Vridar

2012/10/15

“Jesus did not exist as an historical individual”: Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus

Filed under: Brodie: Beyond Quest — Neil Godfrey @ 10:01 am
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My copy of Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus happily arrived today. I have a few other posts in the pipeline waiting final editing so that will give me a little time to prepare discussing some aspects of this new book here.

Meanwhile, here’s the back cover blurb, also found on the Amazon site — here with my own highlighting and formatting:

In the past forty years, while historical-critical studies were seeking with renewed intensity to reconstruct events behind the biblical texts, not least the life of Jesus, two branches of literary studies were finally reaching maturity.

  1. First, researchers were recognizing that many biblical texts are rewritings or transformations of older texts that still exist, thus giving a clearer sense of where the biblical texts came from;
  2. and second, studies in the ancient art of composition clarified the biblical texts’ unity and purpose, that is to say, where biblical texts were headed.

The primary literary model behind the gospels, Brodie argues, is the biblical account of Elijah and Elisha [My post on Brodie’s earlier book making this case is at The Elijah-Elisha narrative as a model for the Gospel of Mark], as R.E. Brown already saw in 1971. In this fascinating memoir of his life journey, Tom Brodie, Irishman, Dominican priest, and biblical scholar, recounts the steps he has taken, in an eventful life in many countries, to his conclusion that the New Testament account of Jesus is essentially a rewriting of the Septuagint version of the Hebrew Bible, or, in some cases, of earlier New Testament texts. Jesus’ challenge to would-be disciples (Luke 9.57-62), for example, is a transformation of the challenge to Elijah at Horeb (1 Kings 19), while his journey from Jerusalem and Judea to Samaria and beyond (John 2.23-4.54) is deeply indebted to the account of the journey of God’s Word in Acts 1-8.

The work of tracing literary indebtedness and art is far from finished but it is already possible and necessary to draw a conclusion: it is that, bluntly, Jesus did not exist as a historical individual.

This is not as negative as may at first appear. In a deeply personal coda, Brodie begins to develop a new vision of Jesus as an icon of God’s presence in the world and in human history.

And just one more tidbit for now — the second paragraph of Brodie’s Prefatory Introduction: (more…)

2012/08/27

Jesus and the Mythicists: Earl Doherty’s Concluding Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism – Part 34

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Ehrman’s Conclusion

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COVERED IN THIS POST:

  • Are humanists and atheists engaged in a religious exercise?
  • Humanist and atheist activism against religion
    • The humanist self-definition
  • Going against received wisdom
  • The Jesus “problem” for historicists
    • Replacing all the fantasy Jesuses with the ‘real’ one
  • Is the mythicist agenda anti-religion and anti-Christian?
  • Ehrman’s and traditional agendas
  • An historical evaluation of religious tradition

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CONCLUSION

Jesus and the Mythicists

(Did Jesus Exist? pp. 332-339)

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Ehrman’s reaction to humanism

Similar to his situation in having had little knowledge of Jesus Mythicism before he undertook to write a book in opposition to it, Bart Ehrman seems to have had little contact with or understanding of humanism before being an “honored” guest recently at the national meeting of the American Humanist Association, where he received the Religious Liberty Award. He learned that they “celebrate what is good about being human.” But another aspect of humanism also struck him:

But a negative implication runs beneath the surface of the self-description and is very much on the surface in the sessions of the meeting and in almost every conversation happening there. This is a celebration of being human without God. Humanist is understood to stand over against theist. This is a gathering of nonbelievers who believe in the power of humanity to make society and individual lives happy, fulfilling, successful, and meaningful. And the group is made up almost exclusively of agnostics and atheists. . . . (DJE? p. 332)

Evidently, Ehrman does not realize that the humanist movement arose as a response to religion, as a rejection of its traditional all-encompassing and rigid dictations . . . .

(more…)

2012/08/11

‘Is This Not the Carpenter?’ — Introduction

Filed under: Thompson: Not the Carpenter? — Neil Godfrey @ 1:20 pm
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What is the significance of the title of this book edited by Thomas L. Thompson and Thomas S. Verenna. The subtitle is “The Question of the Historicity of the Figure of Jesus” — “of the Figure of”, not “of Jesus”. Perhaps that helps guard the book from being seen as too bluntly opening up the Christ Myth question. The main title comes from Mark 6:1-6 —

And he went out from thence; and he cometh into his own country; and his disciples follow him.

2 And when the sabbath was come, he began to teach in the synagogue: and many hearing him were astonished, saying, Whence hath this man these things? and, What is the wisdom that is given unto this man, and what mean such mighty works wrought by his hands?

3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James, and Joses, and Judas, and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us? And they were offended in him.

4 And Jesus said unto them, A prophet is not without honor, save in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house.

5 And he could there do no mighty work, save that he laid his hands upon a few sick folk, and healed them.

6 And he marvelled because of their unbelief. And he went round about the villages teaching.  (ASV)

Now the themes latent in this passage and that are drawn out in this introduction are the same ones that led me to launch one of my very first diffident attempts to explore questions of historicity in an academic forum in 1998: Re: Jesus the Carpenter? in Crosstalk. Fourteen years later I am reading the same question, with the same implications for the historicity of the exchange between Jesus and his neighbours, being raised not by an amateur outsider in an open scholarly forum but by scholars in a book so prohibitively expensive that it is beyond the reach of the general reader — and with a clear warning that I am not to reproduce any of it for wider sharing, without even the usual allowance of short passages for reviews.

Nonetheless, this Introduction chapter has been available online since 2010 at The Bible and Interpretation — even complete with its annoying “itinerate” typo.  (And given that it is already online I trust I have a right to quote passages from it here.) So you can go there and read what Thompson and Verenna write for themselves or stay here and read what I say they write, with some of my own commentary. ;-) (more…)

2012/07/30

Bart Ehrman vs. Earl Doherty. Part 29 of Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism

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Bart Ehrman vs. Earl Doherty

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COVERED IN THIS POST:

  • Using previous scholarship with a different end result
  • Ehrman’s numerous misreadings and misrepresentations of my text
    • Platonic (and other) ancient views of the universe
    • What was the interpretation of the cultic myths:
      • allegorical or literal, heavenly or earthly?
      • among the philosophers?
      • among the devotees of the cult?
      • among the common people?
  • Revisiting 1 Thessalonians 2:15-16
  • Revisiting “the rulers of this age”
  • Was the Christ cult Jewish or Greek—or both?
  • Jewish sectarian thinking moves upward
  • Was Pauline Christianity “Aramaic rural Palestinian Judaism”?
  • Must Christ have shed his blood on earth?
  • Problems and declarations

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Was Jesus Crucified in the Spiritual Realm Rather Than on Earth?

(Did Jesus Exist? pp. 252-258)

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The practice of drawing on previous scholarship

Ehrman calls me “one of the staunchest defenders of a mythicist view of Christ.” Well, that’s almost the only valid statement he makes about me in the entire book. He starts off with a complaint which has often cropped up in criticisms directed against me:

He quotes professional scholars at length when their views prove useful for developing aspects of his argument, but he fails to point out that not a single one of these scholars agrees with his overarching thesis. (DJE? p. 252)

First of all, I scarcely think I needed to point this out. What mainstream New Testament scholar subscribes to the mythicist theory, let alone that Paul regarded Christ as sacrificed in the heavenly realm? If any of these scholars I draw on had so believed, does Ehrman think I would not have trumpeted it to the skies? I was hardly concealing what anyone would assume was the historicist orientation of such scholars.

Ehrman’s motive in raising that fallacy is quite clearly to impugn to me some form of dishonest procedure.

More importantly, does Ehrman or anyone else regard it as illegitimate of me to draw on observations and conclusions on the part of established scholarship if they can be fitted into the context of my own argument? Mainstream scholars do that all the time. All of scholarship builds on the work of predecessors, and all of those predecessors are subject to reinterpretation and the reapplication of their work to the new conclusions of their successors. Besides, many of my references to the views of historicist scholars involve a clear indication that I make use of their observations in different ways than they do, with different end results.

