Vridar

2013/01/23

Thomas L. Brodie: Two Core Problems with Historical Jesus Arguments

brodieBeyondNow seems an appropriate time to say something significant about Brodie’s arguments. I quote here sections from his now infamous book that The Irish Times reported as “caused quite a stir and some considerable upset”, Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus. (I don’t know. From what I hear from the likes of lots of mythicist critics, Brodie should have attempted to publish his views in a scholarly peer reviewed journal if he thought he could mount a serious argument. He would have been guaranteed a fair hearing then, wouldn’t he?)

I was expelled by my church for going public with critical questioning and giving others materials to help them do the same, so I think I understand a little of what Brodie is experiencing. It is a nice coincidence that we appear to have come to a conjunction of views on Gospel origins despite our divergent scholarly statuses.

In chapter 17 Brodie addresses the four volume work by another Catholic priest, John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew. I select here two core criticisms by Brodie that resonate with me because

  • (1) they address what is fundamentally wrong with most books on the historical Jesus;
  • and (2) they have also been basic to many of my own discussions of the Gospels as historical sources.

Brodie writes, beginning page 156 (my formatting and bolding):

Marginal Jew has two key problems. First, like many other studies, it uses an unreal compass — oral tradition.

By relying unduly on form critics . . . it assumes that the Gospels are something that they are not, namely, that they reflect oral traditions that go back to Jesus, back to about the year 30 C.E. (Marginal Jew, I. 41). (more…)

2012/12/17

Carrier-Goodacre (part 2) on the Historicity of Jesus

Continuing from the previous post: The Carrier-Goodacre Exchange (Part 1) on the Historicity of Jesus.

I have typed out the gist of the arguments for and against the historicity of Jesus as argued by Richard Carrier (RC) and Mark Goodacre (MG) on Unbelievable, a program hosted by Justin Brierley (JB) on Premier Christian Radio. My own comments are in side boxes.

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JB: The main sticking point so far — for MG, the references in Paul cannot be attributed to him believing in an entirely celestial being in a heavenly realm. So many (even throw-away) references in Paul seem to reference historical people who knew Jesus. But RC is adamant that all these references can be seen through the mythicist lens as references to a purely spiritual, heavenly Jesus.

RC: Yes. Paul, for example, never says Peter met Jesus. Peter came first. That was the problem. The other apostles had prior authority to Paul.

* This point was never developed: given the wider usages and context of this phrase it informs us that Paul’s knowledge of the death and resurrection comes from the scriptures. Revelation followed this scriptural instruction — not historical acquaintance with Jesus.

Peter was thus the first, but the first what? He was the first to receive a revelation. 1 Corinthians 15 thus says Jesus according to the scriptures* died and rose again and he was THEN seen by Peter and the others. There is no reference to them seeing him before he died. No reference to them being with him, chosen by him, etc. (The issue of Peter seeing and knowing Jesus personally never surfaces in their debates.)

MG: But Paul is talking about resurrection there, so of course he’s not talking about other things. “But what we have to do as historians is to look at what people give away in passing. And what he gives away in passing there is his knowledge of an early Christian movement focused on someone who died.” And then there are the other characters who appear elsewhere in Paul’s epistles whom Paul has personal conversations with in Jerusalem.

RC: Yes, these are the first apostles. These are the first to receive the revelations of the Jesus according to the myth theory.

There is no clear case where Paul gives the answer either way – – –

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JB: If I was reading Paul without ever having read the Gospels, would I come away thinking Paul was talking of a heavenly Jesus? It strikes JB that there was enough to make one think there was something that happened in real life. (more…)

2012/11/23

Why Some Scholars Accept the Independence of John’s Gospel

Filed under: Gospel of John — Tim Widowfield @ 4:25 pm
Tags: ,

Recently, while reading Dwight Moody Smith’s John Among the Gospels, I came upon a reference to an interesting book by Hans Windisch. Long out of print and never translated into English, Windisch’s seminal work, Johannes und die Synoptiker (John and the Synoptics: Did the Fourth Evangelist Want to Complement or Replace the Older Gospels? [1926]), stands as one of the earliest and most complete arguments for the Displacement theory. It’s odd that so many important critical twentieth-century works from the continent either never made it into English or were translated decades later.

Hans Windisch (1881-1935)

I’ve ordered Windisch’s book and expect it to arrive in a few days. In the meantime, I’ve been scouring the web for references to Windisch and the Displacement theory, hoping to find out more. This search has led me to several other promising titles. For example, Steven A. Hunt’s Rewriting the Feeding of the Five Thousand, a recently published book that merits consideration (were it not for its astonishingly high price tag), explores the ways in which the fourth evangelist re-imagined the well-known picnic pericope.

The road to independence

Both Moody’s and Hunt’s works recapitulate the history of scholarship regarding John’s relationship to the Synoptics. Moody, of course, has much more detail; in fact Hunt cheerfully acknowledges Moody in his introductory chapter. Traditionally, of course, Christian scholars had espoused the Supplementation theory — the idea that John knew the three earlier gospels and merely intended to add to them. Beginning with Reimarus, scholars began to view only the Synoptics as containing useful historical information, while John represented a wholly theological work written by the early church “from faith to faith.”

Hence, John became thought of as independent of the Synoptics, but essentially not historical. Early in the twentieth century scholars, especially C.H. Dodd, turned the Independence theory on its head. Yes, John is independent, they said; however the fourth evangelist’s independence of the Synoptics proves the author relied on a different, separate, authentic historical tradition.

(more…)

2012/09/27

The Rise and Fall of Criteria in Jesus Studies: Chapter 1 of Jesus, Criteria, and the Demise of Authenticity

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The above exchange is the message of Chris Keith’s opening chapter of Jesus, Criteria, and the Demise of Authenticity. My “idiot’s guide” is a tad unfair to Käsemann, however, since he did have willing accomplices and Keith mentions Norman Perrin and Reginald H. Fuller as guilty of formalizing more criteria of authenticity. The above may also be unfair to Morna D. Hooker whose arguments Chris Keith is supporting. But this post is about what I see as the good, the interesting and the missed opportunity in Keith’s chapter, so he gets the starring role above.

