I’m not the only one to have been deplored by Larry Hurtado’s recent unfortunate posts: Nicholas Covington of Hume’s Apprentice has also responded at length. Some might consider his language and tone to be more honest than mine.
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29 thoughts on “I’m not alone”
From Nick’s site.
“Hurtado: “There is in fact no instance known to me (or to other experts in Roman-era religion) in “all the savior cults of the period” of a deity that across time got transformed into a mortal figure of a specific time and place, such as is alleged happened in the case of Jesus.”
I was reading a history of the Punic Wars recently by some author.
I’ll get the name and title in a couple of days time, my brother has the book now.
Here’tis – but the copy I read had a different title.
Anyway Miles spends some time detailing how Hannibal used the mythology of Hercules/Herakles as combined with Melqat as propaganda against Rome as he progressed through the Alps region in the 2nd century BC.
Conscious deliberate propaganda utilising an accompanying Greek scholar and leaving a trail of temples, monuments and statuary which illustrated ‘real events’ performed by Herackles but with new local settings that portrayed Hannibal, by association, as a fighter for freedom on behalf of the locals and against the Roman ‘oppressors’.
Someone else found that interesting also – this from a 5 star review at Amazon:
” The most interesting parts of the book show how Hannibal exploited Roman cultural concepts, particularly the importance of Hercules in the founding myth, for his own propaganda during his invasion of Italy.”
So what Miles, “an expert in Roman era religion”* [to borrow a phrase] is describing fits virtually precisely into what Hurtado claims did not exist – “a deity that across time got transformed into a mortal figure of a specific time and place”
Hurtado is simply attempting to set up a “no true Scotsman” fallacy but thanks for the reference to Miles’ book. I’ll have to check it out.
I have read some of Miles’ discussion of Heracles and find it very interesting. It reminds me of the Spartan mythology that they (Lacedemonians) were descended from Heracles and Heracles had bequeathed to them the right to possess their land. Like the Bible claiming a right for Israel to Canaan because of wandering founders and divine promises.
What Hurtado is objecting to, I think, is rather the idea of an all heavenly and spirit deity being transformed into a mortal. But of course Zeus and other deities did that all the time. Zeus not only as a man but a swan, a bull….
The concept of a hero having one parent human and the other divine was also very common in non-Jewish religions.
Yes, Jesus is different in that he is set in a more “recent” past, but that is in line with a Jewish adaptation of a common mythical trope of that day.
I’m not an expert on the NT, but Larry Hurtado is (not just the NT but textual criticism as well).
I don’t think he can be faulted for not reading more of the mythicist arguments (or books). When he reads people arguing that “James the Brother of the Lord” doesn’t refer to Jesus’s brother, or that the text is interpolated, he is certainly capable of determining whether he should read Carrier’s 700 page book.
Likewise, when he reads that mythicists don’t believe that I Thess. 2:14-16 doesn’t presuppose a historical Jesus or is an interpolation, he’s competent to form a basis on the quality of the myther arguments.
The guy’s a busy scholar.
So you don’t think the public has a right or even a responsibility to hold public intellectuals to account and to demonstrate with clear arguments that a certain view attracting public interest is justifiable or wrong? He has the degrees and reputation so we should just accept his pronouncements without question?
Even when we can see other scholars (not “myhthicists”) who disagree with him?
If he is too busy to read the arguments he opposes do you really think he is acting responsibly and professionally by publicly expressing his professional opinion on them?
(Your literacy level could do with some upgrading, by the way. You have misused the word “myther”. Or do you intend to use that as an insult? If so, you are following in Hurtado’s steps very well. No engagement with the arguments, just declare one conservative opinion and insult the opponents. Nice.)
“I don’t think he can be faulted for not reading more of the mythicist arguments (or books). When he reads people arguing that “James the Brother of the Lord” doesn’t refer to Jesus’s brother, or that the text is interpolated, he is certainly capable of determining whether he should read Carrier’s 700 page book.”
Why? How could he possibly know that Carrier wouldn’t be the guy to change his mind?