Enough said on that fallacy. Ehrman’s motive in raising it is quite clearly to impugn to me some form of dishonest procedure.

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Multiple views of the universe
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This is not simply a misreading, it presents the exact opposite of what I actually say.

One of the “problems” Ehrman finds in my book is its main thesis:

One particular piece is especially unconvincing: in Doherty’s view, Paul (and other early Christians) believed that the Son of God had undergone a redeeming “‘blood’ sacrifice” not in this world but in a spiritual realm above it. (DJE? p. 252)

In the course of explaining why he is unconvinced, Ehrman makes a number of egregious misreadings of my text. (I know it is 800 pages, but it is still incumbent upon Ehrman to actually see the words as they stand on the page if he is going to find fault with them.) He says: (more…)

2012/06/09

Blogger Godfrey’s Reply (1) to Emeritus Professor Maurice Casey of The Jesus Process ®©™

English: A view of the cloister garden and sta...

English: A view of the cloister garden and statue of Jesus from one of the walkways at Holy Spirit Monastery in Conyers, Georgia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Maurice makes sure I know my place when he twice identifies himself as Emeritus Professor Maurice Casey and nine times identifies me as Blogger (Neil) Godfrey. The “Internet”, for Emeritus Professor Maurice Casey, is a hotbed of “hopelessly unlearned people”, “Christian apologists and determinedly anti-Christian atheists” who are “impervious to evidence and argument”, in “closed-minded” “rebellion against traditional Christianity” and critical scholarship, “uncontrolled and apparently uncontrollable”. So naturally Casey does not write as Blogger Casey but as Emeritus Professor, and does not write a blogpost for a blog but “an essay” for “The Jesus Process ®©™”.

Now I have no problem at all with any person having earned an honourable title, and I do respect the title of Emeritus Professor. But I am quick to lose respect for anyone who indicates they believe they are above public accountability when they (1) willfully denigrate another person in a conversational or intellectual exchange of views, and (2) expect their title to be enough to tilt an argument or assertion in their favour.

And there lies Maurice Casey’s (and his fellow Jesus Processors) problem with the internet. The internet has forced scholars, many of whom once cloistered in their “quite different world” from the rest of humanity, to make a choice: they can seek to remain cloistered and irrelevant to all but their peers or embrace the full implications of the communications revolution. He blanket denigration (echoed by his colleague R. Joseph Hoffmann) can scarcely disguise an elitist contempt for “the masses”, the “public”, for the necessary uncontrolled untidiness of a democratic society. Public intellectuals do have a public responsibility and with the internet the public can make its views known more widely. That appears to be a notion too frightening for some scholars (by no means all) to take seriously. (more…)

2012/06/04

17. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism – Pt.17

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Jesus Tradition in the Acts of the Apostles

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COVERED IN THIS POST:

  • Ehrman accepts Acts as reliable history
  • Acts as a second century product
  • Judas treated as an historical figure
  • More Aramaic tradition?
  • Quoting Paul quoting Jesus
  • The speeches in Acts
  • Adoptionism: Jesus becomes God’s son
  • Tracing the sequence of ideas about Jesus
  • Syncretizing two separate movements

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Canonical Sources Outside the Gospels and Paul

(Did Jesus Exist? pp. 106-113)

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In the midst of addressing the testimony to an historical Jesus in epistles both canonical and outside the New Testament, Bart Ehrman devotes several pages to the “Jesus Tradition in Acts.” In introducing Acts he fails to enlighten his readers that there is great uncertainty within mainstream scholarship over the historical reliability of the content of this document. Furthermore, he accepts without question that the author of Luke was the author of Acts, and thus what was known to the former was known to the latter.

Is Acts reliable history?

Ehrman fails to question any aspect of this ‘history’ of the spread of the faith. He treats everything from Acts as though it were part of known Christian tradition, and as reliable as anything else. . . .

— No matter that the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is nowhere mentioned in the epistles (despite their focus on inspiration and revelation).

— No matter that the figure and martyrdom of Stephen is nowhere attested to outside Acts.

— No matter that in Acts the settling of the issue of requirements for gentile converts is presented in an Apostolic Council which the authentic Pauline letters seem to know nothing about.

— Nor is the dramatic shipwreck episode at the end of Acts mentioned by early writers who talk about Paul, inviting us to see it as sheer fiction, emulating a popular element in second century Hellenistic romances. (The so-called “we” passages, often alleged to be from a Lukan journal, have also been identified as a common literary feature in recounting travel by sea, such as is found in earlier parts of Acts surrounding such travels.)

When and why was Acts written?

There is also no discussion about the dating of this document.

Ehrman places it in the most traditional position, some time in the 80s of the first century, shortly after the most traditional dating of the Gospel of Luke, c.80 CE. No mention is made that much critical scholarship has moved toward a date at least a couple of decades, sometimes more, into the second century (Townsend, Mack, O’Neill, Tyson, Pervo). And, of course, no mention that the first attestation to Acts comes around 175 in Irenaeus, with possibly an allusion to it a decade or so earlier in Justin. That such a ‘history’ could have lain unnoticed for so long if it had been written a century earlier (or more, for those who maintain it was written before Paul’s death), is not considered worthy of note.

As long ago as 1942, John Knox (Marcion and the New Testament) presented a compelling case that Acts was not written until the 140s or 150s, an ecclesiastical product to counter Marcion’s appropriation of Paul in which he used the letters to demonstrate that Paul operated independently of the Jerusalem apostles and with a very different view of Jesus.

Thus, Acts was written and designed to show the opposite, that Paul immediately upon his conversion subordinated himself to the pillars and subscribed to their teachings, lock, stock and circumcision. Which is why the speeches in Acts, clearly composed by the author, show the identical content between those of Peter and those of Paul. (Neither does Ehrman discuss the considerable discrepancies between Acts and the Pauline epistles.)

Independent witnesses to Judas’ death

Ehrman hardly covers himself in glory with his treatment of the figure of Judas in Acts. According to him,

the author of Acts has access to traditions that are not based on his Gospel account so that we have yet another independent witness. (DJE? p. 107)

Independent from whom? Was Luke the author of the Gospel “independent” of Luke the author of Acts? It seems that for Ehrman every saying or anecdote which can be found nowhere else, or fails to agree with some other version of that saying or anecdote, constitutes an “independent witness” to the historical Jesus. (more…)

2012/05/28

15. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism – Pt. 15

Filed under: Earl Doherty,Ehrman: Did Jesus Exist? — Earl Doherty @ 1:00 am
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The Epistle to the Hebrews (Part One)

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  • God speaking through a Son in a new reading of scripture
  • Hebrews’ Son a heavenly entity like the Logos
  • Hebrews 101: a sacrifice in a heavenly sanctuary
  • an event of revelation at the start of the sect
  • no words of Jesus on earth to be found
  • another motif of “likeness” to humans
  • “In the days of his flesh”: not Gethsemane
  • Christ “out of Judah”
  • Hebrews’ sacrifice in heaven
  • taking on a “body” in the scriptural world

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Evidence for Jesus from Outside the Gospels

(Did Jesus Exist? pp. 116-117)

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Reading an historical Jesus into scripture

Those who have become familiar with my writings over the years will know that I have a soft spot for the epistle to the Hebrews. In many ways it is the most revealing of the New Testament documents.

  • It gives us a Son who is entirely known from scripture.
  • It presents a heavenly event that could only have been imagined out of a Platonic application of scripture: a sacrifice by the Son, performed in a spiritual sanctuary, in which he offers his own “blood” to God — a blood which can hardly be regarded as being human, hauled up from Calvary.

Indeed, anomalies like this have increasingly forced modern scholars to take refuge in interpreting Christ’s sacrifice in the heavenly sanctuary as intended by the author to be merely a metaphor for the earthly Calvary event — an interpretation for which there is no justification in the epistle. Most significantly, Hebrews contains two verses which make it clear that its Jesus had never been on earth, two smoking guns that would do any mythicist gunslinger proud.

