Just briefly, here are some things that I (and probably Neil, as well) intend to write about in the coming months.
- How do historians treat possibly legendary or semilegendary figures other than Jesus?
- The search for a common methodology of historicity. How do historians weigh the evidence surrounding characters such as King Arthur and Robin Hood? What steps do we take to evaluate literary evidence?
- Processes historians follow to assess historical authenticity. How do they do it? Spoiler alert: We need contemporary, verifiable, independent corroboration.
- The often quite strong and surprisingly predictable backlash against the suggestion that people’s beloved heroes may never existed. “You’re taking away our history/heritage!”
- Is determining historical existence categorically different from the search for probably authentic deeds and sayings? If so, how does that difference affect our methods and the ways we analyze evidence?
- Is Carrier’s reference class model useful for determining historicity?
- Is it circular?
- What parts of his method can we salvage?
- The perils of amalgamating different, often contradictory stories into a single narrative legend.
- The Memory Mavens: More stuff about ritual memory vs. shared stories.
- William Wrede: His contributions to methodology (now generally unknown and ignored).
Happy Belated New Year!
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Tim is a retired vagabond who lives with his wife and multiple cats in a 20-year-old motor home. To read more about Tim, see our About page.
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16 thoughts on “Blog Subject Matter for 2019”
“The Quest for Theseus”, a large book edited by Anne G. Ward (Praeger, 1970), which could be titled “The Quest for Historical Theseus.”
Theseus must be real; Plutarch wrote a biography… 🙂
Why do mythicists have to prove Jesus didn’t exist? The burden of proof (or just evidence) is on those to insist he did exist. But the problem is, THERE ISN’T ANY.
Same goes for those who insist that Solomon and his Temple were real. Despite what the Bible says about Solomon, there is no record outside the Bible that ever refers to him. The same goes for his Temple.
I think the authors of the bible may have left evidence that they were not writing history. When we find things in the bible which we know CANNOT be literally true, it is a CLUE to those “who have eyes to see and ears to hear” that we’re dealing with METAPHOR here, not history or reality. The same is true for talking snakes, talking donkeys, parting the Red Sea and parting the Jordan River.
What you say it true, but it doesn’t matter. Yes, in a fair world the burden of proof would be on those asserting that he existed, but this isn’t a fair world, so it doesn’t work that way. Most people are happy with the assumption that he existed, so that ends up putting the onus on mythicists.
On a related tangent, my book was mentioned in an article on Christianity Today, denouncing it of course, but it is amusing how shallow and easily debunked the case they put forward in the article is. But it’s also a sign that “they” are feeling the need to engage in this topic, which is good IMO.
The article links to: Pinker, Steven (24 November 2018). “As any Jew knows, there is controversy (to put it mildly) over whether Jesus was the messiah. But did he exist as all? A new book by R. G. Price argues, “Deciphering the Gospels Proves Jesus Never Existed. decipheringthegospels.com”. Twitter. @sapinker.
And the first response to Pinker is:
• Bass, Justin (24 November 2018). 1066580926652710912. Twitter. @DrJustinbass.
Which is a perfect example per:
• Godfrey, Neil (7 January 2019). “The Poverty of Jesus Historicism (sorry, Popper)”. Vridar.
Well said Mr. Faubel!
Derrida , in some of his deconstructionist approaches would often encourage readers to see “holes” which dislocate or remove a totalitarian view of a text and its idealogical center. One smells something funny! Not always a necessary conclusion but it gets you curious to check stuff out on your own. To investigate the hole in the holy book! And by the way Derrida loved the Bible!!
And in his apologia on behalf of his “Circumfessions” he actually says he’s “always believed” in God!
Derrida’s approach was one big hole. So was Derrida.
“Is determining historical existence categorically different from the search for probably authentic deeds and sayings? If so, how does that difference affect our methods and the ways we analyze evidence?”
Hopefully something resembling a consensus can be reached in this crucial area. At first glance and just from the standpoint of brute epistemology, the difference IS unambiguous and direct (categorical), if you regard the action of an entity as qualitatively distinct from the question of that entity’s existence (“The apple fell from the tree” vs. “The apple exists”). We say, ‘existence is prior’, so that the establishment of the existence of Jesus must come before attributing any sayings or deeds to him.
