Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Ignatian Vexation

I've sent a formal progress report to all donors explaining what I've gotten done, what's delayed me, and what I still have to do to complete my book On the Historicity of Jesus Christ. If you donated to that project and haven't received that progress report, please email me at once. That's for donor eyes only. But for everyone, here's an expansion on one item in it.

Last entry here I already mentioned one of the issues that came up: my stumbling into several muddles in New Testament studies that I thought had been reasonably resolved by now. Many issues I thought were cut-and-dried are actually mired in complexity, and my research in these areas has absorbed far more time than it should have. The two most annoying examples of this (though not the only ones) are in dating the contents of the New Testament and identifying their authorship and editorial history. There is no consensus on either, even though standard references (like Eerdman's Dictionary of the Bible, The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, and The New Interpreter's Bible) tend to give the impression there is. Even when acknowledging some disagreements, they do not accurately convey the shear number of disagreements and the complexity of determining their relative merits.

In other words, not only is there no consensus, but there are dozens of positions, and arguments for each are elaborate and vast. It was only after over a month of wasting countless hours attempting to pursue these matters to some sort of condensable conclusion that I realized this was a fool's errand. I have changed strategy and will attempt some sort of broader, simpler approach to the issues occupying my chapter on this, though exactly what that will be I am still working out. It will involve, however, a return to what historians actually do in other fields, which New Testament scholars seem to have gotten away from in their zeal to make sense of data that's basically screwed in every conceivable way. For when it comes to establishing the basic parameters of core documents, I have never met the kind of chaos I've encountered in this field in any other subfield of ancient history I've studied. Elsewhere, more often than not, either the matter is settled, or no one pretends it is.

It would bore me (and you) to attempt a thorough account of all I encountered on this subject of late. So I'll just walk you through one tiny example of the countless annoying paths I ended up on. And that only as briefly as I can (which is not very brief at all), since even this one story would bore the bristles off a boar if recounted in detail. It's probably boring enough as it is.

In most standard references or scholarly discussions, it's routinely claimed that the early Christian martyr Ignatius quotes the Gospel of Matthew in his letters, and Ignatius wrote those letters in the year 107 A.D. (or so), therefore Matthew was written before 107 A.D. That would be a fine example of establishing what we call a terminus ante quem, "point [in time] before which," the latest year a particular document could have been written. If either premise were a settled fact, that is. Unfortunately, they aren't. Yet typically this little problem isn't mentioned or explained, and these premises are declared in some form as if no one doubted them.

Already I encountered a general muddle even before getting to this particular vexation. In any other field, when historians don't know the exact year a book was written, they determine a terminus post quem ("point after which," also written terminus a quo) and a terminus ante quem ("point before which," also written terminus ad quem) and then conclude the book was written sometime between those two years. And they admit they can't know any more than that, which is something New Testament scholars tend to gloss over, often wanting to fix the year more exactly than the evidence actually allows, and then browbeat anyone who disagrees with them. In other areas of history we don't try that. If the terminal dates for On Playing with Small Balls (an actual book written by Galen, no kidding) are "between A.D. 150 and 210" then we accept that On Playing with Small Balls may have been written at any time within that sixty-year span. We don't scoff at someone who suggests it could have been written near the end of the author's life, nor claim as if it were a decided fact that it was written at the start of his career instead. Either is possible.

But in New Testament studies, the fact that the evidence only establishes termini for Matthew between A.D. 70 and 130 isn't something you will hear about in the references. Indeed, I say 130 only because the possibility that the earliest demonstrable terminus ante quem for Matthew may be as late as 170 involves a dozen more digressions even lengthier than this entire post. Because all the relevant issues of who actually said what and when remains a nightmare of debate so frustrating that I actually gave up on it mid-research, seeing it would take months to continue to any sort of conclusion, and not even a clear conclusion at that. Mind-numbing, truly.

But what about Ignatius? First of all, the year he wrote is not actually known. He doesn't say (which is always odd of Christian letters--real ancient letters were routinely dated). And there is no consensus now, either. Dates from 102 to 117 are still defended by well-qualified scholars, and from what I can tell, any of these are possible. Normally that entails a terminus ante quem of 117, not 107. Until possible dates later than 107 are conclusively refuted, we must accept that the termini for Ignatius are from 102 to 117, so if Ignatius mentions Matthew, that sets a terminus for Matthew of 117, not 107 (because any date up to 117 is possible).

But no, it can't be as simple as that. For yes, of course (as if you didn't see it coming), there is still contention as to whether the letters of Ignatius are even authentic, or which ones are authentic, or whether they have been edited or interpolated, or whether the one datable reference in them (to the reign of Trajan) is inauthentic (and thus Ignatius actually wrote in a different, later reign), and on and on. The concerns are not crank. But sorting through and assessing them all would take months of research. And that's just on this one, entirely, mind-numbingly peripheral issue of the authenticity of the current text of the relevant epistles of Ignatius, all just to establish a terminus ante quem for Matthew!

Okay, but just for instance (just one point among a great many): some scholars argue that the context of the Ignatian letters makes exactly zero historical sense. Ignatius is supposed to have been arrested and sent to Rome on a crime of illegal assembly (as a Christian), and on his journey to court his Roman jailers willingly take him to visit community after community of felonious illegal assemblies, and to meet with them and write letters to them and generally continue to flagrantly commit the capital crime for which he was arrested, in the presence of entire communities of fellow Christians also flagrantly committing that same crime, and in fact actively promoting the commission of that crime across half the Empire, and his Roman jailers don't mind. Not only do they not report any of this illegal activity, but they even aid and abet it at every step, taking him from church to church, allowing him ready access to his fellow criminals, a regular supply of papyrus and ink, and interfering not one whit. That sure is odd. Don't you think?

Now, let's suppose there is some brilliant response to this observation that explains everything and makes historical sense of these letters again. To find it and evaluate it--not just all the evidence and merit opposing this perplexing observation but supporting it as well, to give each side of the debate a fair shake--is a time-consuming task of no small order. And that's just one of literally dozens of objections to the authenticity of the Ignatian letters. But if they aren't even authentic, their date is no longer secure (even if it ever had been).

We could still argue for a terminus ante quem for these letters if they are all forgeries (since it wouldn't matter if they were, as a forged quotation of Matthew is still a quotation of Matthew) by observing that Polycarp, at some unspecified time in his life, wrote his own letter as a preface to the entire collection of Ignatian letters, and Polycarp was martyred sometime between 155 and 168. Or so we think. In actual fact the evidence is problematic and some scholars argue his martyrdom could even have been as late as 180. Again, resolving that issue would require mountains of research (which, I must keep adding, might not in fact resolve the issue at all but merely demonstrate conclusively that it cannot be resolved on present evidence). And all that just to establish a terminus ante quem for the letters of Ignatius, just to establish a terminus ante quem for the Gospel of Matthew. (Oh, and remember, that's just one Gospel. Multiply all this by Mark, Luke and John and you will only begin to touch the depths of my vexation in all this).

Okay. That's all just for the first problem with the Ignatian terminus for Matthew. The date. It gets worse when you start on the second problem: Did Ignatius even quote Matthew? Now things get extraordinarily annoying. Most scholars agree only some of his letters are authentic and that several were definitely forged, and that even the 'authentic' ones were expanded by forgers later on--we think we have the earlier, undoctored versions, simply because we have shorter, unembellished versions, although there is no secure reason to be certain these shorter versions aren't just longer redactions of even shorter but now lost originals...which we might even have in Syriac translation (and so on and so on and so on). But all that aside (Really? Can we just throw all that aside?), in his supposedly "authentic" letters (which ones are those again?), Ignatius definitely shows he knows of various stories peculiar to Matthew (like Matthew's nativity story), and he appears to quote Matthew verbatim a few times, and vaguely many times more.

Case closed, yes? Well, no. First, just because Ignatius knows the Matthaean nativity story doesn't mean Matthew preceded Ignatius. That would follow only if you assume (and note this) that Matthew invented that story. Now, that's a rather damning assumption. But if you reject it, then you can no longer conclude that Ignatius knows that story from Matthew. For he might know it from the same source Matthew learned it from. In which case, Matthew could possibly have written after Ignatius (indeed, he might even have taken details he learned from Ignatius and embellished them into his story). Again, resolving this, one way or another, takes considerable work, since the scholarship isn't entirely decisive or in agreement on these things. The problems are typically glossed over, as if there were no ambiguities or uncertainties here. Yet dig a little, and that's all you find.

Here's an example of what I mean:

Now the virginity of Mary was hidden from the Prince of this world, as was also her offspring, and the death of the Lord; three mysteries of renown, which were wrought in silence by God. How, then, was He manifested to the world? A star shone forth in heaven above all the other stars, the light of which was inexpressible, while its novelty struck men with astonishment. And all the rest of the stars, with the sun and moon, formed a chorus to this star, and its light was exceedingly great above them all. And there was agitation felt as to whence this new spectacle came, so unlike everything else above. Hence every kind of magic was destroyed, and every bond of wickedness disappeared, ignorance was removed, and the old kingdom abolished, when God appeared in human form [or revealed himself in a human manner] for the renewal of eternal life.


Ignatius, Letter to the Ephesians 19

Ignatius is supposed to be attesting here to his knowledge of Matthew. Hey, sure, right? Matthew talks about a nativity star. Bingo! Often scholars or reference books will simply assert this as a given. Yet clearly Ignatius knows a completely different story. Ignatius does not appear to know Matthew's star story at all. He makes no reference to Magi, nor any moving star rising in the east and settling over the manger, no Herod, no Bethlehem. And in Matthew the star is but a sign, not the Savior Himself. Instead, Ignatius knows some completely different star story, one that arguably conflates (or more likely lies behind, as more original) the nativity stories that found their way into Matthew and Luke (e.g. Luke mentions a chorus of angels in heaven, but no star, Matthew mentions a star but no chorus, while Ignatius knows about a chorus of stars in heaven). As far as Ignatius appears to know, the star was the arrival of Jesus himself (not a mere sign of his birth or birthplace), it was brighter than even the sun, all the stars in heaven sang, and the whole world was astonished and agitated by all this. Clearly, Ignatius has some other Gospel in mind. Or stories that precede all the Gospels we have. Or neither (because, remember, this letter could be a fake). But just as clearly, there is no evidence here that Ignatius knew the Gospel of Matthew.

Well, what about the exact quotes, and the paraphrases? Surely that's conclusive! I wish. Annoyingly, much of this evidence seems to imply the opposite: that Ignatius had no knowledge of Matthew's Gospel at all. For on several occasions when Ignatius is supposed to be "quoting" Matthew he uses the material in a completely unrelated context, as if he never knew how Matthew used it or even that he did. Problem number one. Ignatius also never mentions that he is quoting anyone (much less a Gospel, and much less a Gospel attributed to anyone named Matthew) or even indicates that he is quoting. Problem number two. In any other field, those two facts, combined with the first fact that Ignatius appears to employ phrases and wording and concepts found in Matthew, would indicate that Matthew borrowed from Ignatius, not the other way around. Or does it? Again, there are arguments pro and con from here. And again, they are elaborate and vast. Time sucks down a rabbit hole.

Once again, I'll just give you one single example among several:

Ignatius quotes verbatim Matthew's phrase "He that is able to receive it, let him receive it" (in Smyrnaeans 6:1). But in Matthew's Gospel (Matthew 19:12) Jesus utters this phrase about castration, becoming a eunuch for Christ, while Ignatius uses it in reference to receiving salvation. Ignatius says:

The things in heaven, and the glory of the angels, and the rulers, both visible and invisible, if they believe not in the blood of Christ, shall, in consequence, incur condemnation. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.
It is inconceivable that Ignatius would quote what Jesus said about accepting castration in a line about angels and demons accepting the salvation of Christ. One would sooner expect that Ignatius had no idea this line was ever used about men cutting their balls off. Hence this "exact" quotation would seem to suggest Ignatius didn't know Matthew, but knew a common stock of phrases and idioms shared by Matthew. But again, one could argue the point, and resolving any such debate is arduous.

Oh, by the way, did I also mention the manuscripts even of the "authentic" letters of Ignatius don't agree with each other, often containing entirely different sentences or even radically altered paragraphs? And that there may be evidence of retroscription? (That's later scribes correcting "inaccurate" quotations with "correct" quotations, a phenomenon that is definitely found in the manuscripts of Irenaeus, for example, thus calling into question any reliance on Irenaeus for the original readings of biblical passages, hence it might be circular to say Irenaeus confirms a biblical reading...yeah, because medieval sneeks rewrote his text to, but I digress). If we can't even know for sure what the original text of Ignatius' letters said, you can only imagine how much more this multiplies the task of sorting out issues of quotation or paraphrase.

