Friday, December 26, 2008

The Jesus Project

I've finally collated all my notes and correspondence from the Jesus Project conference held earlier this month in Amherst, New York. Titled "Sources of the Jesus Tradition: An Inquiry," it's goal was to work out (through discussing problems with the sources) what the exact aims of the Jesus Project should be and whether it's principal objective was viable: determining, with sound objective methods, what facts (if any) can be known about the historical Jesus. I've already outlined the administrative basics in my previous entry. Today I'll talk about the philosophy of the conference. Next week I'll talk about what actually went on there.

You can also read the official CFI Press Release that came out shortly afterward (which was picked up pretty much verbatim by major media, e.g. in The Christian Post, though with some interesting revisions of emphasis well worth comparing against the original). But I can speak as my own witness and participant in everything that went on. Being one of the presenters, I was able to interact with all the scholars who read papers at the event, and with the organizer, R. Joseph Hoffmann (an expert on Marcion and the Pagan Critics).

The Aims of the Project

The aim of the Jesus Project is not to vindicate mythicism (the belief that Jesus didn't exist at all), but to test all theories, including mythicism (of every degree, partial and complete), and arrive at a consensus based on objective methods. Hence it doesn't matter who participates in the Project or what their pet theories are: all are committed to pursuing a consensus of some kind, which they concede might not ultimately vindicate their own pet theories. As Dr. J. Harold Ellens suggested, and everyone I spoke with agreed, instead of starting with total confidence in a theory and interpreting all the evidence in light of that theory, we're going to establish agreement on what the evidence is, and then debate where that evidence leads, developing and relying on methods of answering these questions that we can all agree to. Accordingly, establishing these agreements, on both facts and methods, is now the Project's first goal.

This will be like a fourth "Quest for the Historical Jesus" (or fifth or sixth, depending on how you count), with two major differences that shall define the Project:

  1. It will exclude all theological and dogmatic bias--conservative or liberal (none attending were sympathetic to either the Jesus Seminar or conservative apologetics). It will instead attempt to develop objective methods (which won't inherently favor any pet theory) and establish the facts independently of theory before moving forward. All the scholars present agreed every past Quest had (and has) consistently failed to do either.
  2. It won't rule out anything just because someone attending thinks it's fringe. They will hear all the Dohertys, Tabors, Eisenmans, MacDonalds, Q-deniers, the lot. Hoffmann is intent on maintaining a wide and critical diversity of scholars in the Project. As his press release says, "Participants represent a wide variety of perspectives, ranging from Tabor's argument that there is substantial evidence that the tomb of the family of Jesus has been located, to the view that the evidence for the existence of Jesus as an historical figure is not persuasive." What we will require is an objective methodology from anyone who intends to argue anything to the group. It won't be a soapbox society. You will either explain how your conclusions can be proved to everyone's satisfaction, or you'll be shown the door.
Though the attendees were somewhat amenable to hearing apologists and conservatives, I got the impression that none thought those guys should be considered serious or credible scholars (with perhaps a few exceptions, and even those they all think are at least partly full of sh*t). In short, there was certainly a universal disdain for any kind of apologetic historicity, and instead a universal respect for developing and following objective methods, and a largely uniform agreement that Jesus is substantially (even if not entirely) a mythical person (disagreements ranged mainly over how the myths about him developed and why, though many disagreements over which things about him are mythical were still evident).

What Will Be My Involvement?

I am not "officially" a member (an invited fellow) of the Jesus Project, but I have had my toes in the water for years now as R. Joseph Hoffmann (shown at right) tried to get the Project going.
As soon as I heard about this Project, I expressed my concern to him that they pay attention to methodology and not become a crankhouse for either mythicism or historicity. And he has expressed nothing but agreement with that. And so far it looks good. His tenor throughout the conference was balanced, highly competent, and broadly critical. And he is very receptive to fair-minded criticisms and suggestions for the Project, including issues of managing its public image (which by all accounts he hasn't done too well).

A question that frequently came up during the conference was "What does it matter? Why do we care?" Everyone had (and has) their own reasons, which are valid for each of them, since everyone has their own interests, questions, concerns, and skillsets. But for me the answer is simply this: I want to know what we can claim to know
about Jesus and the origins of the Christian movement (or what we can't claim to know, especially if we can't claim to know anything), and even more than that (because it applies to all historical knowledge, and not just this), I want to know how and why we can claim to know it (or how and why we can't). I'm quite annoyed by the lack of progress in this field, in fact not merely the lack, but even the disintegration of progress, as we get more and more versions of the historical Jesus, rather than going the other way around, with options narrowing toward some sign of consensus.

With an objective methodology, when we input the same facts into the same methods, we will get the same results. So we need to pursue agreement on both facts and methods. The first stage is establishing the facts, and this is in the works. But alongside that must also be an effort to develop an agreement on methods, which first requires identifying what methods we are actually using. So one of the persistent questions that I will keep asking the Project is, "Why should we agree with you? Why is your conclusion probable, rather than improbable, or merely possible?" And I will bring to bear my skills and knowledge to evaluate the merits of the answers, as they come.

Even if we only end up with an "agreement to disagree," I won't let that pass unless by this everyone is conceding that the truth cannot be known reliably enough to be sure that either of us is right (and therefore, that we cannot be dogmatic about our conclusions, or against those of our opponents). If we are unwilling to concede that, then we must be able to show how the truth can be known reliably enough to be sure "we" are right and not our critics. I didn't see any resistance to this plan. Despite the diversity of scholars present (every one of whom held views the others vehemently disagreed with), there was a consensus that we need to pursue a consensus, and pursue it through honest scholarship and sound argument, rather than finding a party line and punishing dissenters.

Are We Just a Bunch of Cranks?

Some said they were down on the Project because James Tabor was prominently associated with it (he's supposedly a crank historicist), while others said they were down on the Project because Frank Zindler was invited to give a paper (he's supposedly a crank mythicist). This is all rather ironic, since being down on the Project for being too sympathetic to historicity and mythicism entails a rather obvious contradiction, and belies instead the fact that the Project isn't "too sympathetic" to either. Citing evidence that we're willing to hear out scholars of wildly diverse perspectives only confirms the validity of what we're doing.

In fact, being "down on the Project" because it invites scholars with such diverse opinions is maddeningly stupid. We'll never get anywhere if we refuse to listen to anyone we disagree with. Our only standards should be rigorous standards. As long as Zindler and Tabor and everyone else tows that party line, they'll be welcome. They understand that. And so should anyone else attempting to judge the Project from the outside. As far as work for the Project is concerned, we'll hold them to high standards, and they us.

Indeed, there is some unfounded prejudice here. The paper Zindler read at the conference was predominately right on target and entirely respectable, even when controversial (and most of his remarks weren't). His command of the languages is impressive, and though I completely disagree with his more controversial theories, holding them up to the fire of strong methodological demands can only be a good thing. Likewise for Tabor. He may advocate just as controversial a position in the area of historicity (diametrically opposite Zindler), but he's no crank. He's a very capable scholar, and a fierce critic of excesses on both sides of the debate. Yes, I think Zindler way over-interprets the Gospels and Tabor way over-interprets certain archaeological finds, but neither is a loon.

Someone also remarked to me that Earl Doherty was down on the Jesus Project because of something critical or flippant Hoffmann had said about him. That's also a bad reason to be down on the Project. All the scholars in attendance have 'badnoted' each other. And most completely disagreed with each other. Yet they were all invited and all got along (with the exception of Eisenmann, as I'll comment later, but that was his own fault). As in the published exchange between Morton Smith and G.A. Wells in
Jesus in History and Myth (which was quoted during the conference), Smith opened with something like, "We have nothing at all in common except that each of us holds a position the other regards as absurd." And even they got along and had their fair time to speak (and that was twenty years ago).

In fact, several of the scholars in attendance made a particular point of saying they didn't want anyone drummed out because they held views the others regarded as too radical--even as they had biting things to say about each other behind their backs. They nevertheless wanted to hear everyone who could at least be scholarly and cordial. As I'll note later, Eisenmann was much the former but little the latter (producing some of the more entertaining gossip and drama of the weekend). And some were offended by Robert Price's talk (regarding it as too flippant, although I quite enjoyed it), and some thought Paul Kutz should have spoken a great deal less than he did (I have to agree). But overall the weekend was so filled with superb talks on some real cutting edge stuff that I ended up with a far bigger pile of notes (and of questions and ideas) than I expected I would.

But on that, next time...

69 comments:

David Fitzgerald said...

Excellent post - I've been chomping at the bit to hear how it went this time, and I'm dying to read your next post too. It's very exciting to see the whole spectrum of opinion re: the Historical Jesus represented here. I think it will be an excellent crucible of theories and insights. Even if no single consensus comes out on top, this should winnow out so many false leads and just plain wrong theories that I can't help but think this project is going to give rise to a quantum leap in the field of Biblical research - and I can't wait!
P.S. we should start the betting pool now to guess how long it will be before you're a full fledged member of the project...

Edward T. Babinski said...

Richard, You sound overly hopeful about the prospects of the conference coming up with some methodological uniformity. Having read Price's two books on Jesus, and much else, I doubt that even a methodology can be agreed upon, certainly nothing any more rigorous than past methodological attempts to winnow out the actual words of Jesus and stories of Jesus from later accretions by others. The Jesus Seminar allowed scholars to vote on the authenticity of sayings, and that may be the most that scholars can do today, unless of course they can get other scholars to agree on their methodology, which as I said is problematical. One theological switches methodologies, another switches to some other methodology, and no universal agreement has ever come about.

We can't even tell exactly when the documents were composed or by whom, as you've pointed out yourself in a very fine post.

Though I will be happy if most of the scholars present will try hard to sort out the difference between an historical Jesus of Nazareth and a totally mythical Jesus savior. Though I personally suppose Jesus is a little bit of both.

However, I doubt that the total mythicists will be willing to throw in the towel. Maybe they will make some crucial admissions however, and admit they don't know for sure whether the existence of a Jesus of Nazareth was totally mythical. That's about the most I see the conference accomplishing.

Chris Zeichmann said...

Richard,
I suspect I'm not the only person concerned with the positivist undertones of the Jesus Project or at least its characterization in this post, especially with its emphasis on "objectivity." Even if the conference is non-sectarian, it will necessarily have over-arching biases. This, I think, is unavoidable, so there is no point in condemning it for such. However, the availability of teleological truth claims that is implicit in this post seem to suppose a rationalist/modern epistemology that has fallen out of favor since postmodernity.

Richard Carrier said...

Edward T. Babinski said... You sound overly hopeful about the prospects of the conference coming up with some methodological uniformity.

To quote Jack Burton after he shot Lopan's Eye, "Well, you never know 'til ya try."

At the very least I shall confirm why no one will ever agree on methods and then be able to divide the community up into groups: those who reject the only sound methods I can see, and those who accept them. I'll proceed to listen only to the latter, and help them come to an agreement on what those sound methods are. Everyone else can go suck it.

Having read Price's two books on Jesus, and much else, I doubt that even a methodology can be agreed upon, certainly nothing any more rigorous than past methodological attempts to winnow out the actual words of Jesus and stories of Jesus from later accretions by others.

Oh, we'll be getting a lot more sophisticated than that, believe me.

I intend to perform Bayesian analysis of the modes of argument employed by everyone in the Project (once we start getting to something to analyze). I already introduced the members to Bayes' Theorem (that was my talk), and though I think it went over the heads of most, it's a start, and I think things will change over the years.

Price is not representative, IMO. I take great issue with Price's methodology, and so did other scholars in attendance. In his case I find fault even with baseline practices (e.g. consistency and reliability of citation of evidence), on which there should be no disagreement at all (and I doubt anyone will contest the point, even Price).

If you want to see good methodology at work, read Randel Helms, Thomas Brodie, Tryggve Mettinger, and David Trobisch. By contrast, Dennis MacDonald is an example of someone in the middle (he's on to a good method but missteps here and there, but it's actually possible to winnow out just what's right and what's wrong in his practices, if you're attentive to the formal logic behind it all).

Hence there are many clear roads toward progress here. So there's no cause for despair.

One theological switches methodologies, another switches to some other methodology, and no universal agreement has ever come about.

If you meant "theologian," we're not interested in what they have to say. This is a project for actual honest scholars. Switching methods like that is a logical fallacy, so if that's what historians are compelled to do, then history as a field is a fraud. No one believes that. Therefore, there must be good methods and bad, and a hierarchy among the good, and therefore a normative way to do things, and a persuasive way to demonstrate that fact. It's just a matter of finding it. But you have to look first. No one before this has even tried.

We can't even tell exactly when the documents were composed or by whom, as you've pointed out yourself in a very fine post.

That's not a methodological problem. It may be the product of a methodological problem, but I don't think even sound methods will get us any clearer results on that score. As I've noted many times before, in real fields of ancient history these issues are resolved to a consensus by agreeing on what we do and don't know, e.g. we do not "know" that GMat was written before 100 A.D. At most we can say we know there is some evidence it may have been (or more probably was, but not by a very large differential of probability). Agreement on that fact would count as the agreement I'm looking for. Then one takes that fact and plugs it into a method and sees what comes out.

I doubt that the total mythicists will be willing to throw in the towel.

There are three ways it can go, and I am certain it will go one of these three ways (if we stick to our principles and aims) among all honest, legitimate, and informed scholars:

(1) The mythers are right. If that's true, we can prove it. If we can prove it, their view will become the consensus. They win.

(2) The mythers are wrong. If that's true, we can prove it. If we can prove it, what we will then have proved will become the consensus. We will then have at least some facts about a historical Jesus we can assert as confidently known.

(3) It's not possible on present evidence to know who's right or wrong. If that's true, we can prove it. If we can prove it, mythicists and historicists will both have to concede the point. Historicists will have to accept mythicism as a viable theory, and mythicists will have to accept some historical Jesus scenarios as viable, too.

Or reading out the logic the other way around: either we can prove something about a historical Jesus or we can't; if we can, we will have proved mythers wrong; if we can't, then either we can prove mythers right or we can't; if we can, they win, and in fifty years theirs will be the consensus view in formal academia; if we can't, no one wins, and everyone will have to admit it.

Any of those results would constitute progress, and progress well worthwhile. In the process, a lot of valuable ancillary work will get done that will be valuable in itself (e.g. some of the projects the scholars presented at the conference are going to change the field, mark my words).

Richard Carrier said...

Chris Zeichmann said... The availability of teleological truth claims that is implicit in this post seem to suppose a rationalist/modern epistemology that has fallen out of favor since postmodernity.

That's certainly untrue. To the contrary, increasingly rigorous, error-controlling methodologies are on the rise in history (especially ancient history). Likewise, the most recent theoretical work on history has thoroughly trounced postmodern alternatives while at the same time producing a moderating advance on the previously naive assertiveness of early-20th century historical writing.

My application of Bayes' Theorem to historical arguments, for example, is the wave of the future. Bayes' Theorem is an example of a method that allows us to identify objective conclusions as those that deductively follow from agreed upon facts. As in science, any facts not agreed upon are not admitted as controlling. Thus, only facts actually agreed upon by qualified, honest experts get entered into the methods, and the methods will be deductive and therefore irrefutable (i.e. each method will be formally valid, so only the premises can be challenged, i.e. the facts), and therefore we will get a common result.

Everything else will be a non-objective conclusion. For example, if you assert a fact not thus agreed upon, and base a conclusion on that fact, you will be rejecting objective methodology (and thus excluding yourself from legitimate scholarship), unless you concede that your conclusion is no more certain than the conclusions of the objective consensus process. But in the end, if you can't persuade all honest, qualified, informed scholars to agree with your fact, there must be something wrong with your fact, and therefore only a bias can explain your attachment to it.

That's the goal. Whether it's achievable, even by approximation to the ideal, won't be known until an attempt is made (and such an attempt must be long-term, so it will be years before its rate of success can be measured).

Jay Raskin said...

This sounds fascinating and it is long overdue. Good luck.

My suggestion is that you concentrate on the machinery that produces the image before examining the image.

WAR_ON_ERROR said...

Wish I could have been there. Would have been great to get a feel for everything I don't know.

John W. Loftus said...

Richard, I wish you and those involved in this project well. I'll certainly read your upcoming book.

Since you know that the mythicist position goes against the overwhelming peer-reviewed scholarly consensus, a majority of whom consider Jesus to have been an apocalyptic prophet, then in order not to be marginalized as a scholar you had better provide some really strong arguments for your case. If you cannot do that then let me caution you as a friend to be careful lest you become marginalized in the scholarly community. I personally think you have some great arguments against Christian theism and I quote from you in my present book quite a bit. The sad thing is that if you arrive at the mythicist position and do not argue convincingly for it, then Christian scholars will conclude you have an axe to grind and that you are not being objective with regard to the facts.

Anyone can deny nearly anything in history because the historical past does not give up its secrets easily. One thing I’m looking for is any double standards in The Jesus Project’s methodology. I hate them. The methodology you use to examine the Jesus question must be consistently applied to the existence of John the Baptist, Peter, Paul, and even Papias, as well as other people of the past. I’ve presented some of my arguments elsewhere, but my plea is that you are fair with the evidence. I don’t have any reasons yet to think you won’t be.

PBS did a documentary on the amazon warrior women mentioned by the Greek historian Herodotus, who were a group of female warriors who did battle with men. A group of women warriors was first mention in Homer’s Iliad. And so such a claim was doubted by scholars until recent archaeological evidence proved their existence with the finding of a graveyard of them decked out in armor and positioned in death for a fight. DNA evidence from one gravesite was actually traced to a little girl who is alive today. So there was textual evidence of a strange and unbelievable sort which just didn’t seem very probable at all. Then the archeological evidence was found to confirm it. If we are so skeptical as not to believe textual evidence until there is archaeological evidence then historians are in trouble. And if archeological evidence for the existence of Jesus shows up in the future you’ll be on the wrong side of an important issue. Sure we must do the best we can with what we know. It’s just that it’s best to error on the side of the textual evidence, and that evidence clearly indicates Jesus was a doomsday apocalyptic prophet who gathered a following and who was crucified by the Romans. Such a picture of Jesus was an embarrassment to the early church for they had to continually explain away why his predictions of the eschaton never came true.

Jay Raskin said...

Along the lines of John Loftus' comment not to dismiss literary evidence before archeological evidence is found, may I caution you not to dismiss Cerberus, the three-headed hound who guards the gates of hades. Not only do we have a great deal of literary evidence of his existence from Homer's "Iliad" to Plato's "Symposium" and Virgil's "Aeneid," but we even have some great vase paintings of him, which may be considered clear archeological evidence. Both Hercules and King Eurystheus were eyewitnesses. According to Dante, he now resides in the third circle of Hell, guarding the dead who practiced the sin of gluttony.
Just think of how embarrassed, skeptics would be if tomorrow we found the corpse of a three-headed dog.

John W. Loftus said...

Thanks Jay, and if I might add, don't mischaracterize the arguments of those who disagree with you and don't buck the party line consensus or they will feel justified in doing so.

Sheesh.