The title of this chapter is “The Indebtedness of the Criteria Approach to Form Criticism and Recent Attempts to Rehabilitate the Search for an Authentic Jesus”.

In the first part of this chapter Keith shows how the criteria used by historical Jesus scholars (criteria of embarrassment, of multiple attestation, of coherence, of dissimilarity, etc.)

  • originated as a tool for form criticism;
  • rely upon the discredited form-critical assumption that it is possible to distill pre-literary traditions from theological narratives of the Gospels;
  • were designed to identify pre-gospel oral traditions, not actual history (or historical persons) behind those traditions.

After discussing this and briefly the second part of this chapter I will conclude with a return to Anthony Le Donne’s arguments for “triangulation” and “memory refraction”, this time with another critic’s more positive evaluation, than I raised in a recent post.

But before getting into the detail of the chapter here is my explanation of the “cartoon” above: (more…)

2012/09/20

Historical Jesus Studies ARE Different Methodologically From Other Historical Studies

Well, well, well. After all of Dr James McGrath’s attempts to tell everyone that historical Jesus scholars use the same methods as any other historians, and that I was merely some sort of bigoted idiot for saying otherwise, what do I happen to run across while serendipitously skimming my newly arrived Jesus, Criteria, and the Demise of Authenticity? This:

Jens Schröter

The idea of formulating certain “criteria” for an evaluation of historical sources is a peculiar phenomenon in historical critical Jesus research. It was established in the course of the twentieth century as a consequence of the form-critical idea of dividing Jesus accounts of the Gospels into isolated parts of tradition, which would be examined individually with regard to their authenticity.

Such a perspective was not known to the Jesus research of the nineteenth century and it does not, to my knowledge, appear in other strands of historical research.

In analysing historical material scholars would usually ask for their origin and character, their tendencies in delineating events from the past, evaluate their principal credibility — for example, whether it is a forgery or a reliable source — and use them together with other sources to develop a plausible image of the concerned period of history. (pp. 51-52, my formatting, underlining and bolding)

That’s by Jens Schröter, Chair and Professor of Exegesis and Theology of the New Testament and New Testament Apocrypha at the Humboldt University.

But don’t misunderstand. Jens Schröter does understand why this difference has arisen and explains his view of the reason. Historical Jesus studies have traditionally been necessarily different because the earliest sources about Jesus’ life (the Gospels) are theological narratives, and as a consequence,

historical data are interwoven with quotations from Scriptures of Israel, early Christian confessions, and secondary elaborations of earlier traditions . . . It has been argued that the faith of earliest Christianity has imposed its character on the historical data and must therefore be distinguished from Jesus’ word and deeds themselves.

It is at this point that Schröter sees historical Jesus studies as having jumped the rails. What has happened is that HJ scholars have taken this starting point as a rationale for trying to locate a more authentic event or saying that lies behind the Gospel narratives. That is not how other historical studies work. (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…)

2012/07/26

Larry Hurtado’s Wearying Historical Jesus Question

Filed under: Historical sources,Larry Hurtado — Neil Godfrey @ 8:36 am
Tags: ,

Don’t get me wrong. I have found many worthwhile nuggets in the publications of Larry Hurtado. I find some of the analysis and conclusions in his “How On Earth Did Jesus Become A God?” very insightful. If I see his name in a contribution or bibliography I generally take notice and follow up. If I ever met Larry in person I would very much hope we could shake hands and enjoy a stimulating discussion. I have no doubts he could teach me much.

So let anyone who broadcasts some nonsense about my supposedly “hating scholars” please take a valium or step outside and water your garden.

And what’s more, I find myself in total sympathy with his weary plight when he writes (only a day or two ago):

The shape of Earth as envisioned by Samuel Row...

The shape of Earth as envisioned by Samuel Rowbotham. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So in one sense I think I’m not alone in feeling that to show the ill-informed and illogical nature of the current wave of “mythicist” proponents is a bit like having to demonstrate that the earth isn’t flat, or that the sun doesn’t revolve around the earth, or that the moon-landings weren’t done on a movie lot. It’s a bit wearying to contemplate!

Hurtado, I have no doubt, believes sincerely that “the current wave of ‘mythicist’ proponents” is “ill informed and illogical”. According to his post his only acquaintance with mythicist arguments is an eighty-year old book opposing mythicism. It is the most natural thing in the world for him to accept that this book, in 1938 published by the Student ChristianMission Press, would in a cordial and Christian manner give readers a full grasp of the basis of mythicist arguments and with good grace and irrefutable logic and undeniable evidence tear those arguments apart limb by hapless limb.

And he cannot imagine today’s mythicists being any better informed or logical because, to him, the very denial of the historical existence of Jesus is akin to denying the earth is round, the earth orbits the sun, or the moon landings really happened.

And that’s the problem! (more…)

2012/07/14

The crazy attacks on Vridar

Filed under: The Jesus Process — Neil Godfrey @ 7:10 am
Tags: , ,
Updated and slightly revised about 3 hours after original posting.

This is crazy. A couple of blokes, laymen, have a hobby. They love to engage with biblical scholarly literature and to learn and understand all they can about a book that is important to Western culture. They enjoy sharing what they read with others who have similar interests. I always understood scholars were too busy to be bothered with whatever lay people did with any of their ideas. Who cares what every Trish, Dot and Hanna think and say?

So why do a few scholars sometimes go out of their way to publicly attack this blog? Why the insults and even the curses wishing our children dead (which even their students learn to repeat*)?

Why should anyone care if we — or anyone else — think Jesus was probably not historical or if we say we can’t decide one way or the other on the question? How can we explain scholars resorting to insult because we are less certain and more questioning about some details?