And then there is the question (frequently overlooked) as to why Ignatius would rely on Matthew at all. For his soteriology is exactly the contrary of Matthew's and agrees instead with Mark's. For instance, Ignatius rails against the idea that Christians must obey Torah laws, but Matthew's entire Gospel was written to defend that position as endorsed by Christ (whereas Mark's entire Gospel was written to defend the position held by Ignatius), yet Ignatius supposedly repeatedly quotes and relies on Matthew (the Gospel of his enemies) without having any idea that Matthew copied from Mark, the very Gospel Ignatius would surely have preferred. How can Ignatius not know Matthew had doctored an earlier Gospel in order to advocate the very doctrines Ignatius opposes? Why doesn't he throw that in the face of Matthew-quoters, instead of inexplicably becoming a Matthew-quoter himself? Sorting these questions out is yet more time consuming madness.

Now sure, everything above can be debated endlessly. But an endless debate on one detail, multiplied by a dozen details, multiplied by a dozen problems, multiplied by a dozen documents (since the Gospels aren't the only vexations among early Christian documents, not by a longshot), you end up with nearly two thousand endless debates. Even supposing you can fit an eternity into a day and thus nail a conclusion on any one point in under ten hours, ahem, two thousand days still works out to more than seven years (as you'll surely be taking weekends off at least--to drink yourself into a stupor, if nothing else). And at the end of it, you have perhaps only a few pages to show for it all, since that's all that will be needed to summarize your conclusions regarding the basic facts of your evidence before moving on to the actual topic of your book. A handful of pages. Which took seven years of soul-crushing tedium to compose.

No thanks.

The field of New Testament studies needs to get its house in order. Until it does, I'll have to do without what I can normally rely upon in other fields: well-supported conclusions (or a ready consensus on the range of conclusions
possible) on the most fundamental issues of evidence.
 

57 comments:

Tyro said...

Wow!

I know it was probably tedious to research this but it's fascinating to read about. Maybe it's fascinating because you're sharing just a few issues and not the thousands that have come up and maybe it's because your writing is lively but I didn't realize the extent of these problem and it's like a, well, revelation. I'm looking forward to reading whatever you come up with.

Good luck and stay strong.

Gilgamesh said...

I must tell you that I have made much the same observations when it comes to Ignatius and some of the scholarship around him. Heck, I think that his letters could be older than the Gospels.

I wonder though, do you have similar conclusions about the dating of the epistles of Paul and their authenticity. There are scholars like Bob Price who think they are all 2nd-century works.

jfior said...

Richard, I am a big fan of your work on line and in The Empty Tomb. I am looking forward to the new book you mention here.

This is an excellent post....thinking about the double standard applied to NT and "church father" manuscript dating and other ancient writing to me is tragic and quite dishonest by otherwise honest people calling themselves christians...

Pikemann Urge said...

Maybe "He that is able to receive it, let him receive it" is just one of many common phrases like "the die is cast", "nice to meet you", "that was a close one" or even "Laugh it up, fuzzball."

Perhaps one could find evidence of this phrase in use in Greek and Roman writings - that would be useful I'm sure.

Gordon said...

That wasn't at all boring, but as you say we only get a glimpse of the myriad of arguments! It really looks like being agnostic on the dating of these texts is the only way to go for now...

Loren said...

If the Ignatius difficulties are even halfway typical, then untangling early Church history would be a major project. And one that would have to be done *very* carefully, working back little by little from the later pre-Constantine sources or even post-Constantine sources.

But who might be willing to do such a thing? Perhaps some of the historical-Jesus questers? :)

WAR_ON_ERROR said...

Okay...I get all that. But if your chapter on this just has all the paragraphs scribbled out with a big "FUCK THIS SHIT!!!" written over the whole thing...you're fired. lol

B. Dewhirst said...

... a fine, if somewhat dry, entry.

... but if you're drinking Gin straight, we need to take up another collection to get you some tonic and limes.

Pikemann Urge said...

B., that was not dry at all! Then again, my Kabbala chart (done by a very... interesting friend of mine) says my life's path was an academic one.

G&Ts are so yummy on hot days. After work, of course. But in Martinis I prefer vodka.

Jon said...

Us fans of the old Bible Geek (Robert Price) have been aware that the received wisdom on Ignatias is suspect. Your additional details are likewise fascinating.

If you do read them with the theory that they are all later forgeries in mind, you do take note of this unrealistic zeal he has to be eaten by dogs, etc. Doesn't this sound just like pious fraud from a fan? He also has this mentality that giving deference to the bishop is of supreme importance, as unto God himself. Then he seems to be acting like Rome is the pre-emminent Christian city (to the bishop of the church of Rome "You have no need to be taught by others, you teach us, etc"). Doesn't this pro-Rome, pro-bishop mentality represent a much later catholicizing of Christianity? Wasn't Antioch the pre-emminent Christian location at this tiem?

We've seen spurious documents put forward before that had the effect of propping up the Bishop of Rome (Pseudo Isodiran Decretals). Doesn't that theory fit Ignatias rather well?

Gerry said...

NIce scholarship. Fascinating stuff, but the true christian will reject it out of hand, because the Bible is the word of God as delivered to the prophets, and especially to his son Jesus. Personally I'd ignore all scholarly analysis, and get Christian fundamentalists where it hurts - the sayings and deeds of Jesus. Read the book of Matthew carefully, and you can immediately throw the whole Bible, together with those wretched creationists and other fundamentalists into the abyss of blind ignorance where they belong. Jesus himself proves that the whole content of the Bible is untrustworthy ...
See http://www.woerleenet.nl/jesus-message.html

AIGBusted said...

Sounds like there's a lot of deep problems with NT studies. I think this in and of itself disproves christianity's claim to truth and makes any historical case that apologists want to present inconclusive at best.

Bernard said...

Hello Richard,
Welcome to my world! You thought only a few months of research would be needed for your book. For me, just to do a reconstruction on how Christianity started, I thought the same. I was wrong: I needed many years instead.
It seems to me that, after all, you think that scholars (with all their disagreements and bias) are little help. I concluded the same long ago.
On the positive side, did you read my page on Ignatius' epistles? All forgeries, different authors, written 125-145 (except 'to Polycarp').
Did it occur to you the two passages about Ignatius in Polycarp's letter might be interpolations? In my view (and with evidence), they are.
I do not understand your fixation about dating GMatthew from the Ignatius Corpus. If it is not possible, look somewhere else!
If your dating of each early Christian writings come with a very wide range, then you may forget about any clear understanding on historicity. But if you narrow them down, you have to rely on slim and contestable evidence. That's the dilemna.
Did you read my page about gospels dating?
I leave you with that French proverb: "L'art est difficile, la critique est facile".
PS: Maybe Price was right: in one of his book, he said something like this: (historical) Jesus (if he existed) cannot be reliably found according to the (so-called) evidence we have.
This is why I limited myself to do just A reconstruction, not THE reconstruction. But I think mine, relative to the evidence available, is the most likely to be close to the real history.
Best regards, Bernard

Bernard said...

Hello Richard (again),
I reread your concerns about "Ignatius" knowing about GMatthew. You noticed a lack of details and differences. True by me. But in my experience, this is to be expected from early Christian authors (all of them before Justin Martyr, many after), not only in regard of the NT texts (if existing then), but also regarding the Jewish scriptures as well (the later is very observable): a lot of unaccurate "quotes" or paraphrases, sometimes added up/modified/embellished, no identification of the source, obvious cut & paste for a purpose, out of the original context etc., etc. That was common for them, and Paul was one of the first to do it (the author of "Hebrews" and "1Clement" were even worse). Of course, they had to deal with their agenda (guilty on that!) but also (in their defence) from rare scrolls with no capital letters, no versifications, no spaces and no punctuations: not easy to be accurate even if they wanted to! And it is likely most of the "quotes" or paraphrases were coming from memory, not from a fresh look at the written text. In other terms, we cannot expect accuracy from these authors for the aforementioned reasons (and others, like being in hurry!). As for me, I am confortable about the Star passage in the "to the Ephesians" being inspired from GMatthew (greatly embellished mind you. And from some other considerations, I am sure that GMatthew was out before the Ignatian epistles).
I do not think the Ignatian star is meant to be the Savior himself (the text does not say that positively), rather only his Sign. And in GMatthew, the star is moving only when the Magi go out of Jerusalem.
Best regards, Bernard

Bernard said...

Hello Richard (again, again),
Looking at 'to the Ephesians', I think there is enough here to allow for a (weak) dependency on GMatthew: 19:1-2 => Mt2:2-9 (virgin and star), 14:2 => Mt12:33 (tree known by his fruits), 5:2 => Mt18:19-20 (one or two, together is better than alone), 10:3 => 13:25 (plant of the devil/sowed tares of the ennemy) and 17:1 => Mt26:6-7 (myrrh upon Jesus' head) (also in Mk14:3), etc..
Then you have to ask yourself: how did the author come up with these bits (there are more, as you know) which all appear in GMatthew, even if they are in a different form and/or a different context. More so when this letter does not have any bits which (apparently) are drawn from specifically GLuke or GJohn or GMark.
The explanation (valid for many authors prior to Justin & Irenaeus): they did not have any respect for the gospels, and many times used them as just material, from which they would draw pieces/ideas. Those ones were reworked in order to fit their purpose and placed in another context if needed. That process could be called enhanced plagiarism.
We have to get away from the idea those writers were basically honest (and shall I say scholarly) and when they would use gospel material, they would quote (or paraphrase) exactly and reveal their source. This is not what I observed and this fact can be checked by how these authors handled the OT (or how "Luke" handled GMark or how "Matthew" handled the OT). A good example is the writer of '1 Clement'.
Best regards, Bernard

B. Dewhirst said...

Or they could be borrowing from the same campaign slogans, popular entertainment, and fashionable nonsense of their time.

Bernard said...

B. Dewhirst,
Yes, but to prove your point, you need to supply items of evidence from these "campaign slogans, popular entertainment, and fashionable nonsense of their time" which would be inspiration for the author of 'to the Ephesians", pertaining to passages which contains bits and pieces of GMatthew. I am doubting you can. Furthermore, this plagiarism was also practiced by the gospelers themselves relative to the OT. Here is an example:
"Calming the sea" in Mk4:37-41, I noted in my website: "First, let's consider this: "Mark" considerably borrowed from Jnh1:4-12: in it, Jonah is ALSO sleeping during the storm, then ALSO awakened and then ALSO accused of indifference. And in Mk 4:41, the disciples "were terrified" ('feared with great fear': ephobethesan phobon megan). In Jnh1:10 (LXX), we have 'feared the men with great fear': ephobethesan hoi andres phobon megan."
Best regards, Bernard

Edward T. Babinski said...

Hi Bernard,
You are arguing that "'Mark' borrowed from the fourth Gospel, 'John?'" Why couldn't 'John' be the one borrowing from 'Mark,' and 'Mark' created his story of the men in the boat (and also utilized a phrase from a Greek translation of the O.T. tale of Jonah), and then the fourth Gospeler, 'John,' utilized that Markan tale?

Also, the fourth Gospeler seems conversant with some earlier names and stories found in Mark and Luke as when the fourth Gospeler tells the tale of Mary sitting at Jesus' feet and anointing him and wiping his feet with her hair in a town called Bethany, and having a sister named Martha, and a brother named 'Lazarus,' since all of that information is found in unconnected fashion in stories in Mark and Luke. Check Mark and Luke for the name of the town, the event of anointing and wiping with hair, the sisters names, and the name of Lazarus -- the last being found in a parable in Luke. They are all unconnected in Mark and Luke. The sisters are not mentioned as having a brother, the anointing isn't by Mary but by an unnamed woman, the town of Bethany is found in reference to some other anointing tale, and Lazarus isn't a real person but a parable about someone who almost rose from the dead. Yet in the last Gospel all of those things get put together into a single tale of Mary, Martha, the anointing in Behtany, and their raising of their "brother" a real-life Lazarus not a parabolic figure.

And in the fourth Gospel the raising of this Lazarus is taken as the final straw that broke the back of the Pharisees, convincing them Jesus must die. While in the previous Gospels the final straw was the cleansing of the Temple during holy holidays. Hence the fourth Gospeler even MOVES THE CLEANSING STORY TO THE BEGINNING OF HIS STORY OF JESUS RATHER THAN AT THE END, TO MAKE ROOM FOR THE NEW MIRACLES ONLY HE RECOUNTS, THE "RAISING OF LAZARUS."

So it would appear that GJohn came AFTER Mark and Luke. Like I said, check out the verses above in their original contexts in Mark and Luke, and compare John. The Johnnine narrative is also suspect for plenty of other reasons besides the one mentioned above.

Edward T. Babinski said...

Bernard,
I visited your website and found it quite thorough and informative, and not at all what I had supposed based on your suggestion that 'Mark' borrowed from 'John,' since you discuss 'John' as having several layers of tradition, some of which may have preceded the final version of the miracle story in Mark about the men in the boat.