“Likewise, when he reads that mythicists don’t believe that I Thess. 2:14-16 doesn’t presuppose a historical Jesus or is an interpolation, he’s competent to form a basis on the quality of the myther arguments.”
Ditto the above response. This is a magic bullet mentality: One measly passage and you write off the mythicist hypothesis. Should that be applied to historicism? Should I toss off one passage and completely write off historicism? I could… https://www.skepticink.com/humesapprentice/2014/07/24/on-the-historicity-part-8/
“Anyway, what piece of literature from the period 200BC to 200 AD most closely resembles the mythicist take on the Gospels?”
I’d say “On Isis and Osiris” by Plutarch. There are many comparisons one could make though. The book “Tree of Souls” discusses Jewish myths about the messiah, how some believed in a messiah that was secretly imprisoned underneath Rome, or who lived in a special part of the Garden of Eden called the Bird’s nest, and suffered once a year for the sins of the people. This is comparable to what mythicists say Christians did: they invented a messiah who existed in a supernatural realm and invented stories about what he did and theological reflections on what he was.
“Why? How could he possibly know that Carrier wouldn’t be the guy to change his mind?”
Life is short. Hurtado analyzed a piece by Carrier setting for his main arguments. He didn’t find them persuasive. If Hurtado is correct that (contra Carrier) there was no celestial figure named Jesus in ancient literature, then I don’t see how he can be faulted for not reading Carrier’s tome.
I can recommend my initial post addressing Hurtado’s response to the Carrier article. It appeared to me that Hurtado did not even read the argument of Carrier that led him to the conclusion, and Hurtado appears only to have read the concluding paragraph. He gave no hint that he actually even knew Carrier had based in conclusion on an argument from evidence. For Hurtado, the conclusion was bonkers and that’s all he needed to know, apparently. He certainly at no point even attempted to address Carrier’s argument. I don’t think most people would consider that a scholarly response, only a very impatient and hostile knee-jerk.
I don’t have the Miles book, but I looked at the page views on Amazon. I don’t get the impression that anyone believed or wrote that Hercules came back to earth and was literally fighting along side Hannibal.
Anyway, what piece of literature from the period 200BC to 200 AD most closely resembles the mythicist take on the Gospels?
I remember somewhere that the hero of Aeneid was an ancient Latin God.
Feels so good not to be the only one, huh?
Look, I’m a Deist without any commitment one way or the other to the historical accuracy of the NT. I believe Jesus lived, preached in parables, was baptised by John the Baptist, had a dispute with the temple and was crucified by the Romans. Other than that, I’m generally skeptical of the NT accuracy.
Hurtado has spent at least 40 years studying the NT. When he first started his study he must have been aware of the mythicists concepts (I’m 15 years younger than him and I learned of it in my 20s). He is familiar with the main arguments of the mythicists and isn’t persuaded by them. Does he have to comment on 700 page books?
Years ago I read books claiming the holocaust didn’t happen. The revisionists said all the statements by Hitler and the Nazis that the Germans were going to “destroy” the Jews were understandable as something less because the German word “destroy” could mean “treat really, really badly.” Maybe, but does that mean all these statements could be understood that way?
And the idea that all these versus are interpolations or modifications work the other way. Maybe Paul said “James the Brother of Jesus” and a scribe changed it to “James the Brother of the Lord.”
I’ll check the “On Isis and Osiris” piece this weekend. Does Plutarch give specific dates/events, e.g., “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while[a] Quirinius was governor of Syria.)” Now Luke may have been wrong about the specifics, but it doesn’t sound like he believed he was (about Jesus’ earthly origin).
I respect Hurtado’s scholarship and have learned much from some of his books. I like many of them. They teach me a lot. But as for the Christ myth thesis, if he is familiar with the arguments then why does he demonstrate ignorance of them? He has indicated that his sole knowledge of mythicist arguments came from H.G. Wood.
If he knew the mythicist arguments and wanted to knock them on the head he would not attack straw man substitutes or write arguments that simply fail to touch on the concerns and questions others have. He would not substitute insult for knowledgeable argument.
No one is expecting him to comment on Carrier’s book, but when he decides to comment on it even though he has not read it and is not familiar with its arguments, is he being professional? Of course not.
