Spencer Alexander McDaniel on the Historicity of Jesus

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by Neil Godfrey

Richard Carrier has posted Spencer Alexander McDaniel on the Historicity of Jesus which appears to be a comprehensive response “Was Jesus a Historical Figure?” by McDaniel of the Tales of Times Forgotten blog.

I’ve only skimmed some of Tales of Times Forgotten and can understand Carrier’s high assessment of the overall quality of the blog. His article on the historicity of Jesus, though, indicates that he has uncritically followed the methods theologians and biblical scholars have generally (not in every case) used to ascertain historicity instead of the methods of secular historians as set out by leading lights like Moses I. Finley that I have discussed here.

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11 thoughts on “Spencer Alexander McDaniel on the Historicity of Jesus”

  1. I am interested about the Carrier’s comment on prof. Robert Price as being an expert, differently from Carrier, about the historiography on mythicism.

    I list some cases where really Carrier is partially victim of the his ignorance of the arguments by old mythicists who argued for the his same celestial Jesus in Paul.

    But I can confirm, from the my own readings about old mythicists, that very a lot of them assumed a celestial crucifixion for the Paul’s Jesus. To my knowledge, only Arthur Drews would agree with Wells’s version of mythicism (about the Paul’s Jesus). J. M. Robertson and Dujardin assumed an earthly scenario, it’s true, but they talked about a ritual done any year, not precisely the Wells’s view.

    I refer this since I feel a new apologetical tactic by historicists, today:

    1) they would like «to prove» that Wells gives more plausible view than Doherty.

    2) once made the step 1, their next step is to prove that, according to Paul, Jesus lived in a recent time and not in a distant time.

    3) hence, they exult and conclude: Jesus existed!

  2. See, for an example (in the link above), the particular interest betrayed by GDon in defending Wells’s scenario (for the Paul’s Jesus) against Doherty.

  3. Or see the strange comment by minimalist historicist Ben C. Smith on the his site ( http://www.textexcavation.com/booklist.html#wells ) . Before he writes:

    Wells is, in my humble opinion, the best representative of that school of thought that would regard Jesus entirely as a legend. Fun to read, agree or not. (my bold)

    And shortly after, he writes:

    Wells could probably prove that his own mother did not exist.

  4. Comment by Spencer Alexander McDaniel—3 July 2019—per “Was Jesus a Historical Figure?”. Tales of Times Forgotten. 10 March 2018.

    [O]ne of the main reasons why I wrote this article to begin with was because I was tired of arguing around in circles with people on the internet about the historicity of Jesus, so I decided to just summarize my usual arguments in one article. That way, I could direct anyone I was in an argument with to this article so that I would not have to waste as much time arguing with them.

    • For comparison, a video presentation with a voluminous bibliography, but with few references given in the presentation.
    “Did a Historical Jesus Exist?”. YouTube. Suris. 25 June 2019.

    Special thanks to Biblical History Skeptics in helping research: youtube.com/channel .

