2018-07-11

That one piece of solid evidence that weighs strongly in favour of historicity…..

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by Neil Godfrey

[A]ll we need for the case for the historicity of Jesus to be solid is some evidence that weighs strongly in favor of his historicity. And we have it, and so in theory, mythicism should simply vanish. But as with all forms of denialism, it will persist regardless of the evidence.

— McGrath, Jesus Mythicism: Two Truths and a Lie

There was some question in the comments of my initial response as to what that solid evidence was that James McGrath had in mind. I responded as if he were addressing Paul’s claim to have met James “the brother of the Lord” — both here and again here.

McGrath has since made it clear:

But the point remains: if we have an authentic letter from someone who met an individual’s brother, and we judge that individual’s historicity probable on that basis, the addition of spurious information does not diminish the likelihood that the letter-writer met the brother of that individual and thus was in a position to know whether they were historical or not. If everything else they learned about that individual was pure fabrication, it would diminish the historical accuracy of their portrait of him, but it would not diminish the likelihood of the individual’s historicity.

I’m not going to repeat the points I have made before about the problems with detail after detail in Carrier’s argument (such as when he treats the common name Joshua/Jesus as though it were a too-convenient name for a savior god – begging the question by casting Jesus as a god and not a human being as Davidic anointed ones were expected to be). Let ms simply conclude by quoting what Carrier says on p.337 of his book that I supposedly have not read: “Obviously, if Jesus Christ had a brother, then Jesus Christ existed.”

— McGrath, Mythicist  Math

That would indeed be strong evidence if in fact Paul did meet “James the brother of the Lord” and it would end any debate over mythicism.

But even Philip R. Davies recognized the evidence is not so simple:

I don’t think, however, that in another 20 years there will be a consensus that Jesus did not exist, or even possibly didn’t exist, but a recognition that his existence is not entirely certain would nudge Jesus scholarship towards academic respectability. In the first place, what does it mean to affirm that ‘Jesus existed’, anyway, when so many different Jesuses are displayed for us by the ancient sources and modern NT scholars? Logically, some of these Jesuses cannot have existed. So in asserting historicity, it is necessary to define which ones (rabbi, prophet, sage, shaman, revolutionary leader, etc.) are being affirmed—and thus which ones deemed unhistorical. In fact, as things stand, what is being affirmed as the Jesus of history is a cipher, not a rounded personality (the same is true of the King David of the Hebrew Bible, as a number of recent ‘biographies’ show).

So is it sheer “denialism” that prevents some of us from accepting the “solid evidence” of Paul’s encounter?

There have been attempts to use the full Bayesian formula to evaluate hypotheses about the past, for example, whether miracles happened or not (Earman, 2000, pp. 53–9). Despite Earman’s correct criticism of Hume (1988), both ask the same full Bayesian question: “What is the probability that a certain miracle happened, given the testimonies to that effect and our scientific background knowledge?” But this is not the kind of question biblical critics and historians ask. They ask, “What is the best explanation of this set of documents that tells of a miracle of a certain kind?” The center of research is the explanation of the evidence, not whether or not a literal interpretation of the evidence corresponds with what took place.

Tucker, Our Knowledge of the Past, p. 99

And it goes exactly the same way for the testimony that we read in Galatians 1:19. No, it is not simply dismissing uncomfortable passages as interpolations. It is about exercising responsible historical criticism and testing of the evidence as all sound historical method requires. The alternative is naive apologetics or uncritically furthering tradition. There are indeed reasonable grounds for doubting that that verse was known to anyone before the third century. There are also reasons to doubt that anyone had any idea that James, a brother of the Lord, was indeed a leader of the Jerusalem church until the third century. There are good reasons to suspect the passage was introduced to serve the interests of an emerging “orthodoxy” against certain “heresies”. See the posts in the Brother of the Lord archive for more detail.

 

22 Comments

  • MrHorse
    2018-07-11 10:05:41 UTC - 10:05 | Permalink

    “..if we have an authentic letter from someone who met an individual’s brother, and we judge that individual’s historicity probable on that basis …”

    ‘authentic letter’ – but all we have is an alleged authentic letter.

    ‘an individual’s brother’ – allegedly.

