Multiple Attestation and the usual straw man polemics from a certain blogger

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by Neil Godfrey

Completely ignoring all I have said in our past exchanges about the problem with multiple attestation, and completely ignoring all that his own biblical scholar peers have said about the fatal flaw at the heart of this criteria when applied to historical Jesus studies, and completely ignoring two of three of my analogies that made the message very clear, the usual suspect goes to town with the third analogy and writes a lot of truism as if it were a legitimate critique of what I said. Sorry, Dr McGrath, but it may disappoint you to know I agree with everything you said with reference to the UFO analogy, and that your “critique” actually supports the point I was making — which is not original but merely a repeat of what your own peers have written often enough:

If one person says they saw a UFO, we may well dismiss it. If a group of people unrelated to one another all saw something, we will take it far more seriously. It will remain an Unidentified Flying Object and does not by virtue of multiple witnesses become an alien spacecraft. But we will take the claim to have seen something seriously because of the multiple attestation.

Exactly! Continue reading “Multiple Attestation and the usual straw man polemics from a certain blogger”


The misuse of multiple independent sources

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Here are two quotations explaining how the criteria of multiple attestation supposedly gives us a sound reason for believing in the historicity of a gospel account, the first by conservative Craig Evans and the second by liberal Bart Ehrman:

What about those who would like to have sound, compelling reasons for accepting the Gospel narratives as reliable? . . . Thoughtful people rightly apply criteria for evaluating claims. So also historians for assessing the historical worth of documents. . . . Sayings and actions of Jesus that appear in two or more independent sources suggest that they were circulated widely and early and were not invented by a single writer. . . . [This criteria enables] historians to give good reasons for judging this saying or that deed attributed to Jesus as authentic. (Fabricating Jesus, pp.49-51)

But what if a story is found independently in more than one source? That story cannot have been made up by either source, since they are independent; it must predate them both. Stories found in multiple, independent sources therefore have a better likelihood of being older, and possibly authentic. . . . For example, both Matthew and Luke independently indicate that Jesus was raised in Nazareth, but their stories about how he got there differ, so one came from M and the other from L. Mark indicates the same thing. So does John, which did not use any of the Synoptics or their sources. Conclusion? It is independently attested: Jesus probably came from Nazareth. (Jesus, Interrupted, p, 155)

And here’s a third from a quasi-legal religious text:

by the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established (Deuteronomy 19:5)

I like the third one, but the first two illustrate the logical fallacy of the false dichotomy or false dilemma. Granted the authors qualify their remarks with “suggest” and “probably”, but both consider only one set of alternative explanations for multiple attestation — unlikely coincidental fabrication or more likely genuine historicity.

Neither considers the possibility that independent sources could just as likely be independently addressing another theological debate or widely known unhistorical narrative.

Without attestation external to our gospel sources we have no way of knowing whether they were addressing historical events or other stories.

The only reason I can see for assuming the former and apparently giving no time for any other possibility is the desire to comply with popular religious and cultural belief systems.

The thousands of independent sitings of UFO’s do not establish that we really are being visited by aliens.