus. In fact, the Gospels uniformly
          report that this James and John were the brothers of each other,
          not of Jesus. Might Paul have only known them as such, too?”

          I don’t think the view is impossible (the passage could also be an interpolation), however I found it curious that Carrier cites the Gospels to support this view. If it had been the other way around (that the Gospels had called James the brother of the lord and Paul seemingly had contradicted it) presumably he would not have used the Gospels to interpret Paul?

          1. As I said, Why is this idiosyncratic use of “brother of the Lord” not found anywhere else in the Christian tradition? Moreover, if this usage was as widespread as Carrier thinks, why did it STOP? We don’t refer to Christians today in that way, nor is there a record that we ever did.

            1. That is pretty odd now that I think about it. I might be misremembering, however I think I have seen the view that the brothers of the Lord were special, so it might have gone out of use because out of reverence no christians were calling themselves that after the initial died off.

              1. IIRC, which is likely doubtful, the Greek word used in the phrase “brother of the Lord” was used many times but never as a sibling. So it makes little sense to interpret “Brother of the Lord” as a sibling.

        2. I don’t understand why you overlooked my comment addressing this point and keep asking a point that has indeed been addressed, though apparently not with the answer you want. What if Carrier is wrong? Is the question about Carrier’s argument or about the evidence itself?

    2. I don’t understand your premise. Why do you focus on “brother” and not the whole phrase “brother of the Lord”? “Brothers of the Lord” have certainly appeared in the record since Paul.

  3. Hi Neil. Carrier says “James, the brother of the Lord” means James was being identified as a non apostolic baptized Christian. My point is that it seems Odd that no one else in Christian literature was identified in this way if it was a widespread term, and it is odd that it STOPPED being used to describe Christians (since no one identifies themselves as a “brother of the Lord” today, nor do we have an occasion that any other Christian in history ever identified themselves in that way). It is a mysterious appellation (brother of the Lord) that, according to Carrier, was widespread 2000 years ago among Christians, and yet we have no instances of anyone ever being called that. So apparently all non apostolic Christians were “brothers of the Lord,” and then they all stopped being called that, although none of this was ever mentioned in the history of Christianity.

    1. Again I don’t understand where you are coming from. We do indeed have other records in history of this same appellation being applied to Christian leaders. If your problem is with Carrier I suggest you take it up with him. I happen to disagree with Carrier on a few points and am more interested in addressing the problems raised by the evidence than in deciding if so and so is right or wrong.

      I think the phrase as found in Galatians does indeed refer to James as a brother of “Jesus”. Tim, also, posted not long ago a view that it refers to a physical sibling.

        1. You keep overlooking my point. Have you read Carrier’s book? Do you understand his method? You have to look at the totality of the evidence and make evaluations. If we discovered a skeleton of a rabbit in the pre-Cambrian strata what would that tell us? Would we have to throw out the theory of evolution or examine first why and how apparent anomalies appeared. You can’t overlook 99% of the data because 1% tells you what you want to know.

        2. I have said repeatedly I have never argued a case for mythicism (McGrath, for one, even mocks me for not having done so!!!). I do not believe there was a historical Jesus at the start of Christianity but when I discuss the evidence and make arguments I try to keep within the logical limits of the arguments. I have absolutely no problem with the idea that I might be wrong and that Jesus did exist. It would not affect my atheism one bit and it would not change my views towards religion one bit either. My interest is in addressing the evidence for Christian origins. I think they are best explained without any need for a historical Jesus. I think several critical scholars actually agree — but they are okay because they don’t draw the implication that Jesus did not therefore exist. Assumptions and imaginary evidence and unsupported conclusions run rife in the field of biblical studies.

        1. Hong Xuiquan. I also mention various cults use the expression — all brothers and sisters of the elder brother who is the first begotten son of God. But your premise appears to be that Christian practices today are traceable to Paul– though Paul’s churches are not like today’s churches. They were changed by the Pastoralists.

      1. Neil: “Tim, also, posted not long ago a view that it refers to a physical sibling.”

        Yes, but I think it’s an interpolation that got added fairly early, in order to explain which James Paul was talking about. He mentions Peter, James, and John, but not the James people may have been thinking of, namely the the son of Zebedee.

    2. “…My point is that it seems Odd that no one else in Christian literature was identified in this way….”

      Yes, it does seem odd but I don’t think that it helps.

      ‘In hopes of resolving these issues I went over to see Trump the negotiator.’

      If we were peering back through hazy history with about as much evidence as exists for Jesus, should we see this as: 1) a formal or semi-formal phrase acknowledging Trump’s work; 1a) a formal or semi-formal phrase in usage but one to which the writer is not sure about or is sure the phrase is false but does not wish to raise skepticism in this pericope; 2) a quick and casual id; 3) sarcasm; 4) a way to distinguish between this guy and some other popular person named Trump who may be lost to history; or, 5) some other unexpected explanation lost to history. For instance, going to see a popular musical of that title.