Such idiocy I thought would only come from the many delusional Christians who visit my Blog on a daily basis.

Bernard said...

To Richard Carrier (RC):

Bernard Muller (BM): Thank you Richard about your preliminary report. So far it is all about nice wishful thinking. Time will tell if it holds for the duration or everything breaks loose before. Anyway I can see now that my understanding of the potential problems and pitfalls of such an undertaking (the Jesus project) was not out of line.

RC: ... a largely uniform agreement that Jesus is substantially (even if not entirely) a mythical person ...
BM: Right on! That warms my heart.

To Edward T. Babinski (EB):
EB: Richard, You sound overly hopeful about the prospects of the conference coming up with some methodological uniformity. ...,
BM: I still think a right and complete methodology cannot be developed, because of the nature of a big part of the evidence: dubious texts with disinformation, propaganda, tricks, schemes, fiction, unknown authors, etc. Am I pessimistic? Maybe, but I am pragmatic also. The only method I know for these cases (from my past engineering experience) would be (in part) time and sweat, three steps frontward, two steps backward (sometimes 20 front, then 18 back!). And how would I know this (crude) method works? All the elements fitting and working together in order to produce the ultimate goal (a control system for a chemical plant or a clear comprehensive & substantiated reconstruction on how Christianity started). Too many times, scholars pretend to use some methodology (mostly of their own making) which is simplistic (not to confuse the audience!) and attractive (for obvious reason), but, through further analysis, is misleading, full of loopholes & wrong assumptions, open to abuses, etc. This is more like a smoke screen in order to prevent the scholar to be accused of being a loose cannon, and not, as the public might be led to believe, a foolproof device allowing an “auto-pilot” study leading to truth.

EB: Though I will be happy if most of the scholars present will try hard to sort out the difference between an historical Jesus of Nazareth and a totally mythical Jesus savior. Though I personally suppose Jesus is a little bit of both.
BM: I agree with you. And you said “an historical Jesus” and we talked about methodology. That brings an important point: What does “historical Jesus” mean? What does plain “historical” mean? I think there is a lot of confusion about these terms, and any methodology should start by providing a strict definition for every words or expressions to be used in the project (the normal dictionary definition (or common understanding) of a word like “historical” can range from (historic) VIP to simply “belonging to past”, way too much broad and subject to raise debates any time the word is used).
From my past experience, I observed that if one talk about a historical Jesus, total mythicists may accuse him/her to accept some gospel Jesus or even be a Christian, more, a fundy Christian, even if the poor bugger is agnostic and even 95% mythicist on the issue. BTW, I got a basic definition, which certainly need to be refined: “my definition for 'historical' in "historical Jesus" is 'having lived in the past', based on the Collins English Dictionary (Canadian Edition), "belonging to past", and with 'Jesus' being the name of the man credited to have started Christianity.” Now if any scholar in the project thinks that Jesus is more than that, he/she should use some other expression such as “historic” Jesus.
Anyway, my point here is the methodology should include (even start with) a definition on key words or expressions likely to be used extensively in the project. Definition of these words or expressions should have a very narrow range in order to avoid any confusion or double talk.

EB: However, I doubt that the total mythicists will be willing to throw in the towel. Maybe they will make some crucial admissions however, and admit they don't know for sure whether the existence of a Jesus of Nazareth was totally mythical. That's about the most I see the conference accomplishing.
BM: Yes, but they also should provide positive evidence for their cause, just not stay on the fence and criticize. They should also dismiss the “historicist” evidence, every bits of it, from any source, including unlikely ones as from Paul’s epistles. And, if they do not like the reconstruction(s) from the other side (if generated), they should show their own one(s). Everything should be fair & equal.

RC: I intend to perform Bayesian analysis of the modes of argument employed by everyone in the Project (once we start getting to something to analyze). I already introduced the members to Bayes' Theorem (that was my talk), and though I think it went over the heads of most, it's a start, and I think things will change over the years.

BM: Hmm! Bayes’ theorem applies to math, mostly probabilities which can be assigned numbers. From were these numbers would come? Maybe you have some examples to show us, on issues pertaining to a historical Jesus or not.

Best regards, Bernard D. Muller

WAR_ON_ERROR said...

Shame on Jay. Loftus is on a reasonable track here and the 3 headed dog myth would be more equivalent to finding an actual one headed dog in the right archeological circumstances to confirm the origins of a legendary 3 headed one. It's like you didn't even read and/or appreciate Rick's post, Jay. What gives? Must you testify to the same bad attitude problem Rick was railing against in this very post?

I second John's "Sheesh."

Ben

Steven Carr said...

John seems very unwilling to tell us what this consensus of scholars actually says.

Romans 10

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!"

16But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, "Lord, who has believed our message?" 17Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.

Paul never says here that the Jews rejected Jesus, or his preaching or his resurrection.

They rejected Jesus because they had either never heard of him or they rejected the Christian preaching about him.

Paul thinks if it were not for Christian preachers sent (not by Jesus) nobody would have heard of Jesus.

How could the Jews believe in Jesus? They had never heard of him!

Wright comments on this passage in his Romans for Everyone books and his answer as to why Paul thinks people had not heard of Jesus was pathetic.

Surely somebody can do better than Wright here?

One thing is for sure. John won't.

Or take Romans 16

Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him....

Jesus had been revealed 'through the prophetic writings'

John Loftus tells us we have to apply the same standards to Paul that we do to people that Paul claimed had been 'revealed through the prophetic writings'.

But I see no way to apply the same standards to Paul that I would apply to somebody who had been 'revealed through the prophetic writings'

How do I apply the same standards to both people?

Sorry John , but I have to have double-standards here.

I have one standard of historicity for somebody who writes letters, and another standard of historicity for somebody who had been 'revealed throught the prophetic writings'

Steven Carr said...

BERNARD MULLER
They should also dismiss the “historicist” evidence, every bits of it, from any source, including unlikely ones as from Paul’s epistles.

CARR
Let us look at some of the sources Paul has for what Jesus said and did.

2 Corinthians 12
7To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."

Paul regarded his Jesus as talking to him in the same way that an angel of Satan was sent to torment him.

So we know perfectly well that whenever Paul quotes a saying of the Lord, we can point to places where sayings of the Lord were produced during battles with angels of Satam.

1 Corinthians 11 is widely held to be words from an historical Jesus.

So how do we separate the historical Jesus in Paul from the jesus who spoke to him when he was battling Satan?

It is really not hard to find religions where the central character does not exist.

The fact that there is no Maitreya does not stop Benjamin Creme producing teachings of the Maitreya.

Did Paul do the same?

This is what we want historicists to begin debating, so this can be examined.

John W. Loftus said...

Steve, it’s nice to see you here and that you’ve arrived at such a firm conclusion from the paucity of historical evidence. I haven’t. Any conclusion I arrive at from the historical past must always be tentative from the nature of the evidence itself. After all, the evidence for the correct conclusion might have been lost, suppressed or destroyed. That something happened in history does not mean we can show that it did, and that something did not happen in history does not mean we can show that it didn’t.

Why do you say I won’t provide a possible understanding of Romans 10? Isn’t that being disrespectful of me? Doesn’t it presume I’m unwilling to, or can’t? Where does that come from? I was not thinking of you when I wrote this post, but perhaps it fits. I never want to mischaracterize the arguments of people who disagree with me and I find it odd that mythicists are so sure they are right on this question that they will attack me personally, just as Christians do. These people share the same fundamentalist mentality.

Romans 10? These verses can be probably interpreted in a couple different ways, I think. It’s tough to do good solid exegesis, for one must understand the larger context in its social setting as interpreted by the mindset of the modern historian/exegete. You have one view of this passage. But I had no trouble preaching from it at all and that’s when I was a believer. So why should I think they are troubling now? Paul is not, and I mean not, talking about whether or not Jesus existed when he speaks of the Jews believing in him. He’s probably talking about whether or not they believed in his message and mission. For Paul, Jesus is the message, so by not hearing of him they haven’t heard his message, and I see no reason to think that just because the message is Jesus that Jesus never existed from these verses. The same language is used by preachers today and they certainly think he existed. As far as what Paul knew about Jesus I think you should read Paul Rhodes Eddy and Gregory A. Boyd’s chapter “The Silence of Paul” in The Jesus Legend, and you’ll be surprised what Paul might have known about the historical Jesus. It should cause some doubt for you, anyway.

Romans 16? The early church thought what they believed was based in the OT prophetic writings and we’re told they searched them to find out the hidden things which were revealed in Jesus. But I see nothing here that drives us to the conclusion that just because they saw Jesus fulfilling prophecy that therefore they didn’t believe he existed. Preachers today say the same things and Christian are still looking for those hidden things in the OT that may have escaped people so far. That by itself doesn’t mean they think Jesus didn’t exist.

Listen, if you place Benny Hinn back in time, is it the case that just because people would claim he did miracles, when we don’t believe this about him, that we should throw the baby out with the bathwater and deny he existed at all, even if additional mythical elements were added to the telling of his story? The hard work is to try and figure out where the man ends and the myths begin.

You said, I have one standard of historicity for somebody who writes letters, and another standard of historicity for somebody who had been 'revealed throught the prophetic writings'

So did Socrates exist? He never wrote anything. And how do you know Paul actually wrote any letters at all? Maybe you're not being consistently skeptical here? Maybe there wasn’t a Paul? Maybe someone anonymously wrote a letter and the church affixed the name Paul to it, and then others seeking to imitate this Paul wrote letters and affixed his name to them. We think this is the case with a few of his letters. Why not all of them? Bob Price is coming out with a book claiming Paul never wrote any of the letters attributed to him, you know.

Steve, I have a tentative conclusion about the evidence that there was an apocalyptic doomsday prophet named Jesus who was crucified by the Romans who banded together a few disciples (how many I don’t know) and of whom stories were created about him after a few visions from these disciples convinced them he arose from the dead. Why assail me for that like you have done? Why must I toe the line? Where's this so-called objectivity that skeptics claim to have? What I see is a lot of emotionalism in this debate that reminds me of religious fevor, and if that's the case I have reason to be suspicious of your objectivity and the objectivity of a couple of others who have commented here.

Steven Carr said...

JOHN
Steve, it’s nice to see you here and that you’ve arrived at such a firm conclusion from the paucity of historical evidence.

CARR
My 'firm conclusion' is that historicists haven't yet started to debate the historicity of Jesus.

They have now started to count their failures.

First quest, Second quest, third quest etc.

Sometimes, constant failure is a sign that you are doing something wrong.

JOHN
aul is not, and I mean not, talking about whether or not Jesus existed when he speaks of the Jews believing in him. He’s probably talking about whether or not they believed in his message and mission.

CARR
Paul never talks about *Jesus* message and *Jesus* message.

How could he? For Paul, Jesus had been revealed through scripture.

In Romans 10, Paul talks about Christian preaching about Jesus, not about any message of Jesus or mission of Jesus.

Why do historicists need to change the texts to make them say what they need them to say?

JOHN
For Paul, Jesus is the message, so by not hearing of him they haven’t heard his message....

CARR
But how could Jews not have heard of Jesus, when he was executed for preaching?

This is entirely different from modern preachers wondering how Chinese people are going to be saved if they have never heard of Jesus.

JOHN
Listen, if you place Benny Hinn back in time, is it the case that just because people would claim he did miracles.....

CARR
Where does Paul claim Jesus did miracles?

Or did anything (other than be the rock accompanying the Israelites in the desert), or found the cultic meal, perhaps in the same way that Romulus founded Rome?

JOHN
What I see is a lot of emotionalism in this debate that reminds me of religious fevor, and if that's the case I have reason to be suspicious of your objectivity and the objectivity of a couple of others who have commented here.

CARR
It isn't ME who said Jesus had been revealed through the prophetic scriptures.

It was Paul.

I shall repeat what Paul said..

Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him.

We know some early Christians changed this to make Paul say something different.

Just like John Loftus, they changed the text (just as John changes Romans 10 to make it talk about *Jesus's* mission)

Some early Christian scribes changed this to make it talk about a historical Jesus.

Why does John attack people as 'fundamentalist' and not objective and emotional, when what he means is that they know what they are talking about, and quote texts and make arguments?

Why not just debate properly rather than throwing out accusations?

Steven Carr said...

JOHN
As far as what Paul knew about Jesus I think you should read Paul Rhodes Eddy and Gregory A. Boyd’s chapter “The Silence of Paul” in The Jesus Legend, and you’ll be surprised what Paul might have known about the historical Jesus. It should cause some doubt for you, anyway.

CARR
Are you 'surprised' how much Benjamin Creme knows about the Maitreya?


Boyd and Eddy say 'Boyd and Eddy say 'We have no solid evidence that mystery religions existed in the first century in the form proposed by Christ myth theorists'

Amazing!

By the way, the Maitreya is also described as an 'elder brother'

I guess non-existent people can be brothers....

Pikemann Urge said...

Steven, slow down. The points you raised above are new to me (although I'm sure I may have come across them before in Doherty's work, I can't remember). So give people time to digest what you're saying.

I agree that the historicist position is likely to come down like a house of cards. But I am not a scholar, I'm just a reader. I read what others take the time and trouble to work out.

Richard has barely started his book and the Jesus Project has a long time to deliver their conclusions. So let's not get ahead of ourselves.

Bernard said...

Steven Carr said...
CARR:
Let us look at some of the sources Paul has for what Jesus said and did.
2 Corinthians 12
7To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."
Paul regarded his Jesus as talking to him in the same way that an angel of Satan was sent to torment him.
BM: I agree, but the torment seems to start while Paul was (allegedly) in heaven with Jesus.

CARR: So we know perfectly well that whenever Paul quotes a saying of the Lord, we can point to places where sayings of the Lord were produced during battles with angels of Satan.
BM: I disagree. Paul did not say anything about battles with angels of Satan in 2Cor12. He mentioned one messenger of Satan only. Anyway, all of that, including the revelation, looks like a myth invented by Paul for an urgent purpose, that is to show, against his detractors, that contrary to appearance (about his lack of credentials and obvious weaknesses, including pains), he had been selected by Jesus to be his apostle. Frankly, I do not care about that bit. But I want to stress it is wrong for anybody, including scholars, to add up extrapolation to a text in the blink of an eye. Let’s be exact.

CARR: 1 Corinthians 11 is widely held to be words from an historical Jesus.
BM: Not by me, and likely not by many critical scholars. I see it as another Paul’s invention. The motive is again very clear: restore order to the unruly and shameful meeting of Christians when they were sharing a common meal called the Lord’s supper by inserting a memorial about Jesus’ sacrifice.

CARR: It is really not hard to find religions where the central character does not exist.
BM: This argument is very remote, very indirect. Even if it would be the rule, every rule got exceptions. Furthermore, through my study, I do not see historical Jesus as much of a central character, that is the rightful founder and certainly not existing as he was described later (very much central and large!). Rather his flash-in-the-pan public life, with a set of circumstances having him crucified as (or rather mocked as) “king of the Jews”, triggered the development of Christianities, a bit like Rosa Park, by remaining seated in the bus, triggered a boycott and then the Civil Right Movement, all of that led by others. When I did my critique on the Doherty Jesus’ puzzle, I was surprised to see there were three different stories of Attis, along about eight centuries. The first one, except for the ending, makes a lot of human sense, and may be true. But then, the following legends modified the first account and added up myths (such as resurrection and nymph), and in the process, makes almost everything in them unbelievable from a humanist standpoint.

CARR: The fact that there is no Maitreya does not stop Benjamin Creme producing teachings of the Maitreya.
Did Paul do the same?
BM: Hmm, I do not know about Benjamin Creme. But Paul did not produce teachings from an earthly Jesus, but rather, allegedly in the Spirit, his own (with a few exceptions such as through claimed revelations from above).

CARR: This is what we want historicists to begin debating, so this can be examined.
BM: That looked like strawmen and convoluted. Anyway, what I had in mind about Paul’s letters, are far more central and direct: such as Paul declaring Jesus (incarnated) “in the likeness of sinful flesh”, with flesh and blood, as a descendant of Abraham, Jesse, David and Israelites, born of a woman, born under law, a Jew, a man, with brothers, one being James (whom Paul met), a humble lad, in poverty, delivered at night, and of course crucified. Furthermore, but less directly, crucified among Jews and in the Jewish heartland (Zion). Here are some references from my website:
“Paul wrote about Jesus (pre-existent as a heavenly deity for Paul) who, from "Israelites, ... whose [are] the fathers, and of whom [is] the Christ, according to the flesh ..." (Ro9:4-5 YLT) and "come of a woman, come under law" (Gal4:4 YLT), "found in appearance as a man" (Php2:8) "in the likeness of sinful flesh" (Ro8:3), "the one man, Jesus Christ" (Ro5:15) (who had brothers (1Co9:5), one of them called "James", whom Paul met (Gal1:19)), "humbled himself" (Php2:8) in "poverty" (2Co8:9) as "servant of the Jews" (Ro15:8) and, after "the night in which he was delivered up" (1Co11:23 Darby), "was crucified in weakness" (2Co13:4) in "Zion" (Ro9:31-33 & Ro15:26-27).”
“In Paul's epistles & 'Hebrews', he is described as a descendant of Abraham (Gal3:16), Israelites (Ro9:4-5), the tribe of Judah (Heb7:14), Jesse (Ro15:12) & David (Ro1:3)”

Best Regard, Bernard D. Muller

Steven Carr said...

Benjamin Creme describes the Maitreya as an obscure Muslim living in the East End of London

The Maitreya

'In July 1977 Maitreya emerged from His centre in the Himalayas and travelled to London through Pakistan. Since then He has lived in London as an ordinary man concerned with modern problems.'

The Maitreya has 'humbled' himself in the way that Jesus did, to the extent of not existing and not founding any religion.

Or at least , when Paul says Jesus 'humbled' himself, he may mean no more than descriptions of the Maitreya living in the East End of London - a traditionally poor area.

'Maitreya's arrival in the world was predicted by the English writer Alice A Bailey through a series of books published by Lucis Trust between 1919 and 1939.'

How does this differ from Paul claiming that Jesus had become known through being revealed through the prophetic writings?

Steven Carr said...

Just to add to this,

Non-existent people vary

'While the name Maitreya is used by others, their understanding of the World Teacher may not correspond to that presented on this site. Anyone presently promoting him- or herself as Maitreya or the World Teacher is definitely not the same individual we refer to.'

How does this differ from Paul's writings?

2 Corintians 11
For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough.

The trouble with non-existent people is that different groups have different ideas of what this non-existent person should be like.

Historicists just laugh at the idea that when Paul talks about different Jesus's being preached, he might mean there were different Jesus's being preached.

But I know for a fact that exactly this sort of thing can happen, and is happening right now!

Loren said...

I think that an important comparison is with people who are well-described by their contemporaries, but who nevertheless got a lot of mythology surrounding them.

Like Sabbatai Zevi or the better-documented medieval and early-modern saints, like St. Francis Xavier. The latter gentleman had complained about how difficult the Japanese language was, yet he was later crediting with speaking several languages fluently without needing to learn any of them.