    ‘we judge that individual’s historicity probable on that basis’ = essentially confirming the consequent (and denying the paucity of the antecedents)

    and, at the beginning of that attempted syllogisim, if

    Throwing in reference to other ‘spurious information’ sets up his previous attempted arguments as not spurious. It’s all smoke n mirrors. Especially what comes next –

    “If everything else they learned about that individual was pure fabrication, it would diminish the historical accuracy of their portrait of him, but it would not diminish the likelihood of the individual’s historicity.”

    ‘everything else they learned’

    ‘their portrait of him’

    ‘it would not diminish the likelihood of the individual’s historicity’

    He’s a good snake-oil salesman.

  • MrHorse
    2018-07-11 10:14:36 UTC - 10:14 | Permalink

    As for –

    “[Carrier] treats the common name Joshua/Jesus as though it were a too-convenient name for a savior god – begging the question by casting Jesus as a god and not a human being as Davidic anointed ones were expected to be”

    How dare Carrier cast Jesus as a god. Yet McGrath gives it away with “as Davidic anointed ones were expected to be” –

    McGrath is ambiguous there, and seems to imply that ‘Davidic anointed ones’ were gods in the first instance who were [also] expected to be human.

  • Paxton Marshall
    2018-07-11 13:09:28 UTC - 13:09 | Permalink

    This puts Catholics in a bind, doesn’t it? Either Paul did not meet with Jesus’ brother, undermining the strongest evidence for Jesus’ existence, or he did and Mary was not a virgin.

    • Jer
      2018-07-13 01:40:36 UTC - 01:40 | Permalink

      Catholics believe that “brother” is a metaphor. Or that Joseph had kids from a previous marriage. Or any number of other rationales that they’ve come up with since the idea of Mary as a Perpetual Virgin became the default. They’ve had centuries to justify this passage, so there’s no bind there.

      And also that it doesn’t matter anyway because the Bible is not meant to be taken literally and human beings are fallible, which is why the tradition of the Church running from Peter down through the current Pope is so important.

      I honestly believe that if someone could find definitive proof that Jesus never existed as a real person but instead originated from a vision of a Divine Christ crucified by demons in the firmament who later became Euhemerised into being a “historical” person the Catholic church would be shaken, but in the end it wouldn’t matter much and the Church would continue on, secure in their belief that there was a Jesus who was born of a virgin named Mary and crucified under Pontius Pilate somehow, even if was also a divine vision of Christ and he never really existed, because God Works In Mysterious Ways.

      Protestants don’t really have that luxury – there’s no authority to appeal to if the Bible is wrong. A core foundation of Protestantism is “scripture alone” – scripture by itself is sufficient to provide the foundation for the religion. If scripture can’t be trusted and you can’t do it with “scripture alone” then Protestantism is just flat-out a false religious system and you are living a lie.

      In order to admit the possibility that Jesus may not have been a historical figure, Protestants have to admit to the possibility that their religion might be wrong at it’s very core. And even for non-believers you are basically saying that the core of your colleagues’ religious beliefs might be completely wrong. I can see why few would be willing to take either of those steps.

      • Chris I
        2018-07-14 00:23:10 UTC - 00:23 | Permalink

        ***”In order to admit the possibility that Jesus may not have been a historical figure, Protestants have to admit to the possibility that their religion might be wrong at it’s very core. And even for non-believers you are basically saying that the core of your colleagues’ religious beliefs might be completely wrong. I can see why few would be willing to take either of those steps.”***

        Fortunately then for Protestants, this is not an issue of any legitimate concern, since virtually zero reputable historians hold the view that Jesus was not an historical person. For instance, agnostic-atheist New Testament textual critic Bart Ehrman—in one of his more than 30 books on religion—writes, “He [Jesus of Nazareth] certainly existed, as virtually every competent scholar of antiquity, Christian or non-Christian, agrees, based on clear and certain evidence.”

        (Ehrman, Bart. “Forged: Writing in the Name of God.” (New York: HarperCollins, 2011). p. 285)

        These conclusions are based on writings from well-known, unbiased historians, such as those that follow:

        (1) Tacitus

        Cornelius Tacitus, regarded as one of the greatest Roman historians to ever exist, lived approximately between A.D. 56 and A.D. 120 (unquestionably within historical memory of a figure such as Jesus, particularly given the problem Christianity caused to Rome). In A.D. 64 there was a tremendous fire in Rome for which many people believed Nero was responsible. Tacitus explains how, to stop this rumor, Nero blamed the Christians. You can see that not only is Tacitus’ writing un-Christian, but anti-Christian, and logic dictates he would have taken any opportunity to deny the existence of Jesus would such a position have been deemed reasonable.