Ehrman, true to form, simply seizes on any and all words and phrases in the epistle which he thinks could have an earthly or human application and declares them as such. He admits that this epistle, too, shows no knowledge of the Gospels — which he ought to have extended to no knowledge of the Gospel story, whether written or oral — but nevertheless “it contains numerous references to the life of the historical Jesus.

Ehrman itemizes some twenty of them (pp. 116-117, DJE?):

  • Jesus appeared in ‘these last days’ (1:2).
  • God spoke through him (that is, in his proclamation; 1:2). (more…)

2012/05/27

Neil Godfrey’s response 2: @ Stephanie Fisher

Filed under: Uncategorized — Neil Godfrey @ 3:30 pm
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Kakadu Escarpment

Kakadu Escarpment (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am continuing here with another quick and easy response because real life distractions prevent me at this time from addressing Hoffmann’s and Casey’s posts against mythicism. I will address both when work and family situations permit. Right now I am relaxing after sharing with family experiences in Kakadu — plan to return tomorrow some time.

I will also probably say more about Stephanie’s criticism of Carrier’s Bayes’ Theorem, too. But for now my response is light and only concerns what she has to say about me.

Stephanie nowhere addresses my arguments about historical methodology. No-one reading her post would know that this is my main focus in any discussion of Christian origins — and that my focus is on the question of Christian origins rather than mythicism per se. (This latter focus is exactly what Hoffmann himself says he wants to see so one would think that I might be given a little credit for seeing eye-to-eye on such a basic point with “The Jesus Process” folk ;-) I will be addressing Hoffmann’s post as soon as circumstances permit.

R. Joseph Hoffmann appears to be wanting to distance his, Maurice Casey’s and Steph Fisher’s “rebuttals” of mythicism from what they appear to see as crass internet blogging for the ignorant masses — (they pour scorn on the internet and blogging community) — and has presented their posts on his internet blog as a corporate “The Jesus Process”, complete with (unnecessary but pretentious) formal copyright notices. (The “creative commons” license is presumably far too common for these elitists.)

Unfortunately for any hopes that “The Jesus Process” might be taken seriously by anyone but the Hoffmann (threesome?) choir, the hotheaded Stephanie Fisher has been included. Anyone who has observed Stephanie in action with contrary opinions knows she has nothing more to offer than hyperbolic indignation, personal attack, non sequiturs and a stubborn failure to demonstrate any ability to comprehend the views she believes she has to attack.

Misrepresenting Fredriksen?

Stephanie faults me for supposedly quoting Paula Fredriksen’s words out of context. Stephanie at no point presents and dissects my own arguments that relate to mythicist conclusions. Rather, she dregs out issues that bugged her when she was commenting — and finally trolling — on this Vridar blog in 2010 and picks up where she left off. She has learned nothing since, and has no more grasp of what she believed she was opposing back then. She writes:

Atheist blogger Neil Godfrey, an Australian ‘meta-data’ librarian (sic), thus plucked her brief comments completely out of context, and cited her in favour of the opposite interpretation.

Baloney. I did no such thing. And Stephanie does not even attempt to demonstrate how my quotation was “out of context” or how I cited her words for a view opposed their meaning. She does explain what Fredriksen’s context was, and that it was to highlight the Jewishness of Jesus’ heritage. Fredriksen is suggesting that the naming of Jesus’ brethren was an artifice to serve this ideological function. And I fully accept her explanation. I always have.

It was because of Fredriksen’s context — in exactly the way Stephanie herself repeats it — that I chose to refer to Fredriksen’s words. Fredriksen indicates that the names assigned to Jesus’ brothers are not “natural” but an artifice to support an ideological view of Jesus. So I wrote and quoted: (more…)

2012/05/25

14. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism – Pt.14

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Non-Pauline Epistles – Part One

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  • Apostles with no connection to an historical Jesus
  • Pilate in the 2nd century epistle 1 Timothy
  • 1 Peter knows a suffering Christ through Isaiah 53
  • Christ “hung on a tree”
  • The “flesh” and “body” of Christ and his “likeness” to men
  • The epiphany of Jesus in 2 Peter
  • Reading an historical Jesus into the epistles of John
  • No historical Jesus in Revelation

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Evidence for Jesus from Outside the Gospels

(Did Jesus Exist? pp. 113-117)

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Is Ehrman being naïve or deliberately misleading?

There is an astonishing naivete to much of Bart Ehrman’s case for historicism. Perhaps it is aimed at a naïve readership, but it must leave such readers wondering if mythicists do indeed suffer from mental retardation or a simple inability to read texts. After all, the way Ehrman presents things, there can be no question that each and every writer in the early record clearly refers to an historical Jesus. Consider this statement:

But even in a letter as short as Jude, we find the apostles of Jesus mentioned (verse 17), which presupposes, of course, that Jesus lived and had followers. (p. 106, DJE?)

Well, it presupposes no such thing. The epistles contain many references to “apostles” who are not in any way represented as followers of a Jesus on earth. The epistle of Jude is only one of several referring to “apostles” that makes no such identification.

Independent Apostles

Paul himself, even in the orthodox view, was such an apostle. His apostleship was the result of a ‘call’ from God (e.g., Romans 1:1) and from ‘seeing’ the Lord Jesus in a vision (1 Cor. 9:1 and 15:8). In 2 Corinthians 11:4-5, in the midst of a diatribe against rival “apostles” who preach a ‘different Jesus’ from his own, he refers to both himself and his rivals as having received their respective kerygmas through the “spirit” (only his own, of course, was the valid one).

No connection here to an historical Jesus.

When he goes on in 11:12-15 to condemn those rivals for “masquerading as apostles of Christ” and being virtually agents of Satan, many scholars (such as C. K. Barrett) recognize that this kind of absolute condemnation is not being directed at the Jerusalem group, but other unspecified “ministers of Christ” (12:23) who proselytize independently, and certainly were not followers of a Jesus on earth.

Ehrman also conveniently ignores that in the entire body of epistles, not a single statement is made indicating that any apostles of the Christ were followers of a Jesus on earth, or traced any authority or correct preaching back to him.

It is impossible to believe that Ehrman could be ignorant of this wider application of the term “apostles” in the epistles, and only a little less difficult to believe that he is ignorant of mythicism’s arguments in this regard. He is either deliberately misleading his readers, taking advantage of their ignorance, or his own naïve reading of the texts is nothing short of an embarrassment. (more…)

2012/05/23

Earl Doherty’s Response to Maurice Casey

Filed under: Earl Doherty — Earl Doherty @ 10:30 am
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Maurice Casey has posted his foray against mythicism on R. Joseph Hoffmann’s blog. This post is Earl Doherty’s initial response. It has also been sent to Hoffmann’s blog but at the time of this posting on Vridar it is awaiting Hoffmann’s approval to be posted there.

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I see Casey’s basic ‘arguments’ against mythicism, and me in particular, as:

A — More unworkable reasoning to justify why Paul and all the other epistle writers have nothing to say about an historical Jesus. Casey thinks we should not expect to find “later Christian tradition” in the writings of Paul, ‘later tradition’ like the fact that Jesus was crucified on earth, by Pilate, that he taught anything about loving one another or any of the ethical teachings of the Gospel (not even inauthentic ones), that he performed miracles, prophesied the End-time, and so on.

Boy, what an HJ that leaves to champion! Imagine devoting one’s professional life to protecting the existence of such an undetectable mundane figure, no matter what the cost in surrendering one’s scholarly principles!

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B — Of course, in a “high context culture” no one, not a single writer of the non-Gospel/Acts New Testament and several non-canonical ones, felt the slightest urge to mention anything that was said or done by Jesus on earth, even in support of key arguments and debates they were engaged in, even when describing the genesis and ongoing forces within their movement. They so lacked such an urge that they routinely speak of that genesis and ongoing force in ways which exclude such a figure. All their readership and audience were so “high context” that they never expected, let alone demanded, any reference to the words and deeds of the historical figure they believed in and regarded as Deity incarnate.

I guess mythicists, in their misguided expectations, are all of us “low culture” idiots.