What parts of the miracle-filled later accounts turn out to be reliable? Has anyone ever done a study of that?

John W. Loftus said...

Steven Carr said...Why does John attack people as 'fundamentalist' and not objective and emotional, when what he means is that they know what they are talking about...?

Yes, Carr, that's what I really mean. And since you can read my mind so well, what am I thinking right now? ;-) Is that statement of yours a mark of objectivity or emotionalism?

Listen up. While I think the question of a historical Jesus is interesting, it's one that I could care less about. To me it's a non-issue in the sense that I personally don't care whether he did or he didn't. I think that's a mark of objectivity, don't you? You however, have dogged my steps for the last month on this issue as if it's of the upmost importance by asking the same questions over and over again that I already attempted to answer elsewhere, as if I never did. Apparently you have an emotional axe to grind like some others. This, my friend, is a mark of the fundamentalist mentality. You could, however, show me otherwise.

You are I will not solve this issue by writing a few small paragraghs or questions. I have not, and will not, write a book on it. But a good book or two or three on this question is what's needed. I know the books to read and I have a few of them. As I said I'm interested in Richard's book and will read it. I have found that skeptics, just like Christians, only read the literature they agree with. I read the literature on both sides of the fence. I probably have an equal number of books in my library from both sides in the debate between Christianity and skepticism. All I can ask is that you do likewise. Maybe you have, but most skeptics have not.

Cheers.

Steven Carr said...

LOFTUS
You however, have dogged my steps for the last month on this issue as if it's of the upmost importance by asking the same questions over and over again that I already attempted to answer elsewhere, as if I never did.

CARR
But you never did give an answer!

Why can't you stop whining and actually talk to people?

Jay Raskin said...

Hi John L.,

I do not believe I "mischaracterized" your argument, but rather suggested a counterexample.

In discussing the recent archaeological proof of the existence of ancient warrior women, you said:

***
So there was textual evidence of a strange and unbelievable sort which just didn’t seem very probable at all. Then the archeological evidence was found to confirm it. If we are so skeptical as not to believe textual evidence until there is archaeological evidence then historians are in trouble. And if archeological evidence for the existence of Jesus shows up in the future you’ll be on the wrong side of an important issue. Sure we must do the best we can with what we know. It’s just that it’s best to error on the side of the textual evidence,...
***

Since you gave a case where archaeological evidence backed up literary evidence, in the interests of fairness, I felt it important to give a case where archaeological evidence has not backed up the ancient literary evidence. The same literature that tells us that Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet, also tells us that he handed the keys of heaven to his follower Peter (Matthew 16.9). This makes Jesus the gatekeeper of heaven, much like Cerberus is the gatekeeper of Hades. Why the ontological status of an ancient gatekeeper of heaven should have a different ontological status than an ancient gatekeeper of Hades is a bit difficult for me to see. If we wait for further archaeological evidence to pronounce on the existence of one, then we should certainly wait to pronounce on the existence of the other.

Perhaps, I should have used centaurs as a counter-example to warrior women. The literary evidence for half-human/half horse creatures also exists in ancient literature along with warrior women. Should we hesitate to label them non-existent creatures of the ancient imagination perchance that further evidence will prove us wrong?

As half-man/half God, Jesus may be considered closer to the centaurs; while as an apocalyptic prophet, he is closer to warrior women.

Still, even looking at warrior women, we have to question if the archaeological evidence of their existence allows us to say that a specific Warrior Woman such as Queen Hippolyta existed or that Hercules actually was sent on a mission to retrieve her girdle. Likewise, the future archaeological evidence for the existence of apocalyptic prophets, even ones named Jesus, may not allow us to say that anything that happened to the main character in the gospel tales was based on him, rather than literary imagination.

Thus, I do not believe that we should error on the side of caution in rejecting literary evidence in expectation of future discoveries that may possibly prove us wrong.

John W. Loftus said...

Carr, I believe I've attempted to answer every one of your questions. For anyone who wants to wade through pages and pages of our exchanges and decide for yourself then check them out here, and here, and here, and finally here, where our discussion degenerated.

Listen, I am not planning on writing a book on this topic. I have stated my present understanding as best as I could without doing the research needed in writing one. I think my conclusion would hold up if I did the needed research, especially since mine is the same conclusion as the overwhelming number of peer-reviewed scholars when it comes to the existence of a prophet who started the Jesus cult. To say I cannot have an informed opinion about something unless I do the necessary research required to write a book on the topic is nonsense, since you have never written a book and yet claim to be informed.

I admit there is much to learn, and I continually learn with each thing I read.

The reason for not answering any single question of yours, Carr, if I didn't answer all of them, is merely because you throw them at me faster than I can respond, or that I find the attempt is futile because you are so emotionally attached to your conclusions it would do no good to bother (as seen earlier here).

The fact that you disagree with my attempts at answering you is a far cry from "never" giving you an answer.

And if my responses to you are to be described as "whining" then you have critical thinking issues. You are so emotionally attached to your conclusions that you cannot think straight.

I find your lack of objectivity strange and amazing. It's enough for me to deal daily with the ignorant and emotional laden Christians who visit my blog. It's a far different thing see these same traits in you.

I leave you to have the last comment. Make it a reasonable one, okay, if you can.

I am now unsubscribing from this thread. I’ve made my case. People can freely disagree with it, but I don’t see much by way of objectivity when it comes to the comments here.

Jay, as I was posting this I read your most recent comment and I find it to be, once again, irrelevant to what I have argued. You might try reading the links I provided to catch a glimpse as to what I'm actually arguing for.

Thanks Richard for your work in this area. I’m really looking forward to your book. Make your case convincing or you just may be marginalized as a scholar, and your scholarship is too good for this to happen to you.

Bernard said...

Steven Carr said...
Benjamin Creme describes the Maitreya as an obscure Muslim living in the East End of London

The Maitreya

'In July 1977 Maitreya emerged from His centre in the Himalayas and travelled to London through Pakistan. Since then He has lived in London as an ordinary man concerned with modern problems.'

The Maitreya has 'humbled' himself in the way that Jesus did, to the extent of not existing and not founding any religion.

Or at least , when Paul says Jesus 'humbled' himself, he may mean no more than descriptions of the Maitreya living in the East End of London - a traditionally poor area.

'Maitreya's arrival in the world was predicted by the English writer Alice A Bailey through a series of books published by Lucis Trust between 1919 and 1939.'

How does this differ from Paul claiming that Jesus had become known through being revealed through the prophetic writings?
BM: Reality can imitate fiction. Fiction can imitate reality. There is no rule on the matter. Also, stories & tales (with made-up sayings) can be made on characters who existed, with added embellishments and fiction. Socrates, Mohammed, Krishna and Gautama are likely in that category, despite claims that some of them did not exist at all. And in this category, according to my own studies, I would also put Jesus, Ignatius and Attis.
I will not comment on your question unless you provide quotes to substantiate your claim. But I agree that some mythical aspects or later titles of Jesus were claimed to be revealed (or at least extracted) from the OT. But the person of Jesus?
That may be besides the point, but it is clear that “Matthew” would have preferred to have him called Emmanuel in order to fulfill a prophecy about a virgin birth. And “Luke” went into a lot of trouble (and unhistoricity and dubiousness) in order to have Jesus born in Bethlehem (very likely to fulfill prophecies) when his parents lived in Galilee. And Paul would have loved to have Jesus preaching to Gentiles. Instead he has him, in the past, as minister to the Jews (Ro15:8). And “Mark” would have loved to have his disciples saying Jesus is Christ and Son of God, but had to abstain from it. “Mark” would have loved that everyone was telling of Jesus resurrecting the girl; instead he had to invent a dubious reason why nobody knew about it. And the women not telling the disciples and the world about the resurrection; certainly there was no reason to hide it. And Peter not understanding the Passion, like a Christian would. Enough digression but there are more of that kind in GMark.

CARR: How does this differ from Paul's writings?

2 Corintians 11
For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough.
BM: Considering that, Paul preached mostly a post-crucifixion Heavenly Jesus, Paul said he had lot of competition from Jewish apostles, Paul accused (in ‘Galatians’) some Judaizers of wanting to circumcise his former converts who switched obviously to a very Jewish gospel, then, from what we know about Jewish Christianity (mostly through GMatthew), I suggest this other Jesus was also heavenly, but as an authoritarian KING, waiting to go back to earth in great glory to rule over His Kingdom for Jews. Instead Paul had the heavenly Jesus as the gentle Savior of Jews and Gentiles, waiting to mingle with his Christians in the Kingdom of God in heaven. Added to that was his preexistence, likely denied by Jewish Christians. So the mythical Jewish Christ/Jesus would be very different of the Pauline one. Maybe the heavenly extrapolations were different, but that does not mean the person who had been crucified (on earth) then believed resurrected as somebody BIG would not be the same.
CARR: The trouble with nonexistent people is that different groups have different ideas of what this nonexistent person should be like.
BM: Right, but a heavenly Jesus, unwitnessed in heaven (by normal earthly humans), out of sight, is as good as a nonexistent person: a lot can be invented, and that can be very different.
Best regards, Bernard D. Muller

Steven Carr said...

BERNARD
Instead he has him, in the past, as minister to the Jews (Ro15:8).

CARR
Paul actually writes that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God.

This is a very strange way of writing that Jesus did not preach to Gentiles, but preached to Jews instead.

Hambydammit said...

I'm afraid I've failed in an apparently ill-advised attempt to have a respectful disagreement with John Loftus. Though I have immense respect for what he's doing as a former Christian for Christians, I was very disturbed when I saw that he was loudly voicing his opinion on blogs and rather rudely shouting down mythicist bloggers and using terms like "crackpot" to describe the likes of Carrier, et al.

Read the full exchange on my blog:
http://allthingsstupidandreligious.blogspot.com/2009/01/alls-well-that-ends-angrily-mr-loftus.html

Read his edited version on his blog:
http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2008/12/i-try-my-very-best-to-focus-on-whats.html

I don't call myself a mythicist because I'm not a Jesus scholar. I don't make any bones about the fact that I see epistemic problems with most of the claims of Jesus' historicity, but I recognize my own lack of ability to make pronouncements.

I did my best to respectfully request that John refrain from making such bold pronouncements when he apparently is not familiar with (or at least has chosen not to respond to) mythicist arguments that have been presented to him. I have observed that his arguments consist primarily of continually restating his disagreement without offering rebuttal. I find this to be epistemologically dishonest.

Mythicists have it hard enough. I've read enough scathing reviews from full fledged scholars to see how hard it is to get anybody to take these claims seriously. I did my best as someone in a similar position to John (former apologist, autodidact) to persuade him to leave this question to serious scholars, but for my efforts, I received very impolite rebuttals, censorship of my posts, and selective cut-paste responses that looked to me to be quote-mining to make his position look better.

I am disappointed in John's lack of willingness to engage in constructive dialog. I wish only the best for him in his efforts to persuade Christians.

Hambydammit said...

Geez. Sorry to beat a dead horse, but here's John's own words about his epistemological rights to make claims about Jesus' historicity, from this very blog:

John wrote: I have stated my present understanding as best as I could without doing the research needed in writing one. I think my conclusion would hold up if I did the needed research

Is it really too much for me to ask that people do the requisite research before using their very popular blog to make pronouncements?

Vincent Harrison & Jamie Clarkson said...

Here's an author that I would think no Jesus Project would be complete without. Checkout the just released online preface of her latest book: CIE preface

Christ in Egypt: The Horus-Jesus Connection

She was once originally a fellow of The Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion (CSER) and was removed without the courtesy of any explanation whatsoever, still to this very day.

CSER

What's up with that? I'm very disappointed by that type of unprofessional behavior. She should be apart of this project.

Hambydammit said...

Ahem... For what it's worth, I have a very low opinion of anyone who changes history, John W. Loftus. For anyone who would like to watch history transform, the entire dialog is in my blog. Shame on you for spewing insults, erasing the insults, and then crying martyr.

Shame.

Andrew said...

Ah, come on, folks...is there any doubt as to what the conclusion of this "scholarly investigation" will be after all the hoopla?

Who ya kiddin?

Jay Raskin said...

I am really not sure what the outcome of the investigation will be.
I have found that most scholars are wedded to their conclusions, but if good and clear facts are presented in a reasonable manner, the scholars are willing to reconsider, re-evaluate, and change their conclusions. That is really what makes them scholars -- they follow the facts and do not twist the facts to fit their prejudices.
I am sure what will come out of the process will be fascinating and worth studying.
I will certainly respect the conclusions, even if I end up disagreeing with those conclusions.

Richard Carrier said...

Steven, you need to be less snarky and impolite to John. John is being largely reasonable and issuing valid caveats. And his siding with the consensus is an entirely valid procedure. Until a sound mythicist argument gets through peer review, he has every right to take the position he does.

John hasn't time or means to wade through the vast swath of mostly sh*tty arguments for mythicism, so must depend on the scholarly community of experts. In effect you are asking him to do what I found impossible to do vis-a-vis researching all the arguments and evidence for dating Ignatius and the Gospels etc. He can't do that vis-a-vis all these arguments you are presenting, and it's unreasonable to expect him to. Experts like me need to do it. Complaining to him that they aren't is hardly fair, as he's not a biblical historian.

And John, you need to relax a bit and not mistake Steven as such a zealot. He is merely annoyed at the double standard embraced by historicists (such as interpreting passages with the same wholesale bias they accuse the mythicists of) and their refusal to answer well or even consult the better arguments of mythicists (using the invalid excuse that they also have bad arguments and therefore should be ignored). My book aims to start solving these issues.

Richard Carrier said...

John W. Loftus said... ...a majority of whom consider Jesus to have been an apocalyptic prophet...

I'm really not so sure a majority supports that. The debate seems pretty fierce, so I don't know how it would poll. It certainly seems to me to be the most defensible historical reconstruction (if you grant certain assumptions scholars on both sides generally do grant), and has the most vocal and capable defenders (e.g. Ehrmann). But I've learned to be cautious in assuming that entails a majority view.

Moreover, Daniel was an apocalyptic prophet judging by the book of Daniel, yet we know that book is complete fiction. Thus, finding evidence that the character of Jesus in the Gospels was an apocalyptic prophet is no more a guarantee of his historicity than it is of Daniel's.

And that's where I think the major faultline is here: Ehrmann et al. aren't taking seriously the findings of such scholars as Helms and Brodie, whose work in combination proves the Gospels to be deliberate fiction. Which undermines any attempt to argue from them to any idea of Jesus the historical man (even if there was such). You'll have to await my book for that, but my point is, I'm collecting the work of bona fide scholars here. Their work is not fringe, and thus neither should be the conclusion that follows from it.

In order not to be marginalized as a scholar you had better provide some really strong arguments for your case.

Absolutely. Hence my book will do exactly that.

Although one thing it will also do is dispel the tendency to black and white thinking. It is not a question of either he existed or he didn't. It's a question of what the probability is that he existed. Even if that is 20%, which would entail he probably didn't exist, a 1 in 5 chance that he did exist is a realistic chance and thus not the sort one can follow with declarations of certainty he didn't exist--even as you will be in your rights to maintain he probably didn't. Probably, therefore certainly, is as much a fallacy as Possibly, therefore probably.

Hence my book isn't going to argue that Jesus "certainly" didn't exist, even if it argues he probably didn't.

One thing I’m looking for is any double standards in The Jesus Project’s methodology.

Me, too.

In fact, so, too, in all scholarship on the historicity or mythicity of Jesus. I am finding violations on both sides, BTW.

The methodology you use to examine the Jesus question must be consistently applied to the existence of John the Baptist, Peter, Paul, and even Papias, as well as other people of the past.

As also Romulus, Theseus, Hercules, etc. I make exactly this point in my book, as also the point that this point works both ways. Consistent methods might actually undermine the case for the historicity of Jesus.

PBS did a documentary on the amazon warrior women mentioned by the Greek historian Herodotus, who were a group of female warriors who did battle with men. A group of women warriors was first mention in Homer’s Iliad. And so such a claim was doubted by scholars until recent archaeological evidence proved their existence with the finding of a graveyard of them decked out in armor and positioned in death for a fight.

This is a non sequitur. A nation of warrior women called Amazons fighting a war alongside Mycenaeans in Turkey in the 12th century B.C. is not in any bit confirmed by graves of women soldiers in Kazakhstan a thousand years later. Indeed, there is no evidence at all that these women were ever called Amazons or had anything whatever to do with the particular culture described by Herodotus or Homer. In similar fashion, that archaeology found Troy does not validate the historicity of Achilles, nor does the archaeology that found Knossos validate the historicity of the Minotaur.

You should be particularly wary here. The Kazakh government is hell bent on establishing the very claims you heard from that PBS documentary and has heavily funded efforts to spin the find in exactly that way. But it's as specious as the Talpiot Jesus tomb find touted by Tabor and Jacobovici (though for different technical reasons).

And if archeological evidence for the existence of Jesus shows up in the future you’ll be on the wrong side of an important issue.

Actually that's true of every historical claim. Everyone is on the wrong side of a possible future discovery contradicting them. So I'm not sure what the point of mentioning that is. Indeed, I'll be making the particular point in my book that conclusions are always conditional of present evidence, so that future evidence can change our conclusions. That doesn't prevent us from saying what the conclusions most likely are on present evidence. Even scientists are proven wrong. That doesn't invalidate what they did. Indeed, they typically welcome the new findings.

It’s just that it’s best to error on the side of the textual evidence...

Why?

That is, why should that be a general rule? What's the valid and sound logical syllogism by which you derive the rule "a text says X, therefore X is true"?

There is none.

The reality is you need reasons to trust any text on anything. They need not be strong reasons, but then if they are not strong, neither are your conclusions certain. Historians all readily accept this. Overconfidence is a sin--and a sin committed by both sides of this debate.

That evidence clearly indicates Jesus was a doomsday apocalyptic prophet who gathered a following and who was crucified by the Romans. Such a picture of Jesus was an embarrassment to the early church for they had to continually explain away why his predictions of the eschaton never came true.

The castration of Attis was an embarrassment to the cult of Cybele. That doesn't make it true (nor confirm the historicity of Attis for that matter).

Likewise Daniel: complete fiction, yet despite the embarrassment of his failed predictions of the eschaton, everyone remained convinced of his divinely inspired accuracy right up to the 2d century A.D., each "reinterpreting" what he said to explain away his failures. In fact, the entire Christian religion can in a sense be explained as one giant attempt to explain away Daniel's prediction of a military victory for Israel over the Gentiles, by inventing a "spiritual" kingdom instead of an actual one, and continually postponing the actual one to an eschatological future.

As far as what Paul knew about Jesus I think you should read Paul Rhodes Eddy and Gregory A. Boyd’s chapter “The Silence of Paul” in The Jesus Legend, and you’ll be surprised what Paul might have known about the historical Jesus.

They were effectively refuted by L├╝demann at the conference (though he didn't interact with them specifically). Their methodology is deeply flawed, in fact a perfect example of a double standard. They would not tolerate such arguments deployed for the historicity of Asclepius, for example. Texts need to be interpreted consistently and without importing biased assumptions that already ensure the conclusion. That is not to say they are wrong, however, only that they are much too overconfident in their conclusions (as are their opponents).