        “Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular.”

        (2) Josephus

        Josephus was a Jewish (Pharisee) politician, soldier, and historian who lived around A.D. 37 to 100. Some consider him the single most important Jewish historian of the ancient world. While a well-known piece of Josephus’ writing regarding Jesus is believed to have a historical core that was later tampered with, we need not even address that one. In Antiquities 20.200, Josephus writes about the death of Jesus’ brother James at the instigation of the high priest Ananus:

        ”[A] bold man in his temper, and very insolent, [Ananus] was also of the sect of the Sadducees, who are very rigid in judging offenders . . . Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the Sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others . . . [and] he delivered them to be stoned.”

        (3) Pliny the Younger

        Pliny the Younger was Governor of Bithynia from A.D. 111 to 113. He wrote to the Roman Governor about how to best torture Christians, as shown below:

        “They were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verses a hymn to Christ, as to a god, and bound themselves by a solemn oath…. In the meantime, this is the plan which I have adopted in the case of those Christians who have been brought before me. I interrogated these as to whether they were Christians; those who confessed I interrogated a second and third time, threatening them with punishment; those who persisted I ordered executed. For I had no doubt that, whatever the nature of their creed, stubbornness and inflexible obstinacy surely deserve to be punished…. Those who denied that they were or had been Christians … and moreover cursed Christ … these I thought should be discharged.”

        (4) Lucian of Samosata

        Lucian of Samosata, a second-century Greek satirist, writes:

        “The Christians … worship a man to this day – the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account…. [It] was impressed on them by their original lawgiver that they are all brothers, from the moment that they are converted, and deny the gods of Greece, and worship the crucified sage, and live after his laws.”

        (5) Bablyonian Talmud

        The Bablyonian Talmud, written probably several hundred years (and possibly sooner, although it is difficult to say exactly) after Jesus’ death, states:

        “On the eve of the Passover Yeshua [Jesus] was hanged [frequently a synonym for “crucified” in ancient times]. For forty days before the execution took place, a herald … cried, ‘He is going forth to be stoned because he has practiced sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy.’”

        (6) Non-Christian Sources I Didn’t Mention for Length Considerations

        Feel free to look these up on your own, if you’d like:

        -Mara bar Serapion (writing sometime shortly after A.D. 70);

        -Thallus (writing from around A.D. 55, original text lost but preserved in later writings); and

        -Suetonius (writing around A.D. 120).

        (7) Conclusion

        Professor Casey Elledge of Gustavus Adolphus College, in a 2014 writing, sums this up succinctly:

        ”The testimonies of ancient historians offer strong evidence against a purely mythical reading of Jesus. . . . [T]he testimonies of the ancient historians reveal how even those outside the early church regarded Jesus to have been a historical person. It remains difficult, therefore, if not impossible, to deny the historical existence of Jesus when the earliest Christian, Jewish, and pagan evidence mention him.”

        (Elledge, Casey. “Josephus, Tacitus, and Suetonius: Seeing Jesus through the Eyes of Classical Historians,” in Jesus Research: New Methodologies and Perceptions. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2014). p. 717)

        I also take strong issue with the idea of excluding the body of work we call the New Testament from examinations into Jesus’ historicity, based on the a priori assumption that they are unreliable because they were written by followers of Jesus. To me, that is a rather ridiculous standard to apply so broadly to historical investigation. Notwithstanding, the extra-Biblical evidence alone is more than sufficient to demonstrate clearly that Jesus Christ existed as an historical person.

        Be well and God bless.

        • Alick Wilson
          2018-07-14 18:01:36 UTC - 18:01 | Permalink

          Tacitus – no one used the Tacitus passage for centuries, suggesting it is a later forgery. Even if genuine, we do not know the source, so it is worthless. Because if the source is directly or indirectly the NT, then Tacitus is not independent.

          Josephus – The latest evidence you seem to be unaware of points to the TF as being a complete forgery, and the brother reference an accidental insertion.