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C — Absolutely everything in the Gospels (even the titulus on the cross!) was so thoroughly known to all of Paul’s and other epistle writers’ readers, in every corner from Galatia to Rome, that it would have been a sin and an insult to even mention a single one of them. (more…)

2012/03/01

Digging beneath the Gospels to find an imaginary Jesus

Filed under: Gospel of Matthew,Historiography — Neil Godfrey @ 10:30 am
Tags: ,
A painting by Evgraf Semenovich Sorokin (1873)...

Image via Wikipedia

Joel Watts, now a masters of theological studies, has posted The Schizophrenia of Jesus Mythicists. Since I am always on the lookout for serious arguments addressing the Christ myth argument I had hoped that, despite a title imputing mental illness to those who argue Jesus was a myth, I would find engagement with a mythicist argument. But, sadly, no.

Watts does not want anyone to think he is merely defending a faith-position. He explains that his post is about “verifiable proof” and is not a “matter of faith”.

I can accept that approach. Faith is about things we cannot prove or see. Verifiable proofs would undermine faith. One can only believe Jesus was resurrected and is God etc. by faith. (Does not N.T. Wright undermine faith in the resurrection of Jesus when he claims to have historical proof of the resurrection?)

But here Watts is talking about the historical man, Jesus. His faith presumably would be harder to sustain if there were no generally recognized human of history at the start of it all. So, like Marxists, he must first believe in history.

Here is his argument against mythicists and for “verifiable proofs”: (more…)

2012/02/05

Hypocritical Christ-mythers: Cameron’s response to Neil Godfrey at Vridar — & my response back

Русский: Григорий Распутин . English: Grigorij...

Theologian

4 evolutionists (1873)

Evolutionists

Herodotus and Thucydides

Historians

Cameron, a critic of Dave Fitzgerald’s Nailed, has responded to my remarks (Are Mythicist Sceptics Hypocritical for Attacking Creationists) about his accusation that those who reject the historicity of Jesus are hypocritical if they also criticize Creationists for rejecting an academic consensus. As seems to be par for the course with these sorts of attacks, derisive labels and character attacks are deployed against anyone who argues that Jesus was not a historical figure. Hence the generic title of his response: Hypocritical Christ-mythers.

Cameron begins his response thus:

In my review of David Fitzgerald’s book Nailed, I criticized Christ-mythers for ignoring the consensus of biblical scholars on the historical Jesus, while simultaneously attacking creationists for rejecting the consensus of scientists on evolution. Fitzgerald didn’t like the comparison, and neither did Neil Godfrey over at Vridar. But he’s wrong for the same reasons Fitzgerald is. His comments are in quotes, followed by my responses.

“Of course there is one professor who asserts that to the extent that biblical studies does have a degree of certainty (even though only a fraction of anything in the sciences), to that extent mythicists should respectfully submit to this consensus just as creationists should be rational and accept the authority of scientists. That one discipline is the foundation of all our modern progress and the other is a Mickey Mouse course doesn’t matter. What matters is that the most honourable professors in each have certainties. One just happens to have greater certainties than the other, that’s all.”

Of course there’s a degree of uncertainty involved when investigating historical figures, but to call biblical history a “Mickey Mouse course” is to reach a new level of special pleading. People like Godfrey make the entire field sound like a collection crazy, right-wing evangelicals bent on defending their worldview. The truth is that these scholars, whatever their ideological commitments may be, are interested in the truth. That most of them (even those skeptical of Christianity) have rejected the Christ-myth speaks volumes about its lack of validity. Furthermore, if mythicists are aware of the limitations of history, though they exaggerate them, don’t you think historians areas well? Yeah…they are. But somehow the experts rarely throw up their hands and exclaim, “well we weren’t there; Jesus probably wasn’t real!”

Whatever their ideological commitments?

Cameron portrays theologians who study “the historical Jesus” as reasonable enough to set aside their ideological commitments in order to objectively seek out only “the truth” of the matter. This is a naive Pollyannish portrayal of a scholarly field dominated by faith-committed theologians. Let’s break down Cameron’s comment and examine each piece.

Biblical studies is probably the most ideologically oriented of all academic disciplines. Hector Avalos has shown that clearly enough in The End of Biblical Studies. R. Joseph Hoffmann remarked on this blog that the reason the Christ myth theory is not given more attention among scholars has more to do with conditions of academic appointments than common sense. Stevan Davies recently pointed out that a list of the Westar Institute Fellows shows nearly all are or have been affiliated with seminaries and theological institutions. Most of the scholarly books one picks up on the historical Jesus contain prefaces or concluding chapters in which one reads reflections that sound more like homilies or spiritual confessions. James Crossley has publicly denounced the way biblical scholars so regularly open their academic get-togethers (seminars, workshops) with prayers. Blogs of theologian scholars are dominated by spiritual reflections and sayings. Atheists and atheism are generally derided. Ideology is important. The Christian faith dominates the entire field of biblical studies. To suggest that these scholars are all committed to setting aside their personal faith and seeking truth regardless of where it may lead sounds about as plausible as expecting Nazi era scientists to set aside their political ideology in order to study the biological grounds for racial differences.

That most of such scholars have rejected a model that undermines the entire ideological and faith foundations of this scholarly field tells us absolutely nothing about its lack of validity. (more…)

2011/12/28

A fallacious argument for Jesus’ historicity

Filed under: Messianism — Neil Godfrey @ 5:57 am
Tags:

Dr McGrath in a recycled youtube presentation Did Jesus Exist? argues that Jesus was a historical figure in these words:

The reason that the crucifixion persuades most historians that Jesus was a historical figure is that a crucified messiah was in essence a contradiction in terms. . . .  It needs to be emphasized that we are talking about a dying and rising messiah. And the messianic expectations of Judaism around the time of early Christianity are well documented. And the whole notion of messiah is “anointed one” . . . . and this goes back to the practice of anointing kings and priests in ancient Israel. And in the case of Jesus the connection of the terminology of the term messiah with the claim to his having been descended from David shows they were thinking of a kingly figure. And nothing would have disqualified someone from seriously being considered possibly being the messiah as being executed by the foreign rulers over the Jewish people. That wasn’t what people expected from the messiah. And it makes very little sense to claim that the early Christians invented a figure completely from scratch and called him the messiah and said that he didn’t do the same things that the messiah was expected. Not only did he not conquer the Romans, he was executed by them. He did not institute and bring in the kingdom of god the way the people were expecting, and in fact Christians had to explain this in terms of Jesus returning to finish the task of what was expected of the messiah.

All of this makes much more sense if one says that there was a figure whom the early Christians believed was the messiah and that the early Christians were trying somehow to make sense of those things that don’t seem to fit that belief.

In other words, the argument for the historicity of Jesus is, “No-one would have made it up.” This is in effect an appeal to ignorance. If one cannot imagine (without really trying) why someone would make it up, it must be historical.

The argument as expressed is, however, quite implausible. Stop and think. (more…)

2011/12/15

Earl Doherty’s forerunner? Paul-Louis Couchoud and the birth of Christ

In his review of Maurice Goguel‘s attack on Jesus mythicism Earl Doherty writes (with my emphasis):

It was at the opening of the 20th century that the first serious presentations of the Jesus Myth theory appeared. The earliest efforts by such as Robertson, Drews, Jensen and Smith were, from a modern point of view, less than perfect, lacking a comprehensive explanation for all aspects of the issue. Pre-Christian cults, astral religions, obscure parallels with foreign cultures, even the epic of Gilgamesh, went into a somewhat hodge-podge mix; many of them didn’t seem to know quite what to do with Paul. It wasn’t until the 1920s that Paul-Louis Couchoud in France offered a more coherent scenario, identifying Christ in the eyes of Paul as a spiritual being. (While not relying upon him, I would trace my type of thinking back to Couchoud, rather than the more recent G. A. Wells who, in my opinion, misread Paul’s understanding of Christ.)

More recently on this blog Earl Doherty stated in relation to this 1920’s French mythicist (again my emphasis):

Prior to Wells, the mythicist whose views were closest to my own was Paul-Louis Couchoud who wrote in the 1920s, though I took my own fresh run at the question and drew very little from Couchoud himself.