      I am not trying to create a tight comparison and I understand that I am using a scurrilous example that if taken as a tight comparison could bias the outcome. What I am trying to point out is that we don’t have enough evidence to make very strong probabilities from this one passage in Galatians. What jumps out to me is this: why would a writer use this phrase ‘the negotiator’ or in Paul’s case ‘brother of the Lord’ as a descriptor for a well known individual? The descriptor actually muddies the evidential waters.

  4. Galatians 1:19, “But I did not see any other of the apostles except James, the brother of the Lord.”
    Hendrix: ” In fact, the Gospels uniformly report that this James and John were the brothers of each other, not of Jesus.

    The brother of the Lord is James… who is the brother of John… who may be the Beloved Disciple… who (via Parvus) “could?” be Paul… who might be Simon… who was considered the Lord.

    MacDonald: ” Paul never uses “Brother of the Lord” except one time in relation to James.
    No wonder!

  5. It’s difficult to comment properly while traveling between hotels and buses and trains. I’ll try to catch up later. But meantime — what I see here is classic “proof-texting” in relation to Christian origins. So long as we find a few texts that seem to make a clear point we seem to think we can ignore everything else or somehow make everything else fit with our proof-texts — despite the enormous problems of doing so.

    Carrier’s argument is about looking at the evidence in its entirety. That’s how historians are supposed to work, and how they do work. It’s the opposite of how biblical scholars addressing Christian origins so often work.

    One does not discard a verse because it is problematic and but one does not discard all the other verses because they don’t fit the one verse, either. One studies it all. Several reviews I have seen of Carrier’s OHJ simply ignore his argument, his evidence, his thesis, and look for one or a few verses they disagree with and conclude he is wrong. That’s proof-texting and is typical in this field. It is not how genuine historians use evidence.

    1. If your thesis is that Jesus never existed, and it comes into evidence that Jesus had a human brother, then your thesis is disconfirmed. That’s logic 101.

        1. Even if the text of Gal 1:19 reads as sibling brother of Jesus, that does not necessitate that Jesus existed.

          There are other explanations for this outlier and others that appear predominantly in Galatians. For one, it is clear that Galatians has been tampered with. No reasonable doubt exists on this point. So if Galatians 1:19 contradicts overwhelming evidence to the contrary (not saying it does, just for the sake of argument, though), then there must be another explanation for what we find in Galatians. Because we know Galatians does not exist in its original form, it would be logical to assume that the outlying data supporting historicism are flawed, possibly interpolations.

          Now, saying that, I realize that evidence to the contrary might not be overwhelming. So then the argument is a matter of degrees. How strong does the other evidence support mythicism vs. historicism? Your belief on this point will largely determine who you approach Galatians 1:19.

          I tend to think that Galatians is not secure, there is too much evidence of tampering that is not even disputable. So whatever you might conclude about Galatians 1:19, it isn’t sufficient to falsify the mythicist theory. As Neil said, it could be the human skeleton found in the jaws of T-rex.

            1. If Jesus had a brother then clearly he was not a myth, as you say. But if we discovered a rabbit skeleton in the pre-Cambrian rocks would we toss out all the evidence for evolution or want confirmation about the details of our anomalous find?

  6. Studies about the reality of the historical Jesus have as a modest by-product studies about the “seeming”-ness of the the “historical” Jesus.
    Today we have, at least, a proof of the existence of a “seeming”-ness Jesus in…
    The Extreme Presence of the Eucharistic Species!
    There, we have before us in our very hands the “seeming” Jesus, but his historical basis is apparently on no better ground than the “real” Jesus.

  7. Neil, Robert Price is a mythicist scholar who started out a fundamentalist in his youth, a hellfire breathing Baptist in fact. Price even chose to attend a fundamentalist or at least a conservative Christian college, Gordon-Conwell, before opening up to more moderate and liberal theological views.

  8. Maybe I am blocked. But I do not know how I deserved it. What I feel can get lost is that it is not overwhelmingly important whether there was an historical Jesus. It has not been established as probable. Historicists have not made their case. Their arguments are so weak as to convince one of the reverse. BUT, there can be more truth in fiction than in fact. I look for the truth in that fiction and it amazes me.

    1. Sounds like you’re on the side of Thomas Brodie, Tom Harpur, Freke & Gandy. There is an irony when I compare my own experience: it was when I realized that the very real “power” that was infusing and changing my life was indeed a fiction that I abandoned it. 🙂

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