You made mention of Socrates. I'll be using him as a good counter-example in my book. The evidential situation for him is in fact rather notably and significantly different than for Jesus, so much so that any theory of Jesus that fails to explain this difference fails to be credible. My main complaint is that historicists aren't even paying attention to this problem, yet it's fundamental to their very enterprise (to discover a correct theory of the historical Jesus).

Richard Carrier said...

Bernard said... I still think a right and complete methodology cannot be developed, because of the nature of a big part of the evidence: dubious texts with disinformation, propaganda, tricks, schemes, fiction, unknown authors, etc.

You are confusing methods with results. That the evidence is f*cked has no bearing on whether our methodology is right and complete. Right and complete methods applied to hosed evidence will still produce a right and complete answer, i.e. an answer conditional on the state of the evidence. For instance, the right and complete answer could be that the evidence is inadequate to establish or refute the historicity of Jesus. Such a conclusion would not impugn our methods. It would vindicate them. If that's the correct conclusion, of course, which is why we must establish that the facts are indeed hosed and that the right and complete methods are such as we find them to be (hence I agree with your remarks about the faulty methods scholars have often used--failing first to establish the soundness of their methods is precisely the problem my paper at the Jesus Project exposed).

What does “historical Jesus” [even] mean?

That was exactly the subject of Lindsay's paper at the conference. In fact that's a good example of why the Jesus Project is different. We're actually raising exactly these issues.

I'll have a whole chapter on this question in my book.

As for how you would apply Bayes' Theorem to historical questions, my next blog (the second part of my Jesus Project blogging) will partly discuss that, since that's exactly what my paper was about (or half of it, the other half establishing the point you made earlier, as I noted above)

[Jesus was crucified] in "Zion" (Ro9:31-33 & Ro15:26-27).

The first passage says nothing of the kind. No crucifixion is mentioned. In fact, the subject is the gospel (i.e. the message of ch. 9 preceding this remark), not the crucifixion, as in 1 Pet. 2:8. In fact, Paul seems to be speaking of the secret messages in scripture establishing Paul's gospel that he is claiming the Jews missed or denied, since he says it's the Law the Jews stumble on, not seeing the path through "faith" in the gospel instead (through faith in Jesus, though the pronoun is often rendered as "him" in "believe on him" when in fact it more readily means "it," i.e. the stone they are stumbling on).

As for the second passage, are you sure you listed the right verse? The content of Rom. 15:26-27 seems wholly unconnected with your claim.

Richard Carrier said...

Steven Carr said... I have to have double-standards here. I have one standard of historicity for somebody who writes letters, and another standard of historicity for somebody who had been 'revealed throught the prophetic writings'.

I don't think that's what John meant. He's talking about our methods above that level of analysis, i.e. the very methods we would use to confirm your analysis as correct. He's right. Everyone must use the same methods, and consistently, since there can only be one correct set of methods (since methods that get different answers cannot both be correct, and we only want correct ones).

Richard Carrier said...

Vincent Harrison & Jamie Clarkson said... She was once originally a fellow of The Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion (CSER) and was removed without the courtesy of any explanation whatsoever, still to this very day.

I know nothing about this (you mean D.M. Murdock, this is Acharya S, though under her real name now). She had to be formally invited to be a fellow of CSER, so who invited her in the first place, and approved the letter of invitation? (Does she have the letter of invitation?). Or are you sure she ever was an actual fellow? Or that she still isn't? You need to ask CSER these questions (or her).

She should be apart of this project.

I'm not so sure. I don't find her expertise and standards to be up to par. Though she's getting better, she is still a whole level below Price and Zindler, and IMO I am not even happy with their standards. Doherty is a level above them all, IMO, so I would sooner see him invited to give a paper to the Project (which is not to be confused with CSER which is only the organization hosting the Jesus Project).

Leon said...

It will not be possible to make any fair statment about what the evidence is until scholars face their own prejudices in describing the evidence. On a regular basis, scholars get the evidence wrong because they have a penchant for eliminating evidence that is favorable to Jews (Jewish leaders and Judas), and they especially read ambiguous evidence as being negative towards Jews. One could give dozens and dozens of examples of this. To mention only one point: All the evidence regarding Judas in Mark's Gospel is purely ambiguous or neutral. Yet every scholar reads something negative into each piece. There are still major scholars today writing about Judas who cannot bring themselves to mention that Mark uses "paradidomi" to describe Judas' act, a word that does not have unequivocally negative implications. They do similar things with every other aspect of the story of Jesus' death, even for the Jewish leaders.

Scholars are never going to get the seemingly simple task of getting the evidence right. No one gives us the pure data. Instead, they all give us data with spin and try to pass it off as the pure data. Since no one even wants to have an honest discussion about what is happening, what hope is there that any scholars will even begin to get it right?

Leon Zitzer

Bernard said...

Bernard said...
I still think a right and complete methodology cannot be developed, because of the nature of a big part of the evidence: dubious texts with disinformation, propaganda, tricks, schemes, fiction, unknown authors, etc.

Richard Carrier (RC): You are confusing methods with results.

Bernard Muller (BM): No, I was referring to the complexity and dubiousness of the textual evidence, not whatever results.

RC: That the evidence is f*cked has no bearing on whether our methodology is right and complete.

BM: I disagree. Any methodology has to be adapted to the f*ckeness of the evidence, like any tool has to be adapted to what it has to work on. The f*ckeness of the evidence should be acknowledged first, then the methodology has to be developed to deal with it. Anyway, I do not have any faith in some idealistic methodology dreamed up at the very beginning of the study and let intact throughout. I would have more confidence if the methodology is constantly revised and expanded along the study to take in account new findings, debates, etc. But then, with a revised methodology, everything studied before would have to be looked back. Like I said, three steps forward, two (maybe more) steps backward.

RC: For instance, the right and complete answer could be that the evidence is inadequate to establish or refute the historicity of Jesus.

BM: I am afraid that after five years and disagreeing scholars (and a lot of money spent by laymen in order to support the project), that will be the conclusion of the JP. But what Jesus are we talking about? The Jesus of the Christian Churches, the Jesus of the gospels, a historic Jesus, or a much lesser Jesus who, accidentally, triggered the development by others of the Christianities (the later is the one I found through my laborious study: See http://www.geocities.com/b_d_muller/digest.html for a short description). I fear this Jesus might be defined wrongly and therefore his historicity might be determined wrongly. It is like “Did Rosa Park, the Mother of the Civil Rights Movement, existed?” My answer would be NO, because she triggered only a boycott, led by others, in a particular city. Answering yes would have me endorse something which is very much an overstatement. But if asked , “Did Rosa Parks, through her arrest, provided the spark which started that boycott”, then my answer is YES. However, my first reply might be seen as if Rosa Parks did not exist as a human being.

BM: [Jesus was crucified] in "Zion" (Ro9:31-33 & Ro15:26-27).

RC: The first passage says nothing of the kind. No crucifixion is mentioned.

BM: Right, but ‘skandalon’ is, and according to 1Cor 1:23 and Gal 5:11, ‘skandalon’ means the crucifixion, that is to Paul.
- 1Cor1:23 YLT "... Christ crucified, to Jews, indeed, a stumbling-block ['skandalon', also translated as "offenc(s)e" or "scandal"] ..."
- Gal5:11 NKJV "... the offense ['skandalon'] of the cross ..."
And Paul used the word ‘skandalon’ in his cut & paste quote of parts Isaiah 8:14 & Isaiah 28:16, but the word (‘skandalon’) is not in the LXX.

- Rom9:31-33 Darby:
"But Israel, pursuing after a law of righteousness, has not attained to [that] law. Wherefore? Because [it was] not on the principle of faith, but as of works. They have stumbled at the stumblingstone, according as it is written, Behold, I [God] place in Zion a stone of stumbling and rock of offence ['skandalon']: and he that believes [has faith] on him [Christ] shall not be ashamed."

Here are the OT verses that Paul used in his cut & paste quotation:
- Isa8:14 NKJV "He [the Lord God] will be as a sanctuary, but a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense [NOT translated as 'skandalon' in the LXX!] to both the houses of Israel, as a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem."
- Isa28:16 NKJV "Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: "Behold, I lay in Zion [Jerusalem] a stone for a foundation, a tried stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation; whoever believes will not act hastily.""

Paul used ‘skandalon” in another verse:
Rom11:9-10 NASB "And David says: "Let their table [Israel's] become a snare and a trap, and a stumbling block ['skandalon'] and a retribution to them. Let their eyes be darkened to see not, ...""

Note: Paul quoted accurately Ps69:22-23 with only one exception: he added up 'skandalon'.

And despite all the deletions and changes, Paul kept "in Zion" as the location of the 'skandalon'/crucifixion.

And what was Paul saying in Rom9:33? Very simply, explain why Israel (the Jews) stumbled (that is not converting): because of the ‘skandalon’ (see also 1Cor1:23 & Rom11:9-10 which I already quoted). Also he expressed that was predicted by the scripture (that Paul modified greatly in order to serve his agenda!).

RC: the pronoun is often rendered as "him" in "believe on him" when in fact it more readily means "it," i.e. the stone they are stumbling on).

BM: But in Rom10:13 (that’s only 13 verses after Ro 9:33), when Paul requotes the same scripture, the so-called “it” is definitively a “him” and means Jesus. So I am very much doubting about a “it” in Rom9:33.

RC: As for the second passage, are you sure you listed the right verse? The content of Rom. 15:26-27 seems wholly unconnected with your claim.

BM: Right, that should be Rom11:26-27. My bad.
Rom11:26-27 Darby "And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: "the Deliverer will come out of Zion, and He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob [Israel (Ge32:28)]; for this is My covenant with them [Jews], when I take away their sins.""

a) Again, what "is written" is a combination of parts from two OT passages, with alterations by Paul in order to fit his agenda (the Jews will convert, even if they didn't so far!):
- Isa59:20-21a NKJV ""The Redeemer [here, it is God himself!] will come to Zion, and to those who turn from transgression in Jacob," Says the LORD."As for Me," says the LORD, "this is My covenant with them: ...""
- Isa27:9a NKJV "Therefore by this the iniquity of Jacob will be covered; and this is all the fruit of taking away his sin: ..."

b) For Paul, the "Deliverer" (Savior) of the Jews is undoubtedly Christ, by his death for atonement of sins. This is corroborated by:
- Ro3:9 NKJV "... we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin ..."
- Gal4:4-5a YLT "God sent forth His Son, come of a woman, come under law, that those under law [that would include Jews!] he may redeem, ..."
- Gal1:3b-4a NKJV "... Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us ..."
- Ro5:8b Darby "... we being still sinners, Christ has died for us."

c) And, again, Paul kept "Zion" despite his rewriting.

Best regards, Bernard

Bernard said...

I should have written 'skandalon' refers to the crucifixion, and not ‘skandalon’ means the crucifixion.

Best regards, Bernard

Richard Carrier said...

Leon said... On a regular basis, scholars get the evidence wrong because they have a penchant for eliminating evidence that is favorable to Jews (Jewish leaders and Judas), and they especially read ambiguous evidence as being negative towards Jews.

I find the opposite is the case. Among real, mainstream scholars it's standard now to understand the Gospels as to some degree polemically anti-Jewish, for instance. No one is actually reading the texts the way you allege--except maybe some Christian apologists (though even then I can't think of any specific examples).

All the evidence regarding Judas in Mark's Gospel is purely ambiguous or neutral. Yet every scholar reads something negative into each piece.

Not so. The standard view in scholarship today is that Judas was increasingly converted into an anti-Jewish stereotype in later Gospels.

IMO he never existed. He is simply a mythotype for the failure of the Jews to remain faithful to God (a theme that is no more antisemitic there than when you find it repeatedly and even more explicitly in actual Jewish authors like Isaiah). His name essentially means "Jew," and I would argue his actions are a commentary on why the Jews continue to be oppressed by Gentiles: they keep betraying each other (though, here as often elsewhere, God arranges that as part of his plan to turn things around). Similarly, Barabbas (Bar Abbas, "Son of the Father," Jesus' ceremonial twin in an emulation of Yom Kippur) represents the sins of the Jews that continue to result in their oppression (murder and insurrection, i.e. disobedience and violence). The message is not "Jews suck" or "Jews are evil" but "why don't all us Jews stop doing this and start acting like Jesus, i.e. Joshua, i.e. the Jewish Savior, who represents the ideal Jew?"

There are still major scholars today writing about Judas who cannot bring themselves to mention...[etc.].

Major scholars like who?

Richard Carrier said...

Bernard said... Any methodology has to be adapted to the f*ckeness of the evidence.

Exactly my point. A sound method will do that automatically.

RC: For instance, the right and complete answer could be that the evidence is inadequate to establish or refute the historicity of Jesus.

BM: I am afraid that after five years and disagreeing scholars (and a lot of money spent by laymen in order to support the project), that will be the conclusion of the JP.


Why be afraid of that? That would be substantial progress. If this thus became the only defensible mainstream view (if it is indeed correct), that will be money well spent, IMO.

But what Jesus are we talking about?

Exactly one of the questions the JP was formed to answer. And there will certainly be different conclusions for different referents. For instance, in my book I'll show that the "triumphal Jesus" (the Jesus Christians want to have existed) is demonstrably ahistorical, whereas the "mere Jesus" (the Jesus that most mainstream scholars are trying to reconstruct via the Quests) might be on balance probably ahistorical but not as demonstrably so as the triumphal Jesus.

...a historic Jesus, or a much lesser Jesus who, accidentally, triggered the development by others of the Christianities (the later is the one I found through my laborious study...)

You have a false dichotomy here. Your lesser Jesus is not a separate category from "a historic Jesus" but just one more among many possible "historic Jesus" theories (I call them theories of historicity), and as such yours must compete with all the others. I'll show there is very little persuasive evidence any such Jesus existed (yours or anyone else's), though that won't entail he didn't.

BTW, your Jesus theory is similar to one drawn up by Robert Price (who only instead proposes that Jesus is the fictional resurrected John), and not fundamentally far from what is actually the view of many mainstream scholars (like Helms, MacDonald, Chilton, etc.), and resembles in some respects what even fringe historicists of renown argue (e.g. Eisenmann, Tabor, etc.), even if you deviate in various particulars from their own reconstructions. But I find serious methodological flaws in your approach, just as in theirs (mainly, you assume you can actually know things confidently that in fact the sources cannot sustain with any such certainty). But you'll have to wait for my book to see why.

It is like “Did Rosa Park, the Mother of the Civil Rights Movement, existed?” My answer would be NO, because she triggered only a boycott, led by others, in a particular city. [Etc.]

This is exactly the cautionary thesis argued by A.J. Droge at the JP conference. We're well aware of this issue. So you're preaching to the choir.

BM: Right, but ‘skandalon’ is, and according to 1Cor 1:23 and Gal 5:11, ‘skandalon’ means the crucifixion, that is to Paul.

This is an explicit example of fallacious methodology.

First, if I say Bush's AIDS program in Africa is a scandal, does this mean every time I use the word "scandal" I mean Bush's AIDS program in Africa? You are employing a fallacious rule of inference here.

Second, Paul's letters also use that word many times not in reference to the cross, and in this case he is quoting the OT which certainly was not talking about the cross, even if Paul were claiming it did (BTW, you are naively relying on modern textual editions of the LXX--the ancients used many different and varying Greek and Aramaic translations, and as one can see, the LXX occasionally uses skandalon as a substitute for the same Hebrew word in other instances, e.g. Lev. 19:14--and though Christians often altered or made their own translations to suit the context, that requires attending to that context, not inventing one), so one cannot automatically assume Paul is referring to a crucifixion here.

Third, the context of Rom. 9 is the Jewish law that causes stumbling (skandalon lit. means "trap" and often is used in the NT to mean "cause of sin") and the Gospel that does away with that block, not the crucifixion (which is never mentioned there). Read the whole context: he is saying Christian faith removes the stumbling block (the Torah law) that keeps the Jews in sin (by causing them to repeatedly stumble over that law). He is not here talking about what prevents the Jews from believing the Gospel (as he is in those cases where he refers to the crucifixion as the stumbling block--hence those passages are using the word in a different context).

Fourth, Paul is not using this OT quotation to locate a historical event in Jerusalem ("Zion"). He is talking about the Jews symbolically as a whole ("Zion"). I think that's quite obvious from the entire context.

You have to ignore all these facts and theorize a different meaning for this passage. But there is an enormous difference between a theory and a fact. It may be your theory that Paul is attesting to a crucifixion in Jerusalem here, but it is by no means an independent fact. Alternative theories can account for the passage's meaning, intent, and context just as well--in fact, IMO, better. You might still be right, but methodologically you cannot assume you are. And IMO it's rather a desperate move to take such an immensely obscure remark and bootstrap it into a reference to a specific historical event--the fact that this is almost always what historicists have to do with Paul's letters is in toto quite disturbing to me.

Paul quoted accurately Ps69:22-23 with only one exception: he added up 'skandalon'.

That word is in the extant critical text of the LXX, so I don't know what your point is here.

But in Rom10:13 (that’s only 13 verses after Ro 9:33)

Yet another example of bad method. Thirteen verses is a long damn way off. Why do biblical idea-pushers always do this? Look for grammatical subjects several paragraphs away from the text they want to interpret? Why on earth do you believe that's sound? You wouldn't do that with any book or essay by an English author today, so why do you think it makes sense in a Biblical text? The context of Rom. 9:33 is not "13 verses away" but actually around verse 9:33. Attend to the actual context, not one you fabricate with literary teleportation.

Indeed, the context of Rom. 10:13 is quite different from that of 9:33 and the verse in the OT quoted there isn't even the same (Joel 2:32, not Isaiah anything, much less 8:14).

Right, that should be Rom11:26-27. My bad.

That still does not refer to any crucifixion. It only says the Savior would in the end times come out of Zion (that he means the future and not the historical past is explicit in Rom. 11:25). And he might even just mean figuratively (i.e. the Gospel, or the Spirit of Jesus that inhabits the Church, will come from Zion and save the Jews in the end). And besides, Jesus didn't come from Jerusalem, did he?

You also engage another example of bad method when you interpret a passage by ignoring the fact that the sentence and subject have changed. Rom. 11:26-27 does not say "the Deliverer will come out of Zion...when I take away their sins" and therefore the latter cannot be referring to the crucifixion, because there is a whole middle being omitted here in which the grammatical subject is changed by a new sentence. Paul is saying the Jews will be saved when God takes away their sin, which will happen when they accept the Gospel--the entire point of Rom. 10 is that this hasn't happened yet (and thus didn't happen at the crucifixion), but rather the Jews are still in their sins because they reject the Gospel (and will only have their sins removed when they finally do accept it, which they will do in the future, after all the elect among the Gentiles have been converted).

Bernard said...

To Richard,

BM: I am afraid that after five years and disagreeing scholars (and a lot of money spent by laymen in order to support the project), that will be the conclusion of the JP. [the evidence is inadequate to establish or refute the historicity of Jesus]

RC: Why be afraid of that? That would be substantial progress. If this thus became the only defensible mainstream view (if it is indeed correct), that will be money well spent, IMO.