I have recently acquired a two volume English translation of Couchoud’s work titled The Creation of Christ: An Outline of the Beginnings of Christianity, translated by C. Bradlaugh Bonner and published 1939.

Today I did a very rough and dirty bodgie job of scanning the introductory chapters of this book and making them word-searchable. But if you are not a fuss-pot for perfection and are curious about how Couchoud opens his argument I share here the opening pages of this two volume work.  (more…)

2011/10/11

Is there a sceptic among the theologians?

Filed under: Historiography — Neil Godfrey @ 7:00 pm
Tags: ,

This afternoon I listened to an interview with some scientists and one vital message came through. Scientists are the biggest sceptics of the lot. A good scientist is always trying to disprove his own hypothesis or results. He wants to be the one to disprove his own thesis rather than having the embarrassment of someone else doing it. A story was told of an astronomer who gave a public lecture before hundreds of his peers explaining not how he had discovered planets around other suns but all the mistakes that led him to realize he had discovered nothing: he was given a standing ovation.

Interviewer: I don’t know if many theologians do that.

I have never heard a scientist warn a layperson against being “too sceptical” though I have heard the warning often from theologian-historians. (more…)

2011/09/04

“Rulers of this age” and the incompetence of the historicist case against mythicist arguments

It is a sad thing to see scholars who are doctors and associate professors and holders of chairs demonstrate a complete muddleheadedness and inability to grasp the simplest of logical arguments when attempting to gainsay mythicist challenges to the historical Jesus paradigm.

One such scholar continues to insist that Earl Doherty has constructed an argument from a false antithesis: t0 the best of my understanding — and I have asked the scholar many times to clarify his position — Doherty is said to argue that 1 Corinthians 2:6-8 must mean

  1. EITHER that earthly rulers killed Christ
  2. OR that demons themselves directly killed Christ
  3. so the possibility that the verse means demons influenced human rulers to do the dirty deed must be excluded. (more…)

2011/08/11

Even IF “according to the Scriptures” meant “according to what we read in the Scriptures” . . . .

Filed under: Uncategorized — Neil Godfrey @ 8:44 pm
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James McGrath appears to have conceded the possibility that Earl Doherty may (perhaps only theoretically) be right when he wrote:

Even if one granted that by “according to the Scriptures” Paul might have meant “according to what I have read in and derived from the Scriptures,” that would still not be incompatible with his understanding the Scriptures in questions as predictions of or applying to a historical Jesus

Not that McGrath believes for a minute that this is what Paul meant, since he later corrects any possible misunderstanding of his position by adding that the dominant view among biblical scholars is something else:

the dominant view, which is that the early Christians had persuaded themselves, wrongly of course, that the death and resurrection of Jesus were foreseen in Scripture, and that that is what Paul is referring to here.

[Since posting the above James McGrath has expressed concern that I misrepresented his stance, so to avoid any suspicion that I was implying McGrath holds a view he does not hold, let me repeat more prominently what I said just now: 

Not that McGrath believes for a minute that this is what Paul meant . . . .  ]

Surprisingly McGrath does not also explain that the first evidence that Christians came to think that Jesus’ death and resurrection were foreseen in the scriptures appears only quite some time after Paul wrote, and that the argument that Paul himself meant this is entirely an extrapolation from the mainstream model of Christian origins.

But anyway, I found Doherty’s response worth a read. What if Paul did mean to say that he learned about Christ from reading the Scriptures? Would this really impact the assumption that Jesus was historical and not entirely a figure understood through Scriptural revelation? (more…)

2011/07/18

Doherty’s Chapter 8 in outline & Review of McGrath’s review

11 am 18th July 2011, Revised the section “What the Chapter is about”

James McGrath begins his review of chapter 8 protesting that Doherty is placing a different interpretation on some known and agreed facts in order to argue a mythicist case.

The chapter gets several things right and mentions important information about the context of earliest Christianity – and yet consistently manages to interpret those details as leading to mythicism.

It sounds as if McGrath simply does not want Doherty reinterpreting anything at all in a way that can present a mythicist argument. But that is hardly a sound objection to what Doherty’s actual interpretations and arguments are.

Unfortunately McGrath does not specify which arguments or interpretations Doherty uses are faulty. In fact, as we have come to expect in these reviews, Doherty’s arguments are sidestepped. In their place McGrath reverts to pulling out arguments he has used against mythicism time and again even before reading Doherty’s book. Sometimes he claims to be informing readers of what Doherty argues, but in the following response I will quote passages from Doherty that belie McGrath’s portrayals of Doherty’s lines of reasoning. (more…)

2011/07/04

Demystifying R. Joseph Hoffmann, and the war over Bayes’ theorem

Some academic jargon is nothing more than the modern equivalent of a sorcerer’s mumbo jumbo — designed to awe while hiding the fact that there is really nothing meaningful on offer at all

Updated 5th July to add link to Richard Carrier's post taking Hoffmann to task.

R. Joseph Hoffmann has let a crotchety side to his nature show as he publicly attempts to humiliate a younger scholar who, in exchanges with the aging don, has exposed a dint of mediocrity in his intellect.

The casus belli is, at least on the surface, the place of Bayes’ theorem in historical Jesus studies.

Now Hoffmann’s writing is surely more renowned for its thick overlays of esoteric intellectual jargon and rhetoric than for its content. The reason is pure mathematics. More people can read his posts than can understand them. (Stanislav Andreski wrote that this sort of intellectual jargon as the modern equivalent of earlier efforts to bamboozle the uninitiated and impress the elite: various uses of medieval Latin, witch-doctor mumbo-jumbo, etc.)

But on the positive side, one does get a sense that he is thoroughly enjoying himself as he shows off his verbal wit, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Everyone has a right to enjoy themselves (or “oneself”, as I am sure the don would prefer me say).

But what the hell is he trying to say when he burgeons like a Baroque artist doing abstract?

I’m sure he won’t like any attempt at simplification, but then why would any biblical scholar be bothered with a blog like mine when the guild does not even consider it to be an honest discussion of the Bible and Christian origins anyway.

All Hoffmann means to say is that he thinks: (more…)

2011/06/01

Scholars addressing Jesus Myth studies: Richard Carrier’s reviews

Thanks to Richard Carrier for his review of Sources of the Jesus Tradition, and for his earlier coverage of the conference that preceded this book. Having read most of the book I can concur with many of Carrier’s assessments of its (very mixed) quality. R. Joseph Hoffmann, editor of the book, has written a response, and Carrier has in return replied to this. Ah, the refined art of academic throat slitting and knife twisting!

In the course of his review Carrier discusses conference papers that he deeply regrets were not included and that led me to catch up with his earlier blog post on the conference presentations themselves.

So I copy here excerpts of Carrier’s review highlighting the best of what appears in Sources, and collate additional information from his earlier post on contributions that I personally find the most interesting. The Trobisch and MacDonald reviews at the end of this post are my personal favourites. So the following will be redundant for those already familiar with Carrier’s blog and views.

But there is much I omit. I only include my favourite bits here. Do read the very extensive book review and the details of the conference papers as they were delivered.

Note the overlap between Gerd Lüdemann’s and Earl Doherty’s arguments about Paul’s writings, too. (more…)

2011/05/28

“Jesus Not A Myth”: A. D. Howell Smith’s Prefatory Note

Some who have been following the recent posts of selections from Jesus Not A Myth might find the following prefatory note by its author, A. D. Howell Smith, of interest.

Who is this guy and where is he coming from? The preface also offers glimpses of the range of mythicist authors of his day, and the types of refutations that were being published in English then (1899-1942).

Within perhaps the last twenty years the denial that Jesus ever existed has been changed from a paradox to almost a platitude for an increasing number of Rationalists, and occasionally a Christian of strong modernist leanings shows himself more or less sympathetic to it. (more…)

2011/05/27

Another Possible Interpolation Conceded by Historicists of Old (and a question of heavenly trees)

"The Seed of David" by Rossetti Llan...

"Seed of David" by Rosetti: Image by Martin Beek via Flickr

Once more into the fray with A. D. Howell Smith in his arguments against the Christ mythicists of his day. . . .