I thought that your comments at your site regarding the beginning of Christianity, proto-Christianity, and the later date for Acts, and its problems of continuity with 'Luke' and 'Luke's' discontinuity with the rest of the Gospels to be accurate observations that have been made by many scholars. Excellent stuff.

I also applaud your remarks concerning Revelation and the book of Daniel, and, your comments concerning the nearness of the final judgment of all mankind and its connection in the minds of Gospel writers with the destruction of Jerusalem. Some excellent points made on all of those topics.

I realize English is not your native tongue, but I do hope someone sometime will re-edit your articles or utilize them in their own work, since they contain some excellent observations.

Best wishes,
Ed Babinski

Edward T. Babinski said...

Richard,
Excellent post on the difficulties of assigning dates and authorship to N.T. writings. I suspect that even if your upcoming book on the historical Jesus simply took an entertaining look -- as you have done here -- at a number of questions regarding the difficulty of drawing firm conclusions, that would suffice to aid others at least recognizing that all "apologetic" opinions aside, none of these questions have an "easy answer," and "faith" solves nothing, removes no doubt. It's a "leap" in other words. Help turn fundies into Kierkegaardians in other words, since they always claim to have such a rock solid basis for their beliefs, show them the shifting sand beneath their feet, historically speaking.

On the matter of "dates for N.T. writings being hotly contested," there is of course no limit to the things a "bible believer" is willing to contest. In fact armed merely with the first chapter of Genesis and a handful of alleged "ages of Patriarchs," and a "flood story," some "bible believers" are willing to contest theories and data from every major field of science, from the field of physics to astronomy to chemistry to geology to botany (dendrochronology) to biology to archeology, etc.

Bernard said...

To Edward Babinski,
NO, NO ,NO: jnh stands for the OT book of Jonah, not John's gospel. You must know by now that I have four pages on my website explaining "John" (the gospeler) first knew about GMark (and then wrote what I call the original version), then he learned about GLuke (and added on a fair bit), then got acquainted with 'Acts' ...
Yes I know about my English (Richard also!), and if I could find a writer, then publishing could be considered.
Thank you for your compliments. It seems we have a lot in common about our understanding of the NT (& 'Daniel'). Enough said here, I'll send you a personal email.
Best regards, Bernard

Bernard said...

To Ed Babinsky,
You wrote, "you discuss 'John' as having several layers of tradition, some of which may have preceded the final version of the miracle story in Mark about the men in the boat."
I want to clear up a misunderstanding: I never said/wrote that and GJohn does not have the story of Jesus calming the storm/squall.
Best regards, Bernard

Richard Carrier said...

Gilgamesh said... I wonder though, do you have similar conclusions about the dating of the epistles of Paul and their authenticity. There are scholars like Bob Price who think they are all 2nd-century works.

Another example of a question far too laborious for me to research for my next book. A whole dissertation could be written on dating even a single letter (merely to address all the scholarship thereon). Though I'm intrinsically skeptical of some of Price's claims in this regard, they aren't too easy to dismiss (e.g. his case for Galatians is nothing to sniff at, and he isn't the one who came up with it--other scholars started the argument) and some are even mainstream (the Pastorals are pretty much universally agreed to be 2nd century forgeries). I'll be sticking as much as possible to what comes anywhere near a consensus, but even that is hard to really pin down. But I won't be siding with late dates for anything widely agreed to be authentically Paul. Even if the majority of scholars are wrong about any of those, it's too much work to find out and make the case, and I don't want such distractions in my book anyway (except where they are unavoidable or the case is clear).

Pikemann Urge said... Maybe "He that is able to receive it, let him receive it" is just one of many common phrases like "the die is cast", "nice to meet you", "that was a close one" or even "Laugh it up, fuzzball." Perhaps one could find evidence of this phrase in use in Greek and Roman writings - that would be useful I'm sure.

A nice example of what I'm talking about. That's exactly the sort of hypothesis that one should test, yet no one does (or at least not properly), and for me to do it would take several hours of work, at a minimum--and yet multiply that by a hundred other trivia of such sort (Bernard here keeps trying his hand at them, multiplying the questions again and again in his effort to quell them, thus only proving my point), and there's just no way I'm doing this. My book isn't about that, and NT scholars need to get off their as*es and do this. I'll have to devise a polite way to say that.

B. Dewhirst said... ... but if you're drinking Gin straight, we need to take up another collection to get you some tonic and limes.

"On the DVD commentary to the new Bollywood romp Ignatian Vexation, actor/director Richard Carrier delivers the startling revelation, 'Actually I'm a gin-and-orange man. Can't stand the stuff straight, which is odd since usually prefer my liquor straight (which is why I only drink the good stuff, like Zubrowka Vodka or Jameson Whiskey). Artistically, I went with the gin bottle because it's prettier and I knew everyone'd recognize it in the dim light.'"

Bernard said...

Hello Richard,
Better late that never ...
1) About 'to the Ephesians' dependence on GMatthew:
- 17:1 => Mt26:6-7 (myrrh upon Jesus' head) (also in Mk14:3)
- 18:2 "Jesus the Christ, was conceived in the womb by Mary ..., of the seed of David but also of the Holy Spirit" => Mt1:18,20 "Joseph, son of David, ... Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit."
- 19:1-2 => Mt2:2-9 (the new star announcing Jesus Christ)
- 5:2 => Mt18:19-20 (two or more, together is better than alone for praying)
- 10:3 => Mt13:25 (plant of the devil/sowed tares of the ennemy)
- 14:2 => Mt12:33 (tree known by his fruits)
Other considerations come from 'Revelation', Barnabas' epistle, the Didache, Josephus' works and finally GMatthew internal evidence.
Please note this Ignatian letter is about one third in length of the Pauline '1 Corinthians' and no quote/paraphrase specific to GMark, GLuke or GJohn appears in it.
2) I wonder about what you accuse me of quelling. I just stated some facts I got acquainted with after years of quasi-independant research. And about I asking many questions? I asked only a few, three or four, two requesting a simple No or Yes (with no response from you).
3) What would other scholars research that some expressions would be coming from popular sayings, rather than the gospels?
However if you think that might be the case, the onus is on you to prove it. This task is not as strenuous as it sounds. Data base of all known ancient texts are available, sophisticated search engine also. Crossan did it in order to find (very dubiously) his secondary attestations.
4) Let me quote what Ed Babinsky wrote:
"Bernard,
I visited your website and found it quite thorough and informative, ... I do hope someone sometime will re-edit your articles or utilize them in their own work, since they contain some excellent observations."
Best regards, Bernard

Richard Carrier said...

Bernard said... I wonder about what you accuse me of quelling.

Accuse you? I'm not sure what you think I meant. I was saying you are attempting (admirably) to resolve the issues, but all you end up doing is multiplying the questions and hence the research and analysis required to resolve them (e.g. checking your work, analyzing whether Matthew could be quoting Ignatius or both quoting Q or some other lost common source, etc., etc.)--thus proving my point: resolving these issues is a monstrous labor.

And indeed, as you yourself said, you've only attempted to address a tiny fraction of the items related to this single issue which is itself one of hundreds. That's my point. I don't have a thousand lifetimes to resolve all these questions.

When you get a consensus of New Testament scholars to back you on what you argue, then let me know. Until then, you're just one more fighter in the ring. Which increases disagreement (and thus the labor for everyone else who has to pick a winner) rather than increasing agreement, which is where New Testament Studies should already now have gotten to, yet has failed even to go in that direction.

This makes NTS rather strange among the many subfields of ancient history, where agreement is usually established, rather than even more contenders proposing their own solutions and no one paying attention to any of it or attempting to produce a field-wide consensus on which fighter has the winning punch.

Right now, for researchers like me, it's just hopeless.

Bernard said...

Dear Richard,

I think you are right when you say resolving these issues is a monstruous work. However I cannot figure out how you can write a book 'on the historicity of Jesus Christ' if you have no idea about, let's say, the dating of the Pauline letters and of gMark.

Please note that for/in my website, I did a lot of research in order to narrow down/determine the dating/sequencing relative to the crucial NT texts (and others). I went through this monstruous work already, not only the tiny fractions you are mentioning. And that's fully documented on my web pages.
In my view, it is absolutely essential for any understanding about historicity.

You know there is no concensus, only at times a near-concensus which is constantly under attack (on some points justifiably so). The purpose of my website has always been to find the truth independently (away from messy/biased "scholarchism"), rather than to adhere to a (near-)concensus. Certainly increasing disagreement was not one of my goal.

I fully agree with you: New Testament Study should already have gotten us solid bases (as for almost any other disciplines). But on religious matters, and with so few clues about dating (internal & external), and dubious opinions left & right, well, this mess is to be expected. Do not blame me for that!

Best regards, Bernard

mikeduncan said...

I recall Rodney Stark's book on the rise of Christianity has a fairly compelling sociological explanation for Ignatius's apparent zeal for death. I'm not completely convinced by it, but it has swung me a little toward toward seeing some version of the letters as authentic.

Bernard said...

To Mike,
"zeal for death"? Maybe, but there are many other items to consider in order to judge about authenticity.
Furthermore, "zeal for death" shows in earlier Christian writings such as
Philippians1:21,23 & John11:16,12:23-24,32-33. So that concept is rather "in the grain" rather than against it among Christians of these times, certainly not peculiar to "Ignatius".
Best regards, Bernard

Richard Carrier said...

Bernard said... I cannot figure out how you can write a book 'on the historicity of Jesus Christ' if you have no idea about, let's say, the dating of the Pauline letters and of gMark.

Indeed, it's as much the other way around: I cannot figure out how anyone has written books on the historical Jesus if they have no real idea about these things, and they haven't--they have only had their own isolated or selective opinions (often confidently asserted on the shallowest of arguments). They have not done the real groundwork of developing a decisive and consensus-persuasive answer. NTS scholars have essentially skipped completing all groundwork and just jumped right into the big questions by floating on whatever raft of contentious conclusions they've assembled for themselves. Like I said, that's bizarre by the standards of any other field of history.

However, fortunately, the burden is on the claimant, so I don't have to do what historicists must. I don't need any particular date for Mark, whereas historicists often do. If they can't convince their peers on basics like this, then they can't have validly convinced their peers on any conclusion depending on those basics. Part of the theme of my book is that historicity proponents need to get their sh*t together.

I think mythicists can be helped or hurt by different conclusions becoming established on such fundamental matters, but until they do become established, in the proper way (by developing a field-wide consensus built on a sound analysis of true facts), mythicists can take as much license as historicists have taken for themselves. I don't think that's a good thing. But it's the mess the historicists have left us in. You can't blame the mythicists for this.

I went through this monstruous work already, not only the tiny fractions you are mentioning. And that's fully documented on my web pages. In my view, it is absolutely essential for any understanding about historicity.

That depends on what and how one argues. I find a lot of dubious claims in your work, so it does not appear I can simply trust it. I would have to peer review it in detail first. Let the entire community do that. Hence like I said: when you win the consensus of scholars to your side, email me. Otherwise, you're just one more guy claiming to have solved everything--and differently than everyone else. Otherwise, in the meantime, I have to limit issues to essentials and leave the rest in the state it's actually in: undecided.

Do not blame me for that!

No worries! I don't think it's your fault. But there is something systemic at fault. And I'm not sure what it is. However, I'm told resolving these very issues will be one of the aims of the CSER Jesus Project. If they follow through, then maybe light is at the end of the tunnel. But even if it is, that's years away.

If you would like, you can send your qualifications, affiliations, and links / list of principal work to R.J. Hofffmann at CSER and emphasize that you would be interested in a future opportunity to present and summarize your work on dating Matthew (or whichever such topic) if they run a Jesus Project conference on the chronology of NT documents (won't be next year, those are already planned--probably some years hence yet). You can find his contact info through Google I'm sure.

Richard Carrier said...

MikeDuncan said... I recall Rodney Stark's book on the rise of Christianity has a fairly compelling sociological explanation for Ignatius's apparent zeal for death. I'm not completely convinced by it, but it has swung me a little toward toward seeing some version of the letters as authentic.

I'm not sure there is a valid argument in there. Just because Hercules' motives for carrying out his labors or Oedipus' for striking out his eyes can be explained in terms of real-world human psychology and sociology is not even an argument for either event being historical. As Bernard already suggested, the point of historical fiction is to reflect and amplify (and further encourage) certain historical realities (in both behaviors and attitudes). Thus fictional stories about the zeal of martyrs can reflect or amplify the zeal of real martyrs. But that doesn't make the fiction true.

Be that as it may, I have developed a saying, as a result of my many dealings with the work product of Stark: Rodney Stark is a brilliant sociologist, but a lousy historian. This is most clear in his recent works in the history of science (I've done a web show on this, which I'll announce when it airs). His work on Christian origins is considerably better, but as most historians in my community conclude (and not just me), it's too often wrong on historical facts (even as he starts with correct assumptions in sociology, which is his field, at which he is a master and has my due awe). So I'd employ him with caution.