BM: That would only reflect the make-up of the JP and nothing else (and with money badly spent). And I do not think the JP will be considered mainstream: too many scholars in it are controversial.

BM: ...a historic Jesus, or a much lesser Jesus who, accidentally, triggered the development by others of the Christianities (the later is the one I found through my laborious study ...)

RC: You have a false dichotomy here. Your lesser Jesus is not a separate category from "a historic Jesus" but just one more among many possible "historic Jesus" theories (I call them theories of historicity), and as such yours must compete with all the others. I'll show there is very little persuasive evidence any such Jesus existed (yours or anyone else's), though that won't entail he didn't.

BM: I beg to differ. And it is unfair from you to put me in the same bag with the proponents of a “historic” Jesus, who through some special talents, or pedigree, or teachings or divine help would have inspired some of his contemporaries to create a movement, or sect, or religion.
Maybe the persuasive evidence is little but it does exist. That would be enough to accept his past existence, at least as one element in the creation of Christianity.

Remark: Furthermore, the past existence makes easy to explain how a low-class Jew appears in Paul’s epistles and gMark (but here already greatly enhanced). No witch hunt necessary here to eliminate all the historical bits about his past existence! And if he is acknowledged, then, through critical analysis, gMark can be examined for further info, and not rejected whole as you do. Also, agreeing with its past existence, the beginning of Christianity can be traced more securely than from a fictional one, where only generalistic theories can be sketched, with even less or no direct & positive evidence for back up. As an example, Doherty, who did try to do a reconstruction (I compliment him on that), explained, through a particular stratified Q (which is losing favor very rapidly), how a Jesus figure started to appear, but few are convinced.

RC: BTW, your Jesus theory is similar to one drawn up by Robert Price (who only instead proposes that Jesus is the fictional resurrected John)

BM: Oh, now you put me with Dr Price and his fictional resurrected John. Do I deserve this? What’s next? (I understand Price is working now on a fictitious Paul!).
As far as the other scholars you mentioned, I think many of them shift their views from year to year, and their views are often opaque. And for Eisenmann and Tabor, I certainly do not want to be seen close to them. But I can see your tendency, as for many mythicists, to put anyone in the same bag who thinks a human Jesus had something to do into starting Christianity.

RC: But I find serious methodological flaws in your approach, just as in theirs (mainly, you assume you can actually know things confidently that in fact the sources cannot sustain with any such certainty). But you'll have to wait for my book to see why.

BM: Yes, I showed some confidence, as you do many times. What’s wrong with that? Actually, the HJ I got comes partly from the Pauline epistles (Yes, I said Pauline epistles). That tells me what (earthly) Jesus was and was not, at least on some major points. And from gMark, I extracted out about 90% of it, providing many reasons why I did it. What was left, even if little, still explain why such a low Galilean, in a flash-in-the pan, would accidentally start something which later became a new religion. I do not claim certainty, just that my reconstruction is very substantiated and the most likely, among others, to be true. Actually, I am more confident about the overall results rather that the process which led into it, very tedious and long, and let’s admit it, sometimes debatable (but which methodology is not!). And even if the sources cannot sustain many things with a lot of certainty, that does not mean they have to be trashed wholesale. Furthermore, I did not need much from these sources, and certainly not the dubious stuff. And may I say it is very easy to develop a methodology so rigorous that nothing can be accepted through it.

BM: Right, but ‘skandalon’ is, and according to 1Cor 1:23 and Gal 5:11, ‘skandalon’ means the crucifixion, that is to Paul.

RC: This is an explicit example of fallacious methodology.

First, if I say Bush's AIDS program in Africa is a scandal, does this mean every time I use the word "scandal" I mean Bush's AIDS program in Africa? You are employing a fallacious rule of inference here.

Second, Paul's letters also use that word many times not in reference to the cross,

BM: OK, first Paul used ‘skandalon’ in 1Cor1:23 and Gal5:11 where the word does relate with the Crucifixion. I would say Paul is consistent, along his ministry, in using ‘skandalon’ with that meaning, even if at two other times (but the last times he used the word), ‘skandalon’ cannot relate to the crucifixion (neither gospel), according to the context (Rom14:13 & 16:17). However, in Rom9:32b-33, the context is the same as in 1Co1:23 (the Jews not converting because of the ‘skandalon’), so Yes, ‘skandalon’ also here refers to the Crucifixion (BTW, Paul never said his gospel was a ‘skandalon’ for some, but he certainly did say so about the Crucifixion). As far as ‘skandalon’ referring to Paul’s gospel, I do not think Paul could pretend that God placed that gospel among the Jews of Zion.

RC: Actually Paul used ‘skandalon’ only and in this case he is quoting the OT which certainly was not talking about the cross, even if Paul were claiming it did.

BM: Paul massaged the OT (for Rom9:33) to show (dishonestly) that the OT did talk about the crucifixion. That’s typical of early Christian authors doing so in order to prove that events about Christ had been prophesied in the Scriptures.

RC: (BTW, you are naively relying on modern textual editions of the LXX--the ancients used many different and varying Greek and Aramaic translations, and as one can see, the LXX occasionally uses skandalon as a substitute for the same Hebrew word in other instances, e.g. Lev. 19:14--and though Christians often altered or made their own translations to suit the context, that requires attending to that context, not inventing one),

BM: I looked into the Greek of the LXX from a website and in the Isaiah verse (8:14) that Paul used, there is no ‘skandalon’. Can you prove ‘skandalon’ exists in some version of the LXX?

RC: so one cannot automatically assume Paul is referring to a crucifixion here.

BM: I never said “automatically”, but any normal interpretation for ‘skandalon’ here calls for a reference to the Crucifixion. And I admitted the evidence is not the most direct.

RC: Third, the context of Rom. 9 is the Jewish law that causes stumbling (skandalon lit. means "trap" and often is used in the NT to mean "cause of sin") and the Gospel that does away with that block, not the crucifixion (which is never mentioned there). Read the whole context: he is saying Christian faith removes the stumbling block (the Torah law) that keeps the Jews in sin (by causing them to repeatedly stumble over that law). He is not here talking about what prevents the Jews from believing the Gospel (as he is in those cases where he refers to the crucifixion as the stumbling block--hence those passages are using the word in a different context).

BM: Rom9 is a long chapter in several parts. Your expose is partly right by me but may I remind you the word “gospel” is not in Rom9. Actually, this word is not existent from 2:17 to 10:14 included. So I cannot see why suddenly, in chapter 9, a word ‘skandalon’ refers to “gospel”, more so when, in the Pauline epistles, ‘skandalon’ is never associated with “gospel”.

RC: Fourth, Paul is not using this OT quotation to locate a historical event in Jerusalem ("Zion"). He is talking about the Jews symbolically as a whole ("Zion"). I think that's quite obvious from the entire context.

BM: In the OT, “Zion” is most often used as the heartland of the Jews, and that would include Jerusalem. Sometimes it means Jerusalem only. I got many quotes on my website to prove that : http://www.geocities.com/b_d_muller/djp1.html .

RC: You have to ignore all these facts and theorize a different meaning for this passage. But there is an enormous difference between a theory and a fact. It may be your theory that Paul is attesting to a crucifixion in Jerusalem here, but it is by no means an independent fact. Alternative theories can account for the passage's meaning, intent, and context just as well--in fact, IMO, better.

BM: I am not ignoring the facts. And I never said this evidence is very direct, that is clear-cut. But ‘skandalon’ is proven to refer to the crucifixion in two Pauline verses, and never to “gospel”, which makes your theory a lot less believable. As far as alternative theories, I know mythicists make them all the time from the top of their head in order to bring confusion and doubt for any historical bit. I suppose that is a big part of their methodology. And how do you know they can be better ones. Isn’t it a leap of faith or wishful thinking?

RC: You might still be right, but methodologically you cannot assume you are.

BM: Thanks. I figure my chances to be right on this one are 70% (as indication about Paul knowing the crucifixion was in Zion). Now what does a mythicist have to offer in order to indicate the crucifixion did not happen in Zion? I mean positive evidence from the Pauline epistles. And if I might still be right, why methodologically I would score a zero on that one?

BM: But in Rom10:13 (that’s only 13 verses after Ro 9:33)

RC: Yet another example of bad method. Thirteen verses is a long damn way off. So who is the biblical idea-pushers? Why do biblical idea-pushers always do this? Look for grammatical subjects several paragraphs away from the text they want to interpret?

BM: Really. Earlier, you theorized that ‘skandalon’ in Rom9 refers to Paul’s gospel. However the previous occurrence of “gospel” happened no less than seven chapters earlier (and nowhere ‘skandalon’ can be proven to mean “gospel”).

RC: Why on earth do you believe that's sound? You wouldn't do that with any book or essay by an English author today, so why do you think it makes sense in a Biblical text? The context of Rom. 9:33 is not "13 verses away" but actually around verse 9:33. Attend to the actual context, not one you fabricate with literary teleportation.

BM: Paul is quoting the same OT passage twice within eleven verses. Why would he think “it” (allegedly for “gospel”) for one word, then implies “him” (for Christ/Jesus/Lord) eleven verses later for the same word? Why would he intend the same OT piece to have a different meaning eleven verses earlier? And if ‘skandalon” in Rom9:33 refers to Christ crucifixion (as in Cor1:23 & Gal5:11) and not gospel (as in your unevidenced theory), then “him” is amply justified in Rom9:33.
My bad: I was talking about Rom10:11, eleven verses after Rom9:33. Rom10:11 quotes part of Isaiah28:16, as does Rom9:33.

BM: Right, that should be Rom11:26-27. My bad.

RC: That still does not refer to any crucifixion. It only says the Savior would in the end times come out of Zion (that he means the future and not the historical past is explicit in Rom. 11:25). And he might even just mean figuratively (i.e. the Gospel, or the Spirit of Jesus that inhabits the Church, will come from Zion and save the Jews in the end). And besides, Jesus didn't come from Jerusalem, did he?

BM: The future tense in the quote is because the prophecy was written in the past for a future time (relative to when the prophecy was made). So naturally, when Paul quoted it, he kept the same tense. That does not mean the prophecy was not fulfilled before Paul’s times, that is, of course, from Paul’s perspective. As for the future tense at the beginning of Rom11:26, Paul has been lamenting about the lack of conversion from the Jews but still hope, in the future, they will convert.
I cannot understand your interpretation. Where did you read the end times? And the Savior comes out of Zion, not to Zion (as from heaven) (actually Paul changed the “to” from Isa59:20 to “out of” in Rom11:26). Jesus did not come from Jerusalem, as you wrote, but if he became the Savior in Zion (from Paul’s perspective), so “out of” is fully justified.

RC: You also engage another example of bad method when you interpret a passage by ignoring the fact that the sentence and subject have changed. Rom. 11:26-27 does not say "the Deliverer will come out of Zion ...when I take away their sins" and therefore the latter cannot be referring to the crucifixion

BM: Paul is handling OT quotes and merging two verses. So the awkwardness. Anyway, many times Paul specified any removal of sins was due to Christ sacrifice on the cross, which, according to Paul, has been performed. So the covenant has been enabled, because the Savior came. This interpretation falls 100% into what Paul has been preaching. Only one glitch: the Jews still have to convert (in numbers)!

RC: because there is a whole middle being omitted here in which the grammatical subject is changed by a new sentence. Paul is saying the Jews will be saved when God takes away their sin, which will happen when they accept the Gospel--the entire point of Rom. 10 is that this hasn't happened yet (and thus didn't happen at the crucifixion), but rather the Jews are still in their sins because they reject the Gospel (and will only have their sins removed when they finally do accept it, which they will do in the future, after all the elect among the Gentiles have been converted).

BM: And what about the Jews who already converted (like Paul). Did Paul think they still would have to wait before their past sins are taken away, while the converted Gentiles are already “cleansed”? I do not think so: Paul preached equality between Jews and Gentiles in regard on how and when they are saved (see Rom10:12-16 for example). So the atonement for sins has been enabled already (through the crucifixion), for all. And Rom11:25b-26a is only a ploy by Paul for his Gentile audience (wondering why the Jews were not eager to convert, more so when Jesus was a Jew (Rom9:5), and so the Christian preachers): do not expect massive conversion of Jews in the near future but it will later.
- Ro3:9 NKJV "... we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin ..."
- Gal4:4-5a YLT "God sent forth His Son, come of a woman, come under law, that those under law [that would include Jews!] he may redeem, ..."
- Gal1:3b-4a NKJV "... Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us ..."
Best regards, Bernard

Richard Carrier said...

Bernard said... That would only reflect the make-up of the JP and nothing else

Every journey begins with a single step. Thus, the only way to ever make progress is to fund small projects like this. And a solid body of qualified scholars using demonstrably sound methods coming to any conclusion can only move things forward. If you don't see that, then you are blind.

And I do not think the JP will be considered mainstream: too many scholars in it are controversial.

By that standard no scholars are mainstream. Every scholar has some kooky idea he can be measured by. What makes a conclusion mainstream is when such diverse scholars start to agree on something. That's where progress begins. It's the only way it can.

...it is unfair from you to put me in the same bag with the proponents of a “historic” Jesus, who through some special talents, or pedigree, or teachings or divine help would have inspired some of his contemporaries to create a movement, or sect, or religion.

Oh dear. Here it begins. The paranoia. The declarations of how unfair everyone is. The melodramatics of "Oh, lo, for I am not like those rascals of the ignorant mainstream thou tar me with!"

Look, you are advocating a historical Jesus. Therefore it is fair to place you in the camp of h{at least partly historical}, where ~h = h{entirely mythical}. There is no other logically valid place to put you. And considering the wide range of theories I have seen, yours fits right in. It's certainly no less divergent than many others.

Maybe the persuasive evidence is little but it does exist. That would be enough to accept his past existence, at least as one element in the creation of Christianity.

Certainly. If that's how the evidence actually pans out--on a logically valid and sound method. I find the evidence doesn't quite reach that far, but that's for my book to explain. We simply have to properly articulate our respective hypotheses of the evidence and test them against each other with a valid method. When my book is out, you can do that.

As far as the other scholars you mentioned, I think many of them shift their views from year to year, and their views are often opaque.

Maybe some are opaque (not typically from my experience, but I haven't read everyone), but beyond that, chronologically shifting views is actually a good sign--it means people's conclusions change as they encounter more evidence and sound criticism, exactly as should happen to anyone seeking the truth. Someone who never changes their theory is the one who's suspect.

Yes, I showed some confidence, as you do many times. What’s wrong with that?

I just told you: the evidence is nowhere near clear or secure enough to warrant such confidence about what "actually happened" in this case--from anyone. Since a conclusion can never be stronger than its weakest premise, your confidence would require equal confidence in every single premise you rest upon. That's simply not possible. I know the evidence well, and all the many diverse yet plausible ways it can be interpreted, so I can assure you, your confidence is far beyond what the evidence could justify. I find that disturbing--but typical.

As far as ‘skandalon’ referring to Paul’s gospel, I do not think Paul could pretend that God placed that gospel among the Jews of Zion.

To make such a statement, you clearly can't know what you are talking about.

Can you prove ‘skandalon’ exists in some version of the LXX?

I don't have to. Whether it exists in any modern manuscript is irrelevant to my point. The flaw I identified in your method is in assuming we have all the versions that existed in Paul's day. You repeated that very fallacy again here. Maybe someday you'll get the point. Until then, I'm done trying to educate you.

...may I remind you the word “gospel” is not in Rom9.

That you think it has to be is yet another example of your lack of sound method. You must have a naive idea of textual and literary interpretation. The context makes quite clear what Paul is talking about (the subject of Rom. 9:32b-33 is the subject of Rm. 9:22-32a, and the subject of 9:22-32a is the gospel Paul preached, as any reader can tell).

Indeed, it's astonishing that you think lacking a specific word eliminates the possibility of the meaning. By that method, your own claim is refuted. The word "crucifixion" isn't in Romans 9 either! Hence you must believe the context determines the subject, and in that you are right. You just don't understand what that context actually is--or else are ignoring it. You deny this, but that only goes to show you don't understand what I'm saying, or evidently what Paul was saying either.

So I cannot see why suddenly, in chapter 9, a word ‘skandalon’ refers to “gospel”, more so when, in the Pauline epistles, ‘skandalon’ is never associated with “gospel”.

I wonder at how you manage to understand English, if you actually think such silly things about language. Every author uses different adjectives to describe what he wants to say in different contexts. It makes no sense to expect him to have used the same adjective before in other contexts. That's simply not how any language works. Attend to the context, not these weird pseudo-rules you keep making up.

I won't bother going on. You drone on and on with much the same kind of specious fallacies and naiveties, one after another. I don't see much chance of you being taken seriously by real scholars if you go on arguing this way. But unless you intend to pay me, I'm not going to tutor you. Either figure out what you're doing wrong on your own, or go on denying you are doing anything wrong, but please, spare me and my blog the inordinate waste of space the latter will entail. Just accept that I don't agree with you even in basic matters of method and interpretation of texts and then walk away and try to persuade someone else. Because I'm not going to buy it.

Bernard said...

RC: Every journey begins with a single step. Thus, the only way to ever make progress is to fund small projects like this. And a solid body of qualified scholars using demonstrably sound methods coming to any conclusion can only move things forward.

BM: The reality is those scholars, even if they claim to use sound methods, already stated different views and conclusions very different from each other. One has to wonder how qualified they are, or if there are some overriding factors which make them differ.

BM: ...it is unfair from you to put me in the same bag with the proponents of a “historic” Jesus, who through some special talents, or pedigree, or teachings or divine help would have inspired some of his contemporaries to create a movement, or sect, or religion.

RC: Oh dear. Here it begins. The paranoia. The declarations of how unfair everyone is. The melodramatics of "Oh, lo, for I am not like those rascals of the ignorant mainstream thou tar me with!"

Look, you are advocating a historical Jesus. Therefore it is fair to place you in the camp of h{at least partly historical}, where ~h = h{entirely mythical}. There is no other logically valid place to put you. And considering the wide range of theories I have seen, yours fits right in. It's certainly no less divergent than many others.

BM: Not at all. There is a big difference between the role of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King regarding the creation of the Civil Right Movement. The role of Parks (as no more than an igniter through an incident) would be similar to Jesus’ one. That would explain also the lack of external evidence about Jesus, as for any other minor historical figure from antiquity. Then, with a mediocre life, with only a few highlights for his final year, myths and fiction were necessary to populate his life, making it more eminent and, above all, divine. And also, a lot of additions were made by the gospelers in order to “educate” their flock and answer their concerns, disbelief & doubts.

BM: Maybe the persuasive evidence is little but it does exist. That would be enough to accept his past existence, at least as one element in the creation of Christianity.

RC: Certainly. If that's how the evidence actually pans out--on a logically valid and sound method. I find the evidence doesn't quite reach that far, but that's for my book to explain. We simply have to properly articulate our respective hypotheses of the evidence and test them against each other with a valid method. When my book is out, you can do that.