This time it is with a historicist’s concession that Romans 1:3 — the statement that Jesus was born of the seed of David — could well be part of a passage that was only later added to Paul’s original letter.

Here is what he writes on page 135 of Jesus Not A Myth (1942) with my own emphasis and formatting:

Couchoud follows Rylands and other Mythicists in regarding the Crucifixion as a mystical and transcendental event. The Christ is slain by the “Archons” in some sub-celestial, but super-terrestrial, region.

Most careful readers of Paul’s Epistles will consider this view of his teaching as grotesque. Couchoud makes Paul a Docetist, one who believed that the body of Jesus was not of flesh, but only appeared to be so.

The phrase “born of the seed of David according to the flesh” (Rom. i, 3) may well be an interpolation, as it is part of a long, clumsy sentence, which is suspiciously overloaded with phrases that seem to be dragged in for polemic purposes. . . . . (more…)

Another way to argue against mythicism

Filed under: Howell Smith: Jesus Not Myth,Paul and his letters — Neil Godfrey @ 9:43 am
Tags: , ,

Here’s another little gem from of Jesus Not A Myth by A. D. Howell Smith (1942). Recall from my previous post that he is arguing against mythicism. It is refreshing to see someone tackle the arguments seriously and with respect for both the persons and the arguments of the mythicists of his day.

Howell Smith is addressing Couchoud’s interpretation of Philippians 2:5-11, in particular in this passage verses 9-10:

 9. Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name,
10. that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow

Of Couchoud’s argument Howell-Smith writes: (more…)

2011/04/28

“Jesus Potter Harry Christ” review, part 3: Where’s the Proof?

Filed under: Murphy: Jesus Pott Harry Chr — Neil Godfrey @ 10:39 pm
Tags: , ,

All posts in this series are collated here.

Chapter three of Derek Murphy’s book, Jesus Potter Harry Christ, discusses the evidence commonly cited for the historical existence of Jesus. In his view the arguments used to support the historicity of Jesus

are often a mixture of inferences, deductions and references to common knowledge and unfounded associations. (p. 68)

He uses Lee Strobel’s claims for “overwhelming evidence” for Jesus’ existence as his foil, beginning with the claim that gospels such as that of Luke are “so painstakingly accurate” in their historical details. Murphy knocks this argument out flat by comparing the many researched minute details and accurate facts in the tales of Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code and Rowling’s Harry Potter.

Other common arguments are addressed and refuted with reference both to the facts of the historical record and the logic of the claims themselves: (more…)

2011/04/26

Earl Doherty’s concluding responses to James McGrath’s Menu of Answers for Mythicists

This is the final installment of Earl Doherty’s responses to James McGrath’s Menu of Answers for Mythicists. The previous two posts in this series are at

  1. Earl Doherty’s Antidotes for a James McGrath Menu
  2. Continuing Earl Doherty’s Antidotes . . . 7 to 12

This post completes Earl’s responses up to McGrath’s menu item #23.

Menu Entrée #13:

“If, as Earl Doherty suggests, the ‘life’ and ‘death’ of Jesus occurred completely in a celestial realm, is the same true of the recipients of Ephesians?”

Something went awry in the preparation of this dish. Has there been any implication that the recipients of Ephesians are said to operate in a celestial realm? In any case, the comparison seems a pointless one. Locating the Ephesians and their struggle with the demons (6:12) as taking place on earth does nothing to prove the location of their Christ’s redeeming death, since the demons operated both on earth and in the heavens. And Ephesians is one of those documents which shows not the slightest sign of an historical Jesus in the background of the writer’s thought, not even in regard to traditions about healing miracles performed by Jesus on earth which would have demonstrated his power over the demons, an issue which would have been of key significance to the Ephesians community. (more…)

2011/04/24

Continuing Earl Doherty’s antidotes for James McGrath’s Menu Items 7 to 12

This post is a continuation of Earl Doherty’s responses to James McGrath’s Menu of Answers to Mythicists. The first installment, items 1 to 6, was posted here. Earl Doherty continues with menu item #7, preceding each of his responses with McGrath’s description in bold italics.

Menu Entrée #7:

“Demonstrating the likelihood that someone existed means showing there are good reasons to think that he did, not that it is impossible for anyone to construct a scenario in which it might have been otherwise. Historical study offers probabilities, not absolute certainties.”

Let’s break down this entrée and do a taste test on its ingredients:

(1) Demonstrating the likelihood that someone existed requires showing that there are good reasons for thinking so.

(2) Demonstrating the likelihood that someone existed does not require showing that no scenarios are possible which could suggest that he did not.

(3) The implication is that this particular historical study is able to demonstrate that No. 1 can be shown to be more probable than any counter scenario envisioned in No. 2. (more…)

2011/04/23

Earl Doherty’s Antidotes for a James McGrath Menu.

Alka Seltzer Plus packaging and tablet

Image via Wikipedia

Earl Doherty has visited James McGrath’s Matrix Restaurant and sampled for himself all 23 items offered on his Menu of Answers for Mythicists. Here is the first part of Earl’s complete culinary report on his experience along with tips for other prospective diners.

Herewith a response to Jim McGrath’s blog feature A Menu of Answers to Mythicists

Dr. Jim McGrath has kindly offered historicists who visit his Matrix restaurant a handy “Menu of Answers” to arguments and claims put forward by mythicists. With his white napkin of pre-washed orthodoxy draped securely over his forearm, waiter McGrath hands diners his menu and wishes them “bon appetit.” The problem is, the entrées on this menu as often as not produce indigestion, since they have not been properly cooked with reason at fallacy-killing temperatures, seasoned with critical acumen or sautéed in clarity, and the accompanying beverage list offers only the cheaper vintages of biased brews. So I would like to offer a selection of antidotes, guaranteed to restore equilibrium to the digestive system and a measure of rationality to the world outside his establishment, since at the end of the day we all have to return to it.

Menu Entrée #1:

Jesus and Entrées at other Establishments (more…)

2011/04/02

Interview with Earl Doherty

I asked Earl Doherty a few questions about his background and what led him to his Christ myth views; his understanding of the relationship between atheism and mythicism, and atheism in genera; influences leading to his own distinctive views and public/scholarly reactions to the mythicism, and towards him personally; his place in the history of the Christ myth idea and what he sees as the future status of Christ-mythicism. I also asked him about his website and books, including his novel.

His responses address other mythicists such as G. A. Wells and Paul-Louis Couchoud, a few mythicism’s current critics, and his views on American novelist Vardis Fisher. (The name of this blog, Vridar, is taken from the autobiographical character in Vardis Fisher’s final novel in his Testament of Man series, Orphans in Gethsemane.)

I am sure others will find his replies as interesting as I did.

And a special thanks to Earl for making time to respond as he did. I include a link to his Age of Reason and Jesus Puzzle websites at the end of his responses to my questions.

————-

1. What led to your interest in the Christ myth theory?

Earl D: In 1982 I read a couple of books by G. A. Wells, and I was quite taken aback. While I had vaguely heard of the ‘no historical Jesus’ idea during the 1970s, I tended to regard it as unlikely. Not, however, based on any particular knowledge of the subject. But that has enabled me to understand the automatic dismissal which the Christ myth theory usually receives from those who really know very little about it. In 1984, after finishing a novel I had been working on for some time, I began to read more widely, and soon decided I would undertake my own research of the question, perhaps with a view to writing my own book. While I have a high respect for Prof. Wells, I felt that the subject could use a different approach. Fortunately, I had studied ancient Greek in university during the 1960s, as part of a degree in ancient history and classical languages. I could build on that earlier education and supplement it with my own private study. Before long, I guess you could say it became an obsession. (more…)

2011/03/18

Jesus Potter, Harry Christ

I regularly argue on this blog for an appreciation of the literary nature of the leading characters, episodes and narrative structures in the canonical gospels. So I am looking forward to reading and reviewing Derek Murphy’s Jesus Potter, Harry Christ. My initial response to reading the title was that this was a joke of some sort. But I encourage anyone interested in the gospels and Jesus as literature to read the content below and see that it  does seek to be a serious contribution to an understanding of the literary and mythical character of Jesus.