I have said repeatedly that my interest is not in mythicism per se but in exploring Christian origins and understanding the nature and origins of the biblical literature. I cannot prove Jesus did not exist and have no interest in bothering to try.

I am as much, and no more, a mythicist as is Professor Thomas L. Thompson. Thompson does not argue for or against the historicity of Jesus but he does argue a case for understanding the biblical literature and the ideas within it in a certain way, and he does from time to time point to the potential implications this understanding has for the question of the historicity of Jesus.

My arguments about methodology are for most part an application of Thompson’s and other minimalist scholars logic to the New Testament.

Accordingly I have questioned the fundamental assumptions of NT scholarship that addresses the historical Jesus and Christian origins. I have also pointed out the logical fallacies riddling many of those scholarly studies.

But I have also shared much of what I have found most interesting in those learned works.

I — and even moreso Tim — have spent a good amount of time learning the fundamentals of the biblical languages, using the standard scholarly references, and attempting to keep up with current ideas as well as digging into those of the past. It’s a hobby. But we are serious about it and love to share what we learn or wonder about.


We stand outside the guild. We have not been trained in the “correct answers” and “the right questions” to ask or the “correct way” to frame the discussions.

One sometimes wonders if it’s because we have done a little homework and have a fair idea of what we are talking about when we apply critical analysis to certain modern scholarly ideas that some scholars find our views threatening. We stand outside the guild. We have not been trained in the “correct thoughts” and “the right questions to ask”. It has not escaped our notice the way some scholars seem incapable of breaking away from stock phrases and concepts in their arguments and appear to be most uncomfortable with criticisms that undermine those taken-for-granted ways of expressing the arguments and framing the debates.

Enter mythicism

If we question the foundational assumptions and standard “logic” of some NT scholarship, what is left? What would replace it? (more…)

2012/06/15

Why many historical Jesus Scholars NEED John to Baptize Jesus

Baptism of Jesus, Bordone, Giotto 1276-1336

Baptism of Jesus, Bordone, Giotto 1276-1336 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Associate Professor of New Testament Leif E. Vaage argues that New Testament scholars have no valid reasons for believing that John the Baptist really did baptize Jesus. (Vaage, let the reader understand, is by no means denying the historicity of Jesus himself.)

Vaage argues that the author of the Gospel of Mark invented the entire scene of Jesus’ baptism. I am keen to post his reasons for this conclusion. Some of them overlap with suggestions I have advanced in earlier posts on this blog. This post, however, will outline only what Vaage sees as the flaws in the widely held belief that John historically baptized Jesus.

In his chapter “Bird-watching at the Baptism of Jesus: Early Christian Mythmaking in Mark 1:9-11” in Reimagining Christian Origins Vaage writes:

That the historical Jesus was baptized by the historical John is still taken by many scholars to be simply a historical fact: as sure an assumption as any can be on the basis of the canonical Gospel narratives. The reasons for this assumption, however, and furthermore its presumed importance (primarily for characterization of the historical Jesus) are essentially theological . . . . (p. 281, my emphasis)

Why theological?

. . . . as the historical Jesus would thereby evidently no longer be “just” the momentary embodiment of the orthodox second person of the Trinity.

The baptism scene is the anchor that holds Jesus down in history. Without it, we have only tales about one who is all too easily understood as nothing other than a nonhistorical man-divinity. (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…)

2012/05/25

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…)

2012/05/13

1950s Scholarship on the Historicity of Jesus – Vardis Fisher’s summary

Filed under: Uncategorized — Neil Godfrey @ 9:04 pm
Tags: ,

American novelist Vardis Fisher (it’s not coincidental that the name of this blog is a partial acronym of this name, and an “autobiographical” character in one of his novels) included at the back of his novel Jesus Came Again: A Parable, a discussion of the scholarly views of his day on the historicity of Jesus.

He writes, in 1956 (with my formatting):

Was Jesus of Nazareth a historic person? We do not know, and unless documents turn up of which we have no knowledge we cannot hope ever to know.

Montefoire . . . says petulantly: “If eccentric scholars like to argue that Jesus never existed, let them do so.”

And Klausner, another Jew, says it is “unreasonable to question” it.

But says Schmiedel: “the view that Jesus never really lived has gained in ever-growing number of supporters. It is no use to ignore it, or to frame resolutions against it.”

Weigell: “Many of the most erudite critics are convinced that no such person ever lived.”

Among those so convinced [that no such person ever lived], some of them internationally known scholars, are (more…)

2012/04/23

5. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism: A Roman Trio

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Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism – Pt.5

A Roman Trio

COVERED IN THIS POST:

  • Pliny the Younger – Letter to Trajan
    • Information taken from Christians
    • Is “Christ” a man or only a god?
    • Christo quasi deo” – “as” or “as if”?
    • Ancient quotes have no “quasi
  • Suetonius – Life of Claudius
    • Chrestus” and the expulsion of Jews
    • Misleading translation
    • Paul and Acts
  • Tacitus – Annals 15
    • “Christ” but no “Jesus”
    • Tacitus’ source: archive or hearsay?
    • “Procurator” vs. “Prefect”
    • The question of authenticity
    • No Christian witness to martyrdom for the Great Fire
    • No Roman witness after Tacitus
    • Sulpicius Severus (c.400) the first witness

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Non-Christian References to Jesus

(Did Jesus Exist? pp. 50-56)

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Pliny the Younger

.450px-como_-_dom_-_fassade_-_plinius_der_jucc88ngere

After this considerable amount of prefatory material, Ehrman finally arrives at his discussion of the non-Christian references to Jesus. He begins with Pliny the Younger and his famous letter to Trajan in the year 112 CE during his governorship of the province of Bithynia,making inquiries regarding the prosecution of Christians.