Oh my goodness. Now you are demonstrating your own ignorance of the mythicist arguments and resorting to another parallelomaniacal fallacy of your own. The mythicist arguments simply do not rely upon some fatuous “all these verses can be interpreted or understood as referring to something else”. Why are you so emotionally upset when you have not even bothered to inform yourself of what it is you are opposing?
Baloney. The argument is not a “maybe a scribe changed it” at all. That’s silly and fatuous. You seem to forget (or maybe you are not aware) that many of the arguments used by “mythicists” are in fact taken directly from mainstream scholarly publications. They actually engage with the scholarly literature. They are well informed — at least the ones such as Brodie, Carrier, Doherty, Price and such like. You seem to be unaware of how serious text-critical studies operate and the “rules” they work by. They don’t employ — and I have never indicated — the fatuous nonsense you are setting up as an absurd straw man substitute for what they argue.
Why bother? What are you trying to prove? No, there is no parallel in pagan religions to a divine figure being set as a human in a relatively recent historical time. So what? I don’t see the relevance of such an argument. How familiar are you with ancient literature, both Jewish and Greco-Roman?
I would appreciate it if you attempted to respond specifically to each point in my original comment on your criticisms.
“I respect Hurtado’s scholarship and have learned much from some of his books. I like many of them. They teach me a lot. But as for the Christ myth thesis, if he is familiar with the arguments then why does he demonstrate ignorance of them? He has indicated that his sole knowledge of mythicist arguments came from H.G. Wood. ”
That’s not true. The blog post in question was a commentary on article by Carrier summarizing the mythicist arguments.
“No, there is no parallel in pagan religions to a divine figure being set as a human in a relatively recent historical time. So what? I don’t see the relevance of such an argument. ”
So what? This is a very strong piece of evidence against the mythicist position.
Is there any such parallel in Jewish literature?
Maybe you could clarify something for me. According to mythicists, did the gospel writers believe that Jesus was a historical person? Did the authors of the later NT books believe Jesus was a historical person?
Michael, you wrote
If Hurtado had addressed Carrier’s arguments that would have been fine. But he didn’t. He only got upset at the conclusion of one of the arguments and simply substituted straw men (things Carrier did NOT argue or say) for his criticisms of Carrier.
I respect Hurtado’s scholarship. He is no fool. But I am disappointed that he chooses to criticize views that he fails to represent accurately and adds a good dose of personal insult with it, too. We have a right to question a scholar, even the best scholars, if they appear not to have actually argued a point that they say they have. If I don’t understand something or want to know what a scholarly view is on a particular question, I should be able to approach a scholar who has time and willingness to respond and receive an answer that addresses the details of the problem put to him or her and to respond without personal abuse.
One can postulate any number of factors that are unique to one religion or culture but such “uniqueness” itself can never be proof or evidence for the historical reality or unreality of a factor. I don’t know of any situation where a historian has declared some process or thing to have been historical simply because it is “unique” or has no supposed parallel. But of course everything does have some parallel or analogy with something else or else we could not recognize or make sense of it at all. (The question you pose actually attempts to set up a certain view of mythicism that I don’t know that any Christ Myth author or scholar argues, anyway.)
Why sceptical? Do the authorities (academics, in particular) who argue that the Holocaust was historical have qualifications that make their opinion credible and creditable? If so, why do you question them? If not, then shouldn’t you find academics who do hold credentials that are sufficient so that you don’t feel you have a right to question them?
It seems that’s what you are suggesting to me: that I have no right, or am being somehow “wrong” or “stubborn” to actually question a highly reputable scholar on a particular detail.
I fact, I question all scholars all the time. One has to, because they have so many different views. If I find one scholar appears not to be addressing the facts of a question or problem, then I surely have a right to try to point that out and encourage him or her to be more helpful.
You don’t know if Carrier is “typical” of “mythicists”? I take it then that you are unfamiliar with mythicist authors. You have only read a few extracts from Carrier and no more?
Your illiteracy is showing again, or are you just trying to be offensive with “mythers”?
