Vridar

2013/05/06

Richard Carrier’s Review of Bart Ehrman and the Quest of the Historical Jesus

Richard Carrier, PhD, has essentially endorsed Tom Verenna’s “scathing review” of Bart Ehrman and the Quest of the Historical Jesus with one caveat: his complaints “may be a little excessive.” (I discussed earlier the blatant “wrongness” of Verenna’s review.) But we must stress that Verenna had only praise for the contribution from Dr Richard Carrier.

Carelessness with people’s reputations

Carrier (with a PhD in ancient history from Columbia University) reinforces Verenna’s ethical discomfort that Frank Zindler chose to publish email correspondence between himself and Ehrman:

Verenna raises some valid concerns worth mulling, such as about Zindler’s use and publication of his correspondence with Ehrman.

Thus even Dr Carrier demonstrates that he is not as thorough in the reading of what he is reviewing as he should be. He, like Verenna, quite overlooked Zindler’s own note at the point of introducing this email exchange:

I thank Professor Ehrman for graciously having granted me permission to reprint here his messages, provided only that I “acknowledge that they were emails, not written intended for publication.”

Because of their careless oversights (accompanied, one must presume, with a lack of interest in seriously checking to see if their grounds for darkening Zindler’s character were real) both have recklessly cast slanderous aspersions upon the integrity of Frank Zindler.

[The nature of the emails and how Frank used them are outlined in a comment below.]

Academic professionalism or strictly business?

One might wonder about the professionalism of a scholar who publishes a scathing review of a book to which he has contributed and advises his readers they are better off not bothering with it. (Professionalism, in my view, extends to treatment of one’s colleagues as much as it does to how one approaches one’s job.) But Dr Carrier clears the air on this point at the outset of his review. His relationship with the other contributors of this volume, and in particular with its editors, is entirely a business one. He stresses that he sold the rights to his article to them so they could make use of it: (more…)

2013/05/04

Book Review: Bart Ehrman and the Quest of the Historical Jesus of Nazareth — Reviewing the review

Edited with a few additional remarks 4 hours after first posting.

BartEhrmanQuestHistoricalJesusThis post is a response to Book Review: Bart Ehrman and the Quest of the Historical Jesus of Nazareth. I read this review before I received my own (Kindle) copy of Bart Ehrman and the Quest of the Historical Jesus of Nazareth, so I was dismayed when I began to read the book to find that I had been completely misled as to its character and content. Fear that that same review may influence many negatively towards the contributors of the book is what is compelling me to write this response now. (Apologists like McG are quite eager to lap it up uncritically.)

The review levels five charges against Bart Ehrman and the Quest of the Historical Jesus of Nazareth:

  1. “resorting to a personal attack . . . nearly 600 pages of venom and rhetoric . . . full of venom and disgust”
  2. “The title of this volume bespeaks the purpose: it is a series of essays with the intent to character assassinate.”
  3. “And Price’s attempts to link the contributors of the volume, in all, and those who support the so-called ‘Christ Myth Theory’ with minimalism is a void one.”
  4. “Price also gives D.M. Murdock too much credit. He is guilty of inflating her credentials in many respects and, while they are friends, it is distracting. He writes, for example, that ‘her chief sin in Ehrman’s eyes would appear to be her lack of diplomas on the wall’, but that is an oversimplification of what Ehrman argues.”
  5. “Also there is a surprising amount of personal correspondence. Frank produces some 75 pages for his first contribution and more than half of it consists of various email exchanges between Ehrman and himself. This troubles me as I am not so sure that such a move is ethical. . . . In my humble opinion, it is wholly unwelcome that Zindler dedicated so much space to these emails and also formulated a polemical argument around them; it is quite unfortunate that this appears in this volume.”

I’ll address these in reverse order.

5. Unethical email disclosures?

I was shocked to read this and feared that Frank Zindler may have overstepped the mark when I read this accusation. So I was particularly keen to read carefully how Frank does introduce these email exchanges with Bart Ehrman. I was greatly relieved to learn that Tom Verenna’s aspersions were entirely misplaced. Here’s what I found. Frank attaches the following note at the point of publishing the first email response from Bart Ehrman:

I thank Professor Ehrman for graciously having granted me permission to reprint here his messages, provided only that I “acknowledge that they were emails, not written intended for publication.”

I do wonder, however, about the ethics of publishing an image of a personal message from Frank to the reviewer. Did T.V. seek F.Z’s permission for this?

4. Giving D. M. Murdock too much credit?

Robert M. Price, we are told, “inflates” the credentials of D.M. Murdock/Acharya S. (more…)

2012/12/23

Goodacre-Carrier Debate: What if . . . . ?

I have finally caught up with the comments by Dr Mark Goodacre [MG] and Dr Richard Carrier [RC] since their radio discussion on the view that Jesus did not exist.

While RC, without the burden of having to mark student papers, is able to add around 7,000 words of recap and elaboration to the case he made on his blog, MG is confined to making only a few brief comments, at least one of which is no better than the disappointment we found in Bart Ehrman’s Did Jesus Exist?

A horrible thought occurs to me. What if it’s never going to get any better? Is this the best we will ever hear from the historicists?

No-one is faulting MG for doing his job. What is disappointing for many, I think, is that it is just at the point where his input is most urgently needed that he is too busy to respond. Will there ever come a time when he (or anyone) will engage with the questions his claims have left hanging?

He himself has rightly said:

– Sorry to those who were disappointed with the show, or my part in it. Please bear in mind that this is just a show, a conversation, a chat, a debate even; it’s not a “case”. I must admit that I enjoyed the opportunity to engage with Richard, who is clever and lively and whose discussion of method repays reflection. However, any such conversation is only going to be partial, frustrating, incomplete.

I am sure most of us enjoyed also listening to MG’s calm and pleasant manner in the way he engaged with RC. I am sure we all appreciated MG taking the time to be a part of this program. But unless there is some follow up from the historicist side even slightly comparable to the extent of RC’s followup, I think most of us will remain frustrated that one side of the debate is going to be forever partial, incomplete.

Maybe we have to face up to the reality that the historicist case is always going to be like that — that it will always lack the ability (including ability to find time) to advance a complete response to mythicism.

Interpolation: the same old . . .