On the other hand, if the earliest Christians believed Jesus existed before appearing on earth, or indeed has always existed even before epistemic evidence he did was ever in evidence, it’s possible words were attributed to him as though he were like any other person capable of speech. Voices, visions, premonitions, prophecies, fate and fortune all attributable to ‘the Lord’ as an article of faith.
And this is still going on.
“What is essential is invisible to the eye,” said Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. It’s interesting to note that the very late story of Jesus forgiving the adulterous woman was included in GJohn, sometimes GLuke, because “it sounds so much like authentic Jesus.” Jesus can appear without warning or vanish into thin air at will. He’s like the kingdom of heaven, both at once everywhere and nowhere, like some quantum subatomic particle.
In a mileau like this, nothing is historical but everything is ‘authentic’.
“(97) Jesus says:
(1) ‘The kingdom of the [Father] is like a woman who is carrying a [jar] filled with flour.
(2) While she was walking on [the] way, very distant (from home), the handle of the jar broke (and) the flour leaked out [on] the path.
(3) (But) she did not know (it); she had not noticed a problem.
(4) When she reached her house, she put the jar down on the floor (and) found it empty.” [GThom]
I’ve long thought that if biblical scholars were serious they would put their methodologies to the test in the same way that wine tasters do, or something along those lines.
We should give 20 top biblical scholars collections of written works with known provenances that they aren’t familiar with, perhaps even artificially constructing them or perhaps using Hindu or Buddhist or other unfamiliar writings, and have them identify what material in the works is original, what was later interpolated, what is authentic, what is inauthentic, what is based on oral tradition, etc.
There has to be some way to conduct real tests for these methodologies. The annoying thing when reading so much literature on biblical scholarship is that its basically all conjecture, but it’s all taken seriously. Statements like, “This phrase from LQ is clearly more primitive than M, so it must be from a source that predates M, thereby indicating that M is derivative.” And its like WTF are you talking about? This is all made-up nonsense.
The way some scholars (with multiple PhDs) address the Gospels is laughable. So much of it is just based on raw hunches and what they think about what someone would or would write based on their assumptions about the motives of the author. And I mean the work on Q is just a disaster of nonsense.
These guys have gotten themselves lost in a hall of mirrors. I mean seriously, they have constructed so many artifices around Q that they can’t even tell facts from fabrications anymore. Q has become this massive illusion. It’s ridiculous and yet, this passes for “real scholarship” and it taught at the most prestigious institutions.
For what it is worth, there is a very useful and perhaps to you interesting book about the authenticity of Buddhist scriptures. Written by two bhikkhus, it is true, but they do not simply insult or belittle those who would deny that the Buddha was not real. See: The Authenticity of the Early Buddhist Texts, by Bhikkhu Sujato & Bhikkhu Brahmali [https://ocbs.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/authenticity.pdf].
It would be nice if it were true; however, I see several of the same fallacies and foibles in that presentation as I see in the publications of biblical scholars.
Neil: I would love it if you were to write a blog-post critiquing the book. Maybe such a topic would be too divergent for this blog.
Not so; such would sit comfortably alongside posts about the historicity or otherwise of Arthur, Robin Hood, or William Tell. As clearly Tim intends to explore.
From what little investigation I’ve done, the idea of an ‘historical buddha’ seems arguably an artefact of The Raj. There are how many buddhas, and are not most, if not all of them apart from Siddhārtha Gautama, acknowledged as, in Western terms, “mythological”? I’ve no truck with Said’s ‘Orientalism’ but neither do I privelige a Western understanding of the world over the East. Indeed, much of what we are excercised about here seems to stem from our replacement of a Medieval, and before that an Ancient and Hellenistic, understanding of the world with something almost completely other and novel from the Early Modern of Western European History onward. We have the devil of a time putting ourselves in the heads of the ancients; the past is a foreign country.
Good topics. I’d like to read more arguments that Christians must use the same net when casting for the truths of Christianity or of any other religion. How can they miss the hypocrisy?
If you have lived in it all your life, you are nose-blind to your own stink. 🙂