At the outset Ehrman admits that any information about Jesus that might be gleaned from Pliny could be seen as having been derived from the Christians themselves (indeed, this is a virtual certainty from what he says), and thus is of little if any value in establishing the historicity of Jesus. Nor does Pliny use the name “Jesus,” referring to the Christian object of worship simply as “Christ.”

The information Pliny has collected from the accused about the sect’s activities is pretty innocuous:

  • A pre-dawn chant,
  • subscription to certain ethics and behavior,
  • assembling to “take food of an ordinary, harmless kind.”

We might note that the latter does not suggest the Eucharist ceremony with its eating of the flesh and blood of Christ, whether god or man, and there is no reference to a crucifixion let alone an alleged resurrection.

As if!

But that pre-dawn chant: Pliny says it was “in honor of Christ as to a god [Christo quasi deo].” (more…)

2012/04/19

Scholarly Fallacy of the Week: Bart Ehrman’s False Dichotomy

The hermeneutic of charity is what some New Testament scholars (e.g. Richard Bauckham) have termed the goodness, the rightness, of believing a testimony by default — unless and until we are given a reason to doubt it.

It is usually opposed rhetorically to the idea of the hermeneutic of suspicion.

Charity and suspicion. The words clearly resonate with the ideals of the highest teachings of biblical love: “charity” being the best of gifts and “suspicion” being antithetical to that Christian virtue according to 1 Corinthians 13.

In fundamental logic, however, we might align these concepts with something more neutral and objective for analysis: the false dichotomy.

Bart Ehrman may shun the term “hermeneutic of charity” (I don’t know but I’m assuming he does) but he falls right into that same soft bed of roses no matter what their name. He does this many times, and so many New Testament scholars do, too, but we have a right to expect the highest standards from the highest paid professions.

In Did Jesus Exist? Ehrman falls within the wake of so many of his peers by setting up the so-called evidence of Papias as

  1. either reliable enough to be used as “an important source for establishing the historical existence of Jesus”
  2. or it is nothing but a bald-faced lie

This is a most unscholarly view of things. It has nothing to recommend it. It breaks all the fundamental rules of how historians are expected to analyse the value of their sources. It is nothing but a logical and methodological fallacy. But it is so commonly encountered in the writings of New Testament scholars that one would be excused for thinking it is a simple truism.

Here is how Ehrman presents his case based on the supposed evidence of Papias: (more…)

2012/04/15

Carrier’s “Proving History”, Chapter 3(a) — Review

provinghistoryI have been studying the first half of Richard Carrier’s chapter 3, “Introducing Bayes’s Theorem”, in his recent book Proving History: Bayes’s Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus. I mean studying. I want to be sure I fully understand the argument before tackling the second half of the chapter, headed Mechanics of Bayes’s Theorem, which promises to be “the most math-challenging section of the book” (p. 67). Maths is not my most outstanding strength so I want to be sure I get the basics clear before moving into those waters. I have come to a point where I can enjoy playing little mind-games with Bayes’ Theorem for the sake of reinforcing my understanding. Last night on the TV news was dramatic story of an unexpected resignation of a leading Australian political figure. So I found myself piecing all I heard, how I heard it and what I knew etc. into a Bayes’ equation and calculating the probability that the story was true. Kind of fun. At least for the moment before the novelty factor wears off.

Result: While I believe I can see Richard’s point some of my niggling questions have not yet gone away.

When did the sun go out?

Carrier begins by setting out our reasoning when we read in the Gospels that darkness covered the whole earth for three hours at the time of the crucifixion of Jesus. What he is seeking to do is to take readers through the processes they would undergo in order to conclude that such an event almost certainly never really happened.

To make the scenario work he posits at least a barely conceivable natural cause for the event: “a vast dense cloud of space-dust swiftly drifting through the plane of the solar system . . .” — Wouldn’t the Sun’s gravity prevent that? But I’m happy to go along with the exercise for sake of argument nonetheless.

The critical point for Carrier is that what would convince us that such an event really had happened in the past is if we could find records testifying of the event across all world cultures thousands of miles apart from Britain to China.

There could not fail to have been mention or discussion of such a remarkable and terrifying event across many of these cultures among their surviving textual traditions and materials. (p. 43).

The key point is that we know in advance that this is the evidence we would expect to find IF such an event had happened.

And if indeed that were the case, we would surely have adequate warrant to believe the sun was blotted out for three hours on the corroborated day . . .

What Carrier is preparing his readers for is to accept that reasoning about historical events is fundamentally similar to reasoning in the sciences. If such and such a hypothesis (or explanation) is true then we would predict (or expect) certain events (or evidence) to be manifest.

Then there is the converse. If such a hypothesis (explanation) were true, we would NOT expect to find a universal silence in the surviving records:

[A] single claim in a single religion repeated only in its own documents (and documents relying on those), is extraordinarily improbable — unless the event was entirely made up. . . . This is a slam-dunk Argument from Silence, establishing beyond any reasonable doubt the nonhistoricity of this solar event . . . (p. 44)

My niggling question:

I follow the reasoning. But in my mind, rather than taking me into the realm of mathematics, it all leads back to my own argument about how historians know anything at all about the persons and events of the past. (more…)

2012/04/13

Jesus Agnosticism: Believing vs. Knowing

What we can and cannot know

Huxley at about 55, scanned & cropped slightly

Huxley at about 55, scanned & cropped slightly. Note: The photo was cropped, but the sideburns were not. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I confess I have often shown little patience for people who hide behind the label of agnosticism when asked whether they believe in God. It smacks of evasion, since it answers a question concerning belief with an assertion about the state of knowledge. That is, it redirects our attention to the axis of knowing — how much we know or can know — instead of telling us where one stands on the axis of believing.

So you can perhaps imagine how annoyed I’ve become at myself lately for describing my own position on the historicity of Jesus as “Jesus agnostic.” Have I fallen into the same trap as atheistic agnostics, too timid to answer the question that was asked, so I answer one that wasn’t?

Does agnosticism describe anything meaningful?