    Jonathan Z. Smith, “Dying and Rising Gods,” in Lindsay Jones, ed, Encyclopedia of Religion (Detroit: Macmillan, 2005), 4:2535-4:2540 Mark S. Smith, “The Death of ‘Dying and Rising Gods’ in the Biblical World: An Update, With Special Reference to Baal in the Baal Cycle,” SJOT 12.2 (1998), pp. 257-313 Mark S. Smith, The Ugaritic Baal Cycle: Volume I. Introduction with Text, Translation and Commentary of KTU 1.1-1.2 (Leiden: Brill, 1994), pp. 58-75 Bart Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist? (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2012), pp. 221-230 Paul Rhodes Eddy and Gregory A. Boyd, The Jesus Legend (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007), pp. 142-146 John Dominic Crossan, “Response to Robert M. Price,” in Beilby and Eddy (2005), p. 85 Darrell Bock, “Response to Robert M. Price,” in Beilby and Eddy (2005), p. 102 Tryggve Mettinger, The Riddle of Resurrection Maurice Casey, Jesus: Evidence and Argument or Mythicist Myths? (New York: Bloomsbury, 2014), pp. 225-232 Burton Mack, Myth and the Christian Nation (Indonesia: Equinox, 2008), p. 109-117 David Marshall, Jesus is no Myth! (Kuai Mu Press, 2016), pp. 18-40 provides some criticism of the hypothesis of Dying-Rising and pagan Christ connections Michael Grant, Jesus: An Historian’s Review of the Gospels (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1979), pp. 199 Michael R. Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press Academic, 2010), pp. 536-537, 621-622 N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), pp. 80-81, 126-127 N. T. Wright, “Jesus’ Resurrection and Christian Origins” Willem Vorster, “The Religio-Historical Context of the Resurrection of Jesus and Resurrection Faith in the New Testament,” Neotestamentica 23.2 (1989), pp. 159-175 Stanley Porter and Stephen Bedard, Unmasking the Pagan Christ (Toronto: Clements Publishing, 2006), pp. 71-80Suris

    F. H. Colson (trans), Philo: In Ten Volumes (and two Supplementary Volumes), Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1932), p. 45 Joel Edmund Anderson, “Richard Carrier and the Mythical Jesus (Part 3): The Mythicist Argument–Welcome to Bizarro World (i.e. A Lesson on How Not To Interpret the Bible),” Resurrecting Orthodoxy, joeledmundanderson.com (03/13/2019) Larry Hurtado, “Gee, Dr. Carrier, You’re Really Upset!,” Larry Hurtado’s Blog, larryhurtado.wordpress.com (03/13/2019) David Runia, Philo in Early Christian Literature (Minneapolis: OTHER SOURCES WORTH YOUR TIME: Robert Van Voorst, Jesus Outside the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000) Walter P. Weaver, The Historical Jesus in the Twentieth Century: 1900-1950 (Harrisburg: Trinity International Press, 1999) R. Joseph Hoffmann, Jesus in History and Myth (Amherst: Prometheus Books, 1984) Ian Wilson, Jesus The Evidence (Harper Collins, 1985) Leslie Houlden, Jesus in History, Thought, and Culture (ABC-CLIO, 2003) James D. G. Dunn, The Evidence for Jesus (Westminster Press, 1985) Craig Evans, Jesus and his World (Westminster John Knox Press, 2013) Craig Evans, Fabricating Jesus (Intervarsity Press, 2006) R. T. France, The Evidence for Jesus (Regent College Publishing, 1986)

    • Godless Engineer engages with Suris per the video presentation by Suris, “Did a Historical Jesus Exist?”.
    “A Discussion about the Historicity of Jesus with Suris || GE Discussions”. YouTube. Godless Engineer. 28 June 2019.

    1. • Per Dying-and-rising deities, historicists fail to understand the following points:

      “Robert M. Price & Christopher Hansen | Myth Jesus or Historical Jesus? 2019 GREAT INTERVIEW!”. YouTube. MythVision Podcast. 26 May 2019.

      [Robert M. Price @time 1 hour–46 minutes–30 seconds] Ultimately I don’t think the dying and rising god thing—though fascinating—really bears on mythicism, because Rudolf Bultmann and Joseph McCabe and various others have long said: “Yes, there were dying and rising God myths and they were among the resources early Christians used to mythologize the historical Jesus.” Bultman goes into all of this stuff (but he thinks there was a historical Jesus), it was just that Jesus was made over in this image: as a gnostic redeemer and the Jewish Messiah. If you could prove that there were dependencies (a genealogical relationship) that wouldn’t really reflect on mythicism and verses historicism anyway. So in a way it’s like a moot point.

      • Per Christopher Hansen, “An absolutely magnificent tome” @time 1:39 YouTube.