But on the one general point you make (that there are certainly entirely well-understood psychological and sociological bases for martyrmongering) I produce a synthesis of work that may agree with what you find from Stark, in Who Would Want to Be Persecuted?.

Bernard said...

To Richard Carrier,

Bernard said... I cannot figure out how you can write a book 'on the historicity of Jesus Christ' if you have no idea about, let's say, the dating of the Pauline letters and of gMark.

RC: Indeed, it's as much the other way around: I cannot figure out how anyone has written books on the historical Jesus if they have no real idea about these things, and they haven't
BM: There is a near-concensus among critical scholars that the canonical gospels were written during the 70 to 100 period. A near-concensus exists also that seven Pauline letters are largely authentic and written in the 50 to 60 period. So I think your above statement is not valid. Of course there is some who will not agree with that, for reasons which are sometimes very narrow-minded. But this is to be expected: in a democratic society, on any position, there are always dissenting voices.
RC: They have not done the real groundwork of developing a decisive and consensus-persuasive answer. NTS scholars have essentially skipped completing all groundwork and just jumped right into the big questions by floating on whatever raft of contentious conclusions they've assembled for themselves. Like I said, that's bizarre by the standards of any other field of history.
BM: Groundwork by NTS critical scholars has been done for the aforementioned dating (as I did it myself from scratch on my website) but that was achieved long ago, and now the books about it are amassing dust in libraries. No critical scholar nowadays is going to write book or article repeating again what has been concluded long ago and still considered the norm. That would be seen as very cheap & easy work, therefore detrimental to the career of the author. And let’s face it: NTS critical scholars or just authors know there is nothing to gain by adhering to a vague and contested near-concensus, and justifying it again. Rather, it is by exposing new ideas, concepts and theories that advantageous attention from peers and audiences can be gained, not by rehashing the old stuff. That’s the nature of the business.

RC: However, fortunately, the burden is on the claimant, so I don't have to do what historicists must. I don't need any particular date for Mark, whereas historicists often do.
BM: It looks to me that you made up your mind and concluded that Mark is irrelevant in order to determine the historicity of Jesus. I would object to that: how can you be sure that, among the trivial and “human” and realistic passages in the gospel, nothing can be true? More so if this gospel was written for a group of Christians at a time (as right after the events of 70) when bit and pieces heard from eyewitnesses could be remembered (but because, later, at the time of writing, those eyewitnesses were gone (as disappeared), the author could add up a lot of embellishments and fiction!). The fact that you do not need dating for your theories is not to your advantage. That looks more like ignoring potential damaging evidence which would torpedo your position.
RC: If they can't convince their peers on basics like this, then they can't have validly convinced their peers on any conclusion depending on those basics. Part of the theme of my book is that historicity proponents need to get their sh*t together.
BM: Well, we discussed that already. And Yes, that would be very nice if it happens. But I think hoping full agreement on the basics is just unrealistic dreaming: that will never happen. Why?
NTS critical study on the early Christianity is an artisanal industry which rewards those who are innovative (but without losing credibility). Most of the time, it is done by one individual with very little time for research, a large ego and strong opinions. Even if you put them in a group (as for the ‘Jesus seminar’), there will be a lot of divergence and very little convergence. Another problem I mentioned before is the nature of the “evidence”: it consists mostly of ancient religious (very biased!) texts, many of them interpolated and edited, very difficult to date, sometimes badly written, with little potential historical infos among them, and authorship mostly either anonymous or fraudulent. As I told you before: from that, it is rather impossible to deduct a history of very early Christianity which is fully certain. The best you can do is to propose a reconstruction of the events leading to the first basic Christian doctrine (allowing Christianity to become a religion outside of Judaism), supported by as much favorable evidence as you can find and taking care of the unfavorable one (that is not ignoring it!).
Also, may I remind you that the same problems exist among mythicists. Those also need to get their sh*t together. Why don’t you lead them and see first hand if it can be accomplished! Rather than ask the other side to clean up its act, why don’t you first clean up your own house in order to show the right example.

RC: I think mythicists can be helped or hurt by different conclusions becoming established on such fundamental matters, but until they do become established, in the proper way (by developing a field-wide consensus built on a sound analysis of true facts), mythicists can take as much license as historicists have taken for themselves. I don't think that's a good thing. But it's the mess the historicists have left us in. You can't blame the mythicists for this.
BM: Well, I still think that even if historicists are taking a lot of licence (and you think it is wrong for them to do so!), that’s NO reason whatsoever for mythicists to do the same. Two wrongs do not make it right! It looks to me you are trying to find excuses for mythicists to use their own licence, which they do a lot. And for historicists, “developing a field-wide consensus built on a sound analysis of true facts”, is what you desire: fine. But if that is not happening, it does not mean that mythicists are right. Except, of course, if they develop “a field-wide consensus built on a sound analysis of true facts” for their own cause. Can they do that? I doubt it. My philosophic bit on this issue: do not ask your opponent about something you either do not intend to accomplish (on your side of things) or cannot do it. As far as “sound analysis of true facts”, that’s what I tried to do on my website.
Let me digress here: I found out the hard way on internet forums that many mythicists use the same tactics as non-liberal Christians (such as fundies): that is bullying, elitist rhetoric, brain washing (by screaming ill-evidenced sound bits), unfounded over-confidence, personal attack, wrong representation. Certainly, that does not help the mythicist cause, even less the atheist/agnostic one. That got to the point that some (HJeist) atheists declare mythicism as being a religion with faith, belief and gurus (and flimsy positive evidence to support it!). Once again, I reiterate, this approach is not helpful and make things worse.

BM: I went through this monstruous work already, not only the tiny fractions you are mentioning. And that's fully documented on my web pages. In my view, it is absolutely essential for any understanding about historicity.

RC: That depends on what and how one argues. I find a lot of dubious claims in your work, so it does not appear I can simply trust it.
BM: I was not expecting you would simply trust it. What would be the dubious parts? Also, in a reconstruction, you don’t need to prove beyond any doubts that all its elements are true (as I told you, the nature of the evidence does not allow that). However, all elements have to be justified/substantiated as much as possible and the reconstruction has to make sense from all aspects and angles.
RC: I would have to peer review it in detail first. Let the entire community do that.
BM: I agree 100%. My study is available instantly and for free on the internet, from many years ago. What more can I do? When do we start? ... ...
Enough dreaming, now let’s do a reality check. Do you think scholars, in their elitist towers, are going to consider the work of a layman, even if the poor bugger spent years of research on it? And then expect the entire community of scholars to review it in details! Sweet childish dreams ...
RC: Hence like I said: when you win the consensus of scholars to your side, email me.
BM: Do you really think that can happen? I am not even talking about scholars going to my side, that is changing their views in the process, admitting their wrong ... It is just infantile thinking. A concensus of scholars! Again, you are asking for the impossible. Maybe we are not living on the same planet! Or, the only way that could happen, by I becoming a hugely feared and all-powerful world-wide dictator, and ...

BM: Do not blame me for that!

RC: No worries! I don't think it's your fault. But there is something systemic at fault. And I'm not sure what it is. However, I'm told resolving these very issues will be one of the aims of the CSER Jesus Project. If they follow through, then maybe light is at the end of the tunnel. But even if it is, that's years away.
BM: I already exposed some of the reasons explaining the mess we are in. I want to add up something else, already said by others: most critical scholars dealing with the historical Jesus believe he cannot be found (as defined) and therefore they do not even try. Instead, they fashion him according to their personal desire, belief, faith, upbringing, education, biases, agenda, philosophy and also according to prevalent trends and markets, etc ... That would explain the diversity of the different “portraits” and so-called studies, and the shallowness of their endeavour.
Then, of course, from where they get their income is another consideration. And then, because they have little time for research and even thinking, and many are under the gun (from the publisher or from the institution they belong to) to publish something, multiplicity of viewpoints and shallowness of the studies can be expected.

RC: If you would like, you can send your qualifications, affiliations, and links / list of principal work to R.J. Hofffmann at CSER and emphasize that you would be interested in a future opportunity to present and summarize your work on dating Matthew (or whichever such topic) if they run a Jesus Project conference on the chronology of NT documents (won't be next year, those are already planned--probably some years hence yet). You can find his contact info through Google I'm sure.

BM: My qualifications: many years of unbiased research about everything affecting our knowledge of the historical Jesus (including his own existence) and on the very beginning of (Jesus based) Christianity. Very few scholars, if any, spent as much time as me on the subject. That would be my main contribution. That allowed me to make a very complete (and three-dimensional, I may add) reconstruction where everything fits and is substantiated. I do not think anyone else did that, at least not as staying as close to the evidence as I did.
Affiliations: none. I am an independant and proud of it.
Links and list of principal works: http://www.geocities.com/b_d_muller/index.html
I have some reserve about the CSER. Most scholars here are already engaged on very different views. Each one of them is already committed to a position on the matter, which is hard or even impossible to reconcile with the others.
Why don’t you provide me with the email address of R.J. Hoffmann? You must have some contact with him. Why don’t you tell him about me first before he or me initiate a contact?
Of course, my view of the CSER would change if I am invited to contribute. That would be rather refreshing if research on the subject would not be considered (by the scholars themselves) the monopoly of scholars. This monopoly is a bit similar to the one of the pope, bishops and priests, and some “official” scholars, in the Catholic Church: that is, we are the only ones who can understand these things. I did not want to go through that again when I became very skeptical, more so when critical scholars do not agree with each other. That’s why I did my own research.

Best regards, Bernard

Richard Carrier said...

Bernard said... There is a near-concensus among critical scholars that the canonical gospels were written during the 70 to 100 period.

(a) That's no longer true and (b) even when it was true, it wasn't based on any sound principles or demonstrated facts (it just became the common assumption everyone kept repeating without exactly knowing why anyone believed it). That's the entire point of my post.

As I've learned recently, a new consensus is growing that now places Luke-Acts and John in the 2nd century (the arguments are heading toward 115-130 for GLk-A and 120-150 for GJn). But even the arguments for placing GMk and GMt before 100 are not strong, though conversely the arguments for placing them later aren't strong either. Which was my point: in every other field of ancient history we state dates as ranges, the termini, and don't dogmatize beyond that--but if we did this honestly for the Gospels as a whole, we'd get a consensus range of probably 60-150, not 70-100.

Now the books about it are amassing dust in libraries.

Not true. Even insofar as any books actually ever did what you claim, they are now so immensely obsolete given current tools and new data that they are no longer authoritative. This is why the Jesus Project formed: to try and start getting a handle on this fact and resolving it.

It looks to me that you made up your mind and concluded that Mark is irrelevant in order to determine the historicity of Jesus.

I don't know what you mean by "already" here: my mind was made up by all the research and writing I have so far done on my book. It is thus a well-informed mind coming to a recent well-informed decision. But in any case, I didn't say "Mark is irrelevant in order to determine the historicity of Jesus," I said the date when Mark was written is irrelevant in order to determine the historicity of Jesus, and not as an a priori fact, but as a consequence of how the data and arguments I've collected pan out. Mark could have been written in the year 38 A.D. and the argument I develop in my book (that Mark is a deliberate work of symbolic fiction not even intended to convey historical reporting) would still follow. But that everyone agrees (and with good reason) that Mark post-dates 60 and probably 70 does make my case stronger, but I don't need to argue for those dates since everyone already "accepts" them, whereas if Mark were written post-100 that might add slightly to my case, but so slightly as to make no practical difference. Ergo it doesn't matter to me when Mark was written.

How can you be sure that, among the trivial and “human” and realistic passages in the gospel, nothing can be true?

I have an entire chapter answering that very question. You'll have to await publication. But in short, it is not a presumption. It's something I have accumulated more than enough evidence to prove. And it's not something I was convinced of until I completed my recent research.

I think hoping full agreement on the basics is just unrealistic dreaming: that will never happen.

Honest scholars can agree on termini, while still reserving pet theories as to dates within the termini. This is how it works in every other field of ancient history. For example, one scholar may think On Playing with Small Balls was written late in Galen's career, another may think early, but both of them will agree either of them could be right, and that the evidence swaying them to one side is not so strong as to rule out the other side. NT Studies behaves differently. Somehow they develop the bandwagon view that (by analogy) Galen's book was written early and then cite that as the "consensus," despite the fact that the evidence establishes only a much wider termini than that, not the narrower termini everyone keeps claiming is the "consensus." There is something fishy about that. And it has to stop.

...there will be a lot of divergence and very little convergence...[and] the nature of the “evidence”: it consists mostly of ancient religious (very biased!) texts, many of them interpolated and edited, very difficult to date, sometimes badly written, with little potential historical infos among them, and authorship mostly either anonymous or fraudulent. [Etc.]