Most atheists are also agnostics. We lack the belief in God in the same way that we lack the belief in many things we can’t definitively disprove. However, we hold the existence of a supernatural being that fits the description of God to be so unlikely that we operate under the assumption that he does not exist.

Do we actively believe God does not exist? Actually, no. It takes no effort at all to lack a belief. For example, if you grew up as a Christian, you probably lack the belief in the transmigration of souls. Same here. People might reincarnate after they die, but I think it’s extremely unlikely. So I can truthfully say, “I don’t believe in samsara.” But I don’t spend any time thinking about it or actively disbelieving in it.

If by knowledge we mean rational knowledge based on human reason and physical evidence, a good many Christians are also agnostics. They believe without proof — “blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” (John 20:29b, KJV) They have made the “leap of faith.” Should they claim to have any knowledge at all, they will maintain they possess a knowledge of the heart, a feeling of the divine presence.

So if a great many of us — theists and atheists alike — agree that we can’t know whether God exists, is the term “agnostic” all that meaningful? Well, it is if you mean it in the loose, vernacular way that the popular media often intends it, namely as a description of someone who cannot decide. Perpetual fence-sitters, they simply can’t make up their minds. (more…)

2012/03/25

Historical Jesus Studies As Pseudo-History — Bart Ehrman’s Jesus As a Case-Study

First let it be clear where I am coming from. This is not an attack on any scholar or the scholarship of theologians in general. It is an attempt to address what strikes me as very muddled thinking in many works about the historical Jesus. That is not a denigration of the scholars in question or the works they have produced. It is forthright attempt to address an assumption or understanding that appears to be generally overlooked. If my views are wrong then I would expect someone somewhere who knows better can point out in a reasoned explanation where and why they are wrong. That would cause me some embarrassment, no doubt, but at least I would be given the opportunity change my views. I resolved long ago to be prepared to take the consequences of striving to be honest with myself in place of living a lie. But if the only response continues to be ridicule or insult or silent dismissal I will have no reason to think my criticism is invalid.

Often when I read a scholarly study of the historical Jesus I am a little dismayed at the woolliness of the ideas addressed. I have slowly become convinced that very few scholars who have written about the historical Jesus have ever studied what history even is. Very often historical evidence is confused with stories or an assumption that a story must be derived from real happenings.

Now I do understand that when Bart Ehrman wrote Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet for a New Millennium (=JAPNM), he wrote it not for his scholarly peers but for a wider public:

Scholars have written hundreds of books about Jesus . . . . A good number of these books, mainly the lesser-known ones, have been written by scholars for scholars to promote scholarship; others have been written by scholars to popularise scholarly views. The present book is one of the latter kind . . . . (p. ix)

The woolliness of thinking about the distinction between the narrative of an event and evidence for a real historical event, and even about the nature of history itself, is a critical consideration given that Ehrman also writes in the same preface:

The evidence itself plays a major role in this book. Most other popular treatments of Jesus rarely discuss evidence. That’s a particularly useful move — to avoid mentioning the evidence — if you’re going to present a case that’s hard to defend. Maybe if you just tell someone what you think, they’ll take your word for it. In my opinion, though, a reader has the right to know not only what scholars think about Jesus . . . but also why they think what they think. That is, readers have a right to know what the evidence is. (p. x)

Since my first draft of this post a new book by Ehrman has appeared (Did Jesus Exist? =DJE) in which he underscores the same fallacies running through JAPNM and adds a raft of new ones. For example, he lists a number of sources that he says historians can rely upon to establish the historical existence of a person while failing to notice that a number of the sources he lists can just as easily be used to argue for the historical existence of several pagan gods and demi-gods. (No wonder he finds they conveniently support the historicity of Jesus!) Equally bad, almost all of them ultimately beg the question of historicity rather than confirm it. I will discuss the logical fallacies inherent in his list in a future post.

What is history?

There are two fundamentals that I learned in about history in my senior history classes.

  1. The first thing I learned in my history class at senior high school was what history is not. History is not a list of facts, dates and events. A list of events is a chronicle, not history. History is the study of past events, an exploration in understanding those events, the composition of a narrative to convey some story or meaning from those past events. Such a narrative invests the “facts” with interpretation and meaning.
  2. The second was that when it comes to ancient history historians can only study questions for which we have enough raw material to research. We can’t write a biography of Socrates examining the range of formative influences upon his thinking and assessing how much of his contribution to Greek philosophy was unique to his own genius, for example.

Let’s unpack these a little. (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…)

2012/01/25

Dave Fitzgerald sequel: Is the “Jesus of History” any more real than the “Jesus of Faith”?

Filed under: Fitzgerald: Nailed — Neil Godfrey @ 3:00 am
Tags: ,
The following post by David Fitzgerald is posted here with DF's permission; the original is at freethoughtblogs.com.

Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up?

Is the “Jesus of History” any more real than the “Jesus of Faith”?

(From the upcoming book, Jesus: Mything in Action, by David Fitzgerald) 

Christianity had a good, long run. But we are long past the point where it’s reasonable to be agnostic about the so-called “Jesus of Faith.” It’s ridiculous to pretend the lack of historical corroboration of the spectacular Gospel events, let alone the New Testament’s own fundamental contradictions, aren’t a fatal problem for Jesus the divine Son of God.