Neither is this a slur against Christianity. The author  rightly explains that the fictional nature of characters does not detract from the positive influence that character can have on those who love them. The author also answers pertinent questions about his rationale for writing such a book, the status, history and grounds of Jesus-mythicism. I will introduce some of this discussion from the author’s perspective in this post.

I particularly like the main idea of this book: Our question then is not whether Jesus Christ existed, but whether the literary character recorded in the New Testament was primarily inspired by a historical figure or previous literary traditions and characters.

Not having yet read the book I can only present here material from the author. It certainly sounds like a different approach to the question of the origins of the Christ-myth, and though some details sound a bit strange I am certainly interested in reading and evaluating the arguments.

This post offers

  1. an overview of the book,
  2. an author’s identity statement,
  3. an interview with the author,
  4. a press release,
  5. FAQs and links to online answers to FAQs about the book,
  6. the book’s concept, how the book came about and a letter from the author,
  7. and a link to several chapters that can be downloaded gratis.

(more…)

2011/02/16

Quixie on Mythicism #1 – Idea Non Grata

Filed under: Uncategorized — Neil Godfrey @ 7:41 pm
Tags:
Leo Quix has an interesting post discussing the current (and historical) reception of the idea that Jesus was not a historical figure.

Quixie on Mythicism #1 – Idea Non Grata

It sums up pretty much the main point about mythicism per se that I have attempted to express here on this blog. Leo Quix also discusses the phenomenon of the “new mythicists” on the internet in within the broader context of mythicism. It’s a good read.

 

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2011/02/01

Earl Doherty Responds

Filed under: Doherty: Jesus God nor Man — Neil Godfrey @ 5:29 am
Tags: , ,

Earl Doherty has begun his detailed response to GakuseiDon’s review of Earl Doherty’s new book. His responses are being posted on the Freeratio discussion board here, and when complete will appear on his own Jesus Puzzle website:

Doherty’s Response to GDon’s Review of Jesus: Neither God Nor Man

 


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2011/01/31

Respecting the honesty of conservative historical Jesus scholarship

1913 Reinhardt College Bible Study Class
Image via Wikipedia

I have been catching up with two conservative historical Jesus scholars and once again I find their honest perspectives about their historical methods refreshing.

Luke Timothy Johnson in The Real Jesus: The Misguided Quest for the Historical Jesus and the Truth of the Traditional Gospels is quite upfront with stating the obvious: the historical Jesus model does not work as an explanation for the start of Christianity unless, at minimum, there really were a series of resurrection appearances to a widespread number of witnesses. (Or you could just read the subtitle if you were in a real hurry to know his views.)

To try to suggest that the religion took off light bolt lightning around the Mediterranean world because one or a few disciples had inner-experiences that convinced them that Jesus was still somehow “alive and with them” in a mysterious way just does not cut it.

And if Christianity began with a string of real resurrection appearances then its origins are completely beyond the norms post Enlightenment historical methodology. It is beyond secular historical inquiry.

Here are the words of LTJ (with my emphasis): (more…)

2011/01/26

How a biblical scholar uses sleight of hand to argue against mythicism

McGrath has linked to my post critiquing his comments on the Christ myth proposition and managed to avoid totally the whole point of my post — and the whole point of the particular quotation from Hobsbawm in question. But that is the normal way he “responds” to such critiques.

He also seeks to imply that those who use this quotation are ignorant of Hobsbawm’s arguments and are misrepresenting them, and he does this be showing he has at last got his hands on a copy of a book in which the quote does not appear, even though I have often cited the source of the quotation on my blog.

I have regularly cited the source: From p.24 of A Contra Corriente: a Journal on Social History and Literature in Latin America (2004). That is not easy to locate anymore, but the article is now available in pdf format at http://www.ncsu.edu/project/acontracorriente/spring_04/Slatta.pdf. (McGrath has asked more than once for evidence and sources (purportedly) to help him understand how nonbiblical historians work, and I have given him sources several times but he seems not to have followed them up.)

McGrath has completely sidestepped the whole point of the quotation and of my previous post, which is the importance of independent evidence for uncovering historicity of narratives.

“In no case can we infer the reality of any specific ’social bandit’ merely from the ‘myth’ that has grown up around him. In all cases we need independent evidence of his actions.”

It is instructive that McGrath originally elicited this quotation from one of his commenters by asking point blank:

Evan, Perhaps you can clarify, with reference to historians and historical methodology, how you are using the term “fact.”

Evan then responded with the quotation (and some others) along with his explanation in direct answer to McGrath’s request to clarify what he meant — with reference to historians and historical methodology — how he was using the word “fact”

Unfortunately, McGrath appears to have become derailed at the Evan’s cogent response as requested, and turned on him for “quote mining” and ripping words out of context.

But the quotation was not out of context. It explained exactly how Evan was using the term “fact”, and he did so with reference, as requested, to historians and historical methodology.

First time round McGrath dismissed Hobsbawm’s quote as a commie plot!

McGrath has had a hard time with Hobsbawm. When I first presented his words to him he responded that they were not reliable because they were part of a communist plot to re-write history.

Second, it seems that your quote from Hobsbawm indicates once again that, unless you have some sort of evidence other than texts, you are unwilling to entertain the possibility that a text bears some relationship to historical events. You (and Hobsbawm) are free to adopt this approach, of course, but might Hobsbawm’s desire to rewrite the legacy of Communism suggest that his statement has more to do with ideology than mainstream historiography?

Note also that even then McGrath misused the quotation erroneously thinking that it was arguing that one needed “evidence other than texts” to verify historical facts. I had made no such argument at all, and Hobsbawm was certainly not arguing that. Yet that is how McGrath chose to use the quote.

Now that these words have resurfaced on his own blog he has once again used sleight of hand to misuse them. Just as he earlier attempted to argue that Hobsbawm was arguing a position neither he nor I ever suggested, he now uses the quotation to argue that they say something far less than they actually do. He has a hard time with reading its last sentence: In all cases we need independent evidence of his actions.

And that is exactly what we lack in the case of the actions of Jesus. Even his existence is, by the same standards, theoretically open to question, as Albert Schweitzer himself pointed out:

[A]ll the reports about [Jesus] go back to the one source of tradition, early Christianity itself, and there are no data available in Jewish or Gentile secular history which could be used as controls. Thus the degree of certainty cannot even be raised so high as positive probability. (Schweitzer, Quest, p.402)

And that could be why McGrath is clearly determined to get rid of this Hobsbawm quote by any trick in the book, fair or foul, he can find.

To cap off the McGrath’s misapplication of Hobsbawm’s methods, he even compares Hobsbawm’s work with biblical scholar Dale Allison’s on the historical Jesus. Allison, as I showed in a recent post, has the honesty to recognize the circularity of methods used in historical Jesus studies. Will McGrath suggest Hobsbawm’s requirement for independent evidence means that his work is also grounded in circularity? It is, of course, only by means of independent evidence that one can escape circularity.

I discussed this in my previous post about how we can know anyone existed in ancient times, and what is meant by “independent” evidence.

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2011/01/25

More charlantry from a biblical professor on mythicism

Filed under: Uncategorized — Neil Godfrey @ 10:09 pm
Tags: , , ,

char·la·tan (shärl-tn)

n.

A person fraudulently claiming knowledge and skills not possessed.

Source: http://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/Charlantry

Theologian James McGrath is once again exposing his ignorance — and peddling public ignorance in the process — of both Jesus-mythicism and of the gulf between biblical studies and nonbiblical mainstream historical methods.

His latest foray as far as I am aware is found in his discussion professing to explain what “mythicism” has to say about 1 Corinthians 11:23-26. This is where Paul writes some instructions about the observance of the Lord’s Supper.