Hence my point. In any other field in ancient history, the correct and common response to both facts is a refusal to dogmatize about results. To think that any firm conclusion can be reached when no two experts can agree and the evidence is so universally f*cked, is to act like a demagogue, not a scholar. Scholars respond to such situations the right way: if no two experts can agree, then there clearly is not enough evidence to validate either's view, and therefore the only agreement that can be validly reached is that experts don't agree, i.e. that there is no agreement than can be validly reached with the evidence we have. And the fact that the evidence is as hosed as you rightly observe is exactly why the experts can't agree on anything. Hence the appropriate response, in regard to dating for example, is to set the termini where all honest scholars can agree the evidence confirms them to be and no narrower.

Instead, NT scholars make assertions that actually dissolve into a chaos of uncertain and disputed claims whenever the evidence is closely examined (as I show with the example of trying to date Matthew by Ignatius).

Also, may I remind you that the same problems exist among mythicists.

You don't need to remind me. I have entire sections in my book devoted to making exactly that argument. Both houses need to clean up their act, and I say so.

Well, I still think that even if historicists are taking a lot of licence (and you think it is wrong for them to do so!), that’s NO reason whatsoever for mythicists to do the same. Two wrongs do not make it right!

In this case, yes, they do. It's called the Golden Rule. If historicists claim the right to develop a dozen completely contradictory versions of a historical Jesus (and they have--there are at least that many defended in the literature today), they cannot deny that right to mythicists. That would be hypocrisy. If the historicists think such license is wrong for mythicists, it's just as wrong for historicists. Hence until historicists get their sh*t together, they have no business harping on mythicists for taking the very license historicists have themselves assumed.

Just as most historical Jesuses must be false (in fact at most only one can be correct), so most mythical Jesuses. If historicists are content to allow false Jesuses to be respectably defended (and they are--as a matter of logic, most Jesuses historicists defend must be false, by virtue of contradicting all the others), they must be content to allow the mythicists to defend their own false Jesuses just as respectably.

Like I said, that's not a good thing. It's just where things are.

But if that is not happening, it does not mean that mythicists are right.

Indeed. I make exactly that point in my book.

[The typical internet mythicist's] approach is not helpful and make things worse.

I completely agree.

My study is available instantly and for free on the internet, from many years ago. What more can I do?

Summarize it rigorously in under 6000 words and submit to a peer reviewed journal--or break it up into definable sub-theses and gradually submit one paper for each, or seek publication of the whole as a monograph with a peer-reviewed academic press (then ensure it gets noticed for book review by appropriate scholarly journals). As a scholar you are obligated, IMO, to do at least one of these things if you want your thesis to be taken seriously.

A next or alternate step (to publicize your results) is to research all the upcoming conferences in New Testament studies and query the appropriate ones with an offer to present a summary of your work to an audience of scholars (these typically require a 3000-word or 1500-word summary).

Do you think scholars, in their elitist towers, are going to consider the work of a layman, even if the poor bugger spent years of research on it?

Actually, credentials don't much matter if your work meets peer review standards. Though not all journals review blind (though they claim to and should), many do, in which case readers won't even know you're a layman. Unless your work isn't up to snuff.

But why not get the credentials? There are affordable ways to an accredited Ph.D. in biblical studies. If you've done so much work like this already, you've clearly got the time and motivation to get the requisite degrees as well.

You won't get into conferences without quals. But you can get published without them, and if your work gains enough support, it will win advocates with quals. But I see no reason not to just get the quals if you take your scholarship seriously.

most critical scholars dealing with the historical Jesus believe he cannot be found (as defined) and therefore they do not even try.

Indeed, this very point was made recently at the Jesus Project conference. My response then is the same now: if they are right that Jesus cannot be found, then they must (and should be able to) demonstrate this fact (in which case the consensus would become that the historical Jesus cannot be found, no matter how hard anyone tried), and if they are wrong, it must (and should) be possible to demonstrate that something can be known about the historical Jesus. Yet all the historians claiming to uncover the historical Jesus can't even agree with each other, which actually proves the agnostics right. So unless the historicists get their sh*t together enough to actually prove we can know something about Jesus that all honest experts can agree on, the agnostics will continue winning the argument.

Instead, they fashion him according to their personal desire, belief, faith, upbringing, education, biases, agenda, philosophy and also according to prevalent trends and markets, etc ...

That they allow this demonstrates that NT Studies is f*cked as a field and needs to get its house in order, exactly as I said. Incidentally, I just discovered that this very argument is made by Hector Avalos in The End of Biblical Studies, and though he is a bit overly pessimistic and polemical, most of his points are right on target, and demonstrate that NT Studies looks nothing like any other objectively pursued field of history.

Very few scholars, if any, spent as much time as me on the subject.

You can't be very widely read in the field, then. There are many scholars who have spent lifetimes on it, and gotten the degrees, and published vastly. There's no way you have surpassed them in that.

Why don’t you provide me with the email address of R.J. Hoffmann?

Contact info is available online. If you take this seriously enough, you'll find it.

I can't recommend you, as I don't know you--and, as I said, I haven't time to peer review your work. That's the point of having degrees, BTW: it confirms that your scholarship has been peer reviewed to an acceptable standard; if you don't have degrees, then your scholarship has to be peer reviewed by some comparably reliable process before it can be vouched for. That's the way it has to be.

Bernard said...

To Richard,
RC: As I've learned recently, a new consensus is growing that now places Luke-Acts and John in the 2nd century (the arguments are heading toward 115-130 for GLk-A and 120-150 for GJn). But even the arguments for placing GMk and GMt before 100 are not strong, though conversely the arguments for placing them later aren't strong either. Which was my point: in every other field of ancient history we state dates as ranges, the termini, and don't dogmatize beyond that--but if we did this honestly for the Gospels as a whole, we'd get a consensus range of probably 60-150, not 70-100.

BM: I blink an eye and now we have a new consensus! Obviously very new. Always new ideas coming out from the crazy scholarly world. As far as GMark is concerned, I’ll stick to my late_70/ early_71 dating in view the gospel is right about the events of 70 in Judea, but wrong about world’s end predicted to happen very soon after that. But I am quite sure some scholars got other ideas, why not. What about around 135? That’s the trend right now.

RC: Not true. Even insofar as any books actually ever did what you claim, they are now so immensely obsolete given current tools and new data that they are no longer authoritative. This is why the Jesus Project formed: to try and start getting a handle on this fact and resolving it.

BM: There is hardly any new data. I agree that obsolescence of scholarly works as caused by newer scholarly works is quite a phenomena bordering on the insane & ridiculous. Make you wonder about the worth of any scholarly endeavour on this matter.

RC: Mark is a deliberate work of symbolic fiction not even intended to convey historical reporting

BM: I agree largely with your assessment (except maybe for “symbolic”). But still, how can you be sure that Mark did not include bits and pieces heard (by the whole community) from an eyewitness and put into the text in order to instill some credibility?
Like Jesus physically getting Peter’s mother-in-law out of bed, who then was found without a fever (sounds to me the woman was faking a fever, or staying in bed even if feeling better, in order to avoid these never ending chores).

BM: Well, I still think that even if historicists are taking a lot of license (and you think it is wrong for them to do so!), that’s NO reason whatsoever for mythicists to do the same. Two wrongs do not make it right!
RC: In this case, yes, they do. It's called the Golden Rule. If historicists claim the right to develop a dozen completely contradictory versions of a historical Jesus (and they have--there are at least that many defended in the literature today), they cannot deny that right to mythicists. That would be hypocrisy. If the historicists think such license is wrong for mythicists, it's just as wrong for historicists. Hence until historicists get their sh*t together, they have no business harping on mythicists for taking the very license historicists have themselves assumed.

BM: I totally disagree. Why don’t the 100% mythicists get together and prove they are right by proposing one complete reconstruction, backed up by substantial positive evidence, and addressing away the contrary evidence? That would shame the historicists with their many Jesuses. Answering chaos with chaos is not good for the atheist/agnostic camp. And mythicists coming out with many theories does not help them either.

BM: My study is available instantly and for free on the internet, from many years ago. What more can I do?
RC: Summarize it rigorously in under 6000 words and submit to a peer reviewed journal--or break it up into definable sub-theses and gradually submit one paper for each, or seek publication of the whole as a monograph with a peer-reviewed academic press (then ensure it gets noticed for book review by appropriate scholarly journals). As a scholar you are obligated, IMO, to do at least one of these things if you want your thesis to be taken seriously.

BM: What peer-reviewed academic press could I contact? Considering I am not part of Academia. I won’t mind to reformat part of my work for that purpose. I think I can greatly contribute (and bring out some fresh and well evidenced studies) on topic such as the Book of Daniel, Revelation, the Making of John’s Gospel, etc.
Frankly, what I need, is a young scholar, not too engaged or committed yet, who would review my work briefly and, hopefully, if he/she is interested, start to do some rewriting and publish to audience of scholars (or/and popularize). My contribution: I did a massive amount of research and my reconstruction is solid. I can certainly assist in making a product ready for publishing. His/her contribution: check me out, interface with what has been done in the scholarly world on the topic, publish and share the credit. There are a lot of budding young scholars in religious studies out there, feeling their way, but with little time for research. Where could I post this offer?

BM: Why don’t you provide me with the email address of R.J. Hoffmann?
RC: Contact info is available online. If you take this seriously enough, you'll find it.

BM: I tried, and tried, to no avail. Can you point me to that contact info?
I did listen to him on some radio show where he was talking about the Jesus project. He sounds like a nice fellow. However it is certain he is only interested in having scholars involved in the five years project, some with big names in order to generate interest, even some controversies (and let’s face it, a cash flow!). As a man (rather a scholar) in the middle, he said he would prefer to have non-engaged/open-minded academic in the team, but he acknowledged he will have to contend with many who already have an agenda. He is very conscious of the many problems looming on the horizon, some potentially very detrimental to his group and cause. I wonder if the whole thing will degenerate into a circus with theatrics in order to please a paying public, with dog fights or opposing groups using tricks & strategies in order to prevail, etc.
He said he is leaning towards there was no Jesus of Nazareth, but at some other times, seems to define that figure as someone who was Son of God and resurrected. Then later, he said something like humanists all over should be very happy if the Jesus project concluded that Jesus was just a man and will not come back! (which is what I already concluded. Maybe I needed a few years to arrive at that but certainly not forty scholars!)

RC: I can't recommend you, as I don't know you--and, as I said, I haven't time to peer review your work.

BM: Sounds like a catch 22.

RC: That's the point of having degrees, BTW: it confirms that your scholarship has been peer reviewed to an acceptable standard;

BM: But the acceptable standard does not prevent Biblical scholars to be wrong, as most can be proven to be (if one is right, many are wrong when they disagree with each other). So I think those high standards are about the form but not the fond, the appearance but not the content.

RC: That's the way it has to be.

BM: That’s the way to treat laymen like peasants and for scholars to keep their private & protected elitist towers.

Best regards, Bernard D. Muller

B. Dewhirst said...

Bernard, he's holding you to -exactly- the same standard as his tenured colleagues and dialogging with you publicly, and regularly seeks colloquial language rather than jargon. That is hardly en-serfification.

Bernard said...

To B. Dewhirst,

Yes, I appreciate how Richards is answering me and thank him for that. I also realize my last sentence is quite rough but was not intended for Richard, rather scholars generally. But yes, it would be so easy for Richard to put a word for me to Hoffmann, or at least, provide me with his email address. Maybe that was the cause of the exasperation I showed on my last comment.

Best regards, Bernard D. Muller

Richard Carrier said...

Bernard said... Why don’t the 100% mythicists get together and prove they are right by proposing one complete reconstruction, backed up by substantial positive evidence, and addressing away the contrary evidence?

My point exactly. Why don't historicists do this, too? The historicists have essentially said "we don't have to do this." If that's their conclusion, they must allow the mythicists the same latitude. So if they want to disallow that latitude, the historicists must clean up their own mess first. I am not saying the mess is the way things should be (indeed, in my book I will argue it's exactly the way it shouldn't be). I'm just saying it's the way even the historicists have tacitly allowed. So they must choose: allow it for everyone, or disallow it even for themselves. I favor the latter. But until historicists clean up their sh*t, they can't honestly join me, without being hypocrites.

What peer-reviewed academic press could I contact?

If you don't know the answer to this question, I'm beginning to doubt the honesty of your claim to have studied widely in the field.

There are a lot of budding young scholars in religious studies out there, feeling their way, but with little time for research. Where could I post this offer?

Peer reviewers must have Ph.D.'s, so I'm not sure what you mean by "young scholars." To get what you want in any way that would be useful to the field, you need a Ph.D. to peer review your work. The only way that's going to happen is if (a) you submit it to a peer reviewed journal (which will undertake the expense) as I explained or (b) hire a Ph.D. for the task (that means paying him or her, and it won't come cheap).