Take this point for starters. MG in his latest response wrote:

– I think it’s worth underlining that the idea that 1 Thess. 2.14-17 [in which Paul appears to be saying that the Jews in Judea crucified Jesus] is an interpolation is made without any manuscript / textual evidence. Conjectural emendations are always possible, especially in weakly attested works, but should be avoided in cases like this where the impetus appears to be to eliminate a key piece of evidence, the apparent location of Jesus’ death in Judea.

Such a statement

(1) sidesteps the point I made about this passage and which (presumably) was partly the prompt for MG’s response here,

and it

(2) misrepresents the actual argument for interpolation. (more…)

2012/12/16

The Carrier-Goodacre Exchange (part 1) on the Historicity of Jesus

I have taken down 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. The program is lengthy, so this post only covers the early part of the discussion. My own comments are in side boxes. Thanks to Steven Carr for alerting me to this recent program.

* Was this a slip of the tongue? Why presume anything? Decent books on history very often contain introductions setting out the evidence for how we know what we know about the figure under study. At the end of the program both RC and MG refer to arguing for the nonhistoricity of Jesus from the lack of evidence for his existence as “hyper-scepticism”. But such an argument is more than ‘hyper-scepticism’. It is the logical fallacy of arguing from ignorance.

But it is perfectly valid to avoid any presumption of the historicity of Jesus if there is no evidence for this.  It is perfectly valid to accept as a working hypothesis that Jesus is a theological construct (only) if the only evidence we have for this figure is that he is found only within theological contexts.

RC says he began in the same position as MG, thinking that the idea that Jesus was a myth, not historical, was nonsense. As a historian one starts with a presumption of historicity and one would need pretty good arguments to overthrow this. *

It was Earl Doherty’s book, The Jesus Puzzle, that made the most sense of a mythicist case. While not a perfect case, Doherty produced a strong enough argument to make the mythicist case genuinely plausible. It was this book that made RC think. For instance, Doherty pointed out that the case for the historicity of Jesus is often based on fallacious arguments and speculation (“just as much as mythicism is”). RC from that point considered himself an agnostic on the question.

RC does not think Earl Doherty has proven his case, but he also accepts Doherty’s point that the historicists have not proven theirs, either. “So someone needs to do this properly.”

JB raised Bart Ehrman’s objection that mythicism is motivated by an anti-theistic and anti-Christian bias.

RC: if one wanted to attack Christianity mythicism would be the worst way to go about it. To try to persuade other people one needs to find as much common ground to begin with, and saying Jesus did not exist is not going to help anyone trying to persuade Christians that Christianity is nonsense. RC was an atheist and against Christianity for a long time while still rejecting mythicism.

——————————————-

MG: The more self-conscious you are about your biases and background and context the better historian you can be.

——————————————-

JB: Asked RC to give the bare bones of his argument that Jesus did not exist:

RC: First, a qualification. RC does not think we can be certain that either way, that Jesus did or did not exist. But he thinks the preponderance of evidence supports mythicism. But the evidence for origins of Christianity is so scarce and problematic that we can never have certainty. (more…)

2012/09/06

The historical Jesus in Paul? For and (mostly) Against

Robert Price includes a packed selection of arguments commonly raised to affirm Paul’s awareness of the teachings of Jesus along with the counterarguments. Little of this is new to many readers, but it seems appropriate to list the details as a sequel to my previous post that covered the main thrust of his argument in his chapter in ‘Is This Not the Carpenter?’

But first, I’ll cover the evidence he piles up in response to two reasons often given to explain why we don’t find explicit references to Jesus’ life and teaching in the letters. Price is collating these from G. A. Wells’ The Jesus of the Early Christians. (As Earl Doherty has further noted, the argument becomes even stronger when it is realized it applies not only to Paul’s writings but to the entire corpus of New Testament epistles.)

Jesus’ biographical details were irrelevant to the matters that happened to arise in occasional letters

Although I have encountered this assertion many times I have never seen it demonstrated. Without demonstration the statement becomes a mere brushing-aside of a serious question.

On the other hand, one readily finds cases raised that do support the counter-claim. Price several the following from Wells’ early book. It’s easy to make a list of these here as I do below, but that is only for the sake of information. What really counts is some way to test the alternative hypotheses. Before reading the list it is a good idea to do two things.

  1. One, think through what one would expect to find in the data IF there were oral traditions making the rounds that relayed what Jesus was supposed to have said and done.
  2. Two, think through what we would expect IF sayings were imputed to Jesus by various churches to add authority to their customs or teachings. (This was the conclusion of form critics like Rudolf Bultmann.)

In other words, ask what each hypothesis predicts we will find. It’s a while since I’ve posted on Richard Carrier’s Bayesian theory and when I resume (I still hope to resume posting on his book) the next post will discuss the importance of testing the hypotheses that oppose your own. The best way to strengthen your own argument, Carrier points out, is to demonstrate the inadequacies of those of your opponents. (This, by the way, is one reason I am slow on the uptake with theories of Christian origins that are heavy on proofs or arguments for their own point of view but almost totally ignore alternative explanations. Think of the caricature of the boy who looks only for hints that a girl likes him but ignores all evidence that points to a different state of affairs.)

So it always pays to be slightly more generous to the arguments for the side you are against if you want to demonstrate their comparative inadequacy to your own. Of course, there is always a risk that you’ll end up not being quite so dogmatic for one point of view as when you started, but life is full of risks.