          Pliny the Younger does not even mention Jesus, only Christ. So we do not know what the Christians Pliny interrogated believed. That alone makes Pliny worthless. The fact he asked Christians what they believed means his information was not independent of Christianity. He might as well have just opened the Bible. So useless.

          Lucian – far to late, and responding to Christian claims. So also useless.

          The Talmud says Jesus died before the gospels say he was born. It also describes his death completely different from that of the gospels. So the Talmud is hardly a corroboration of the NT.

          Mara bar Serapion, does not specifically mention Jesus, we do not know when it was written, nor do we know the source for it’s information. So once again useless.

          Thallus, wrote sometime before 180 AD, mentioned a solar eclipse, therefore he was most likely not talking about Jesus. Africanus simply thought he was.

          Seutonius does not mention Jesus, only Christians and someone called Chrestus.

          Which leaves you with nothing but the usual apologetics.

          • Chris I
            2018-07-15 13:32:47 UTC - 13:32 | Permalink

            Wait — you are suggesting the TACITUS passage is a forgery for the specific reasons you just gave? Is that how committed you are to whitewashing the Christian impact on history (no offense)? I’m sorry my friend, I think you know your stuff better than that.

            (1) TACITUS

            First of all, your logic that “no one used the Tacitus passage for centuries, suggesting it is a later forgery” is offensive to the study of history. You’ve provided no evidence that it wasn’t used for centuries, so I guess I am supposed to take your word. Even if I did take your word, Hundreds upon hundreds upon thousands of other sources existed about Christians and Christianity during the centuries following Jesus’ death — you just don’t like them because they were written by Christians, which puts you in a very dismissive mood I’d imagine.

            ***”Even if genuine, we do not know the source, so it is worthless. Because if the source is directly or indirectly the NT, then Tacitus is not independent.”***

            Again, a complete jumping of the gun. Tacitus was a Senator — he would’ve had access to official Roman documents (IF he required them) and thus didn’t require other unreliable sources. Tacitus was one of the most adept historians of his day throughout the ENTIRE WORLD; he was known for checking his sources and reporting facts, otherwise he would’ve never received such a title.

            How could one of the sources for Tacitus possibly even be the NT? First of all, the NT was not a collection of documents yet when Tacitus wrote Annals. Secondly, don’t vociferous textual critics such as yourself usually point to how “easy” the authors of the Gospels go on Jesus and other Christians in their historical narratives? Tacitus is writing as an adversary of Christianity and his piece is laced with hostility (even moreso if you read further down than where I quoted).

            Moreover, do you truly believe Tacitus, possibly writing within living memory of some firsthand eyewitnesses to Jesus’ ministry — and without any doubt whatsoever writing to one generation removed — could have produced entire false narratives about cities burning, who the culprits were, how it actually happened… then publish his writing, being a well-known historian… and nobody would call him out for his complete rewriting of history??

            (Or is that why you think it’s a forgery — because you a priori dismiss ANYTHING that supports the historicity of the man called Jesus of Nazareth? If that’s the case, I don’t need to explain why — despite the fact that you are clearly an intelligent individual — you’ve let your preconceived notions severely cloud your thinking on this topic.)

            Anyway, scholars and historians such as Watson E. Mills, Roger Aubrey Bullard, Craig A. Evans, Helen K. Bond, William L. Portier, Robert E. Van Voorst, and Ronald Mellor (to name a few) all agree that the Tacitus cite from Annals is legit. And again, you failed to offer anything except speculation against it. Furthermore, **Tacitus alone** is enough to establish the historicity of Jesus — something you’d agree about, if you didn’t link the man with a religion you are not fond of!

            (2) JOSEPHUS

            Moving forward briefly:

            ***”Josephus – The latest evidence you seem to be unaware of points to the TF as being a complete forgery, and the brother reference an accidental insertion.”***

            My sources on Josephus are from the most recent 3 years or sooner. This leads me to believe you are referencing some fringe, evidence-lacking hypothesis written in a blog (not that there’s anything wrong with blogs). But before I entirely dismiss what you’re referencing — since I’ve not heard of it — it’d only be fair for me to request a reputable source so I can evaluate your claim.