For example:

  • Why does Philo of Alexandria discuss the contemporary state of first century Jewish sects in several of his writings, but not a word on the multitudes who followed the miracle-worker and bold, radical new teacher Jesus throughout the Galilee and Judea – or of all the long-dead Jewish saints who emerged from their freshly opened graves and wandered the streets of Jerusalem, appearing to many?
  • If Jesus was really found guilty of blasphemy by the Sanhedrin, why was he not simply stoned to death, as Jewish law required (Mishnah Sanhedrin 6:4 h & i)? Why is the original trial account of Jesus so full of other unhistorical details and just plain mistakes that could never have actually happen as portrayed? How can each successive gospel continue to overload the original story with their own additional layers of details that are mutually incompatible with the others?
  • Why does Seneca the Younger record all kinds of unusual natural phenomena in the seven books of his Quaestiones Naturales, including eclipses and earthquakes, but not mention the Star of Bethlehem, the pair of Judean earthquakes that were strong enough to split stones, or the hours of supernatural darkness that covered “all the land” – an event he would have witnessed firsthand?
  • Why can’t the Gospels agree on so many fundamental facts about Jesus’ life and ministry, such as what his relationship to John the Baptist was – and why was John the Baptist’s cult a rival to Christianity until at least the early second century? (more…)

2011/09/27

Mark Goodacre on Jesus mythicism

Filed under: Historiography — Neil Godfrey @ 7:41 pm
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I have finally caught up with Mark Goodacre’s podcast “Did Jesus Exist?”

For the benefit of others who don’t always find the time or opportunity to listen to a podcast and whose interests may overlap with some of mine here are some of the points he makes.

He asks of a mythicist (Timothy Freke):

Was it just Jesus as a first century figure that he was sceptical about or was he sceptical about other figures that are mentioned by the sources of the first century, by people like Josephus and so on? Is he sceptical about the existence of Herod or Caiaphas or Pilate or some of these characters.

In a follow up comment to the podcast Mark Goodacre made explicit the intent of his question:

When I put the question to Tim Freke, I was more interested in finding out if he was also sceptical about the existence of other first century figures from that region than anything else. In other words, I was trying to get to the root of the hyper-scepticism. Is it a general scepticism about ancient history and the limits of our knowledge, or is it something else?

Goodacre’s question assumes that the evidence for Jesus is comparable to what we find for other figures in ancient history generally. (I have argued that if this were the case there would be no debate about the existence of Jesus at all.) It also infers that there is something wrong with the one asking the question, but I return to this at the end of the post. (more…)

2011/09/25

Is it a “fact of history” that Jesus existed? Or is it only “public knowledge”?

Filed under: Historiography — Neil Godfrey @ 1:33 pm
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I have sometimes discussed how we know what happened in the past or who existed as historical persons. Most of what I have said is my own reflection and inference from what I understand of how “history works” beginning with my own studies in university history majors. Part of our required reading was What Is History? by E. H. Carr and it was this book that introduced me to the question of “what is a historical fact”, and very soon other works on the same questions, some of them responding to Carr, were added to my reading list.

But the question of “historical fact” was rarely addressed at the level at which it is addressed when asking “Did Jesus exist as a historical person?”

What is often addressed in works on historiography is the nature and reliability of sources used by historians and the need for testing these for bias, genuineness, etc.

But I don’t think I ever read a discussion by historians that raised the question about how we know anyone (say, Julius Caesar) existed in ancient times. Many histories will explain how we know anything at all about the person and events they cover and will cite the various primary and secondary sources used.

But I don’t think there are very many history classes in the world that systematically train students how to know if Caesar or Churchill actually existed.

The closest would be classes that teach students to know how to evaluate sources used for a study of such persons.

What I think generally happens when the question of the historicity of Jesus is raised is a blurring of different ways of knowing about things in history, or simply a failure to stop and think through how we do know what we know.

There are different types of knowledge and it helps to distinguish them when we are addressing a question like whether a particular person existed in history.

Public Knowledge

There is first of all “public knowledge”. We know stuff because it’s what we are taught very early and what everyone knows. (more…)

2011/05/19

Some reasons to think there was no historical Jesus

Filed under: Jesus — Neil Godfrey @ 12:42 pm
Tags: ,

My interest is finding the most satisfactory explanation for the origin or origins of Christianity, and it is that search that leads me to lay aside the likelihood that there was a historical Jesus behind it all.

  1. It is easier to understand how such “riotous diversity” of Christianities appear in the earliest layers of evidence if Christianity grew out of a worlds of ideas and beliefs of many thinkers in dialogue (creative or conflicting) with each other. A historical Jesus being the focus of a group of followers could more reasonably be expected to leave evidence in the earliest layers of monolithic (or nothing more complex than a two-branch) movement that over time branched out into various sects. The evidence suggests the reverse of this: early is associated with diversity; later we see fewer sects until one emerges the victor.
  2. Christian conversion, ecstasy, mysticism, do not need a historical Jesus at the start. Engberg-Pedersen has shown what I think is a strong case for understanding Paul’s theology and the experience of conversion and Christ-devotion and community-cohesion etc is very similar to the experiences of those who were attracted to Reason (=Logos) and Stoicism. I have posted on this once or twice to illustrate his model. Similarly there is evidence for mystical and visionary experiences, not unlike those apparently associated with mysteries, among the apostles and members. None of these needs a historical founder in the sense we think of Jesus as being. These sorts of things are more usually explained in terms of cultural happenings. (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
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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…)

2011/04/14

Jesus Potter Harry Christ ch.2: The mythicist controversy ancient and modern

Filed under: Murphy: Jesus Pott Harry Chr — Neil Godfrey @ 3:21 pm
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jesuspotterharrychristSo what has kept the mythicist controversy alive despite frustrated assertions among biblical scholars that the debate was settled long ago? Derek Murphy demonstrates in chapter two of Jesus Potter Harry Christ that the modern controversy over the historicity of Jesus “has a long and substantial history, and that, in effect, the jury is still out.” Derek Murphy is well aware that some of the works he uses have been questioned and disputed with the advance of academic research. His purpose is thus limited to showing the existence and heritage of the debate.

My goal is only to demonstrate that a modern controversy over the historical Jesus exists, that it has a long and substantial history, and that, in effect, the jury is still out.