The following points are from Price’s/Wells’ list. Presentation and commentary are my own. (more…)

2012/08/01

A Pre-Christian Heavenly Jesus

A little exchange of views (beginning here) on Larry Hurtado’s blog (Hurtado generously offers a platform for some interesting resources for those interested in mythicist arguments ;-)  ) has alerted me to something no doubt many who follow Richard Carrier’s writings more attentively than I have done will already know that Carrier writes:

Nor was the idea of a preexistent spiritual son of God a novel idea among the Jews anyway. Paul’s contemporary, Philo, interprets the messianic prophecy of Zechariah 6:11-12 in just such a way. In the Septuagint this says to place the crown of kingship upon “Jesus,” for “So says Jehovah the Ruler of All, ‘Behold the man named ‘Rises’, and he shall rise up from his place below and he shall build the House of the Lord’.” This pretty much is the Christian Gospel. Philo was a Platonic thinker, so he could not imagine this as referring to “a man who is compounded of body and soul,” but thought it meant an “incorporeal being who in no respect differs from the divine image” whom “the Father of the Universe has caused to spring up as the eldest son.” Then Philo says, “In another passage, he calls this son the firstborn,” and says “he who is thus born” imitates “the ways of his father.” (Not the Impossible Faith, pp. 250-251)

Carrier then quotes the passage from Philo, and I quote it here from the Yonge translation available online. The word “East” has since been better understood as “Rises”, as in the rising of the sun:

“Behold, a man whose name is the East!” A very novel appellation indeed, if you consider it as spoken of a man who is compounded of body and soul; but if you look upon it as applied to that incorporeal being who in no respect differs from the divine image, you will then agree that the name of the east has been given to him with great felicity. (63) For the Father of the universe has caused him to spring up as the eldest son, whom, in another passage, he calls the firstborn; and he who is thus born, imitating the ways of his father . . . . (On the Confusion of Tongues, Book 14:62, 63)

Before adding my own discussion I’ll quote the next paragraph from Carrier, too: (more…)

2012/07/25

Richard Carrier Recaps the Bart Ehrman-Historicity of Jesus Exhanges

Filed under: Ehrman: Did Jesus Exist?,James F. McGrath — Neil Godfrey @ 2:16 pm
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Richard Carrier has compiled a “summary of the current state of the debate after the mini blog war between [himself] and Bart Ehrman over his latest book, Did Jesus Exist?, which attempted to argue against various scholars . . . who have concluded, or at least suspect, that Jesus never really existed, but was an invention in myth, like Moses or King Arthur or Ned Ludd. . . .  I will give a state-of-play for everything.”

Carrier is keen to distance himself from those he labels “crank mythicists” and I sometimes think he is committing some of the same hasty misrepresentations of some of these that other scholars do. I’d feel much more comfortable with Carrier if he demonstrated more patience and ability to share his skills with others who lack his specialist training in the field. He only covers his own exchanges of course. Others have dabbled with general comments, most recently Larry Hurtado who seems to indicate that his entire knowledge of mythicism has been filtered to him through a 1938 Student Christian Movement publication mainly addressing the views of J. M. Robertson.

Carrier links to his past responses (March to April this year) to Bart Ehrman and James McGrath and then provides a point by point synopsis of the arguments he made and the responses to each from Ehrman and McGrath.

It’s the sort of outline I sometimes had a mind to do after my own exchanges with McGrath and a few others. What is humorous is the classic responses of both Ehrman and McGrath to the various points made as the exchange unfolded. It’s reassuring to see that the responses from McGrath in particular is no different from what they have been with me. So Carrier dots his epitome with: (more…)

2012/04/30

Carrier slices and dices Ehrman, second course

Filed under: Ehrman: Did Jesus Exist? — Neil Godfrey @ 11:45 am
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For those few who do not know already Richard Carrier has now posted his second round response to Bart Ehrman’s “Fuller Reply”.

On the Was Pilate a Procurator issue, Carrier writes:

Ehrman finally does what he should have done originally (take note of this trend: it confirms the entire point of my original critique), and asks an expert. But what he didn’t do was read the scholarship I pointed him to. . . .

I . . . reference the scholarship on it. . .  I would ask that Ehrman have his informant read that piece . . .  and then relay what they say in reply. Notice what happens.

On the Tacitus scholarship: (more…)

2012/04/28

The Facts of the Matter: Carrier 9, Ehrman 1 (my review, part 2)

Let’s sit down and look at the score sheet. Richard Carrier kicked 11 “errors of fact” at the net of Bart Ehrman’s book Did Jesus Exist?

Carrier says he could have kicked many more but that it was getting dark and the referee told him he had limited time.

Since beginning to write this post I have learned Richard Carrier has posted his own reply to Ehrman. But I have avoided reading his response so as to continue with my own thoughts for my own “review” of Ehrman’s book.

Here are the “errors of fact” Carrier kicked at Ehrman’s book, in order:

  1. The Priapus Bronze
  2. The Doherty Slander
  3. The Pliny Confusion
  4. The Pilate Error
  5. The “No Records” Debacle
  6. The Tacitus Question
  7. The “Other Jesus” Conundrum
  8. That Dying-and-Rising God Thing
  9. The Baptism Blunder
  10. The Dying Messiah Question
  11. The Matter of Qualifications

Here are the “errors of fact” Ehrman attempted to defend, in order:

  1. The Priapus Bronze, or Cocky Peter (Or: “A Cock and Bull Story”) (in a separate post)
  2. The Matter of Qualifications
  3. The Pilate Error
  4. The Tacitus Question
  5. The Dying and Rising God
  6. The “Other Jesus” Conundrum
  7. “No Roman Records”
  8. The Doherty “Slander”
  9. The Pliny Confusion

That means goalie Ehrman stood there texting on his mobile while two went through uncontested:

  1. The Baptism Blunder
  2. The Dying Messiah Question

Keep in mind that these “Errors of Fact” in Carrier’s critique of Ehrman’s book are not the only, nor even necessarily the most, serious faults in Ehrman’s Did Jesus Exist? But I cannot cover everything in one post so I deal with these before moving on in a future post to the even more significant errors and fallacies of Ehrman’s work. (more…)

2012/04/27

Carrier versus Ehrman: Reflections

Filed under: Ehrman: Did Jesus Exist? — Neil Godfrey @ 10:00 am
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I have decided to do my own review, or series of reflections, on Bart Ehrman’s book. I think it could be worthwhile writing about it through the context of both Richard Carrier’s response to it and Bart Ehrman’s replies to Carrier. It is interesting, perhaps instructive, to see the way Bart Ehrman’s tone has changed in his most recent posts. The context of that change is equally interesting. But let’s start at the beginning — in this case Carrier’s initial reaction.

Richard Carrier expressed the disappointment of many when Bart Ehrman’s book finally appeared:

I was certain this would be a great book, the very best in its category. And I said this, publicly, many times in anticipation of it. It’s actually the worst. . . . I was eagerly hoping for a book I could recommend as the best case for historicity (but alas, that title stays with the inadequate but nevertheless competent, if not always correct, treatment in Van Voorst’s Jesus Outside the New Testament and Theissen & Merz’s The Historical Jesus). I was also expecting it to be a good go-to rebuttal to the plethora of bad mythicism out there . . . .