So if a scholar in your view is not as bad as Carrier at his worst then his standards are acceptable? Is that what you are saying? As for “liar”, I am reluctant to use such a term of O’Neill and McGrath (as Carrier does) but I have certainly exposed a number of times where they culpably misrepresent what they say they have read. Compare Hurtado’s “If you want to read a blogger going ape-shit”. Do you really think Carrier excuses Hurtado’s tone? I don’t.
(Back on the “liar” accusation. Did Hurtado accurately represent or describe the way Carrier used the word “liar” in his post? No. Read Carrier’s post — I don’t approve of his accusation of “liar”, by the way — and then compare what Hurtado says about how Carrier uses the word. Hurtado is not being accurate at all. Some might even say he is exaggerating or misleading. But I won’t call Hurtado a “liar”. But why do you think Hurtado simply misstates what Carrier says is the reason he calls some persons liars?)
Hurtado is insulting and condescending in his posts towards me and others he thinks to be gullible and ill-informed. I have cited the instances. You have very low standards of civility, it seems. (Hurtado even refers to my own efforts at civility and fairness and honesty as being “cutesy coy”. Nice.)
How can you defend such language and tone from Hurtado? Is it enough that you think Carrier is worse sometimes?
Did you read my explanation why it is not a factor? Can you deal with the argument and not just repeat something without argument?
I don’t know what mythicists you are referring to. I have not read that sort of thing in the serious works I’ve cited. Can you be specific and support your assertion? If they say that, then I probably disagree with them. I don’t know exactly what is meant by “it” “happening all the time”.
Anyone who reads fiction, especially ancient “novellas” and other types of fiction, will see historical names included, chronological backdrops, references supported by archaeology, but none of that adds one whit to the tales being historical. That’s how fiction works very often. The Tower of Babel story refers to Babylon and the ziggurat. Does that mean the tower of Babel story in Genesis had some “historicity” at any level?
Historians do not use such details to determine whether something is historical. They rely upon other rules and criteria. They don’t confuse fiction with history.
How can anyone possibly know what the author(s) of GJohn “believed”? That’s impossible. We can know what they wrote, yes. And we work with what they wrote. But we can’t just imagine something about a person or persons we have no idea about (when or where they lived or what sort of class or background they were of) apart from speculation.
You are not arguing in accordance with normative historical methods but following the invalid methods of many biblical scholars that I believe should be challenged. I believe in applying standards of historical inquiry as practiced in other fields of history. Methods of NT scholars are simply not even considered outside the field of biblical studies.
“Compare Hurtado’s ‘If you want to read a blogger going ape-shit. Do you really think Carrier excuses Hurtado’s tone? I don’t.’
I think Carrier went ape-shit. I’ve follow LH’s blog for a couple of years now, and he’s always been polite from what I can tell. (I’ve read most of his post although not all the comments.) I recall Carrier saying that if Ehrman would debate him he would be polite and not use bad language, unlike what he does in his blog posts.
My familiarity with mythicism is: the debates I’ve watched (probably 3 with Goodacre, Evans and Ehrman); Price’s essay in The Historical Jesus, 5 views; blog posts; and anti-mythicist writings (Ehrman’s book, for example). I tried to read Doherty’s book but it was so bloated I couldn’t make my way through it.
“Anyone who reads fiction, especially ancient ‘novellas’ and other types of fiction, will see historical names included, chronological backdrops, references supported by archaeology, but none of that adds one whit to the tales being historical. That’s how fiction works very often. The Tower of Babel story refers to Babylon and the ziggurat. Does that mean the tower of Babel story in Genesis had some ‘historicity’ at any level?”
But this begs the question of whether the Gospels are fiction. Just because the Tower of Babel story is fictitous notwithstanding Babaylon and ziggaurats: (a) doesn’t mean the compiler of Genesis thought it was; and (b) doesn’t mean there aren’t parts of the OT that are historical. Do you deny there was a David, Solomon, and other kings of the Northern and Southern kingdoms.