            (3) PLINY THE YOUNGER

            ***”Pliny the Younger does not even mention Jesus, only Christ. So we do not know what the Christians Pliny interrogated believed. That alone makes Pliny worthless. The fact he asked Christians what they believed means his information was not independent of Christianity. He might as well have just opened the Bible. So useless.”***

            It always blows my mind when people assume that a Jesus-lacking Christianity could start itself out of nowhere from Judaism (highly monotheistic — as is Christianity — but Judaism is monotheistic in a way that violating God’s honor by worshiping a false god was punishable by death….not to mention that virtually NO Jews expected a Messiah who would be crucified, but rather, a political leader of Israel who would rescue them captivity. Jesus did not fit the Second Temple Judaism Messianic role by a long shot.)

            Then, my mind is further blown when people again assume a Jesus-less Christianity developed a coherent and extremely theologically in-depth set of doctrines, ostensibly based primarily on Christ’s teachings, wherein also many eyewitnesses directly or indirectly claim to have physically seen the Resurrected Christ (over 500 in fact, per 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 which dates to no later than A.D. 37 according to, e.g., atheist historian Gerd Ludemann, and many many others…it is the earliest known Christological tradition).

            (4) I’M JUST GOING TO CONCLUDE HERE

            I mean, I could keep going, but what’s the point? The valid points you make on contributors such as Thallus are overshadowed by much of the rest of what you said (made worse by the implication that it was so obvious you need not actually show evidence for any claim in order to demonstrate it.)

            You seem to be an intelligent and reasonable person — you will not lose control over your reason, or lose authority points as an atheist or a critical historian, by admitting Jesus existed as a man in the first century. (You can leave it to other smart people of contrary dispositions — like myself — to talk about how He is the Mashiach and the Son of God. I have your back on this one.) I’m not convinced you’re nearly as convinced on this particular topic as you claim to be (i.e. Jesus having existed as an historical person and the alleged — by you, and virtually no other scholars who study Near Eastern history and/or the New Testament — catastrophic absence of historical sources).

            I will end, then, where I began in my first reply, with renowned agnostic-atheist historian and New Testament textual critic, author of numerous NYT bestsellers on the historical Jesus question, Mr. Bart Ehrman:

            “He [Jesus of Nazareth] CERTAINLY EXISTED, as virtually EVERY COMPETENT SCHOLAR of antiquity, Christian OR non-Christian, agrees, based on CLEAR AND CONVINCING EVIDENCE.”

            (Emphasis Added) (Ehrman, Bart. “Forged: Writing in the Name of God.” (New York: HarperCollins, 2011). p. 285)

            I think you are missing the forest for the trees on this issue, my friend. God bless you nonetheless. Best of luck to you in your study and I hope you are well!

            • Alick Wilson
              2018-07-15 16:37:50 UTC - 16:37 | Permalink

              The early Christians collected martyr stories, yet somehow missed the one in Tacitus? If it was genuine, it would be one of the first such accounts, and by a well known historian. Yet no one mentions this story among all the others martyr stories? The evidence it was not used is the absence of any mention by people who would have used it. So no, you do not need to take my word for it, you need to take the word of the earliest Christians who did not mention this passage. And to ask why no one mentioned this is how history should be done.

              Your ad hoc excuse about alleged government records avoids the fact that we do not know the source for the passage in Tacitus. Your ‘maybe’ does not mean Tacitus DID research any records (which you are presuming existed). And you accused me of not using evidence.

              As for using the NT, I was referring to any of the works that are NOW in the NT that existed at that time. And if Tacitus did get his information from a Christian source, then **Tacitus alone** is NOT enough to establish the historicity of Jesus.

              I do not believe Tacitus forged anything, and I said no such thing. My point is that some Christian probably added a small part to what Tacitus wrote about Chrestians (whoever they were).

              And I have given two reasons why I do not rely on Tacitus, the lack of mention by early Christians, and the fact we do not know his source. I do not ‘a priori dismiss ANYTHING that supports the historicity of the man called Jesus’. I did what rational people do, despite your straw man and ad hominem.

              As for Josephus, we have Hopper, Olsen and Goldberg. Not ‘fringe, evidence-lacking hypothesis written in a blog’, actual papers written by actual historians. Google is your friend, although I suspect you know to which papers I am referring.

              I see you ignored completely what I said about Pliny getting his information from the Christians, making his reference useless. So let us focus on the 500. Paul does not say they saw a physically resurrected Jesus, only that Jesus appeared to them, just as he appeared to Paul. So all the appearances in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 could have been visions just like Paul’s.