No doubt many who have favourably considered mythicism agree. We were looking for a serious challenge. But one thing Bart Ehrman made clear in his Introduction was what he thought of mythicism and mythicists. Mythicism is on a par with Holocaust and moon-landing denial (p. 5). Mythicists are driven by anti-Christian agenda and are not interested in historical inquiry for its own sake. They will not be convinced by anything he writes so the rest of the book is not even an attempt to engage with them. It is to inform “genuine seekers who really want to know how we know that Jesus did exist” and the answers will come from scholars who, supposedly unlike mythicists, have no vested interest in the question.

That is the tone Ehrman sets in the opening pages of his book. He is essentially telling mythicists to step outside, or at least to the back of the room, while he talks to those who (unlike mythicists) think evidence matters. This is not the book that mythicists and those who are curious but undecided were waiting for. (more…)

2012/04/25

Fight Club! Historical Jesus Scholars Take On the Christ Mythicists!

25-934902-twb030211brophy02_t325Here they come. The advance warning was R. Joseph Hoffmann‘s Mythtic Pizza and Cold-cocked Scholars. He promises that within a week (apocalypse coming!) we will see on his blog “three essay-length responses to Richard C. Carrier’s ideas: The first by [R. Joseph Hoffmann], the second by Professor Maurice Casey of the University of Nottingham, and the third by Stephanie Fisher as specialist in Q-studies.” I haven’t been this excited since I was a little kid in side-show alley at our city’s annual exhibition. Recall the tremors as I came to the tent-boxing pavilion. You knew you were approaching it when you heard the war-like beating of a bass drum. On a raised platform iron-faced and red and gold robed boxers stood in a row beside the drummer yelling out the challenge for anyone to dare enter the ring.

Hoffmann whets our blood-craving appetite by announcing the intellectual weapons to be pitted against each other. Those championing the historical Jesus have “the complex evidence of textual and linguistic studies” and “hermeneutics”. (By “hermeneutics” I think he might mean in particular the full spanner-set of criteriology: the criteria of embarrassment, double dissimilarity, multiple attestation, coherence, etc.) Against these we have the mythicists using scientific method:

these same folk who hold up the scientific method to religionists want to walk past the complex evidence of textual and linguistic studies as though it weren’t there. ”Hermeneutics” for them is just a word theologians like to throw around to impress seminarians . . .

Textual and linguistic studies as weapons for historicity? I think that must include those incisive analyses that identify Aramaic words in the Gospels or lying behind the current Greek words. I wonder how the scientific method will compete against that slam-dunk evidence that the Gospels really were quoting the Aramaic words of an Aramaic speaking historical Jesus? It’s going to be a tough fight. (more…)

2012/04/22

Putting James the Brother of the Lord to a Bayesian Test

spelt out in blue neon at the offices of Auton...

spelt out in blue neon at the offices of Autonomy in Cambridge. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I saw none of the other apostles, except James the brother of the Lord. — Galatians 1:19

On this verse some hang their strongest assurance that Jesus himself was an historical figure. Paul says he met James, the brother of the Lord (assumed to be Jesus), so that is absolute proof that Jesus existed. That sounds like a perfectly reasonable conclusion. So reasonable, in fact, that some quickly denounce as perverse cranks any who deny this “obvious meaning”.

But should historians be content with this? Is it being “hyper-sceptical” to question this explanation?

We need to keep in mind some fundamental principles of historical research and explanations from the professional historians themselves. Renowned conservative historian, Sir Geoffrey Elton, warns against deploying such simplistic methods as citing a single piece of evidence to make a case. In this instance, the case is about evidence for the historicity of Jesus.

Historical research does not consist, as beginners in particular often suppose, in the pursuit of some particular evidence that will answer a particular question (G.R. Elton, The Practice of History, p.88)

If that’s what historical research is not, Elton goes on to explain what it is:

it consists of an exhaustive, and exhausting, review of everything that may conceivably be germane to a given investigation. Properly observed, this principle provides a manifest and efficient safeguard against the dangers of personal selection of evidence. (p.88)

Since I am currently reading and reviewing Richard Carrier’s Proving History: Bayes’s Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus I am taking time out in this post to see what happens if I test this “obvious” interpretation of Galatians 1:19 by means of Bayesian principles. Carrier argues that Bayes’ Theorem is nothing more than a mathematical presentation or demonstration of what goes on inside our heads when we are reasoning about any hypothesis correctly. So let’s try it out on the conclusions we draw from Galatians 1:19.

The way it works is like this. (But keep in mind I am a complete novice with Bayes’ theorem. I am trying to learn it by trying to explain what I think I understand so far.) I see a verse in Paul’s letters that appears to have a simple explanation. I think of myself as a geologist looking at strata in a rock face and I think about all I know about strata and the evidence in front of me and with all that in mind I try to work out how that strata came to look the way it does. This verse is like that strata. My task is to test a hypothesis or explanation for how it came to be there and to appear as it does.

So the explanation, or hypothesis, that I decide to test is: That James, whom Paul meets according to this letter, was a sibling of Jesus. That’s my initial explanation for this verse, or in particular this phrase, “James the brother of the Lord”, being there.

It seems pretty straightforward, surely. This should be easy enough to confirm.

So let’s set it out in the theorem structure. (more…)

2012/04/20

Richard Carrier’s Review of Bart Ehrman’s Did Jesus Exist?

Filed under: Ehrman: Did Jesus Exist? — Neil Godfrey @ 3:11 pm
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Updated an hour and again seven hours after original posting.

This is a serious error, because it makes Ehrman’s book into nothing more than falsified propaganda. It is his responsibility as a scholar to have read these writings and accurately represent them to his readers so they don’t have to read them themselves. That he doesn’t do that erases any scholarly value this book could have had. Here, for example, the key point is that Doherty engaged himself like a competent scholar, used mainstream scholarship extensively, and correctly identified where his conclusions and interpretations differed from the scholars he cites and from mainstream scholarship generally. Ehrman hides this fact from his readers, and even misleads his readers by declaring exactly the opposite. Where else does Ehrman completely hide and misrepresent the views, statements, and methods of the mythicists he criticizes? If we cannot trust him in this case (and clearly we can’t, since what he says is demonstrably exactly the opposite of the truth), why are we to trust anything he says in this book?