Ehrman gave a good description of how historians work in his debate with Price. Price took the position that the baptism of Jesus by John was based on Zoroastrian mythology. Ehrman said: (1) JBap is mentioned in Josephus as someone who baptised; (2) Jesus is mentioned in Josephus; and (3) 4 Gospels say Jesus was baptised by JBap. Ergo, JBap likely baptized Jesus. Or, in any event, it’s much more likely that Gospel writers created some “Midrash” out of Persian mythology.
Take the opening of Luke:
Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled[a] among us, 2 just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. 3 With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.
“Eyewitnesses,” “accounts,” “orderly account,”
And there is a similar opening in Acts.
I’m very knowledgeable about the OT and NT but not nearly so about Jewish or Greco-Roman literature. The commentaries I’ve read on Luke and Acts indicate that these openings are example of typical prologues in Greco-Roman *historical* books. Now you might argue, “but they were written to look like historical book.”
Here is a brief interview of Craig Keener, who has written a massive commentary on Act:
Note at around 6 mins. Keener says that the “we” sections of Acts are almost certainly evidence that Luke was there when he described things. Keener references A.D. Nock who said that he knew of only 1 case in all of ancient historical iterature when an author used the first person and wasn’t actually there.
Oops: “Or, in any event, it’s much more likely that Gospel writers created some “Midrash” out of Persian mythology.”
Should be “In any event, it’s much more likely than the Gospel writers created some “Midrash” out of Persian mythology.”
Also, Keener says that he doesn’t know of any ancient historical novels that were set in recent memory.
Of course Hurtado is polite with company he likes. You are simply ignoring his insults directed towards those he doesn’t like. I have given him no reason to insult me yet he does. He even insults my efforts not to be insulting as with his “cutesy coy” remark and telling me I need to come out and say what I really think as if I am lying or pretending.
I don’t know what “ape-shit” means, anyway. Can you quote words from Carrier’s post that demonstrate what Hurtado means?
Do you think Hurtado is better informed about mythicism than you are? If so, have you learned anything new about the mythicist arguments from him? The rhetorical questions and arguments both you and Hurtado raise are themselves evidence that both of you have only a superficial knowledge of mythicist arguments. Hurtado is simply repeating things as if they should knock mythicism on the head but it is clear that he has no awareness that mythicists have in fact dealt with, engaged with, his points in far greater depth and reference to the sources and that his simplistic arguments are simply missing their mark.
You have said that you think I should accept Hurtado’s arguments because he is a more qualified professor. But he argues with as much depth and knowledge of mythicism as you do. If he is more qualified and knowledgeable he should address what mythicists argue. I demonstrated in my initial post, for example, that he completely ignored Carrier’s argument behind his conclusion and attacked his conclusion as if he (Carrier) had never presented an argument. Hurtado ignored Carrier’s argument. That does not impress anyone apart from those who are looking for ways to mock Carrier.
As for Luke’s prologue, your comment is merely repeating the standard apologetic line. Hurtado himself should acknowledge that there is a range of scholarly views on the significance and meaning of that prologue. See, for example, the studies of scholars that I have posted here on vridar: http://vridar.org/category/literary-analysis/luke-acts/luke-acts-prologue/
As for the “we passages” in Acts being evidence of historicity, that view only raises far more problems than it solves, and a genuine scholar (not an apologist like Keener or Hurtado) should make it clear that their views are challenged by some other scholars. That’s how honest scholarship works. (I ask scholars in other fields for a view and they usually tell me that their view is only one of several.)
Why not inform yourself of the range of scholarly opinion before deciding to accept what apologists like Keener say:
(How many ancient novellas has Keener — or you — actually read? Of course some of them (perhaps even most of the surviving ones?) were set in contemporary times or the very recent past.)
“Do you think Hurtado is better informed about mythicism than you are? If so, have you learned anything new about the mythicist arguments from him? The rhetorical questions and arguments both you and Hurtado raise are themselves evidence that both of you have only a superficial knowledge of mythicist arguments”
You say we have only a “superficial” knowledge of the mythicist arguments. But there must be 100s of mythicist arguments. Price says Jesus’ baptism was based Zoroastrianism. He says the “authentic letters” of Paul might have been written by 7 different people. Is Hurtado obligated to familiarize himself with such obscure views? Does he have to read Doherty’s tome? Does he have to read Carrier’s 700 page book?