As to the former, you should have read tons of peer reviewed articles by numerous journals and thus know what the journals expect in a research article (length, detail of citation, style of argument, etc.) and which journal to submit to first, etc., so go to it. Or if you're serious about the latter, start calling universities with large departments in biblical or religious studies and asking them how you can present your job offer to the faculty and recent Ph.D. graduates there. Of if you want to combine the options, you can hire a qualified Ph.D. candidate (by the same method, and there will be many more of them available) to dress your work up for peer reviewed submission to journals. But most of us aren't rich. That leaves option (a): doing the work ourselves.

To contact Hoffmann ask his assistant at CSER, Courtney Hanny (channy@centerforinquiry.net) what his public email address is. What Hoffmann requires is sound peer reviewed scholarship. But he's not going to peer review your scholarship for you. So convincing him you deserve to present at an upcoming conference is not going to be easy (when I first suggested it I assumed you had qualifications). You need to get some of it published through peer review first.

But the acceptable standard does not prevent Biblical scholars to be wrong.

No. That's not what the quals are for. The quals are a minimum bar assuring fellow scholars that one's work is up to enough snuff to be worth their time to consider and critique. Because we don't have infinite time to consider the vast swath of amateur scholarship out there, by far most of which sucks.

That’s the way to treat laymen like peasants and for scholars to keep their private & protected elitist towers.

Now you are coming close to exposing yourself as a fraud. Imagine a wannabe doctor saying medical degrees are "the way to treat laymen like peasants and for M.D.'s to keep their private & protected elitist towers" as an excuse to perform medicine on you. You wouldn't fall for that bullsh*t line. Why should I?

The fact of the matter is, you must demonstrate minimum competency even to be worth listening to. That's what degrees are for. And yet you can get around that by getting work through peer review, since that also serves the purpose of ensuring an individual paper has met the minimum requirements of competency. There are tens of thousands of nutcases and hacks out there, and tens of thousands of shoddy or flawed articles, and none of us have the time to review it all. So we established a system that divides the labor: universities undertake the time to establish minimum competency (awarding degrees), so we can trust their conclusions (precisely because they maintain their reputation at doing this well--which is why accreditation matters so much) and not have to duplicate all that work ourselves, while journals undertake the time to establish minimum competency (peer reviewing articles), so we can trust their conclusions (precisely because they maintain their reputation at doing this well--which is why peer review matters so much) and not have to duplicate all that work ourselves.

It has to be this way because it's physically impossible for us to do this any other way. Only frauds fail or refuse to understand that.

Dan Sawyer said...

Richard -

Wanted to let you know, since you mentioned it here, your shows on Stark and Ancient Science will begin posting weekly from the second week of February. It looks like there will be approximately three episodes of 40 mins each.

Richard Carrier said...

Awesome. Let me know at launch and I'll blog it.

Rick Sumner said...

I think a large part of the muddle owes to three points, the first two being the nature and proliferation of our sources. On the latter count, the sheer number of scribes that touch the sources greatly increases the risk that one (or two, or ten. . .) will take some license with the material.

On the former point, we're hampered somewhat by the fact that none of our sources are histories. And the niche nature of the movement in the early stages precludes it from appearing in any of the histories of the time.

The final point is the diversity of the material. Because there is so much early Christian literature, authored in such a relatively brief period, deciphering the relationships between them has implications for dating that aren't really paralleled in any other branch of historical inquiry.

So to some degree it owes more to the unique nature of the problem (and doesn't every branch of history have some confusions owed to their own uniqueness?) than a need to get a "house in order." The situation fairly demands that it can't be in order, and do anything to forward the discussion, because so much of the discussion centers on the interplays of the documents. An inquiry into one will, inevitably, have dramatic consequences on several others.

But I'm not sure that I can agree that this is unique in the study of history. If such difficulties in dating are novel to you, I have to wonder if you've been somewhat spoiled in your subject matter.

We could agree, for example, on the date of Pliny's Nat. Hist. But what if I asked you to date the tradition behind Siccius? Without even getting into the question of whether Siccius was historical or legend (and my do opinions differ), could you just date the tradition in Pliny's hands?

I'd venture you couldn't. Not only couldn't you, but any claim to consensus on the matter is seriously misguided. And the absence of consensus hasn't led many inquiries to end with "we don't know at all."

And I realize there's a difference between dating a manuscript, and dating a tradition within that manuscript. But the tradition contained within Pliny is a lot closer to what a gospel is than most manuscripts are.

How about paying the Roman military? Did it start with Veii? Probably not. But that's what tradition says. Can you date that tradition? My Companion to the Roman Army (Blackwell, 2007) has a whole bunch of scholars who seem to think they have a claim to certainty on that front, despite the fact that they disagree with each other.

While I would agree with you that the larger reference works should restrict themselves to giving a range, and the reasons for the range (for example, here in the case of Matthew we might have 70-130 CE), I see no reason for a scholar to shy away from arguing for a more specific date within that range. And I see even less problem with another scholar using the earlier argument as a sort of "base camp" from which to build their own research.

That is fundamentally no different than what is sometimes necessary in almost all branches of ancient history. And maybe it's wrong. But if so it's not uniquely wrong here.

Richard Carrier said...

Knowing Why Doesn't Help

Rick Sumner said... ...the sheer number of scribes that touch the sources greatly increases the risk that one (or two, or ten. . .) will take some license with the material.

True but it's hard to know what to do with that information, as a mere generalization. When evidence hasn't survived with which to prove malfeasance or give us reasons for suspicion, should we still be suspicious anyway? When and how much? Etc.

No easy answer.

On the former point, we're hampered somewhat by the fact that none of our sources are histories.

True up to a point. And of course even ancient histories are full of fiction. But knowing this doesn't help. Knowing why we don't know something still leaves us with not knowing it.

Honest scholars admit that.

And the niche nature of the movement in the early stages precludes it from appearing in any of the histories of the time.

Plenty of niche movements appeared in the histories of the time. Our problem is not the noticeability of a niche movement. Our problem is survival of sources. If we actually had everything written in the first and second centuries, we'd know everything we'd need to know about Ignatius and the New Testament and the early Christian Church (just as we can pinpoint numerous precise details about fringe movements in 17th century England: the surviving database of sources is a thousandfold better).

But alas, we end up with the same problem: knowing why we don't know still leaves us not knowing. References should say this. Not pretend we know.

Richard Carrier said...

Source Magnitude Does Not Hurt, it Helps

Rick Sumner said... The final point is the diversity of the material. Because there is so much early Christian literature, authored in such a relatively brief period, deciphering the relationships between them has implications for dating that aren't really paralleled in any other branch of historical inquiry.

That's not true.

First, we have surprisingly little. Contrast the body of material we have for Mormonism, Shakerism, the Cargo Cults, even Koresh's life and cult. Or in antiquity, compare what we know about Roman imperial and provincial politics and administration and various aspects of social history.

Even just based on references in extant texts we know we are missing huge amounts of early Christian writings. And we can infer vastly more from simple mathematical extrapolation: we should have ten times as many epistles from the first century than we do. This is actually the problem. If we had a large enough body of documents, we could reconstruct a reasonably accurate chronology by cross referencing all the data in them. Even if we just had all the Gospels that were written (such as a complete Gospel of Peter and a complete Egerton Gospel and the original Q and so on) we'd know far more than we do. But all the correspondence that certainly was occurring in the church, every single year, would be invaluable if we had it. Having all of it would not make our job harder. It would make it inestimably easier.

Second, it is not a relatively brief period. Between the presumed death of Christ and the dawn of the second century, but for the NT and one letter from Clement of Rome, we have absolutely no documents at all. That's a span of over seventy years. That's an incredibly long time to be completely in the dark and having zero documents produced. It's equivalent to having no documents whatever from 1940 until today, and then having to figure out where Scientology came from or whether a flying saucer actually crashed at Roswell. We should expect dozens of letters among churches and leaders every year, from at least the 40's until the end of the century, hundreds of letters in all, discussing all sorts of things going on in and around the movement. Those letters certainly existed. They just weren't preserved. It is precisely because we don't have them that we are in the dark about essential facts like when Ignatius lived or when the NT Gospels were written.

Thus what's unparalleled is not the abundance of data (historians of Mormonism are in a far better position precisely because they have all this data that we don't). What's unparalleled is the paucity of data. But it's not unparalleled for antiquity. We are even more in the dark about every other religion of the time. It's just no one makes the sorts of claims about those religions that people try to make about Christianity. So really what's unparalleled is the fact that historians of Christianity make completely insupportable claims like "Mark was written in 70 A.D." that no historian of any other ancient religion would ever make. In every other subfield, we give termini, and they are often very wide. Biblical historians don't like the implications of that, so they pretend to know more than they really ought to claim.

And that is indeed a problem peculiar to NTS. And it is indeed a serious problem.

Richard Carrier said...

What Getting a House in Order Means

Rick Sumner said... The situation fairly demands that it can't be in order...

Not at all. To be "in order" is to be in the same state as the study of other ancient religions: not making claims beyond what the evidence can support. The field of Christian studies certainly can get its house in order in that sense--it's just that scholars in the field won't like the consequences of actually doing that. So they don't. Which makes everyone's job harder, because we read bullshit in mainstream reference books and trust it, yet when we check it, we find it is indeed bullshit and the "facts" that are claimed to be the established consensus really ought not to be considered established at all. In every other field we're fine with that, and the references say what the facts actually support--which is confessedly very little, but that's the point. New Testament Studies isn't behaving like a responsible academic field. It's weaving a nest of bullshit and pretending it has the same standing as the facts in other subfields of ancient history. That's the house they need to get in order.

...and do anything to forward the discussion, because so much of the discussion centers on the interplays of the documents. An inquiry into one will, inevitably, have dramatic consequences on several others.

But all of that should have been done by now. That's my point. The full implications of all these interplays should have been fully worked out over the past fifty years, at least, and the current state of this inquiry should be accurately represented in standard references (even when that state is a state of uncertainty: the limits and parameters of that uncertainty should be spelled out).

We could agree, for example, on the date of Pliny's Nat. Hist. But what if I asked you to date the tradition behind Siccius? Without even getting into the question of whether Siccius was historical or legend (and my do opinions differ), could you just date the tradition in Pliny's hands?

We have Dionysius and Gellius and other sources on Siccius as well, so we're not limited to Pliny. But indeed, let's look at what a standard reference says about Siccius: The OCD begins with a completely honest first sentence, "A tradition which perhaps derives from Varro celebrates the numerous military campaigns...[etc.]...of this legendary 'Roman Achilles'. Roman historians [then] made him a mid-5th cent. plebeian hero..." then it ends with "These stories are obvious duplicates and neither probably historical." That's an accurate statement of all we know about Siccius. No bullshit claims about the story being true, no bullshit claims to know exactly when the tradition first arose or what developments in the story occurred when, beyond the limits of what we can establish from the dates of the various extant sources. No one raises a hoot because no one has a dog in this race. No one cares if the Siccius story is true much less considers it religiously offensive or even morally terrifying to suggest it is not.

That's what every other subfield in ancient history looks like. We have our house in order. We don't claim more than the evidence permits, and we state the limits of our uncertainties and leave it at that. Not so in New Testament Studies. That's extremely annoying. And it means I can't trust any standard references in the field and that the "consensus" in that field is epistemically meaningless--it consists not of actual empirically established conclusions, but mere opinions dressed up as empirically established conclusions. Perhaps it's not completely as bad as that. But it's certainly pretty well along that direction.

Richard Carrier said...

What Having a Sound Consensus Really Means

Rick Sumner said...

I'd venture you couldn't. Not only couldn't you, but any claim to consensus on the matter is seriously misguided.

No it isn't. There is a consensus in the matter of Siccius: the story is "probably" bullshit, and we don't know for sure when it started, only "perhaps." That's the consensus. And it is correct. There is nothing misguided about that, or about saying so.

And the absence of consensus hasn't led many inquiries to end with "we don't know at all."

But it has--in every other field except NTS. That's my point. "We don't know" precisely is the consensus on Siccius. Likewise we have an established consensus on fundamental issues in every other field, even when that consensus is "we don't know" or "it is still being debated." And that consensus is based on fact. But in NTS, the consensus is bullshit: it is not based on fact, but verbal legerdemain, which, once you look behind the curtain, collapses into "we don't know," and yet when you point this out, everyone gets all offended and in a huff.

Getting their house in order means getting the consensus aligned with the facts, which means writing "we don't know" in standard references when, indeed, that's exactly what the facts leave us with. That's the entire point of my blog. Of course, whether "we don't know" is indeed what we should conclude from the facts in this case is still not a settled question--because NTS scholars have avoided being honest about it, they have failed to do all the legwork that I got embroiled in doing, and consequently they can't even say they don't know--because they haven't even properly checked yet. And they keep doing this because their reference works keep telling them the work has been done, when in actual fact it has not. So it never gets done.