.

Richard Carrier has now posted his own review of Bart Ehrman’s book: Ehrman on Jesus: A Failure of Facts and Logic. (This links to the review.)

This is his introduction:

Having completed and fully annotated Ehrman’s new book Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth (Harper 2012), I can officially say it is filled with factual errors, logical fallacies, and badly worded arguments. Moreover, it completely fails at its one explicit task: to effectively critique the arguments for Jesus being a mythical person. Lousy with errors and failing even at the one useful thing it could have done, this is not a book I can recommend.

Happily Richard acknowledges the extensive series of rebuttals of Ehrman’s book by both myself and of course Earl Doherty as among those worth reading.

(more…)

2012/04/19

So What If Bart Ehrman Did Not Read the Books? His Peers Excuse Him

Filed under: Ehrman: Did Jesus Exist? — Neil Godfrey @ 11:00 am
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Many of us have seen Dr James McGrath’s statements that Bart Ehrman was quite within the bounds of acceptable New Testament scholarly procedure not to read mythicist books that he was reviewing for the public:

It doesn’t strike me as inappropriate that someone who has graduate assistants make use of them, especially speaking as someone who has plowed through significant amounts of mythicist literature and can testify that it is a frustrating waste of time. If Ehrman was able to get assistance that left him with more time to do actual scholarship, good for him! (Blog comment)

McGrath even proudly boasts that he needed only to read the first few pages of Earl Doherty’s 800 page Jesus: Neither God Nor Man in order to write a review of the entire book for public consumption on Amazon.

He has also denounced Thomas L. Thompson’s arguments for mythicism without having read The Messiah Myth. He doesn’t need to since, he says, TLT’s expertise is in the Old Testament, not the New.

Several of Bart Ehrman’s “friends and fans” on his Facebook page (I can’t get my ahead around the idea of biblical scholars having “fans!” — is this another of those “only in America” things?) have also strongly supported the idea of him not having read Doherty’s work, at least. (more…)

2012/04/18

Selective, One-Eyed Responses from Scholars Against Mythicism (SAMs)

The problem with mythicists such as Doherty, Salm, Zindler, Wells, Ellegard, Price is that they engage with the mainstream scholarly literature devoted to studies of Christian origins and the historical Jesus. This poses a problem for anti-mythicist scholars such as Ehrman and McGrath. It forces them to do two things:

  1. Accuse the mythicists of dishonesty because they dare cite works that are not written by mythicists when they find in those works some point that they believe supports their case;
  2. Argue against mythicism by means of just one particular argument as if the many opposing viewpoints of their own peers simply do not exist. That is, they must suppress the fact that there are mainstream scholars who do support some particular details found in mythicist arguments.

The fallacious charge of dishonesty

I addressed #1 only recently at Devious Doherty or Erring Ehrman so won’t repeat myself here. I will add a brief note from Richard Carrier’s list of axioms of historical method:

Axiom 12: When one of us cites a scholar, it should only be assumed we agree with what they say is essential to the point we cite them for. (p. 34 of Proving History)

What happens is that when, say, Earl Doherty cites scholarly works supporting his view that 1 Corinthians 2:8 was originally understood by Paul to mean demons were responsible for the crucifixion of Christ, hostile critics retort that those same scholars also argue that they crucified Jesus by proxy, that is, through the Romans. They certainly do, and it is well understood that they do since it is well understood that Doherty is arguing a position against the views of the general scholarly community. It is clear and obvious to everyone that those scholars are not also mythicists. In their attempts to disallow Doherty the right to use scholarly views to support any point at all he is making in his argument for mythicism they accuse him of being dishonest by quoting scholars who do not agree with his larger point. (See Devious Doherty or Erring Ehrman for details.)

There’s a converse to this. Carrier expands on this axiom from that converse position. One might call it the fallacious charge of gullibility, but Carrier calls it the baggage fallacy:

This kind of ‘baggage’ fallacy (often deployed as a variety of the text-book fallacy of “poisoning the well”) is common enough to warrant particular condemnation. In fact, I see this fallacy committed so regularly, so widely, by accomplished scholars who ought to know better, that I feel the need to call particular attention to it now, in the hopes it will forestall a repeat performance. If you cite a scholar as proving point A, and that same scholar also argues B, but B is not necessary to A, then it is a fallacy for anyone to assume you agree with B, and a fallacy to employ this assumption to argue that if B is not credible then A is not credible. I call this the ‘baggage’ fallacy because it amounts to saddling an author with all the ‘baggage’ attached to the scholar he cites or the views he defends, when such attachment is neither entailed nor warranted. Just because I take certain positions or arrive at certain conclusions is no excuse to impute to me all the baggage that is usually supposed to come along with those positions or conclusions.

For example, when I argue a point (such as that distinct elements of Osiris cult can be seen in early Jesus cult), it might be assumed I agree with something else that supposedly goes along with this (such as that all elements of Osiris cult were present in early Jesus cult, or that Jesus is merely Osiris under another name, of that Christians just “borrowed” and “revamped” an Egyptian religion). That would be mistaken. . . . The same fallacy also results when I agree with something a particular book said, or cite it as a reference of importance on a specific subject, and then it’s assumed I agree with everything that book said or its author elsewhere defends. (p. 35)

Selective rebuttals (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…)

2012/04/11

Carrier’s “Proving History”, Chapter 2 — Review

This post continues from my previous one in which I began my review of Richard Carrier’s Proving History: Bayes’s Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus.

Chapter 2: The Basics

Here Carrier pauses before addressing Bayes’ theorem in order to establish fundamentals that ought to be part of the basic mechanics of every historical enquiry.

The first subsection of the chapter is “Why History Requires Expertise”. Carrier opens by listing three golden rules he always offers lay people who ask him what history they can trust:

  1. Don’t believe everything you read;
  2. Always ask for the primary sources of a claim you find incredible;
  3. Beware of scholars who make amazing claims but who are not experts in the period or even historians.