BM: The problem here is this “logically valid and sound method”. How can it devised without any bias and faults? Who would devise it? By scholar(s) who already are/is engaged and have/has an agenda? That would not be fair. As for me, the fact that Paul had Jesus as a descendant of Abraham, and Jesse (David’s father), and David and Israelites, and generated by a woman are enough to make up my mind.

BM: Can you prove ‘skandalon’ exists in some version of the LXX?

RC: I don't have to. Whether it exists in any modern manuscript is irrelevant to my point. The flaw I identified in your method is in assuming we have all the versions that existed in Paul's day. You repeated that very fallacy again here.

BM: The point is ‘skandalon’ likely does not show, most likely, in all LXX manuscripts (for this Isaiah’s verse) and all the ones we know of (except proven otherwise). Where is the fallacy? What fallacy? Does absence of positive evidence is the same as if this positive evidence exists (to support a pet theory or counteract an adverse one), and therefore absence of positive evidence is meaningless? That seems to be part of your methodology (and, may I say, for most, if not all, total mythicists). But that kind of thinking would be rejected in a court of law. Furthermore, it can be easily proven that Paul (and other early Christian writers) were innovative when pretending to quote the OT.

RC: That you think it has to be is yet another example of your lack of sound method. You must have a naive idea of textual and literary interpretation. The context makes quite clear what Paul is talking about (the subject of Rom. 9:32b-33 is the subject of Rm. 9:22-32a, and the subject of 9:22-32a is the gospel Paul preached, as any reader can tell).

BM: How do you know all readers would tell it your way? Did you make a survey? I am a reader too and I think otherwise, so your statement cannot be true. And what kind of evidence is that? Furthermore “Christ crucified” (which the Jews rejected because it was a ‘skandalon’) was a big part of Paul’s preaching (see Cor1:22-23 & Cor 2:2). And the specific context of Cor1:22-23 and Rom 9:32b-33 is the same (and in both passages, ‘skandalon’ is used, but in the later, as an Isaiah’s quote, it cannot be proven “skandalon” existed in any version of the LXX). And could Paul suggest in Rom9:33 that God placed his gospel in Zion and it was rejected by the Jews? The only time, in his epistles, Paul reported his gospel was “laid” in Zion to Jews (here to the very Jewish pillars of the Church of Jerusalem) appears in Gal2:1-10, but Paul did not indicate that gospel was rejected, maybe not warmly received, but at least tolerated. So I cannot accept Paul meant “gospel” for ‘skandalon’ in Rom9:33.

PS: I do not need your tutoring, nor I am going to pay you to read my website.

Best regards, Bernard

Richard Carrier said...

Bernard said... There is a big difference between the role of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King regarding the creation of the Civil Right Movement. The role of Parks (as no more than an igniter through an incident) would be similar to Jesus’ one.

The fact that you think this is a valid response to what I said is exactly what I mean: you clearly don't know what you are talking about. If you did, you would know there are many scholars who already propose theories of the same kind (call it the "Rosa Parks" class of historicity theories). They are historicists. So are you.

The problem here is this “logically valid and sound method”. How can it devised without any bias and faults?

The method will be logically formal, and therefore necessarily can have no biases or faults. Those only enter in at the level of importing premises. But with a valid method, the premises imported become explicit, which simplifies the task of peer review identifying premises introduced from bias, for example. All sciences work this way. So can history.

Who would devise it? By scholar(s) who already are/is engaged and have/has an agenda? That would not be fair.

That's called a genetic fallacy. It does not matter the motivation: the method will either be formally valid or it won't be. There is no sense in calling an argument unfair just because you don't like the motivation behind it. The only thing that matters is whether the argument is valid and sound. Motive is irrelevant.

The point is ‘skandalon’ likely does not show, most likely, in all LXX manuscripts (for this Isaiah’s verse) and all the ones we know of (except proven otherwise). Where is the fallacy? What fallacy?

That you still don't get the fallacy you are committing here is another example of why I'm done with you.

How do you know all readers would tell it your way? Did you make a survey?

I have many years formal training in Greek language, literature, papyrology, paleography, and linguistics. I'm not getting the impression of the same from you. I know the language and how it works and what passages written in it mean. If I actually have to poll the universe to tell me the sky is blue just to convince you of the fact, I can't see how you will be convinced of anything. But if you want to fund a poll of biblical linguists on this point, I would be happy to arrange it merely for amusement. I just don't think you'll like the outcome.

Bernard said...

RC: The fact that you think this is a valid response to what I said is exactly what I mean: you clearly don't know what you are talking about. If you did, you would know there are many scholars who already propose theories of the same kind (call it the "Rosa Parks" class of historicity theories). They are historicists. So are you.BM: The whole point is they are historicists and historicists. You cannot put me (an atheist and a non-religious & non-Christian) and the fundies (who are also “historicists”) in the same bag. That may be good politics (for a mythicist) but grossly dishonest. And I hope that in your book, you’ll make a distinction between these two extreme kinds of historicists (plus the middle kind, as Jesus the talented and popular bit sayer, parable teller, sage & teacher, etc., etc.). Let me remind you that total mythicists have to be historicist also, if they want to explain how Christianity started, with that fictional lowly Jew thrown in the midst of it, and crucified, making the early Christians seemingly worshipping a criminal, bound to make them endure ridicule, disdain and persecutions. Honest mythicists must take care of history also, because the start of Christianity historically happened, with at some time their totally fictional crucified Jesus put into it, which they have to explain with positive evidence (even a created fictional Jesus is part of the history of the beginning of Christianity). Unfortunately, total mythicists are more concerned (even obsessed) about eradicating/thrashing any early texts (parts or whole) with potential historical bits of interest, more so about an alive Jesus, with mother, father and brothers, etc. (gospels (above all Mark’s), ‘Acts’, the small TF and, more and more now, the whole Pauline Corpus). They do not have any evidence of their own, except for some far and indirect ones, which need biased interpretations to be of any benefit. That, plus dubious generalities, some falsities and an aggressive polemical tone. Finally, I am not surprised if some scholars proposed a “Rosa Parks” solution. That’s just too obvious of a solution to the Jesus puzzle, which explains so many things. However, where are these scholars now? They do not seem to surface on the web, and their books must gather a lot of dust in some libraries. The problem with them, and with me, is their solution makes sense, do not generate polemic, and therefore do not attract too much attention. And what arguments would you have against a “Rosa Parks” type of Jesus?

RC: The method will be logically formal, and therefore necessarily can have no biases or faults. Those only enter in at the level of importing premises. But with a valid method, the premises imported become explicit, which simplifies the task of peer review identifying premises introduced from bias, for example. All sciences work this way. So can history.BM: Very wishful thinking. But it sounds good! As far as the very beginning of Christianity, I do not think “history” is the proper word. We can only propose the most likely scenario, due to the nature of the evidence. It’s like investigating a crime scene, looking at clues & evidence, finding the suspects and witnesses, scrutinizing them, looking for motives, making a reconstruction, etc. Call me a reconstructionist !!!

RC: I have many years formal training in Greek language, literature, papyrology, paleography, and linguistics. I'm not getting the impression of the same from you. I know the language and how it works and what passages written in it mean. If I actually have to poll the universe to tell me the sky is blue just to convince you of the fact, I can't see how you will be convinced of anything. But if you want to fund a poll of biblical linguists on this point, I would be happy to arrange it merely for amusement. I just don't think you'll like the outcome.BM: I do not know why you need to talk about your credentials. I just happen to revere many articles you wrote. However, I think you are rather green on the subject of the very beginning of Christianity. Not too long ago, you defended a passage of gLuke (about Jesus almost being pushed from a cliff in Nazareth). The whole thing in gLuke, the early visit to Nazareth, can easily be proven to be invented trash from the author, as I explained in my website (which you obviously did not read). There are other examples, such as when you wrote in a critique of my critique of Doherty’s work, that animal sacrifices were performed inside the tent, tabernacle or temple building. And in your blog on Ignatius, you seem to have just discovered some facts (or lack of), that I was aware many years ago (again, you did not read my website on Ignatius). And many scholars have more credentials than you have, and they will disagree with you on many points, as they are disagreeing between themselves. So having all kind of credentials is meaningless. And now you are tied up to the total mythicist position, which you adopted in a flash (rather than through long studies), and are in part financed by devoted mythicists. Allow me to doubt about your objectivity. And what about “poll the universe” and the “sky is blue” (actually the sky is most often not blue, rather black or gray). Isn’t it rather silly? Don’t I deserve better arguments? And now, it’s not all the readers who would be against me, but all the biblical linguists (who would equate the “skandalon” in question to Paul’s gospel, not the Crucifixion). Now I am scared!

Best regards, Bernard

rgb said...

I would like to make a concrete suggestion for the participants in this project.

One thing that is sadly lacking in social/historical debate is quantitative measures that prove so useful in providing a foundation for the development of science as a self-consistent web of knowledge. In many of the documents on your site that I have read, a sort of qualitative invocation is made of these methods, but it is rare to see anyone even try to make it quantitative.

The specific methodology that I suggest needs to be added to the mix are the concepts and ideas of the Bayesian theory of probability and its close adjunct the algebra of plausible reason. This methodology is laid out beautifully in the separate work of physicists Richard Cox and E. T. Jaynes. Jaynes, especially, indicates how the human mind arrives at plausible belief (and just as importantly, rejects implausible belief) using Bayesian arguments without even realizing that this is what one is doing. In particular, they are essential aspects of assessing statistical results, of human judgement, and incidentally (as Jaynes makes quite clear) are the basis for all empirical human knowledge anyway, acknowledged or not.

Let me give one very simple example of Bayesian reasoning at work. In one work on this site, Price notes that when he was studying the gospels a very large number of the stories could be connected to prior myths, legends or other stories and that this increased (significantly) his degree of belief that the gospels are myth. This is pure Bayesian reasoning, and can be made at least semi-quantitative, and if anything he understates the degree to which this increases the plausibility of this conclusions.

The same methodology could be used to the same good benefit in Standing's Haile Selassie argument, but in the opposite direction. Standing argues that it is quite possible for there to have been a real human behind the gospels even if they were mythologized, noting the mythologization of Selassie's story even in modern times. He notes specifically "were there no non-religious records of Selassie's life, there would undoubtedly be those who would apply the same 'mythicist' arguments to the question of his historical reality." This is a key conditional, and is subject to Bayesian analysis. The thing that makes us believe that there is a real Selassie underlying the myths is the objective and independent historical record of his existence, not the myths! The two together cause one to conclude that it is plausible that Selassie is a real person, even as Bayesian reasoning based on the accepted priors of natural science make it extremely implausible that Selassie performed in miracles. We use Bayesian reasoning, in fact, to conclude that these stories are myth, where we for some reason reject the use of that sort of reasoning in anything touching on the mythical or possibly legendary/historical Jesus.

In the case of Jesus, eyewitness testimony is completely lacking. In the case of Jesus, contemporary historical hearsay is almost completely lacking, and what little there is is extremely dubious (again, on Bayesian grounds). Bayes alone cannot tell us just how much this lack should cause us to alter our assessment of the plausibility of a historical Jesus, but it can tell us that that there should be some alteration, and that the sign of alteration should be negative!

Bayes therefore turns this argument back on itself. A hugely mythologized figure who existed might reasonably be expected to leave traces outside of the mythology, and indeed they do in the case of every mythical figure that we believe to be actually legendary. When this evidence is lacking, we don't conclude that it is impossible that there was once a historical man who served as a template or nucleating point for the growth of the Hercules myths, we simply conclude that it is not particularly plausible that there was. In a sense, we no longer care -- the man (if any) has been lost anyway, his identity swept away and replaced, piecewise, by things that never happened, by an image contrived to serve some purpose quite different from the purpose that individual may have had in their life.

I would urge the rigorous organization of the critical work of this project in Bayesian terms. The goal should not, and cannot be to assert that this or that aspect of the Jesus myths is true (for there is little doubt that most of it is myth -- much of it is openly contradictory in matters of fact and hence cannot logically all be true). It should be to assess the plausibility of each and every piece of the new testament, using the full weight of our modern knowledge of science, our best guesses from history, the cumulated plausibility of the full network of estimates used to reinforce or detract from its pieces.

This can be used very easily to sort out the new testament (especially the gospels) in terms of plausibility, each "piece" of the NT given an estimated degree of plausible belief. We might then state rather positively that the beginning of Matthew's Nativity is almost certainly incorrect, pure myth, where we might conclude that the Nativity of Luke is at least not completely implausible and could conceivably be a mythologized or legendary tale of a historical Jesus.

rgb

rgb said...

Sorry to double post, but having read through the commentary again I saw the one or two lines where you state that you do intend to do a Bayesian analysis of the project to produce results. Good for you! That's dead on the right thing to do.

Just be sure that you use all the commonly accepted priors of science. According to them, for example, if it is supernatural or magic, it is highly implausible because it contradicts things like the microscopic laws of physics, the macroscopic laws of thermodynamics, which are themselves confirmed by Bayesian reasoning directly (stat mech) or by a vast body of supporting experimental and theoretical evidence.

Also bear in mind that Bayesian methods do not necessarily lead to conclusions as cut and dried as your three options -- acceptance, rejection, or we still don't know. Bayesian reasoning is plausible reasoning and unless you have reliable probability estimates to feed it (something that you arguably will never have) the thing you can more reasonably hope to do is rank order the possibilities when no clear winner or loser emerges (propositions that one can confidently assert a "probability" close to unity of being true or close to zero of being true).

In this spirit, all miracles should be assigned a probability of zero of being true (at least as miracles). Things that openly contradict history, e.g. Matthew, should also get a very low plausibility. But things like Luke -- I doubt that you will be able to come up with conclusive arguments concerning Jesus's supposed childhood. Price's "kind" of midrash argument -- they are common aspects of respected prophets, priests, rabbis that they were unusually insightful even as children -- can never be conclusively balanced against the reality that really bright people often are prodigies. I think that you'll be left with chunks that are not implausible (but not proven), chunks that are very implausible (effectively disproven by science or the historical record) and a smattering of things that could still go either way. I don't think you'll achieve complete plausibility (having read a lot of the material myself) for any part of the Gospels or NT, but I'm happy to be corrected, if you come up with any solid evidence to support something.

rgb

WAR_ON_ERROR said...

RGB,

K, maybe I'm some kind of dumbass, but if you don't know what probabilities to feed into the Bayesian equation isn't that the same as one of those three options Carrier gives? I think that's called "still don't know." Why am I the tard in this equation and not you?

Ben

Bernard said...

RGB: In particular, they are essential aspects of assessing statistical results, of human judgment, and incidentally (as Jaynes makes quite clear) are the basis for all empirical human knowledge anyway, acknowledged or not.BM: I may not understand what you are saying here, but I want to comment that Bayesian reasoning, when the Bayesian equation is fed not indisputable numbers, but very disputable values based on human judgment, would not be convincing. The aforementioned values can be fudged, the sources for these values can be manipulated, the result can be interpreted with bias (according to human judgment, of course). In other words, the use of Bayesian equations in this context looks very much like a smoke screen and gives the illusion that a solution to the enigma can be solved by math.

RGB: Let me give one very simple example of Bayesian reasoning at work. In one work on this site, Price notes that when he was studying the gospels a very large number of the stories could be connected to prior myths, legends or other stories and that this increased (significantly) his degree of belief that the gospels are myth. This is pure Bayesian reasoning, and can be made at least semi-quantitative, and if anything he understates the degree to which this increases the plausibility of this conclusion.BM: First, I would have to check how close and complete are the “connections”. In my experience, these connections are often lacking on the criteria of closeness and completeness, such as the Miraculous Feedings and 2 Ki 4:42-44. This OT passage might have a few elements appearing also in the gMark MF stories, but gMark has more elements and differences not_in/with 2 Kings. For example, in 2 Kings the men are miraculously filled on little food (bread). In gMark, the people are filled because the food (bread & fish) is miraculously multiplied. In gMark, the disciples (and the crowds) do not perceive a huge miracle happened (how plausible is that?), but the disciples look absolutely certain they did pick up basketfuls of left-over after the crowds ate. One solution to that: “Mark” invented the miraculous feedings from, as a basis, part of 2 Ki 4:42-44, parts of an eyewitness’ testimony saying they picked left over after people had a feast outdoors, etc. What about crowds having a feast outdoors: see my webpage, http://www.geocities.com/b_d_muller/hjes2.html for answers to that and other things. I still maintain the solution is by studying details, not generalizations or dubious methods. This Bayesian math looks like alchemy when applied to the origin of Christianity. That the gospels contain myth (I prefer the word fiction) is not an issue (except if you are a fundy). Sure they do, and a lot! The issue is: Do the gospels have some passages or nibblets (inserted in largely fictional stories like the MFs) in them which are true? You know my answer.

RGB:
In the case of Jesus, eyewitness testimony is completely lacking.
BM: Except if the eyewitness testimony (about a not extraordinary Jesus) has been incorporated in gospels (more so gMark), as heard by the gospeler and his local Christians. Such as Jesus forcefully getting Peter’s mother-in-law out of bed and then, that woman was found without a fever.
RGB: In the case of Jesus, contemporary historical hearsay is almost completely lacking, and what little there is is extremely dubious (again, on Bayesian grounds).BM: But Paul did write about a Jesus crucified as Christ in weakness after he was delivered at night, being a man, a poor Jew, descendant from Israelites, born of a woman, dealing with other Jews. Josephus was a contemporary of James, whom he identified as the brother of Jesus called/nicknamed/identified_as Christ. Paul, in his epistles, knew and met a James, the brother of the Lord. Furthermore, because few things were written in antiquity, and many of these writings disappeared, knowing today about somebody can happen from text(s) written one or several generations later. That might the rule rather than the exception.
RGB: Bayes therefore turns this argument back on itself. A hugely mythologized figure who existed might reasonably be expected to leave traces outside of the mythology, and indeed they do in the case of every mythical figure that we believe to be actually legendary. When this evidence is lacking, we don't conclude that it is impossible that there was once a historical man who served as a template or nucleating point for the growth of the Hercules myths, we simply conclude that it is not particularly plausible that there was. In a sense, we no longer care -- the man (if any) has been lost anyway, his identity swept away and replaced, piecewise, by things that never happened, by an image contrived to serve some purpose quite different from the purpose that individual may have had in their life.BM: Yes RGB, Bayes cannot determine anything. A “hugely mythologized figure who existed” implies that figure, without the huge mythology attached to it, was actually a small figure. And can we expect to know a lot, or even little about small figures in antiquity? Most of the time little or nothing.

RGB: I would urge the rigorous organization of the critical work of this project in Bayesian terms. The goal should not, and cannot be to assert that this or that aspect of the Jesus myths is true (for there is little doubt that most of it is myth -- much of it is openly contradictory in matters of fact and hence cannot logically all be true). It should be to assess the plausibility of each and every piece of the new testament, using the full weight of our modern knowledge of science, our best guesses from history, the cumulated plausibility of the full network of estimates used to reinforce or detract from its pieces.