I also want to show that certain claims regarding Jesus are not modern delusions of “fringe” scholars — in fact there are few claims made about Jesus today that were not made centuries earlier. (p. 47)

Dismay among many believers in the historicity of Jesus reminds us that few people are aware that the question can be raised at all, and that the evidence used to support Jesus’ historicity is not universally accepted. (more…)

2011/04/12

Paul as a Witness to the Historical Jesus: Gerd Ludemann

Raphael, St Paul Preaching in Athens

Image via Wikipedia

Professor of History and Literature of Early Christianity at Georg-August-University Göttingen, and director of the Institute of Early Christian Studies, Dr Gerd Lüdemann, concludes an essay published in 2010 with this sentence:

In short, Paul cannot be considered a reliable witness to either the teachings, the life, or the historical existence of Jesus. (“Paul as Witness to the Historical Jesus” in Sources of the Jesus Tradition: Separating Jesus from Myth, p. 212)

So what is his reasoning or understanding of the letters of Paul that leads him to such a conclusion?

Earlier in the same essay Dr Lüdemann also wrote:

In short, while Paul is far from a systematic biographer, it is incorrect to say that the earthly Jesus did not matter to him. (p. 200)

Lüdemann argues that it makes no sense to speak of Paul’s view of “the historical Jesus”, since this concept is the product of a scholarly study of the texts. Rather, he speaks of Paul’s interest in “the earthly Jesus”.

Lüdemann interprets passages such as Galatians 4:4 (born of a woman) and Galatians 1:19 (James the Lord’s brother) as references to the earthly Jesus.

So I am posting this to present a different viewpoint on the question of Jesus’ historicity. (more…)

2011/04/10

Jesus Potter Harry Christ: Reviewing Part One (chapter one)

Although it is easy to accept that Rowling crafted the literary character of Harry Potter after the figure of Jesus, shouldn’t it pique our interest that Jesus — a monumental figure in modern world religion generally believed to have been historical — has so much in common with the obviously fictional fantasy world and character of Harry Potter? (Preface, p. viii, Jesus Potter Harry Christ)

It’s a good question. It appeals to me personally because I have a particular interest in the gospels as literature. I am convinced that they need to be understood as literature before we can decide if and in what manner we might seek to extract historical information from them.

This post is a first draft of a review I am preparing for the book, and covers so far only the first of the book’s three sections. I am posting this now for the simple reason that I fear too long a time gap before I will be in a position to post a completed review of the entire book. So serialization it is for now. (more…)

2011/03/05

Credulity, insecurity and sophistry in the “Did Jesus Exist?” debate

Filed under: Exchanges with McGrath — Neil Godfrey @ 7:52 am
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James McGrath links to a very straightforward article in The National Post that challenges head-on the inability of some people to even acknowledge the legitimacy of any serious case for the nonhistoricity of Jesus. It is Should Jesus Be Exempt From Historical Scrutiny?

The author, Jackson Doughart, indicates he is not a mythicist, since he writes that he believes there is not enough evidence to definitely determine if Jesus was a real person, and that the nature of the evidence that does exist at least suggests his existence is debatable.

He also points out why comparing the denial of the historicity of Jesus to denying the existence of Hannibal is “an illigitimate and absurd comparison”.

Doughart makes an interesting comparison of the evidence for Jesus with the evidence for Socrates. He notes, as I have also done, that the question of Socrates’ existence is immaterial to the bigger question of the rise of Greek philosophy, while the existence of Jesus is of paramount significance for believers.

A few excerpts (more…)

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…)

2010/12/23

“Is This Not the Carpenter? The Question of the Historicity of the Figure of Jesus

Athena Scorning the Advances of Hephaestus. Pa...

See the introduction linked in this post for the relevance of this image. Image via Wikipedia

The introduction of Thomas L. Thompson’s and Thomas Verenna’s edited volume, Is This Not the Carpenter?A Question of Historicity has been published on The Bible and Interpretation.

The first essential step in any historical inquiry

This is a heartening introduction to the essential basics of valid historical methodology that has been very fudgy in the field of historical Jesus studies. The first thing any historian needs to grapple with when undertaking any inquiry is the nature of his or her sources. While probably most biblical scholars have acknowledged that the Gospels are theological narratives that depict a “Christ of faith” rather than a “Jesus of history”, there has at the same time been an assumption that that theological layer has been created to portray what the “historical Jesus” meant to the authors and their readers. Given this assumption, it has been believed that it might be possible to uncover some facts about the historical Jesus nonetheless. Historical Jesus studies have in this way been confused with the question of Christian origins.

The contributions in this book are from a diverse range of scholars. The introduction explains the purpose of the volume:

 

The essays collected in this volume have a modest purpose. Neither establishing the historicity of an historical Jesus nor possessing an adequate warrant for dismissing it, our purpose is to clarify our engagement with critical historical and exegetical methods in the hopes of enabling the central question regarding the function of New Testament literature to resist the endless production of works on the historical Jesus. Our hope is to open a direct discussion of the question of historicity much in the spirit of the more than decade-long discourse and debate by the European Seminar on Methodology in Israel’s History, which has been so profitably engaged in regard to the historicity of figures and narratives of the Hebrew Bible and the related construction of a history of ancient Palestine.

This sounds a little like an approach I have been suggesting on this blog and elsewhere for some time, so I find such a statement personally encouraging.

Historicity is an assumption (more…)

2010/12/22

Double implausibility of the historical Jesus narrative

Filed under: Jesus — Neil Godfrey @ 4:35 pm
Tags: , ,

A number of biblical scholars have insisted that the historical Jesus narrative makes far more sense as an explanation for the rise of Christianity than the Christ myth alternative.

At the same time one observes that historical Jesus scholars are often preoccupied attempting to explain two central pillars of the historical explanation that they concede sound implausible.