I have learned to extend #2 to “always ask for the primary sources of all claims — including the commonplace ones”. (more…)

2012/04/10

Richard Carrier’s “Proving History: Bayes’s Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus” Chapter 1 (A Review)

Till now I’ve always been more curious than persuaded about Carrier’s application of Bayes’s Theorem to what he calls historical questions, so curiosity led me to purchase his book in which he discusses it all in depth, Proving History: Bayes’s Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus.

Before I discuss here his preface and opening chapter I should be up front with my reasons for having some reservations about Carrier’s promotion of Bayes’ theorem. (Allow me my preference for Bayes’ over Bayes’s.) I should also say that I’d like to think I am quite prepared to be persuaded that my resistance is a symptom of being too narrow-minded.

My first problem with Carrier’s use of the theorem arises the moment he speaks of it being used to “prove history” or resolve “historical problems”. For me, history is not something to be “proved”. History is a quest for explanations of what we know has happened in the past. Historical problems, to my thinking, are problems having to do with how to interpret and understand what we know has happened in the past. The milestone philosophers of the nature of history — von Ranke, Collingwood, Carr, Elton, White — have certainly spoken about history this way.

I have always understood that where there is insufficient data available then history cannot be done at all. Ancient history, therefore, does not allow for the same sorts of in-depth historical studies as are available to the historian of more recent times. Historical questions are necessarily shaped (or stymied altogether) by the nature and limitations of the available sources.

Criteriology (I take the term from Scot McKnight‘s discussion of the historical methods of biblical scholars in Jesus and His Death) has always looked to me like a fallacious attempt to get around the problem of having insufficient data to yield any substantive answers to questions we would like to ask. We don’t know what happened? Okay, let’s apply various criteria to our texts to see if we can find out what “very probably really did happen”.

Carrier’s introduction of Bayes’ theorem has always appeared to me to be an attempt to salvage some value from a fundamentally flawed approach to “history” — the striving to find enough facts or data with which to begin to do history.

I should add that I do like Carrier’s offering of hope that Bayes’ theorem can promote more rigorous and valid thinking and applications of criteria. But I can’t help but wonder if in the end the exercise is an attempt to patch holes in the Titanic with admittedly very good quality adhesive tape.

What is really accomplished if we find only a 1% probability for the historicity of Jesus? Improbable things really do happen in the world. Otherwise we would never know chance and always be living with certainty. Or maybe I’m overlooking something about Carrier’s argument here.

Not that I’m a nihilist. I do believe we have lots of useful evidence to assist us with the study of Christian origins. I think scholars are agreed that pretty much all of that evidence speaks about a Christ of faith (a literary figure) and not an historical figure. That’s where our historical enquiry must begin — with the evidence we do have. After we analyse it all and frame such questions as this sort of evidence will allow us to ask then we can begin to seek explanations for Christian origins. This will probably mean that we will find answers that do not address the life and personality of someone who is hidden from view. Our understanding will address religious developments, ideas, culture, literature, social developments. We will probably be forced to conclude — as indeed some historians do — that if there is an historical Jesus in there somewhere he is irrelevant to our enquiry.

So that is where I am coming from.

Let’s see if I am being too narrow-minded. Here is my reading of Carrier’s preface and opening chapter. (more…)

2012/04/04

The Ehrman Debacle and Our “Post-Truth” World

Alternate history, alternate reality

aChrist before Pontius Pilate, Mihály Munkácsy,...

"What is Truth?" -- Christ before Pontius Pilate, Mihály Munkácsy, 1881 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)s

Several years ago, I was listening to the Thom Hartmann Program, a liberal talk radio show that runs in the United States. Naturally, I was listening to a podcast, since here in the Midwest only conservative talk radio is permitted on the public airwaves. At any rate, it was before the last presidential election, and Thom was musing about candidates and their public image. He said Democrats needed to be careful not to do something silly like Clinton did — namely, getting a haircut on the tarmac aboard Air Force One, delaying air traffic around the country until he was ready to go.

Hartmann’s heart was in the right place. Dee Dee Myers recalls that the high-priced haircut that stopped traffic was a blow to Clinton’s image. The story, which dominated the news cycle for at least three days, “became a metaphor for a populist president who had gotten drunk with the perks of his own power and was sort of not sensitive to what people wanted.”

Except the story isn’t true. Oh, he did get a haircut on Air Force One, but it didn’t stop traffic. Somebody had to call Thom over the commercial break and remind him. Of course, Thom remembered then that the story was false, but here’s the power of perception in a post-truth world: Reality has become nothing but a shared media experience, and whoever controls that media creates reality.

Media Truth: Bart Ehrman has disproved mythicism

Here in the U.S., there’s a cottage industry that employs a handful authors dedicated to debunking the lies, half-truths, and misrepresentations spewed out by hate radio hosts and right-wing media pundits. In the vacant space created by a delinquent press (sometimes indifferent, often complicit), these authors plug away and dutifully point out each error in an effort to set the record straight.

But it doesn’t do any good. By that I mean the conventional narrative doesn’t change. The record never gets set straight. Whoever tells the story first and loudest gets first dibs on constructing reality. It helps, of course, if the new bit of information confirms peoples’ biases. It’s even better if the details are titillating and salacious.

This is why so many people, even educated people who should know better, think that climate change is a hoax, that Gore said he “invented the Internet,” or that Obama is an atheist-Muslim-Marxist. They’re plugged into media outlets that tell them what they want to hear, and even if they should accidentally flip the channel, mainstream media is too busy telling stories about murders, mayhem, and missing persons to do its job.

Similarly, Dr. Richard Carrier, Acharya S, Earl Doherty, and my buddy Neil have been diligently cataloging the errors in Bart’s Myth-bashing opus. I’m glad. We need to try to set the record straight. However, I don’t expect it to do much good — at least in the popular media — and certainly not within the guild. We won’t be able to change the media narrative that Dr. Ehrman has “dispelled the myth of mythicism.(more…)

2012/03/25

Richard Carrier interview

Filed under: Bayes' Theorem,Richard Carrier — Neil Godfrey @ 6:06 am
Tags:
Bayes theorem

Bayes theorem (Photo credit: disownedlight)

Richard Carrier is interviewed by John Loftus on “Debunking Christianity”and the topic is mythicism and the place of Bayes’ Theorem. If mathematics helps clarify the thinking of many then it can only be a good thing. I personally have not seen that it is necessary, and that worthwhile thinkers routinely seek to identify and account for the assumptions, the details and identifying fallacies in their arguments. Good arguments do make explicit all the assumptions etc without the need for mathematics to draw them to our attention. That one is reading a story about an event and not directly accessing an event, the ability to examine the nature of the story itself, for example, or being able to justify clearly why an argument is “not persuasive or plausible” instead of just saying “that’s not plausible or that’s weak”, or why an event is more or less probable, and the careful weighing (with intellectual honesty) the alternative explanations, and that any chain of reasoning ultimately has to factor in its weakest link. . . .