              I did not argue Jesus did not exist, only that your evidence for a historical Jesus is the usual apologetics. This is contrary to those historians you claim virtually do not exist who are expert in this field.

              • Klaus Schilling
                2018-07-15 18:01:54 UTC - 18:01 | Permalink

                The entire tenth letter of Plinius to Trajanus is an excessively late forgery by Giocondo of Verona, as already demonstrated by Hermann Detering in his great work Falsche Zeugen. Außerchristliche Zeugnisse auf dem Prüfstand..

              • db
                2018-07-15 19:10:23 UTC - 19:10 | Permalink

                Per Detering (2011) False witnesses:
                • The section on Nero 16, 2 in Suetons Kaiserbiographien was revised in Christian terms.
                • Tac Ann 15, 44 is based on a section from the Chronicorum libri of Sulpicius Severus 2.2.
                • The whole tenth book of the letters of Pliny the younger is a fake from the Renaissance; It is a work of the theologian, antiquarian and architect Jucundus Veronensis or Fra Giocondo.

            • db
              2018-07-15 16:59:57 UTC - 16:59 | Permalink

              • Casey′s 2014 Jesus does not make any clear assertion from Tacitus.
              • Ehrman′s 2012 Did Jesus Exist? assertion from Tacitus, is that it provides attestation of Jesus’s existence (from outside the Gospels)—with the caveat that it is not a “direct attestation”—while also conceding that the Christian informants may have “simply heard stories about Jesus” i.e. they were merely passing on hearsay.

        • Neil Godfrey
          2018-07-16 23:53:35 UTC - 23:53 | Permalink

          What I try to show on this blog are the actual arguments of scholars from diverse fields. I do not rely upon blanket claims such as “scholars agree Jesus existed”. I like to check the validity of such claims.

          I also take strong issue with the idea of excluding the body of work we call the New Testament from examinations into Jesus’ historicity, based on the a priori assumption that they are unreliable because they were written by followers of Jesus. To me, that is a rather ridiculous standard to apply so broadly to historical investigation. Notwithstanding, the extra-Biblical evidence alone is more than sufficient to demonstrate clearly that Jesus Christ existed as an historical person.

          I don’t think you have found that idea expressed in any of the posts on this site, have you? But if you would like to engage in a serious and fair discussion how about leaving the hostile attitude at the door. No more “take strong issue” or accusations of “ridiculousness”. How about a sound, honest discussion based on what is actually argued? Yes? We welcome it.

  • Gary
    2018-07-11 15:14:52 UTC - 15:14 | Permalink

    “McGrath has since made it clear:

    But the point remains: if we have an authentic letter from someone who met an individual’s brother”

    Regardless of “authentic”, or if the “individual brother” is really a big cheese in Jerusalem, McGrath made a leap-of-faith in his logic.

    Instead of “if we have an authentic letter from someone who met”, should be replaced by “if we have an authentic letter from someone who SAYS he met”, to be logically correct. There is nothing to validate that a meeting actually took place. You have to question Paul’s motivation to name-drop, to add authenticity to his claims that he too is a disciple (as if he really met Jesus – which I think is obviously not true, ghost or not). Even the words “brother of the Lord” adds authenticity to Paul’s claim, even though there was a question in those days about whether James was really Jesus’ brother, or some other James. Paul’s motivation to appear as a real disciple in his letter to the Galatians appears to be out of desperation (I would never lie to you!)

  • Bob Jase
    2018-07-11 16:23:45 UTC - 16:23 | Permalink

    “if we have an authentic letter from someone who met an individual’s brother, and we judge that individual’s historicity probable on that basis, the addition of spurious information does not diminish the likelihood that the letter-writer met the brother of that individual and thus was in a position to know whether they were historical or not. If everything else they learned about that individual was pure fabrication, it would diminish the historical accuracy of their portrait of him, but it would not diminish the likelihood of the individual’s historicity.”

    Well that proves it alrightee – bigfoot, the Loch Ness monster, chupacabras, ghosts, space aliens must all be real because someone has written that they saw them.

  • vinnyjh
    2018-07-12 21:33:26 UTC - 21:33 | Permalink

    “If everything else they learned about that individual was pure fabrication,” wouldn’t that be reason to question whether the person actually was in a position to know he had actually met that individual’s biological brother?