      Cook, John Granger (2018). Empty Tomb, Apotheosis, Resurrection. Mohr Siebeck. pp. 56–57. ISBN 978-3-16-156503-8.

      The analogies in this monograph are between the NT images of resurrection and similar narratives in paganism and Judaism. The evidence, by necessity, for resurrection in paganism is from widely diverse chronological eras and appears in diverse contexts in the authors who preserve the traditions.* Nevertheless, one can discern patterns in the pagan narratives of resurrections that are clearly analogous to resurrection in ancient Judaism and early Christianity. Resurrection traditions should be distinguished from translations.
      The present study is not designed to defend James G. Frazer’s concept of “dying and rising gods,” although that category — redefined — is still of heuristic value. . . . These markers or characteristics are drawn from the work of Frazer, which has not fared well among historians of religion. I do, however, believe that there are gods who may be described as “dying and rising” (markers one and two) in an attenuated sense.

      Tryggve N. D. Mettinger has, in my view, clearly demonstrated that the category remains viable in examinations of the fates of gods who either return from the dead in some sense or reemerge from the Netherworld.

      1. Carrier (1 July 2019). “Spencer Alexander McDaniel on the Historicity of Jesus”. Richard Carrier Blogs.

        McDaniel is trapped in a naive folk-anthropology that thinks cultural diffusion of religious ideas works like, “Hey, let’s go borrow these foreign ideas into our religion!” When in fact it works more like, “Hey, we see powerful religions have these features; our religion being true must also be powerful; ergo our religion must always have had those features too and we just need God to confirm that to us through visions and hidden messages in his scriptures.” Thus, they are never imagined to be “pagan ideas.” They are always “Jewish ideas.” That the pagans must have stolen. That that isn’t factually true is irrelevant; religious innovators are not anthropologists, they’re propagandists (on how religion often innovates by claiming innovations are actually natively ancient: Not the Impossible Faith, pp. 129-34).

        The parallels Christianity really does share with surrounding religious trends are more subtle and generic (though still much more numerous and telling) than McDaniel seems aware. I document the real ones extensively in On the Historicity of Jesus (pp. 96-108, 164-75). What you don’t find there, probably didn’t check out. The process of syncretism was common at the time and entailed taking foreign frameworks and ideas and merging them with Jewish particulars and adjustments, thus transforming pagan ideas into new Jewish ones, which are then sold as old Jewish ideas.

  5. • Side note: On failing to understand a different myth.

    Per the myth that the constitutionally established “United States of America (USA)” was in fact established by “The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America by CONGRESS —July 4, 1776.”

    Clearly the “States of America” were 13 separate geopolitical entities united in an alliance for the purpose of a rebellion—to be administered by CONGRESS. Later codified by the “Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union”—November 15, 1777—that further enabled CONGRESS to conduct business, conduct diplomacy with foreign nations, and deal with territorial issues and Native American relations.

    1. Glad you noticed that. McDaniel writes:

      Some scholars, such as Mark S. W. Stibbe, have even argued that the Gospel of John may directly emulate Euripides’s tragedy The Bakkhai, in which Dionysos is the central character. There are two problems, however, that should be pointed out: First, all of this Dionysian imagery is solely found in the Gospel of John, the last of the four gospels, and we find very little, if anything at all, to indicate a Dionysian influence on the earlier gospels. Secondly, other scholars have quite convincingly argued that the wine imagery in the Gospel of John may just as plausibly stem from the Old Testament, which uses wine as a symbol for happiness.

      Both arguments are slapdash and without any serious indication that the author has read what he criticizes, nor has he read arguments against the points he makes. Further, he embraces the logic of the false dilemma and appears not even to be aware of the evidence that some stories in the gospels are a weaving of Greek and Hebrew sources.

      I do hope he is not trying to emulate Tim O’Neill who is very often shallow, uncritical of sources he reads that show a distinct pro-religious bias, and generally a subtle form of all-round appeal to authority of the “correct-thinking” academics.

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