This can be used very easily to sort out the new testament (especially the gospels) in terms of plausibility, each "piece" of the NT given an estimated degree of plausible belief.
BM: I welcome such scrutiny, as long as small nibblets are also considered on their own, not rejected because they are entwined into fictional stories. My research led me to think that small true items (as heard by eyewitness) were inserted in order to have the audience believe the whole stories were true. BTW, I am thinking about gMark for gospels. The others? I would not spend much time on them.
Best regards, Bernard

rgb said...

It's not about being a dumbass, it is that Bayesian REASONING (as opposed to Bayesian statistics) can be used in circumstances where one cannot assign actual probabilities. It is especially useful to rank order a set of mutually exclusive possibilities, often in a way that gives you substantial confidence that some of them are very unlikely indeed.

That's why I posted the names of Richard Cox and E. T. Jaynes -- Jaynes in particular illustrates how it is that we use Bayesian reasoning quite literally all the time in our everyday affairs -- it is quite literally the use of common sense, but if one uses it more deliberately it can be made at least semiquantitative. Cox has a few examples of this as well, one involving (suitably enough) the likelihood that somebody found the remnants of Noah's Ark on the top of Mt. Ararat, given that they asserted that they had done this.

Here is one of Jaynes' favorite examples. You are a policeman. You see somebody dressed in dark clothes, wearing a ski mask, and carrying a bag throw a brick through the window of a jewelry store, reach in, and start to shovel its merchandise quickly into the bag. As you come up to them they stop and try to run away, and you apprehend them.

Are you justified in trying to apprehend them?

Sure, the answer is yes, but why is it yes. The person dressed in dark clothes could have been the jewelry store owner. He might have been on the way to a masked ball dressed in the costume of a burglar. On the way there, he remembered that his alarm was broken, and he left $100,000 worth of merchandise in the window where anyone might try to smash the window and take it. When he arrived, he realized that he'd forgotten his keys at home and was forced to smash the window himself to remove his merchandise and quickly leave, planning to fix the window in the morning, so he didn't miss his party.

This little story is just as possible as the story the policemen tells himself, that the masked man is a burglar robbing the store. But we all recognize that it is much less plausible, without being able in the slightest degree to assign a fixed probability to one versus the other.

This is exactly the kind of Bayesian judgement that is required in this particular problem. One may not be able to "prove" on the spot that the second story is false (even if that's what the masked man advances as the truth when arrested) but I'd bet all day and all night at even odds that the window breaker is a burglar with a glib tongue, not a hurried jewelry store owner on his way to a party and concerned for his wares.

With the gospels one can do even better than this with most of it. Matthew and Luke fundamentally conflict on their timeline for the nativity, Matthew during the reign of Herod the Great and associated with the murder of hundreds of children and a flight to Egypt, Luke during the reign of Herod Antipas in association with the first Roman Census, and going home to Nazareth and returning regularly to Jerusalem.

On the surface, both are equally plausible so far, although they are both in fundamental conflict, differing by ten years or so and cannot both be true. If either is false, of course, it falsifies at least one of the Gospels (so apologists expend substantial effort trying to reconcile the two irreconcilable accounts).

Bayes to the rescue. If Matthew is correct, and Herod slew a large number of children under the age of 2 in Judea in order to try to murder the baby Jesus, it seems rather likely that there would be some record of the event in e.g. Josephus. There is no such trace. It also seems rather likely to have sparked a civil war. No such war occurred. It seems likely enough to have attracted the attention of the Romans -- a massacre of babies being unusual for even those violent times. No trace of such attention exists. It is almost certainly impossible that a Roman census could have occurred during the time of Herod the Great. We cannot put actual probabilities to any of these observations, only note that in each case it seems likely to be low -- below 50-50, probably less than 1 in 10 -- that each of them is true, that a baby massacre occurred, that Josephus failed to note it, that no civil war ensued, that the Romans ignored it, and that Herod (who was rather close to death at the time) cared enough in the first place.

Together all of these things gain considerable strength. Put them together and I don't think there is a one in a million chance that Matthew's story is true. With it goes the already implausible moving star, the Magi from the east who supposedly told Herod in the first place, and so much more. No flight to Egypt. No fullfillment of a "prophecy" concerning the Messiah.

With it also goes a great deal of Matthew's credibility as a witness, another thing Bayes permits us to use (indeed, requires us to use). Once Matthew is caught out in a liar, it certainly makes it more likely that he lies in other places. Or if you are more charitable, once it is shown that part of Matthew was made up out of whole cloth in order to "sell" Jesus to the credulous, one has to increase the doubt placed on his other stories even when there is no overt reason to doubt them. Once the boy cries wolf, it becomes very difficult to winnow out where he is not crying wolf, long after the fact. A liar is a liar, a storyteller is a storyteller, a mythmonger is a mythmonger and not a historian.

Luke, on the other hand, is at first more believable. At the very least Jesus could have been born during a census around AD 6 recorded by Josephus (who recorded such an event but ignored a slaughter of babies? riiiight.). Born in Bethlehem "out of place", returned home, lived a normal childhood except for wowing them at the temple with his boyish wisdom (fairly standard fare for future prophets). Bayes cannot find any good a priori reason to reject it outright on the basis of conflict with known history, and while we might suspect that is is legend as much as truth -- dressed up with shepherds and wise little boys visiting Jerusalem -- it might contain a kernel of truth.

This is an explicit example of what I mean. One can go through a similar process on almost a story by story, assertion by assertion basis. Even Luke has the problem that as a general rule it would be very, very unusual for anyone to know the story of their birth at anything like the level of detail in either Matthew or Luke, which strongly increases the chance that both of them are myth. It seems highly implausible to me that anybody actually present when the Gospels were being written (who were not eyewitnesses and never even met Jesus and who may not have ever met anyone who did actually walk with Jesus) would know all the details of Jesus's birth simply because I can think of no good reason for his apostles to know the details of his birth. What did they do, sit around with Jesus saying yeah, Mom was a virgin (extremely implausible) and there was this star, and wise men and shepherds showed up and gave us some myrrh and other cool gifts, and then we fled to Egypt but came back every passover so I could chat with the Rabbis to show them how smart I was...?

To me it is pretty obvious on Bayesian grounds that the entire Nativity story is all myth because I can't think of any plausible way that this sort of detail would have been known, in Rome, thirty odd years after Jesus died. And that's before considering the Markan hypothesis -- if you add that in with any weight, then it becomes very likely that the entire Nativity story in both Matthew (for sure) and Luke (very probably) is myth, and both of these gospels in general are marked (as they already are) as a mix of Mark/Q derived material with obvious mythical embellishment.

That should be enough to illustrate the point. Bayes is how we do make sound judgements based on incomplete information. It doesn't guarantee truth (usually), but it does permit us to make a best guess at it, and a lot of the time we that best guess is good on a logarithmic scale of ranked plausibility (read Cox or Jaynes, especially Jaynes, again). What that means is that when things become implausible because of multiple "unlikely" or "implausible" connections, they become really implausible, so much so that it would be a miracle of sorts for them to be true. The odds of winning the lottery are far better, that sort of thing.

rgb

Bernard said...

RBG: Also bear in mind that Bayesian methods do not necessarily lead to conclusions as cut and dried as your three options -- acceptance, rejection, or we still don't know. Bayesian reasoning is plausible reasoning and unless you have reliable probability estimates to feed it (something that you arguably will never have) the thing you can more reasonably hope to do is rank order the possibilities when no clear winner or loser emerges (propositions that one can confidently assert a "probability" close to unity of being true or close to zero of being true).

BM: Be careful. What is plausible is not necessarily true. Many fiction novels contain plausible elements. The plausible items should be further investigated. For example, is it against the grain or not? does that conflict with Paul’s “humble” human-like and earthly-like depiction of Jesus or not? does the plausible bit is counteracted by subsequent investigations on other items or not? does the gospeler is trying to justify (awkwardly) an odd action/event or not? does the gospeler counteract something (said or done by Jesus or others) because it is against his own present interest? etc.

RBG: In this spirit, all miracles should be assigned a probability of zero of being true (at least as miracles).

BM: In the case of healing, perception that a miracle happened (widely accepted along the ages by people with different religious beliefs) should not be confused with the miracle actually happening due to divine intervention.

RBG: I think that you'll be left with chunks that are not implausible (but not proven), chunks that are very implausible (effectively disproven by science or the historical record) and a smattering of things that could still go either way.

BM: That what a shallow study with some kind of (false) auto-pilot method will lead to. It requires a lot more time and much more methodology to arrive at the truth, or at least, a likely reconstruction of events leading to the first Christian doctrines.

Best regards, Bernard

rgb said...

Dear Bernard,

I wouldn't argue with most of what you say, except that your job of seeking snippets of truth mixed in with mythology is nearly impossible. That's the problem with Bayesian reasoning applied to the problem of the Gospels. Every "story" that is discovered to be false dilutes the presumed truth-value assigned to what is left. Sorry, that's just the way it works. When somebody is a liar, when there is clear evidence that stories that person tells have been told, inserted, reworked, and stolen (wholly or in part) from others -- where exactly should we start to believe them?

The answer (from Bayes) is -- we ultimately have to discount everything they say, and believe it only to the extent that it is corroborated in other documents. In the latter case our degree of belief comes almost wholly from the other documents and other sources, not from the liar. This process is routine in a court of law. A perjurer is not a credible witness. A perjurer with a vested interest in the outcome of the trial is even less credible.

It sounds like you are already narrowing in on Mark (and hence likely accept the Markan hypothesis) which I also agree is reasonable if not likely. So fine, we reject Matthew and Luke as being mostly derivative and highly mythologized, so much so that the truth of anything in them becomes dubious to leading order in any estimate of plausibility. We cannot believe anything therein simply because we cannot prove it false, we should assume it false unless we have some independent, external reason to believe it true.

As far as specifics you raise -- having just reviewed Josephus it seems to me to be almost certain that the Jesus brother of James he refers to is not Jesus the Christ. He is a Jesus who lived in maybe 60 AD and was made a priest.

Or you seem to be referring to the Testimonium Flavianum. Here, indeed, is pretty much the only piece of credible evidence that somebody named Jesus actually existed, given that all the rest of the evidence (that I know of, at any rate) is no better than fourth hand and derived from the already mythologized story being used as the basis of Christianty, generally recorded sometime in the second century long after the events in question might or might not have occurred.

But is this, really, something that Josephus actually wrote? Here I have no bone to pick -- I got no dog in this race, having long since decided that Christianity itself is bosh (I'm a physicist, if it matters). I'm merely interested, as you appear to be, in the history -- is there reason to believe that someone who may or may not have been named Jesus and who may or may not have had a brother named James who rebelled one way or another against Rome and the prevailing Jewish establishment, was arrested and executed (or not), circa 30 CE?

Not an easy question to answer, when one starts having been taught that the answer is yes and you dare not doubt it from your first breath, when one lives surrounded by people who still think Noah floated an actual ark filled with pairs of animals. There is such a temptation to prove the answer to be no out of sheer spite.

And the answer (in my best opinion so far, from spending way, way too much of my time for several years now looking into it and debating it and reading through such evidence as there is) is -- even allowing for my own personal bias, it is quite easy to doubt that the conditions above are true, that a man named Jesus (or something moderately close to that) ever existed, rebelled, was killed or exiled.

Josephus is the best shot, seriously. The Gospels are not credible, as we've established. They're chock full of miracles, and miracles violate my much stronger belief that miracles (violations of natural law) do not occur, a belief I plan to hold onto until it is experimentally demonstrated otherwise. That makes even Mark a priori dubious quite independent of whether or not specific events can be connected to specific myths from which they might have been derived a la Price. (And Price's arguments independently have little weight, I agree -- it is taking them all together that they gain weight. The product of many things that only slightly implausible rapidly become something that is very implausible.)

And unfortunately Josephus has some problems. First and foremost, it is from the beginning hearsay. He's reporting on the existence of Christians in his day, and giving the stock reason for their existence. He is not reporting on the existence of a Jesus that he himself knew.

Then there is the bit about he was the Christ, the divine prophets foretold him, he arose from the dead, and there are ten thousand other wonderful things to be told about him.

I don't know about you, but my bullshit detectors go off when reading this. Sounds like the party line, copied straight from the Gospels, and Josephus was a Jew and not a Christian Jew. Hmmm, sounds like an insertion to me, at the very least it loses all of its power to persuade me that it is a reliable historical statement of Jesus's onetime existence. At best it shows that in Josephus' day, there existed those that thought that he once had existed. At worst it was a complete forgery inserted by Apologists who needed "third party" confirmation that Jesus was real and actually existed (a need that goes right back to and before Eusebius, in the fourth century, when the Church itself was being forged in every sense of the word to become the state religion of the world-empire).

From the fourth century the Church more or less controlled the printing of information for roughly 1000 years. They ruthlessly purged anything they didn't like, and controlled the making of edited copies of what they did like. We have only eleventh century manuscripts of Josephus (copies of copies of copies) and it is highly suspicious that it is Eusebius that is the first and only person to quote this passage of Josephus as late as the fourth century, right when Constantine was in the process of being convinced to go Christian.

Dubious indeed.

That's a problem. Before you can look for your nuggets of truth even in Mark, where Mark is indeed the least mythicized of the Gospels, you have to find somebody who wasn't a Christian with an obvious vested interest in Jesus's real objective existence (or abstract mythopoeic existence:-) who confirms that he existed at all. In my opinion, of course. None of the Christian records are credible, even where they aren't incredible, because the admixture of the incredible erases our ability to filter and judge. There are without doubt stories that are possibly true. Who knows, a lot of it might be true.

The same can be said of the Mahabharata and Krishna, or of the Buddha. But who can say where to draw the line, where myth stops and the man (if there was such a man) starts? Our belief in such men should be like our belief in Odysseus. Plausible -- made so by the discovery of Troy, if nothing else. Romantic and mythopoeic, to be sure. But real? It isn't yes or no, it is that we cannot say, and we may never collect enough credible evidence to be able to say.

Bayes has one last thing to say in precisely this regard. If Jesus definitely existed, then the probability of truth for nearly any story that doesn't openly violate laws of nature or contradict history we believe more strongly on other grounds should increase is they could be true. Until then, the probability of truth for the most likely of them, the ones that seem the most plausible and innocuous, the ones that have some degree of internal consistency at least with natural science and the various Christian sources, should be strictly less than the probability that Jesus actually existed, should they not?

As in, it is less likely that Jesus existed and flogged out moneychangers in the Temple than it is that Jesus existed and may or may not have done this thing. Pure Bayes.

So start your reasoning process by deciding outside of the incredible Gospels and New Testament whether or not Jesus actually existed. If he didn't, you can save yourself a whole lot of trouble with trying to evaluate the possible nuggets of truth about him, can you not?

rgb

Bernard said...

RGB: I wouldn't argue with most of what you say, except that your job of seeking snippets of truth mixed in with mythology is nearly impossible.
BM: Nearly impossible? Maybe, but nearly impossible is not impossible.
RGB: And do you think Furthermore, my research of details is only relative That's the problem with Bayesian reasoning applied to the problem of the Gospels. Every "story" that is discovered to be false dilutes the presumed truth-value assigned to what is left. Sorry, that's just the way it works.
BM: Maybe it does not work for this purpose. It’s easy to write “true” snippets into fictional story. It takes less than one minute. If your Bayesian reasoning cannot accommodate that, then maybe it is of no value for this application.

RGB: When somebody is a liar, when there is clear evidence that stories that person tells have been told, inserted, reworked, and stolen (wholly or in part) from others -- where exactly should we start to believe them?
BM: What about the others? Do you have a problem about Jesus getting Peter’s mother-in-law out of bed? Frankly, I am not too interested in believing anything, just understanding why a poor uneducated Galilean would get crucified as Christ. Strangely enough, without inventing anything, enough can be extracted from gMark in order to explain that. I do not need all the details which are plausible for that, just some crucial ones, which I scrutinized at length.
RGB: The answer (from Bayes) is -- we ultimately have to discount everything they say, and believe it only to the extent that it is corroborated in other documents. In the latter case our degree of belief comes almost wholly from the other documents and other sources, not from the liar. This process is routine in a court of law. A perjurer is not a credible witness. A perjurer with a vested interest in the outcome of the trial is even less credible.
BM: Even a liar, when telling a long story, would incorporate some true things, just to give an air of authenticity to what he is saying. However, this is a very good argument in order to reject Christianity: the gospelers are proven liars, so I cannot be a Christian. I feel the same way also. I agree 100% with that. But this is about finding about the origin of Christianity; everything available has to be examined.
RGB: It sounds like you are already narrowing in on Mark (and hence likely accept the Markan hypothesis) which I also agree is reasonable if not likely.
BM: Actually, I look also at Paul, other epistles, Acts and many other ancient sources, more so Josephus’ works, to piece together a likely reconstruction. gMark is the first written gospel and also the least elaborated (even so, I consider about 90% of it as fiction). I do not think I follow the Markan hypothesis, whatever that means.
RGB: Or you seem to be referring to the Testimonium Flavianum. Here, indeed, is pretty much the only piece of credible evidence that somebody named Jesus actually existed, given that all the rest of the evidence (that I know of, at any rate) is no better than fourth hand and derived from the already mythologized story being used as the basis of Christianty, generally recorded sometime in the second century long after the events in question might or might not have occurred.
BM: If you are talking about the main TF, I wrote a webpage to say it is a total invention which Eusebius brought about. http://www.geocities.com/b_d_muller/appe.html
RGB: As far as specifics you raise -- having just reviewed Josephus it seems to me to be almost certain that the Jesus brother of James he refers to is not Jesus the Christ. He is a Jesus who lived in maybe 60 AD and was made a priest.
BM: There is absolutely no evidence for that. But every mythicist has to bring doubt about it. They have to, by definition.
RGB: But is this, really, something that Josephus actually wrote? Here I have no bone to pick -- I got no dog in this race, having long since decided that Christianity itself is bosh (I'm a physicist, if it matters). I'm merely interested, as you appear to be, in the history -- is there reason to believe that someone who may or may not have been named Jesus and who may or may not have had a brother named James who rebelled one way or another against Rome and the prevailing Jewish establishment, was arrested and executed (or not), circa 30 CE?
BM: There is a good reason to believe in a Jesus who triggered (but not founded) the development of Christianity by others, and that after his death: that’s the easiest way to explain how the whole mess started. Furthermore, there is no need, with that Jesus, to fight off every occurrences of a Jew named Jesus in the letters of Paul, in ‘Hebrews’, in Josephus small TF (about James), in gMark, in Tacitus (more so about Christians existing in Rome in 64CE). A brother named James? gMark, Paul and Josephus agree on that. Please note there is no Jesus’ rebellion against Rome in the gospels.
RGB: Josephus is the best shot, seriously. The Gospels are not credible, as we've established. They're chock full of miracles, and miracles violate my much stronger belief that miracles (violations of natural law) do not occur, a belief I plan to hold onto until it is experimentally demonstrated otherwise.
BM: Do not be hanged up on this miracle thing. In gMark, Jesus starts his career as a petty healer by accident: in the synagogue, he intimidates a heckler (but Mark makes it look like an exorcism). Then he forces that mother-in-law out of bed (big deal). It just happens that woman has not the fever anymore. The villagers know about that, and in their uneducated mind, think Jesus is the great healer, and they go after him (in these days, almost everybody had pain or ailments, but of course, no medecine). Later, in the nearby villages, he cures a man who had skin disease (the so-called leper), starting another hysteria. Mark wrote it was right after meeting Jesus but Mark is a liar, doesn’t it? Anyway, Mark did admit that not all who had contact with Jesus were healed (probably only a few among many may have claim healing, enough to keep the hysteria going for a while). After that, it is pure fiction, when later in the gospel (and the others) Jesus becomes the systematic healer and doing extraordinary miracles.
That’s a joy of looking at details like that: you know how it starts and then, step by step, why it finishes on the cross as “king of the Jews”. This is a way to know if some details in gMark are true, beneath all the embellishments and fiction: that you can align them together in a sequence, and within the context of the times, make a lot of sense.
RGB: So start your reasoning process by deciding outside of the incredible Gospels and New Testament whether or not Jesus actually existed. If he didn't, you can save yourself a whole lot of trouble with trying to evaluate the possible nuggets of truth about him, can you not?
BM: A very good argument: take every text which has a HJ of some sort, throw them out, and then, through some miracles, prove he existed! Josephus’ small TF does not even count, because, even with no evidence, the Jesus in it is a high priest around 60CE, not the one called Christ!
And Tacitus and Suetonius invented (or were interpolated about) persecution of Christians under Nero regime. And what is so incredible about Paul’s rendition of the poor and humble Jew called Jesus, who had brothers, who only preached to Jews (Paul would have loved him preaching to Gentiles also!) and finally was crucified in weakness (and no godly conception!)? And if Jesus was a small local figure, do not expect external evidence in the first place. We are looking at antiquity, where relatively little is known after all, especially for the lower echelons of society. We are not in modern times and therefore cannot expect to know about Jesus by other sources as for John Smith. BTW, I am not just flirting with a concept about snippets from gMark: I have a book-sized website on the subject, treating of many issues. Google it on "historical Jesus". I am very close to the top of the listing either in first or second position: http://www.geocities.com/b_d_muller/


Best regards, Bernard

rgb said...