I can't imagine a more fucked field of historical inquiry than this.

Richard Carrier said...

The Legionary Pay Example

Rick Sumner said... How about paying the Roman military? Did it start with Veii? Probably not. But that's what tradition says. Can you date that tradition? My Companion to the Roman Army (Blackwell, 2007) has a whole bunch of scholars who seem to think they have a claim to certainty on that front, despite the fact that they disagree with each other.

Yet they agree on the fundamental facts, e.g. when certain writers wrote, even when the "when" is a wide range of dates "within which." They also agree the debate exists and that the issue has not been settled to any general consensus in the field (hence the consensus is "there is no consensus": e.g. p. 18 of the CRA says the question of pay can "only be speculation" and "remains problematic"; p. 120, it is only said the pay system was in place "by the end of the fourth century BC" because that's the most we can say for sure).

Thus I'm not talking about the existence of debates about questions in history like this--those exist in every field, and the consensus (when it is honest, as in the CRA it is) acknowledges their existence. I'm talking about the basics upon which one must rely even to begin making such arguments, the core facts of the source materials: who wrote what, when, and where (even when these are only settled within ranges of uncertainty). These have been settled in every other subfield (excepting only new stuff that comes up from time to time, but that always settles to a consensus within ten to twenty years every single time). Yet not in NTS. Despite NTS scholars claiming (indeed, perversely even believing) it has been.

While I would agree with you that the larger reference works should restrict themselves to giving a range, and the reasons for the range (for example, here in the case of Matthew we might have 70-130 CE), I see no reason for a scholar to shy away from arguing for a more specific date within that range.

Only if they admit the weakness of their argument. For if it were strong, by definition, the consensus would already agree with them by now--the fact that it doesn't precisely means there is no sufficiently persuasive case for their position (that's the point of seeking and building on a scholarly consensus). Unless their theory is novel, but then they should admit their position is only hypothetical until the consensus agrees with it. They should not claim they are right and everyone else is a "fringe" scholar for suggesting otherwise. They certainly shouldn't put their theory in a standard reference and pass it off as an established consensus.

Yet they do. And that leaves scholars like me (scholars who actually dare to look behind the curtain) completely back at square one, when the whole field should have already excavated this job to a conclusion by now, so people like me don't have to. We can just build on what we know (or know we don't know), thereby making progress.

And that's what I mean when I say NTS has to get its house in order.

Rick Sumner said...

Thanks for taking the time to reply to such an old post.

Before I comment more fully (time permitting, hopefully tomorrow), I'd like to make sure I'm reading you correctly, because I get the impression we're moving somewhat at cross purposes, and I'd hate to waste a fuller post on a point that seems pertinent and is in fact irrelevant.

If I'm reading you correctly, your issue is not that there is no "consensus" on a hard date, it's that there is a consensus of the sort we'd expect to find elsewhere--a consensus that forms a range of, say, 60-170 CE (with the extremes being the less supported and less popular). Scholars sort of default to a 70-120 CE range without doing the legwork, on the assumption that the legwork has already been done.

Your issue is that, in the presence of such a ranging "consensus", it is pretended that there exists a harder date--that the default has been well defended, when it hasn't.

Am I reading you correctly to that point?

If so, how does this really detriment you any? Given the nature of your current project, if you were given a range--say 60-150 for the Gospel of Mark--would that be sufficient for your purposes? It seems to me that you'd need to do the legwork to argue for a more specific date--or at least a tighter range--regardless. Or at least to suggest why one might be more plausible than another.

As an aside, I'm increasingly tempted to consider ancient history in general sort of a futile endeavour because of difficulties like we find here. Some areas more than others, of course. Dating texts internally is ultimately a thoroughly subjective venture (as is virtually any brand of interpretation). There's really no tangible way to call one good or another bad, other than whim of the exegete.

Rick Sumner said...

I've taken the liberty of snipping points where I don't see us in any substantial disagreement, some of that is tentative pending whether or nOt I'm reading you correctly. I've also taken the liberty of pilfering your quote style, since it's far more legible. I won't have time to get to each of your comments in one shot, so bear with me.

Richard Carrier wrote...That's not true.

First, we have surprisingly little. Contrast the body of material we have for Mormonism, Shakerism, the Cargo Cults, even Koresh's life and cult. Or in antiquity, compare what we know about Roman imperial and provincial politics and administration and various aspects of social history.


Is it really fair to compare anything post-Gutenberg with antiquity? Without getting into the Branch Davidians (mass media truly had no analogue, or anything even close to an analogue, in antiquity), reading Livy on a street corner is not the same thing as having a library down the street when literacy rates are high, books are abundant and literature easily produced.

Imperial politics are probably a little more reasonable a comparison, but even that doesn't work terribly well, because there's nothing "niche" about them.

A better comparison might be found, for example, in the Eleusinian Mysteries. Despite the fact that they had the endorsement of god himself in the form of Augustus, we know startlingly little about their function. Perhaps even more apt might be the role of religion in the average household in antiquity. We know a lot, for example, about the imperial cult, or the role of omens in the Senate, or so on and so forth. But, again, surprisingly little about how this functioned in the average house.

We could continue. If our sources are any indication astrological fatalism should have died out or exploded at entirely different times than our evidence indicates it actually did. But why? We don't know. The information about its function--especially among the lower classes--simply doesn't survive.

But it's not just that it doesn't survive for any of these examples: There's no reason to believe that an abundance of explanation ever existed in the first place, except in the minds of the populace. Once the memory died, the information died with it.

Christians, in contrast, apparently loved to write. Part of this probably owed to the extensive use of Old Testament proof-texting, which results in arguments that aren't going to be coherent orally.

I'll be glad to be corrected, but I'm not aware of any movement in antiquity where so many texts were written by so many different people moving at such flagrant cross purposes in so short a span. It's like Cicero's entire corpus was written by a hundred different people, over twice the time frame and never dated, and then half of that lost and the rest interpolated. It is a unique situation, so far as I can see.

Rick Sumner said...

Richard Carrier wrote...Even if we just had all the Gospels that were written (such as a complete Gospel of Peter and a complete Egerton Gospel and the original Q and so on) we'd know far more than we do. But all the correspondence that certainly was occurring in the church, every single year, would be invaluable if we had it. Having all of it would not make our job harder. It would make it inestimably easier.

This mystifies me. What exactly do you think we could learn from a complete Peter or a complete Egerton? Finding more gospels in no way assures that we'll be in any better or any worse shape. We found the Gospel of Judas quite recently. Once we move out of the popular nonsense that sprang from it, it didn't amount to much.

The "original Q" I'll grant would be a remarkable find. But before we can speculate on how much that would teach us, we'd need to grant that it exists, and I wouldn't be terribly inclined to do so.

This seems either post hoc or naive, fuelled by the notion that every find will be significant to describing the origins of the movement. They won't. Most won't. The NHL was a massive find, but didn't do a whole lot to further our understanding of earliest Christianity, with the possible exception of the GThom.

Richard Carrier wrote...Second, it is not a relatively brief period. Between the presumed death of Christ and the dawn of the second century, but for the NT and one letter from Clement of Rome, we have absolutely no documents at all. That's a span of over seventy years. That's an incredibly long time to be completely in the dark and having zero documents produced

I'm not sure that it is. You're imagining the early church to be an organized movement in a sense that it doesn't seem to have been. How many letters do we have between heads of other religions of the period? How much writing survives describing the rise of Mithraism? Are you aware of any reason to suspect that such writing ever existed?

It's "relative" to the time of its creation, rate of literature creation and dissemination at the time, and other factors germane to the milieu of Christianity's origin. And as you note--we are "more in the dark" about every other religion.

So, yes, relatively brief. Relatively abundant.

Richard Carrier...And that is indeed a problem peculiar to NTS. And it is indeed a serious problem.

I'm not sure if the problem you're describing refers to standard reference works (which I would agree with) or to more specialized scholarship (since you take issue with both at different points in your rejoinders).

If it's the former, I agree. Standard reference works should restrict themselves to giving the broadest, most easily supported range.

If it's the latter, I do not. As we'll see when I get to your later comments, scholars from all branches of history make claims with greater certainty than they should, even going so far as to reject the consensus without bothering to acknowledge the existence of a contrary position (I've got a sweetheart Siccius quote waiting for you ;) )

Richard Carrier said...

Rick Sumner said... If so, how does this really detriment you any? Given the nature of your current project, if you were given a range--say 60-150 for the Gospel of Mark--would that be sufficient for your purposes?

The issue for me is not what the consensus should actually arrive at and assert from the facts, but that this is what it should have done by now. It hasn't. No two scholars will agree with even a 60-120 range for Mark. They will insist the latter is too late. Or one scholar will insist Matthew must have been written in the 80's, and Mark in the 70's. And so on. There is no clear consensus, and no agreement even on what facts or inferences the dates are based on.

And the little contradictory consensuses that there are are not well founded factually or methodologically--the paradigmatic example being the way scholars claim to have dated Matthew from Ignatius (hence my entire original post). The argument is hopelessly confused and flawed and surrounded by controversy and a complete absence of actual consensus, yet you pick up a reference and it says the date of Matthew has been settled by reference to Ignatius. That's simply not true.

The problem for me is that I shouldn't have to do all this work (and remember, this is just one Sisyphean thread--the same nightmare unravels under every rock you look under in NTS). What the references say (and what everyone keeps claiming is the consensus) should be the actual, established consensus, based on the actual, established facts. Sure, if that were "60-150 AD for Mark" (or 50-70 AD or exactly 43 AD or 79-125 AD or whatever, it doesn't matter), then I could work from that. That's how it works in every other field. Not NTS.

Rick Sumner said... As an aside, I'm increasingly tempted to consider ancient history in general sort of a futile endeavour because of difficulties like we find here. Some areas more than others, of course. Dating texts internally is ultimately a thoroughly subjective venture (as is virtually any brand of interpretation). There's really no tangible way to call one good or another bad, other than whim of the exegete.

That would be a fallaciously hyperbolic response. We can certainly say with very strong certainty that Mark was written before 200 AD and after 26 AD, for example. Thus, very definite knowledge is possible. It just might not be what Christian apologists or ambitious historians want it to be, but then that's their problem. Likewise, dating by internal evidence is not as subjective as you say. Certainly, its limits and margins of error must be acknowledged. But you can still determine something confidently enough, and some things with at least enough confidence to use with appropriate qualifiers.

In other words, the methods are there, and they work. NTS just isn't using them, or isn't using them consistently, or isn't heeding their results.

Rick Sumner said... Is it really fair to compare anything post-Gutenberg with antiquity?

For the point I was making, yes. Your answer seems to suggest you lost track of what we were talking about. The issue is whether we have strong and clear evidence in the case of the origins of Christianity and the NT documents. My point was that, compared to other religions, we do not. NTS needs to face that fact and accept it and stop trying to end-run around it by various devices of pretended certainty or fabricated consensus. Hence the points you went on to make were exactly the point I was trying to make.

Richard Carrier said...

Rick Sumner said... Christians, in contrast, apparently loved to write.

That's actually conspicuously not true.

The amount of documents we know households normally produced (from recovered stashes and archives in Egypt even from private houses) is prodigious, even within a single generation for a single household, much less hundreds of households over three or four generations.

The volume of literature produced by the average extant author is vast. Galen wrote over 200 books; Pliny at least seven, and one of those a 37-volume encyclopedia; Plutarch composed a vast library, and Philo almost outdid him; the number of letters Pliny the Younger published fills ten volumes, easily a dozen times the length of the entire NT put together--and those weren't even all the letters he wrote; and on and on.

By contrast, it is actually bizarre that the early Christians produced so little. We're to believe Paul only wrote seven significant letters in the course of an international, thirty-year ministry? That no one else was writing important letters? Not Apollos? Not Peter? Not any disciple or apostle? Not anyone in any church of the dozens Paul mentions? We're to believe that the composer of Luke-Acts, demonstrably a well-educated and brilliant author, wrote just one book, and that in just two lousy chapters? Covering a mere two decades, and that's all we have for a hundred years of Christian history?

Contrast the writings of Josephus and ponder in horror at what the hell happened. And then remember there were many historians of 1st century Palestine besides Josephus (they just weren't preserved).

Likewise, the lack of bodies of literature for other religions in antiquity is the result of none of them being preserved, not the result of their not being written. Indeed, we know for a fact that the Christian author Hippolytus wrote at least two volumes on the mystery religious (and to do that he must have relied on a considerable pagan library about them, all obviously now lost), yet those two volumes were mysteriously torn from his book on religion and are gone forever. Likewise, we know Varro wrote an entire encyclopedia on the religion of ordinary Romans, as well as state and foreign cults, but not a page survives (evidence of consulting it does survive in Augustine, though, giving us only a tantalizing glimpse at the fascinating information it contained). Seneca's book on popular superstition (one very intriguing paragraph from which is also quoted by Augustine) was also lost.