    • Neil Godfrey
      2018-07-13 00:10:18 UTC - 00:10 | Permalink

      It would seem so. But McGrath’s statement is (again) vague and open to many different possible interpretations. What the historian does (again, recalling Tucker) is ask for the best explanation of the material evidence in hand. That changes the whole dimension of the discussion. McGrath is assuming we can treat reports as events that actually happened or were thought to have happened and then tackles whether those events were likely “true”. But Tucker says the historian asks how to explain the documents containing the reports, the written reports themselves.

      Once we do that then it is clear we only need one piece of clear evidence of a person’s existence, say a verified birth certificate or a tombstone or the person verified by DNA right in front of us. If then we hear voices and read articles that say nothing but the most improbable things about that person then we are not going to doubt our senses about the person we might see in front of us but we will seek to classify all the voices and reports saying impossible things about that person into some category that explains their origin. The voices and documents are trying to create an alternate reality so we ask why, who is saying/writing them and why.

      Some years ago James and I began a serious conversation here about this very process. We were discussing the differences between data, evidence and information. It started out well, but once we were getting to a point where I believed his own thinking was jumping the rails he backed out of the discussion. None so blind…..

  • 2018-07-13 12:02:48 UTC - 12:02 | Permalink

    I had a thought regarding Carrier’s approach to the James passage in Galatians. Carrier interprets “brother of the lord” to be a cultic title, not a biological one, to refer to all non apostolic baptized Christians. Carrier has to make this “non apostolic” distinction because the Galatians passage distinguishes James from the apostle Cephas, James being a brother of the lord, while Cephas is not. But Carrier’s cultic interpretation here excluding Cephas from being a brother of the lord seems to contradict Romans 8:29, which says Jesus is the first born of many bretheren – implying Cephas would indeed be a brother of the lord in a cultic sense. I think the evidence is very strong in favor of a biological interpretation of “brother of the lord” with the James passage in Galatians.

    • MrHorse
      2018-07-13 12:56:02 UTC - 12:56 | Permalink

      Romans 8:29, which … says Jesus is the first born of many bretheren

      Which would suggest a statement by an editor as the NT was being finalised – one to frame Jesus as the first Christian starting Christianity…

    • Neil Godfrey
      2018-07-13 22:32:43 UTC - 22:32 | Permalink

      Romans 8:29 does not contradict Carrier’s interpretation but it does not support it either. It is possible that the term did have a formal titular sense as well as a general sense. Compare our term Father — it has an everyday family role sense as well as being a religious title.

      • 2018-07-14 18:58:18 UTC - 18:58 | Permalink

        Does it really make sense to say, following Carrier, that Paul spent 15 days with Cephas and the only non ranking Christian he met was James? What about Cephas’ family? It would make sense if Paul was saying the only other apostle he met was James.

        • 2018-07-15 21:32:32 UTC - 21:32 | Permalink

          I actually had a fun conversation with Dr. Carrier about this. The conversation went:

          JM: Romans 8:29 seems to suggest all Christians were brothers of the lord, not just non apostolic baptized Christians.

          RC: Of course. But just as you’d say “I met the Pope and a Christian named James,” you’d say “I met the Apostle and a Christian named James.” In no way do these statements mean the Pope or Apostle is not a Christian too. Rather, they mean the other is just a Christian, without rank.

          JM: Does it really make sense to say Paul spent 15 days with Cephas and the only non ranking Christian he met was James? What about Cephas’ family? Paul’s claim would only make sense if Paul was saying the only other apostle he met was James.

          – As Ehrman points out, the distinction between Cephas and James is not that one is an apostle and the other is just a regular Christian, but that both are apostles and one is Jesus’ brother, while the other is not.

  • Julie mackey
    2018-07-14 12:41:20 UTC - 12:41 | Permalink

    ON what grounds is the historical existence of Paul accepted? One fictional character attesting to the historicity of another, Jesus, is unconvincing (no, ludicrous) Religions evolve, Christianity from Judaism, Islam from aspects of Christianity. Central characters are metaphors, dramatizations. That is how Revelation works. Thomas Brodie grasped that, to have his insights deemed “imprudent and dangerous”, extremely dangerous for abusers of power.
    Julie Mackey

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