The first flag McGrath waves to declare his ignorance of mythicism is when he writes:

What mythicism does with 1 Corinthians 11 is, on the one hand, refuse to allow the slightly later Gospel of Mark to shed light on it, while on the other hand, posits that Paul is referring to a heavenly occurrence in a mythical realm. (more…)

2011/01/22

Why did opponents of Christianity not declare Jesus was a myth?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Neil Godfrey @ 7:21 pm
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Starting to catch up here with a few comments or queries that have bypassed the blog because they don’t quite fit to a post of mine. Here’s one:

But I want to ask a question from the opposite angle, but one that also concerns a conspicuous absence.  We have to at least admit that Christianity was growing rapidly in the first three centuries CE, and after the first few generations of conspirators (that constructed a would-be Christ myth), we know that the growing movement in the 2nd and 3rd centuries believed in the historicity and resurrection account of Jesus.

So if at least that much is true…

WHY didn’t numerous 2nd and 3rd century Jews debunk the gospel/resurrection story in writing?  I can find no evidence of such writings from the Jews…rather the writings that we do see argue against Jesus being the Messiah on theological grounds, not historical or forensic ones.  If in fact the lack of historicity was so clear (and I dare say it would have been clearer then than now, since the mythology hadn’t had time to snowball down the hill of history and gain momentum), why not point it out with volumes of refutation?

The dates we assign to the canonical gospels and epistles attributed to Paul lay outside the purview of this question.  The only critical element we need to raise the question is the known growth of the Christian movement, not the dates of individual texts within that movement.

If there’s a complete lack of historicity, why didn’t the non-adherents snuff out the Jesus fire before it got too large to be challenged by straightforward historical evidence?

I’ve seen a cogent answer to this question by Earl Doherty somewhere but I cannot locate it at the moment.

C. J. O’Brien recently gave his take on the question. Here is mine. . . . (more…)

2010/12/31

That Curious Criterion Guiding Historical Jesus Scholarship

Sherlock Holmes
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Let’s close 2010 with a wonderful New Yorker article from May this year. It is a cleverly written discussion of the state of Historical Jesus studies by Adam Gopnik, What Did Jesus Do? Reading and Unreading the Gospels. One might even suggest that Gopnik demonstrates the ability of complete outsiders to see how starkly naked is the emperor of historical Jesus studies. I quote the opening paragraph and highlight some key points.

When we meet Jesus of Nazareth at the beginning of the Gospel of Mark, almost surely the oldest of the four, he’s a full-grown man. He comes down from Galilee, meets John, an ascetic desert hermit who lives on locusts and wild honey, and is baptized by him in the River Jordan. If one thing seems nearly certain to the people who read and study the Gospels for a living, it’s that this really happened: John the Baptizer—as some like to call him, to give a better sense of the original Greek’s flat-footed active form—baptized Jesus. They believe it because it seems so unlikely, so at odds with the idea that Jesus always played the star in his own show: why would anyone have said it if it weren’t true? This curious criterion governs historical criticism of Gospel texts: the more improbable or “difficult” an episode or remark is, the likelier it is to be a true record, on the assumption that you would edit out all the weird stuff if you could, and keep it in only because the tradition is so strong that it can’t plausibly be excluded. If Jesus says something nice, then someone is probably saying it for him; if he says something nasty, then probably he really did.

The article even proceeds to compare the scholarly search for the historical Jesus with an imaginary search for, — wait for it — the “historical” Sherlock Holmes or Superman! Now where have readers of this blog’s commenters ever heard such comparisons before, I wonder. (more…)

2010/12/21

Crossan’s absolute certainty in the historicity of Christ Crucified

Filed under: Historiography — Neil Godfrey @ 11:07 pm
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Christ crucified from the "Pigliata"...
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I take it absolutely for granted Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate. Security about the fact of the crucifixion derives not only from the unlikelihood that Christians would have invented it but also from the existence of two early and independent non-Christian witnesses to it, a Jewish one from 93-94 C.E. and a Roman one from the 110s or 120s C.E. (p. 372 of The Historical Jesus)

That last “but also” part of Crossan’s sentence addresses the only way we can have any certainty about the past: independent evidence, external controls.

Here Crossan goes beyond the usual subjective assertion that Christians would not have made up the story. Here he acknowledges the primary importance of independent corroboration.

This is good. It is exactly what nonbiblical historians do. They work with verifiable facts. Their task is to interpret verifiable facts and explain the known “facts” of history. (Historical Jesus scholars usually busy themselves trying to find what some facts are. Was Jesus a revolutionary or a rabbi? Did he or did he not “cleanse” the Temple? If there are no verifiable facts then they don’t do the history.)

Everything we need to know we learned as children

I have discussed this in some depth in my Historical Facts and Contrasting Methods posts. It’s a simple truism that most of us learned from our parents, read in the Bible, and that carries right through to normative history and modern day journalism — Don’t believe every word you are told. Check the facts. Test what you hear. (more…)

2010/12/12

Jesus vs Julius Caesar

Zerowing21 has posted on the evidence for Julius Caesar crossing the Rubicon compared with the evidence for Jesus. Specifically . . . .

Christian apologist Douglas Geivett’s claim that the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection meets “the highest standards of historical inquiry,” and is as certain as Julius Caesar’s crossing of the Rubicon in 49 B.C.E.

N. T. Wright might agree with that. But read the blog post for an excellent run down of the sorts of evidence historians work with as opposed to theologians who think they are historians.

The blog post begins with a few links to other sites that will interest some who read this:

I know, some will instinctively respond with some quip that Jesus wasn’t a great political figure so we can’t expect the same evidence for him as for the other JC.  Exactly, but what some such instinctive respondents want to do is change the rules to allow us to use different material as “evidence” so we can write just as much about Jesus with the same assurance. They want to change the rules, that is. But real historians do not change the rules. What they do is change the scope of their inquiries. That is why you will find most books on ancient history covering broad sweeps of civilization or political and social developments. There are fewer exhaustive biographies than can be, and are, written for persons who dot later historical periods.

 

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2010/11/11

Maurice Casey on the Christ Myth–Historical Jesus divide

The stated purpose of Maurice Casey’s book Jesus of Nazareth is “to engage with the historical Jesus from the perspective of an independent historian.” Casey explains what he means by his independence:  “I do not belong to any religious group or anti-religious group. I try to . . . establish historically valid conclusions. I depend on the best work done by many other scholars, regardless of their ideological affiliation.” (p. 2)

For Casey, the only correct interpretation of Jesus is one which explains Jesus within a thoroughly Jewish matrix. This means he in fact begins with the assumption that there is an historical Jesus to place within that matrix. He would disagree with that and argue that his book proves the existence of such a figure. On page 43 he writes of “people who deny Jesus’ existence” that

the whole of this book is required to refute them.

This brings to mind the frequent claims of one of another independent scholar who once quite regularly left a similar comment on this blog, saying that a whole book would be required to refute mythicism. Unfortunately, when a scholar says that his book is a refutation of mythicism, one is likely to find that the arguments of mythicists are avoided rather than refuted. I will return to this point.

Casey’s assertion that only a thoroughly Jewish Jesus is a correct Jesus means that for him many publications about the historical Jesus have missed the mark:

The vast majority of scholars have belonged to the Christian faith, and their portrayals of Jesus have consequently not been Jewish enough. Most other writers on Jesus have been concerned to rebel against the Christian faith, rather than to recover the Jewish figure who was central to Christianity in its earliest period. (p. 3, my emphasis) (more…)

2010/11/05

“An important piece of non-Christian evidence” for the historicity of Jesus

Filed under: Casey: Jesus of Nazareth,Testimonium Flavianum — Neil Godfrey @ 12:35 am
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This post raises reasons to challenge “the usual scholarly view” most recently asserted by Maurice Casey in his new book, Jesus of Nazareth, that Josephus wrote a short passage about Jesus. I show that contrary to “the usual scholarly view” in general, and contrary to Casey’s assertions in particular, there is evidence to justify the view that Josephus wrote nothing about Jesus, and that the passage about Jesus in Josephus is a complete Christian forgery.

The passage about Jesus appears in a book by a Jewish historian written around 90 CE. The historian is Josephus, and his book, Antiquities of the Jews, is a history of the Jews from the beginnings of the biblical story right through to the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 70 CE.

The passage begins:

At this time there lived one Jesus, a wise man . . . .

It concludes:

And the tribe of the Christians . . . has not died out to this day. (more…)

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