Hurtado has presented a “positive case” for his position (the historicity of Jesus) and dealt with some of the mythicist arguments. For example, he devoted a fair amount of time to Carrier’s claims about Zechariah and Philo.
There is abundant evidence that Jesus, john the Baptist, Paul, Peter, James, etc. existed. I would argue that at this point the argument shifts to your side to show that these people were all made up.
In Galatians, “Paul” says:
21 Then I went to Syria and Cilicia. 22 I was personally unknown to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. 23 They only heard the report: “The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they praised God because of me.
Do you think “Paul” persecuted Christians? Were there any other Christians at the time of the letter? Do you think “Paul” is not telling the truth about their having been churches prior to the time of the writing of Galatians?
If you have read Keener’s books, you’d know he is quite knowledgeable about Greco-Roman writings. Can you give me a single example of an ancient novella set in “contemporary times or the very recent past”?
There are a range of views about the origins of a “mythical Jesus” just as there are dozens of different views about the “historical Jesus”. But the fundamental reasons for doubting the historicity of Jesus are pretty much the same across the board. The only people I know who insist, dogmatically, that Jesus and John the Baptist and Peter and James etc existed are those who are apologists, believers, or people trained in biblical studies and who have taken on the dominant viewpoints of that field.
If we approach the evidence the same way as historians in other fields approach evidence then there is next to no evidence for these figures existing historically and certainly none that enables us to know anything about them. I don’t know of any evidence that can establish the historicity of Jesus. Biblical scholars just assume, at least most of them seem to, that the gospels are based on historical events. But there is no evidence whatever for that assumption.
With respect to your question about Galatians, see my posts Paul the persecutor? and Paul the Persecutor: The Case for Interpolation.
Fiction set in recent times:
Lucian’s Demonax appears to be a biography of a real person known to Lucian but scholarly analysis suggests it is entirely fictional: http://vridar.org/2017/08/09/did-the-ancient-philosopher-demonax-exist/ (see also http://vridar.org/2017/08/15/did-demonax-exist-the-historicity-debate-rages/)
Apuleius’s The Golden Ass or Metamorphosis; Lucian’s satirical novella, A True Story . . . .
Your following words are really telling:
That is no argument against Holocaust denial. If the best you can do is say that “maybe some of the statements could mean X” but “surely not all of them mean X”, that is no argument at all. It seems the only reason you believe the Holocaust happened is because you belong to the side that won the war and so believe the narrative you have been told by the authorities.
That sort of argument does not satisfy me. I want more than “but the evidence can be interpreted in different ways” to decide a case. If you don’t know the evidence that refutes the Holocaust deniers then you cannot prove the Holocaust really happened. You are just falling back on authority.
I have looked into the debate about the holocaust and am somewhat skeptical of parts of the orthodox holocaust story.
Michael, you say
I believe Jesus lived, preached in parables, was baptised by John the Baptist, had a dispute with the temple and was crucified by the Romans. Other than that, I’m generally skeptical of the NT accuracy.
There is abundant evidence that Jesus, john the Baptist, Paul, Peter, James, etc. existed.
The only way we think Jesus, etc existed, is via the NT -ie. via a series of narratives, based on an emerging theology.
There is no suitable extra-biblical information that verifies the biblical stories.
Recall my first response to Hurtado. It is telling that the strongest opposition to what I have written then and since has come from one who clearly only has a superficial acquaintance with some of the mythicist arguments and is evidently unaware of the extent to which they draw upon the arguments contained within the scholarly literature of reputable biblical scholars. The critics seem to assume “mythicists” must be as ignorant or superficial as they themselves are. And still the hostility and condescension are evident.
No-one is calling biblical scholars “gullible” etc as Hurtado thinks. But the more one is informed of what the scholarly arguments are, the more aware one becomes of their methods and assumptions. It is the assumptions that guide many of the scholarly judgements and conclusions that we should question. I also question some of their methods because they are fallacious — as some of the biblical scholars themselves admit. Unfortunately, only a handful of those in the field of the NT seem to apply, instead, the methods used by mainstream historians in non-biblical studies.