The good and diligent historians do make these things explicit and clear. It is the muddle-headed ones, one might say, that don’t. If Bayes is going to help the latter then that’s not a bad thing. I really do think that much of the problem among theologians who identify themselves as historians have never really been “trained” in historical studies and have never been trained in logic or philosophy. Clear thinking skills — as evidenced by the regularity of circular arguments, special pleading, unexamined assumptions — seem minimal in all too many of their works that relate to “the historical Jesus”.

But as Richard implies, such clarity of thinking does not come to us naturally. It does take a lot of “training”. But I don’t agree that this sort of training need by the preserve of “experts”. Those with enough interest and effort can learn how to improve their ways of thinking and how they read works and formulate their own ideas. (And much of that training can come from wide reading of the very best in the field.)

Here are a few excerpts of the bits that particularly appealed to me: (more…)

2012/03/22

Bart Ehrman’s Huffing and Posting Against Mythicism

Bart Ehrman

Cover of Bart Ehrman

Dr Bart Ehrman has written for the Huffington Post a quite a curious article attacking mythicism and advertising his new book which promises more of the same. It is a curious article because it leaves a reader who knows anything about mythicist arguments and historical Jesus scholarship with the impression that Ehrman knows very little about either, but of course that cannot be true. Probably most of us who know Ehrman’s reputation have personally benefited from at least one of his many books bringing New Testament scholarship to a wider audience. What the article does do above all else is portray a scholar who has been so immersed in his field with all its deepest and millennia old assumptions that he simply cannot believe there is any other way of validly questioning the evidence outside the cave. Any rumours of such activity have to be denounced. There can be no other truth apart from what one sees in the cave where only right-thinking guild members have always worked.

I cannot improve upon Richard Carrier’s detailed exposure of the intellectual and scholarly failings of Ehrman’s article. Still, I have been asked for my own thoughts, so here they are.

Ehrman has unwittingly demonstrated that so much of his work on the historical Jesus is built on a foundation of sand. Of course he needs to come out fighting. Attack may be the best hope for defence when the rationale for one’s life’s work is at stake.

Ehrman’s rhetorical message

And his article is a rhetorical attack. It has precious little valid argument to it. Compare the terms he uses to portray those who espouse mythicism with the terms he uses for his “right-thinking” society and scholars said to be opposed by this “movement”: (more…)

2012/02/22

Uncommon Tantrums over a Common Era

Filed under: Guest Posts — Tim Widowfield @ 11:44 am
Tags: ,
English: A hungry baby yelling and crying.

Image via Wikipedia

People get upset over the strangest little things. When Ronald Reagan took office in 1980, I recall the fervor with which his administration tried its best to “undo the horrors” of the Carter years. For example, almost immediately they ripped the solar panels off the White House roof and set aside plans to move the US to the metric system. I suspect they didn’t really hate solar power or particularly love feet and inches; they just hated the people who advocated those policies.

When you see people throw tantrums over seemingly unimportant things, you start to look for the underlying issues that the indicators signify.  Of course it’s no mystery why fundamentalist Christians have been howling over the switch from AD (Anno Domini) to CE (Common Era) and BC (Before Christ) to BCE (Before the Common Era).  For them it betokens the erosion of Christian supremacy in our culture.  It indicates their loss of dominance in national affairs.  And besides, they hate change.  That much is understandable.

However, what are we to make of a non-believing, free-thinking professor who jumps on the bandwagon? Dr. Richard Carrier is last person I would have to expected see rending his clothing and sitting in sackcloth and ashes over what is essentially a simple unit of measure. He doesn’t just dislike the change in nomenclature — he hates it. Carrier tells us that CE and BCE “should be stuffed in a barrel filled with concrete and tossed to the bottom of the sea.”  Wow.  That’s the sort of vitriol I reserve for really important evils, such as flavored coffee or misplaced apostrophes. What’s the hubbub, bub? (more…)

2012/01/24

David Fitzgerald responds to Tim O’Neill’s review of Nailed

David Fitzgerald‘s essay, Ten Beautiful Lies About Jesus, that received an Honorable Mention in the 2010 Mythicist Prize contest has been expanded into a book, Nailed: Ten Christian Myths That Showed Jesus Never Existed At All. The book is clearly a hit:

Nailed continues to garner more fans and accolades, and generate cranky hate mail. I was especially proud to see Nailed voted one of the top 5 Atheist/Agnostic Books of 2010 in this year’s AboutAtheism.com Reader’s Choice Awards! It’s a real thrill to have my book honored alongside world-class authors like the late, great Christopher Hitchens, Stephen Hawkins and all the contributors of John Loftus’ awesome, paradigm-wrecking collection The Christian Delusion. (From DF’s blog)

I’m especially pleased that David has given me permission to post a large chunk of his recent blogpost here. I began a couple of times to address Tim O’Neill’s ‘review’ of Nailed but never got beyond his first few points — Tim was so far from relating to anything that is actually written in the book that I could see it would take more time than it was worth to point it all out. (Perhaps we can coin a word for these sorts of anti-mythicist non-reviews; someone has suggested Grathneilians — though David happily reports he got along well with Dr McGrath, so that’s good.)  So I usually ended up just posting two links: one to the first part of Tim’s review and the other to the relevant portion of Nailed online so anyone could read for themselves how off the planet Tim’s remarks were.

(There is another review of the bookhere.)