We likewise can guess at what was lost from what we have. Lucian wrote several books on popular religion, which we still have. Apuleius wrote an entire novel conveying the message of the Isis mysteries, and we have that. Aristeides composed an extensive diary of his visions of the God Asclepius, and we have that. And their survival is a fluke. Given that generally at least 90% of known writings were lost (i.e. for every title we have, we know ten more--and that's not counting titles unknown to us), there must have been ten books about Isis cult at least (and so on).

Likewise even the administrators and evangelists of mystery cults must have written letters to each other (in vast numbers no less). We have many intriguing inscriptions from them (covering administrative matters, theological matters, cult rules, reports of visions and revelations, etc.), which only give us a glimpse of the kinds of things they wrote about amongst each other. A few scraps of papyri confirm this. Clearly a vast literature was lost.

Likewise, we know the number of histories and memoirs written vastly outnumbers what we have (because extant authors refer to them), and typically all such works discuss religion, in anecdotes and digressions (Josephus alone offers many examples).

And so on...

Richard Carrier said...

Rick Sumner said... It's like Cicero's entire corpus was written by a hundred different people, over twice the time frame and never dated, and then half of that lost and the rest interpolated.

I don't think you appreciate what you just claimed. Cicero wrote over one hundred books, many of which longer than the entire NT, some by a factor of several times. We also have hundreds (that's hundreds) of his private letters. Not only that, but his letters collection includes letters by many other people writing to him (perish the thought--where the fuck did all the letters written to Paul go? It's not as if Paul never mentions any--he does).

Can you now appreciate how Christianity is unusual--in precisely the opposite way you are claiming?

We know other elites in Cicero's age wrote as prodigiously as Cicero, their collections just weren't preserved.

In contrast, there is no evidence Christians ever wrote that prodigiously--nor, if they did, can we have even a tiny fraction of what they then produced.

Rick Sumner said... How many letters do we have between heads of other religions of the period?

How many we have is irrelevant (we have no reason to expect Christians of the Middle Ages to have preserved tomes of letters of Isis cult leaders, for example, and we know vast numbers of documents and books existed that Christians didn't preserve, like the religious encyclopedia of Varro, et al.).

My point is how many there must have been (or ordinarily would have been), yet despite having every motive to produce or preserve them (any effort to save just seven letters of Paul would have saved hundreds as easily, as thus we have from Pliny and Cicero--think about that: Christians preserved hundreds of their letters, but only a handful of Paul's? Likewise, any motive for Paul to write would have required Apollos to have, too; likewise even Peter et al., even if through hired scribes; and outside letters and records, Josephus wrote a vast account of a four year war, yet the entire body of the entire Christian movement produces one tiny scroll over the course of a hundred years? And that covering only a tiny fraction of those years and the persons in them!

Richard Carrier said...

Rick Sumner said... What exactly do you think we could learn from a complete Peter or a complete Egerton? Finding more gospels in no way assures that we'll be in any better...shape. We found the Gospel of Judas quite recently...it didn't amount to much.

Because we already knew that Gospel was late (3rd c.). Not so Peter and Egerton. Egerton is in fact the oldest Gospel yet found (its fragment dates c. 120-140 AD, older than any other Gospel fragment, even from the canon), and scholarship has shown canonical John may have been based on it. It's certainly as old as John (ditto the forged epistles in the NT, mostly dated to around that same time). It's therefore as important a document as any book in the canon. Peter likewise bears an uncanny relationship to John, and may in fact be a source used by John. We have hints of a third nativity story (in which Jesus is born in a cave) in the 2nd century (Justin cites the story as if canonical). What nativity story was in Peter? How much of Q would we find in Peter? Is Peter in fact Q? What teachings are in Peter?

These docs would certainly constitute "knowing a lot more than we now do" about the Christianity of the NT era.

Rick Sumner said... The NHL was a massive find, but didn't do a whole lot to further our understanding of earliest Christianity, with the possible exception of the GThom.

The analogy is inapt because those documents were transcribed in the 4th century and most are late compositions (although they do tell us a lot more than you think, e.g. the Eugnostos Gospel is a forgery in progress, showing us how Christians forged Gospels by cutting-and-pasting the name Jesus over someone else's teachings; and the NHL proved the vast diversity of early Christianity, exploding and torpedoing fully half of everything scholars had once believed about its rise and development; you just don't appreciate this because you live in the generation after its significance had already become rote).

I'm talking about, for example, all the administrative and theological correspondence from the Church in Corinth from its founding to Clement of Rome. Or all the letters Paul wrote (not just the ones he refers to that we don't have, but all the letters he must have written, which can't have been so few as what we have and know about). Or the letters of Apollos. Fuck, even just one letter from Paul's competitor Apollos would be a marvel of information, at the very least providing strong corroboration for conclusions now merely speculated from Paul's letters, if not exploding those conclusions altogether; its value for assessing Acts would be tremendous if any letter from Apollos coincided with the events Acts records about him.

Yet from any other single author whose epistles we have we get dozens or hundreds of letters; from over a dozen Christians spanning a hundred years, bizarrely little. Why do we have no letters from any of the authors of the Gospels? Or written to them? Or about them? Why are all the church communities (all of them, estimated at perhaps 70 by the year 100) totally silent, producing zero church-related documents, zero epistles, for what was then nearly two entire lifetimes?

Get the picture?

It's a serious question why we have none of this (yet we have some twenty volumes of inordinately dull letters from Jerome and a vast library of tedious sermons from numerous nobodies of the Christian 4th century, etc.). For example, why does Acts only cover the entire history of the church (over thirty years at least) in one measly scroll (and that's all we have, the only guy in over a hundred years who thought to write anything at all about that subject), while Josephus gave us six gigantic rolls on a war that lasted merely four years?

I could go on. But surely my point is made.

Richard Carrier said...

Rick Sumner said...scholars from all branches of history make claims with greater certainty than they should, even going so far as to reject the consensus without bothering to acknowledge the existence of a contrary position

Then that is just as criminal. Citing more crimes does not justify repeating them. It just gives me more to condemn. But in the end, you will always find far more of this in NTS (literally under every rock) than in any other field. You have to dig hard, and mine the fringes, to find the same scale of nightmares and errors and misrepresentations in any other field, and rarely in standard references (hence you will have to try hard to find instances in the Oxford Classical Dictionary, for example).

In other words, I seriously doubt the scale of the problem is even remotely comparable in any other field of ancient history. But either way, it's still a problem. Whoever doesn't have their house in order, needs to get it in order. There's no excuse not to have done so by now.

Rick Sumner said...

I hope you'll forgive me if it takes a bit to respond more fully. Newborn baby in the house so free time is a scant commodity, and there's much to consider here.

That said, your last post leads me to suspect we are, at least in some respects, moving at cross purposes. So, with that in mind, hopefully we can sort that out so that I can get to the key issues sooner, and the more tangental ones later.

I am certainly not attempting to excuse the crime, and certainy agree that there is one. My issue is with the suggestion that the crime is specific to the NT.

Certainly we can phrase it specifically enough to restrict it, but it seems to me that if our criticisms are to be fruitful we should avoid such phrasing except when necessary.

Mutatis mutandis I could offer reasonably similar criticisms of any area of history. Were you so inclined you could doubtlessly think of scores more. Hayden White is right, history gets all the license and none of the accountability. Unfortunately I have no solution to that, hence my increasing temptation to pack it in.

But the crime of "touch blue to make it true" has many offenders. I just listened to an introductory lecture series on Rome that claimed, no less than three times, that "make no mistake, Romulus was real.". I've read no less than 9 scholars in the last six months who treat Augustus' last words as though they are historical fact. Both of these claims would get you laughed out of an SBL seminar.

I suspect things like treatment of sayings jump out at me when they're sloppy because my exposure to history has been predominantly in the NT (though less so recently), where sayings material is beaten to death. I can't help but wonder if dating jumps out at you for the same reason.

Anyway, I've gone farther afield than I intended, so perhaps we could clarify the key issues as we see them, and then hopefully I can get to some of the less important points before my kids go to college.

1) You suggest that standard reference works should not overstate the evidence. I agree. I also agree that that specific problem is endemic to the NT.

2) You suggest that individual scholars should also not overstate their evidence. I disagree, though would concede that their language should reflect the conjectural and provisional nature. Often this language is absent, and that is, in your word, "a crime.". This is not specific to the NT, as I see it.

Hopefully that captures the principle points, if I'm misunderstanding, or if you have any to add, I'd appreciate clarification, as time is in short supply. A fuller and more specific interaction with your comments will doubtlessly be more fruitful if I proceed in order of relevance rather order of appearance.

Richard Carrier said...

Rick Sumner said... I just listened to an introductory lecture series on Rome that claimed, no less than three times, that "make no mistake, Romulus was real.". I've read no less than 9 scholars in the last six months who treat Augustus' last words as though they are historical fact. Both of these claims would get you laughed out of an SBL seminar.

And out of any Roman Studies conference, too. These are fringe claims. They will not be found in any standard reference in the field, they will not be heard at any major academic conference in the field, and they will not pass peer review in any major journal in the field.

Not so NTS.

(I'm also not sure you may be representing your sources correctly...everything authoritative I've read on Augustus written in the last thirty years gives the correct qualifier: that his last words are "attributed" or something to that effect, not that they have been confirmed to be true; on the other hand, I have never read any Ph.D. in Roman history say Romulus was real)

Richard Carrier said...

Rick Sumner said... Hopefully that captures the principle points, if I'm misunderstanding, or if you have any to add, I'd appreciate clarification, as time is in short supply.

No, we're in agreement as far as I can see. The problem can crop up anywhere, and is always wrong. But it's notably worse in NTS standard references than in those of any other field of history.

But I also maintain this has the observed effect of leading almost all (if not all) NTS scholars to assume they can be as loose with the evidence as their standard references are (since they will constantly cite those references or what they say as "the established consensus"--notably not what you will ever hear (apart from bold-faced lying) from Roman historians on the claims you mentioned).

Rick Sumner said...

On the topic of Augustus, since I remain rather pressed for time (I can barely manage to post to my own blog!), I'll quote directly a comment I recently made on Vridar:

Or in the Cambridge Companion to the Age of Augustus we find Galinsky (p.13), Woolf (p.127, mildly qualified, but no reason given for “maybe a true one,” Beacham (p.173), Favro (p.261) etc. all accepting the obviously apocryphal “last words” ascribed to Augustus by Suetonius. Nobody lists a single reason we should reject them, though it seems self-evident to me that we should (they aren’t even original to Suetonius!). They wouldn’t even pass Vermes’ treatment of the sayings material, which is about as devoid of methodology as possible (always muddling through that Vermes).

Certainly not a standard reference in the sense that the AYBD is, but it doesn't exactly qualify as an isolated opinion piece either. It's interesting, noting what I did above about what might jump out at who, that you seemingly missed this, since I'd be surprised if you hadn't read it.

I doubt they're aware of quite how "loose" they're being, and it may well owe more to semantic sloppiness than conviction, but there it is nonetheless.

Since we seem to be largely in agreement though, I won't feel so bad if it takes me a bit to get to the rest. Bear with me, I promise it's coming, but three kids under four is, in terms of hours in a day, about two more than I'd recommend sometimes!

As an aside, delighted to hear that this book will be in two volumes, though for probably the exact opposite reason of most; I'm very interested to see the application of Bayes' Theorum, but could really care less about the historicity of Jesus.

Richard Carrier said...

Rick Sumner:

Excellent. I concede you've made your case for the Augustus quote. I'm appalled the Companion is so ignorant of the established background facts.

But my question then is, is the scale of such failures the same throughout the Companion as in NTS references (i.e. one good error does not compare with errors being routine), or in degree (e.g. no one is saying it has been established that Augustus said that? Which is thus incommensurate with claiming it has been "established" that Matthew predates Ignatius because Ignatius quotes Matthew?).

Nevertheless, I agree even if such unqualified remarks "owe more to semantic sloppiness than conviction" that's still methodologically scold-worthy. So we've always been in agreement there.

Although I don't want to give the impression I'm insisting on an impossible standard. We all make many minor mistakes for lack of being aware of something in our field. All we do is then correct them when identified. I have no problem with those kinds of errors. It's just that an Augustus scholar should certainly at least know suspiciously apposite dying declarations are dubious; if not know the rest of what casts that one into particular doubt.

I'm very interested to see the application of Bayes' Theorum, but could really care less about the historicity of Jesus.

I'm hoping that's true for a lot of people. The book was a lot of very hard work and is a detailed defense of Bayesian reasoning in general (using history only as an extended example). I think it's one the best lay introductions to Bayesian reasoning yet (and hopefully eases members of the humanities back into a love of math and logic), but others will have to weigh in on whether that's true. I'm too close to the work to have an objective opinion, obviously.