One is: How to explain why a man who did and said nothing but good came to be crucified (while his followers were not) — such an idea does not make sense;

The other is: How to explain why a man crucified as a criminal was subsequently exalted to divine status by Jews and gentiles — this also does not make sense. (more…)

2010/11/07

The Role of Faith in Historical Research

Filed under: Historiography — Neil Godfrey @ 4:51 pm
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St. Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225-1274), the eponym ...
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In a 2005 review article of Jens Bruun Kofoed’s Text and History: Historiography and the Study of the Biblical Text Thomas L. Thompson observes (my emphasis):

The conclusions themselves of an historian’s research and their accord with belief, rather than argument or method, are perceived as indicative of legitimacy. Adjectives, on the other hand, judging them as “extreme” or “radical” have been thought sufficient for dismissal . . . . Such faith-supported scholarship typically expresses itself in the form of protests to what is perceived as “excessive” scepticism or unspecified, “ideologically motivated distortion” engaged by any who might be thought to distinguish too sharply between arguments of faith and history.

One reads the same criticisms made by New Testament scholars against those who argue against the historicity of Jesus. To question the reliability of a narrative as a historical source is to find one being viewed as “hyper-skeptical” and even driven by an “anti-Christian vendetta”.

The faith of New Testament scholars in their sources is justified on the grounds that it is “not impossible” that any particular narrative in the Gospels, say, was taken from oral tradition going back to a real event.

The slippery slope justification (more…)

2009/07/05

How the Jewish leaders could have wiped out Christianity the day it started

Filed under: Jesus,New Testament — Neil Godfrey @ 5:59 pm
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There is one explanation for the crucifixion of Jesus that seems to be almost taken for granted in much of the literature I read on the origins of Christianity, and that is that Pilate had Jesus crucified as a political rebel. The gospel accounts deny this, of course, but that is explained by their authors wanting to present their crucified leader in the best possible light. So they depict Pilate as pressured against his own better judgement to allow the crucifixion of an innocent man. Since the gospels were written long after the events they narrate, let’s leave them aside for a moment and ask again how the Christian movement could ever have started if Jesus really had been crucified as a suspicious crowd attractor who was seen by some as a potential King.

Firstly, here are some of the more obvious reasons for the argument that Jesus was executed by Rome for a political crime.

  1. The crime was written above the cross, except that in the Gospel’s case what was written was not, “He claimed to be King of the Jews”, but that he was the King of the Jews.
  2. Pilate asked Jesus at is trial if he were the King of the Jews, and not, oddly, whether he claimed to be their king. Furthermore, the rest of the hearing before Pilate simply ignores this charge and goes on to dramatize Pilate becoming mesmerized by Jesus over his silence in the face of a host of other charges, the nature of which we are left ignorant.
  3. Jesus is said in the gospels to have attracted crowds of thousands, and spoken about a kingdom of God, and in one gospel it is even said that the crowds hoped to make him their king on the spot. But Jesus fled.
  4. Josephus informs us of a few other messianic type leaders who attracted large followings, and how the Romans came in and liquidated them without bothering with questions or formal proceedings of any kind.

Scholarly reconstructions generally paint the following steps as taking place to get Christianity up and running

  1. Close followers of Jesus had been so deeply impressed by him that after his shocking death many came to still sense that Jesus was still a present force with them.
  2. They came to think of him as still alive — within them.
  3. They could not help but c0ntinue to preach about Jesus, and to convert others over time to their faith.
  4. A few fundamentalist tract authors who are accepted as part of the scholarly guild even insist their hundreds of pages of publications prove Jesus really did miraculously rise from the dead and appear to his disciples, as per a mix of the gospel accounts.

One feature in common with all scenarios presented is that the Jewish politico-religious establishment wanted Jesus dead, or at least out of the way. It is generally accepted that they knew they were bringing a false accusation against Jesus when they accused him before Pilate of political treason. This was the one charge they calculated would stick and trouble the Roman governor.

So now we come to where this all leaves us concerning the question of how Christianity ever got off the ground.

When those disciples started preaching to others about Jesus, and explaining how they believed he was still alive, and how they were continuing to dedicate their lives to him and his work, then what was to stop the Jewish leaders from sending a quick missive off to Pilate or the new Roman governor charging his followers with attempting to stir up a renewed following of one crucified as an enemy of Caesar?

Or when/if they had their own Temple police arrest the disciples, as we are told they did in Acts, then why not simply march them off to the Roman judge and ask him to finish off phase 2 of the job? He’d crucified the head, now it was necessary to crucify the limbs. No problems.

And when Paul faced Jewish persecutors at every turn, why did not a single one of those persecutors seem to think to bring the one charge that could have put a very abrupt end to Paul’s influence: Paul was attempting to build up a following for an enemy of Caesar!

We know why that never enters the New Testament narrative, of course. The authors were writing a certain plot and were controlling the actions and dialogues of the characters they were bringing to life through pen and ink.

The author of Acts ensured that the disciples themselves maintained the initiative in all the debates with the Jewish authorities. The latter were so overwhelmed by the power of these renewed lives and all the miracles from God that attended them, that they were, let’s see, simply too dumbstruck to think of the more logical and practical responses that would normally have happened in any historical real life circumstance. — that is, repeat the charges that had led to their first victory, and the second time around maybe have them all crucified upside down for good measure for daring to have such stubbornness.

I seem to recall I read Paula Fredriksen’s book about the crucifixion of Jesus — and addressing the question of why the disciples were ignored — some years back, and recall pencilling in remarks on nearly every page since I found the book as shoddy a piece of scholarship as some of the worst of Bauckham and N.T. Wright’s. I hope to get access to that book again in a month or two and will have to see if she adds anything that I should recall in the above argument.

Till then, the scholarly view that Jesus was crucified as a political rebel only serves to explain how Christianity could never possibly have got a leg up in the first place.

But I suppose that’s why miracles and divine intervention are such handy narrative tools.

So we are left with options. Either take the NT as it is, more or less; accept an historical analysis that raises more questions than it answers; . . . . or or or . . . .


My Zemanta tried to find me a picture of twelve crucifixions and this was the closest it could retrieve. A 12 (string) Passion — quite clever for a machine, I thought :-)

My twelve string's passion/ Mi pasión de doce ...
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