So I’m especially pleased David himself has taken the time to respond. Check it out on his blog where there are other comments. Since I know many hate following links I’ve sought permission to post it here, too:

And Then There’s This Guy

That said, there is one review that I do want to respond to here; not simply because it’s almost completely wrong, but because it’s often so ass-backwards wrong in ways that actually prove the points I argue. (and because demonstrating all this gives a surprisingly high entertainment value) It’s the screed-in-book review’s clothing from an Australian blogger, Tim O’Neill. O’Neill calls himself a “wry, dry, rather sarcastic, eccentric, silly, rather arrogant Irish-Australian atheist bastard,” so you would think we would get along like a house on fire. Sadly, no. As George Bernard Shaw pointed out long ago, if you roast an Irishman on the spit, you can always get another Irishman to turn the crank… (more…)

2011/10/07

The Dying Messiah (refrain)

Filed under: Messianism — Neil Godfrey @ 8:23 pm
Tags: , , ,

Richard Carrier has posted a fascinating artticle on the pre-Christian Jewish concept of a dying Messiah and showing the nonsense so thoughtlessly repeated even by scholars the originality of Christianity’s idea that a messiah must die in order to offer saving atonement to his people.

Richard’s post is beautifully lengthy exploring much detail from the evidence.

I can’t resist taking this opportunity to refer to the many posts I have also made on this same theme, although they do not explore the same details as Carrier does — listed below.

My posts are for most part based on other scholars who have advanced the same idea, including a Jewish one who sees certain sectarian Second Temple Jewish ideas about Isaac’s offering (apparently thought by some to have been a literal blood sacrifice that atoned for the Jewish people) overlapping with messianism in the time of the Maccabean martyrs — whose blood also had atoning power.

Other posts are based in some measure on the considerable work of Thomas L. Thompson who has written quite a bit on the concept of pre-Christian messianism.

Of significance is the death of the messianic (anointed high priest) having the power to forgive and atone; and the Davidic messiah himself was very often depicted as a figure of suffering and even ultimate rescue from death or near-death.

Carrier refers to Daniel’s messiah being killed. Saul, another messiah, was also killed. The concept of a messiah per se dying — whether the messiah was humanly fallible or a righteous martyr — was very much a part of the thought world of sectors of Judaism at the time of Christianity’s birth.

Carrier sees the history of messianic pretenders arising in the pre-war period as a possible outcome of the Daniel prophecy. Maybe, but I will have to think that through some more. Till now I have tended to argue that there were no such popular messianic expectations until from the time of the Roman war of 66-70 in a series of posts I have yet to complete. (Carriers post might end up prompting me to finish that now so I can think through his arguments some more.)

Anyway, for what it’s worth, here is a list of posts of mine on the same theme — that the idea of a dying messiah was by no means novel to the Jews or original to the Christians. (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…)

2011/06/08

Bayes’ theorem and the Jesus mythicism-historicity conflict

Filed under: Bayes' Theorem,Richard Carrier — Neil Godfrey @ 12:22 pm
Tags: , ,
Bayes theorem

I showed pictures of adorable or scary animals to counteract the inherent boredom of reading math. Like, for instance, the hippopotamus.

Richard Carrier is well known for his advocacy of the use of the Bayes’ theorem in historical Jesus studies. (Find the link to Bayes’ Theorem for Beginners here or go direct to the pdf article here.) Carrier has enumerated its advantages, and I highlight the ones that are my own personal favourites (all quotations are from the pdf article, Bayes’ Theorem for Beginners):

1. Helps to tell if your theory is probably true rather than merely possibly true

2. Inspires closer examination of your background knowledge and assumptions of likelihood

3. Forces examination of the likelihood of the evidence on competing theories

4. Eliminates the Fallacy of Diminishing Probabilities

5. Bayes’ Theorem has been proven to be formally valid

6. Bayesian reasoning with or without math exposes assumptions to criticism & consequent revision and therefore promotes progress

The reason 2, 3 and 6 stand out for me is because they are at the heart of my past criticisms of historical Jesus studies that typically begin with assumptions of historicity, and avoid (or fail to comprehend or even attack) alternative explanations that do not support those assumptions. One does not really need Bayes theorem to expose your assumptions to criticism, but the formality of this method does potentially encourage stronger awareness of where we may be failing to do this adequately. (more…)

2011/06/03

A Case for Interpolation Does NOT Rely On Manuscript Evidence

Filed under: Paul and his letters — Neil Godfrey @ 9:55 am
Tags: , ,

James McGrath has ridiculed any reference to an argument for interpolation if there is no manuscript evidence for it. But this simply avoids addressing the actual arguments that are sometimes advanced for an interpolation. By avoiding the arguments he sophistically reasons that if there is a claim for interpolation then he is equally free to say that an editor has removed the evidence that will support his case. One would expect evidence of more learning from an associate professor.

This post looks at arguments by scholars who give us strong reasons to accept the possibility, even likelihood, of interpolations in Paul’s letters despite absence of manuscript evidence.

Richard Carrier has an excellent blog post discussing two clear interpolations in Paul’s letters: 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16 and 1 Corinthians 14:34-35. His conclusion should be seen in the context of what William O. Walker has described as a “culture of interpolations” in that era.

Firstly, Carrier’s conclusion to his blog post: (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…)

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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2010/07/31

“According to the flesh” — Doherty’s mythicist argument

Jesus Christ
Image via Wikipedia

But it’s not that Earl advocates lunacy in a manner devoid of learning. He advocates a position that is well argued based on the evidence and even shows substantial knowledge of Greek. But it cannot be true, you say. Why not? Because it simply can’t be and we shouldn’t listen to what can’t be true. No. Not so quick.

[From Crosstalk message 5438 by Professor of Religious Studies, Stevan Davies of Misericordia University, author of Jesus the Healer and The Gospel of Thomas Annotated and Explained (see homepage) ]

It is easy to come across strong, even hostile, responses to some of Earl Doherty’s arguments for Jesus mythicism, though it seems few have actually read them. One of Doherty’s arguments in particular that has met with considerable scorn is his claim that the NT phrase translated “according to the flesh” does not necessarily mean that Jesus was thought have lived a human life on earth.

I add nothing new in this post, or nothing particularly new. This post is only intended to provide another platform for an opportunity to some facts about Doherty’s arguments to be made known. As I have discussed elsewhere, there are some areas where I find myself at odds with Doherty, and my views on the origins of Christianity are always tentative. But that does not prevent me from acknowledging that Doherty often has much stronger arguments than some of his critics (who often have not even read him) would have others believe.

The passage most often cited in connection with Jesus being “according to the flesh” is Romans 1:1-4 (more…)

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