BM: Maybe it does not work for this purpose. It’s easy to write “true” snippets into fictional story. It takes less than one minute. If your Bayesian reasoning cannot accommodate that, then maybe it is of no value for this application.Examine what you just said. Now think about just how you would identify those snippets if all you had to work with was the fictional stories. Hmmm, it isn't just difficult, it is impossible, isn't it? The only way we can identify snippets of truth in otherwise fictional stories is to have an objective reason to believe in their truth from outside of those stories. Which is indeed Bayesian reasoning, and is the kind of reason that is sadly lacking when analyzing the NT.

This persists right down to the sentence by sentence level. There is an entire genre of literature known as "historical fiction". I defy you to read any work of historical fiction and extract the true part from the fictional part with certainty (or even defensible probability) without knowing what the true part is already on the basis of actual histories, written by reliable witnesses who were not creating a mythology or writing fiction. You require the Bayesian priors in the form of things that you provisionally believe already on a separate basis to disentangle the web of lies, stories, myths, legends and extract the possible truths, and it is very, very difficult to extrapolate from even a smattering of these through to events involving the major players, which in any actual historical fiction are almost always invented in their entirety.

Oh, sure, people do try. Go through the Homeric epics and try to pick out the possible history by eliminating the obvious myth and hoping that the remainder is legend, derived in some sense from historical events. However it is important to note that nobody believed that there was a historical core with anything like certainty until Troy was discovered, and this was the right thing to do. They sought outside confirmation before wasting much time on belief.

Nobody should waste time believing in (or, frankly, trying the impossible task of extracting) a core of historical truth in the mostly-fictional and mythologized NT until "Troy", in the form of the objective existence of Jesus, affirmed by some reliable historical method on the basis of evidence entirely outside of the Christian mythos, is discovered. I assert that it hasn't been, and that until it is any web of "history" you extract concerning Jesus is more dubious than the already great dubiousness of his independent existence.

The wise man, after all, builds his house upon a rock. Don't you think it might be wise to discover whether there is any rock underneath the shifting mythology of the New Testment before building elaborate castles out of all that sand?

Regarding Josephus (the second passage) -- again, remember that all that we have was edited for close to 1000 years by CHRISTIAN copyists. Jesus son of Damneus who became high priest is clearly not Jesus the Christ, and the reference to Jesus brother of James is openly hearsay -- "The report goes..."

All this shows is that there were stories about a Jesus known as the Christ by Josephus time. It is not an eyewitness report, or even a secondhand report. It differs in many key details from the story in the Gospels. If he asserts that Jesus is brother of James who was stoned, and that Jesus was known as the Christ, why omit the far more exciting story of Jesus's actual crucifixion? But yeah, I agree, this one passage, written long after the events in question, possibly edited and dressed with insertions, and ultimately reporting thirdhand stories that could be retellings of the already existant Christian myth, is the best that there is.

So assign it a weight, some estimate that it is true. That's your maximum estimate for the truth of all contingent truths from the NT proper.

(Personally, I don't differentiate Mark and Paul, BTW. I think Paul pretty much created the Christian church all by himself, that Jesus had little to do with it, and that at least Mark was written under his direction and/or influence. I will grant that Mark is the least mythologized of the gospels and that it is interesting to speculate on how it all might have come about -- as the basis for a mythopoeic historical novel, not a "history".

But then, when I'm not doing physics, that's the kind of thing I'm writing -- see "The Book of Lilith", for example, a mythopoeic "historical novel" with damn little actual history in it outside of a general frame for the story.

I've been very tempted by the Jesus story, but it's already been fictionalized both favorably and otherwise so many times. And I find it very difficult -- really impossible -- to find an actual man behind the myth.

That's why I doubt Josephus. This one passage is so one dimensional. The story of James is worth telling, the story of Jesus isn't, for a storyteller telling stories. Remove the words "brother of Jesus who was called Christ" and tell me how or why you might connect this story to a historical Jesus. A man named James and some others broke the law and were stoned for it (wait, I thought the priests couldn't execute lawbreakers and needed Roman authority, hmmm, guesss not). This isn't to say that it definitely was or definitely wasn't a reference to Jesus -- it is that I end up unconvinced that this isn't yet another insertion.

Maybe if somebody discovers a near contemporary copy of Josephus. Maybe if yet another set of scrolls or codices is discovered. But in the meantime, history is mute, and lots of places where a reference might have occurred in the contemporary record, or an actual eyewitness might have recorded, there is no such thing, conspicuous by its very absence.

rgb

rgb

Bernard said...

RGB: Examine what you just said. Now think about just how you would identify those snippets if all you had to work with was the fictional stories. Hmmm, it isn't just difficult, it is impossible, isn't it? The only way we can identify snippets of truth in otherwise fictional stories is to have an objective reason to believe in their truth from outside of those stories.



BM: I agree on your last point. When Jesus made a ruckus around Capernaum, his family wanted to take charge of him and bring him home. They thought he lost his mind (obviously they did not think he was Christ or the Son of God, who would be expected to attract attention on himself!). Why would that be rejected? That’s a very normal reaction from family members in this situation. And picking up left-over after a feast was common practice in these days. And in Josephus’ works, there is a window of opportunity when Pilate’s rule was weak, allowing John the Baptist to gather crowds and for (mistaken) people to welcome somebody as King. I cannot go any further. I already explained in previous posts some of my parameters about extracting these passages from the rest. I do not want to repeat myself. At least try to read my introduction to my website.



RGB: Go through the Homeric epics and try to pick out the possible history by eliminating the obvious myth and hoping that the remainder is legend, derived in some sense from historical events. However it is important to note that nobody believed that there was a historical core with anything like certainty until Troy was discovered, and this was the right thing to do. They sought outside confirmation before wasting much time on belief.

BM: Capernaum was also unearthed. Does that count for something? According to your argument about Troy, that should make you believe about a historical core in the gospels. BTW, the archeologist who discovered TROY previously did believe the Homeric epics had an historical core. And we do not have any other texts on the war between the Greeks and Troy outside Homer’s works. According to your thinking, if you do not accept a historical core in the gospels, you should reject a historical core in the Homeric books.



RGB: Nobody should waste time believing in (or, frankly, trying the impossible task of extracting) a core of historical truth in the mostly-fictional and mythologized NT until "Troy", in the form of the objective existence of Jesus, affirmed by some reliable historical method on the basis of evidence entirely outside of the Christian mythos, is discovered. I assert that it hasn't been, and that until it is any web of "history" you extract concerning Jesus is more dubious than the already great dubiousness of his independent existence.

BM: Well, the evidence outside the Christian mythos does exist in the small TF (James as the brother of Jesus called Christ) but you rejected it for obscure reasons and substituted something else with no evidence whatsoever.

RGB: Regarding Josephus (the second passage) -- again, remember that all that we have was edited for close to 1000 years by CHRISTIAN copyists. Jesus son of Damneus who became high priest is clearly not Jesus the Christ, and the reference to Jesus brother of James is openly hearsay -- "The report goes..."

BM: How do you know it has been edited by Christian copyists? Evidence please. Furthermore the passage is quoted by Eusebius in his history of the church (II).
20. Josephus, at least, has not hesitated to testify this in his writings, where he says, These things happened to the Jews to avenge James the Just, who was a brother of Jesus, that is called the Christ. For the Jews slew him, although he was a most just man.
21. And the same writer records his death also in the twentieth book of his Antiquities in the following words: But the emperor, when he learned of the death of Festus, sent Albinus to be procurator of Judea. But the younger Ananus, who, as we have already said, had obtained the high priesthood, was of an exceedingly bold and reckless disposition. He belonged, moreover, to the sect of the Sadducees, who are the most cruel of all the Jews in the execution of judgment, as we have already shown.

22. Ananus, therefore, being of this character, and supposing that he had a favorable opportunity on account of the fact that Festus was dead, and Albinus was still on the way, called together the Sanhedrin, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, the so-called Christ, James by name, together with some others, and accused them of violating the law, and condemned them to be stoned.


I agree Jesus the son of Damneus is not Jesus the Christ but Jesus the high priest is not written as the brother of James.

RGB: All this shows is that there were stories about a Jesus known as the Christ by Josephus time. It is not an eyewitness report, or even a secondhand report. It differs in many key details from the story in the Gospels. If he asserts that Jesus is brother of James who was stoned, and that Jesus was known as the Christ, why omit the far more exciting story of Jesus's actual crucifixion? But yeah, I agree, this one passage, written long after the events in question, possibly edited and dressed with insertions, and ultimately reporting thirdhand stories that could be retellings of the already existant Christian myth, is the best that there is.

BM: Josephus, as a youg man, was living in Jerusalem at the same times as James (as a old man) who was also living in Jerusalem. That would be first hand info. Why would Josephus care about Jesus’ crucifixion (by the Romans and as a “vulgar” criminal)?

RGB: So assign it a weight, some estimate that it is true. That's your maximum estimate for the truth of all contingent truths from the NT proper.

BM: That established Jesus called Christ was a man and had a brother called James. That takes away Jesus as a fully mythical/fictional figure.



RGB: (Personally, I don't differentiate Mark and Paul, BTW. I think Paul pretty much created the Christian church all by himself, that Jesus had little to do with it, and that at least Mark was written under his direction and/or influence. I will grant that Mark is the least mythologized of the gospels and that it is interesting to speculate on how it all might have come about -- as the basis for a mythopoeic historical novel, not a "history".

BM: I agree 100% about what you say about Paul, but you have to acknowledge Paul has bits and pieces about a human Jesus in his epistles. Mark departs from Paul on some issues or is rather discreet on others covered by Paul. So I would not put Mark as a servant of Paul, far from that. Once it is established through Josephus and Paul the existence of a Jesus called Christ, then Mark’s gospel can be dissected in order to find a reasonable answer on how a poor Jew wind up crucified as “King of the Jews” (or Christ- There is a considerable overlap between Christ and King (of Jews) in the OT. Plus Lord or Christ was more acceptable to Gentiles, obviously), which, according to the religious, cultural and political context, would be enough to start the development of a cult.



RGB: I've been very tempted by the Jesus story, but it's already been fictionalized both favorably and otherwise so many times. And I find it very difficult -- really impossible -- to find an actual man behind the myth.

BM: Well, there was an actual little man behind the myth, but I would not spend any time to describe his character, because so little can be ascertain in that regard. For me the roles of Pontius Pilate, and John the Baptist are almost as important as Jesus into accidentally starting Christianity. I am more interested about sequence of events rather than personalities. Without Jesus, it looks through the gospels and Acts, and other texts, that John the Baptist could have become (after his death) that Christ and Saviour and Son of God. But that got snuffed out by the expansion of the Jesus based Christianity due mainly by the influence and speculations of charlatans such as Paul (and many others). You can read my short rendition of the historical Jesus here: http://www.geocities.com/b_d_muller/digest.html



RGB: A man named James and some others broke the law and were stoned for it (wait, I thought the priests couldn't execute lawbreakers and needed Roman authority, hmmm, guesss not). This isn't to say that it definitely was or definitely wasn't a reference to Jesus -- it is that I end up unconvinced that this isn't yet another insertion.

BM: Josephus explained that. The chief priests could not convene the Sanhedrin without the consent of the Roman governor. But the new high priest used the fact Judea was between governors to do just that. That was illegal and this high priest was removed, but not after James and others went for trial. But the Sanhedrin had the right to execute (after a trial) someone by stoning. Josephus brings the trial only to explain the removal of a high priest and his replacement. One more point: if James was the brother of the Jesus son of Damneus who became the next high priest, then that would make that James a member of the upper echelon in Judean society. If it was so, I doubt the preceding high priest would have just lost his job after illegally having that aristocrat sent for execution. Likely, that high priest would have lost his life. But having some “vulgar” Galileans condemned to death would not warrant much punishment.

Best regards, Bernard

rgb said...

Dear Bernard,

Well, obviously we'll just have to agree to disagree about the weight that should be given to Josephus or whether we should believe that Jesus's family thought he was crazy at first just because we like the idea or it is plausible that if Jesus existed and had a family, it might think him crazy if he claimed to be God. I'm pretty comfortable thinking about this sort of thing as contingent possible truth while remaining quite undecided about the principle premise, but even if I become convinced that Jesus actually existed as a human person, I don't see how you will ever be able to tell fiction from fact in the Gospels without external confirmation. Maybe the truth is that Mary was batshit crazy and convinced Jesus he was God, or that Mary got pregnant out of wedlock (a stoning offense) but invoked the "God did it" defense and had enough hymen left to get away with it, and then had to push the fiction for Jesus's whole life until he believed it. Or that his mother wasn't named Mary, he wasn't born in Bethlehem (which is pretty dubious anyway), that he definitely didn't come from Nazareth since there quite probably was no such town at the time (no historical trace, no archeological trace until long after Jesus was born). Or what brothers he had, or didn't have, or whether or not he had sisters.

Seriously. I could make up a storyline that is utterly plausible for all of these cases that wouldn't conflict any more with the Gospels than the contingent truth probably does.

But we should take this discussion offline lest we start irritatign people:-).

You can email me directly at:

rgb at phy dot duke dot edu

rgb

Bernard said...

RGB: Well, obviously we'll just have to agree to disagree about the weight that should be given to Josephus or whether we should believe that Jesus's family thought he was crazy at first just because we like the idea or it is plausible that if Jesus existed and had a family, it might think him crazy if he claimed to be God.

BM: Once again, it is clear in gMark that Jesus never claimed (or believed) to be Son of God, nor his disciples were calling him “Christ”. I do not want to spend my time answering your misconceptions, more so that I have a website which answer almost every issues. Please read it. One more point: you will be surprised on how many later myths about HJ are dismissed by the earliest Christian writings (such as Paul’s and gMark, the first gospel).

RGB: I'm pretty comfortable thinking about this sort of thing as contingent possible truth while remaining quite undecided about the principle premise, but even if I become convinced that Jesus actually existed as a human person, I don't see how you will ever be able to tell fiction from fact in the Gospels without external confirmation.

BM: Yes, that would be nice to have external confirmation. However, any personal confirmation on millions and million of lower class people (that is most of them) in antiquity simply does not exist, period. That’s a fact. In modern times (18th century and later for western Europe), external confirmation would be expected to exist (mostly through birth/baptism registry). And lack of external confirmation is even more true for Mohammed, even if he was the founder of a religious movement which later became Islam.

RGB: Maybe the truth is that Mary was batshit crazy and convinced Jesus he was God, or that Mary got pregnant out of wedlock (a stoning offense) but invoked the "God did it" defense and had enough hymen left to get away with it, and then had to push the fiction for Jesus's whole life until he believed it. Or that his mother wasn't named Mary, he wasn't born in Bethlehem (which is pretty dubious anyway), that he definitely didn't come from Nazareth since there quite probably was no such town at the time (no historical trace, no archeological trace until long after Jesus was born). Or what brothers he had, or didn't have, or whether or not he had sisters.

BM: I would keep away from the godly conception and the birth in Bethlehem. As I explained on my website, it is easy to dismiss all of that due to conflicts between gospels and Paul’s epistles, among other things (including unhistoricality). Nazareth is an issue which I also addressed on my website. But again, if Nazareth was just a place populated through widely spaced poor houses (with no foundations, as found in Capernaum), and due to frequent later construction of streets and building for centuries, we should not expect to find anything from around 1 AD +- 20 years. Even so, there is a few archaeological clues which suggest the site could have been inhabited then. Don’t you think if human Jesus was invented, having him as the only child from Mary would be much preferable in order to convince people about the perpetual virginity of his mother? This fact was so embarrassing that Christian writers in the 2nd century tried to have those brothers be children of Joseph through a previous wife. Furthermore, Jesus as the only child would be better to emphasize his uniqueness, when having him as just a sibling among others bring doubts about Jesus as the One and Only. And what about the gospels which carry the godly conception (gLuke & gMatthew)? They produced an “apparent” father, Joseph, bringing suspicion that Joseph was the true father of Jesus (gMark avoids mentioning Joseph (even a human father) for Jesus)

RGB: But we should take this discussion offline lest we start irritatign people:-).

BM: Yes, this is my last entry on that blog addressed to you. Do not bother to answer me back if you persist on not reading my website. You are wasting my time trying to answer your misconceptions about my position, methodology and line of thinking.

Best regards, Bernard

Richard Carrier said...

Bernard said... You cannot put me (an atheist and a non-religious & non-Christian) and the fundies (who are also “historicists”) in the same bag.That you think I ever did suggests to me you may be mildly insane.

You are starting to act like a fundamentalist, though. Making sh*t up, attacking your opponents' competence, blaming everything they say on bias, boasting of superior knowledge and certainty, and getting wrong almost everything your opponent says.

Bernard said... You defended a passage of gLuke (about Jesus almost being pushed from a cliff in Nazareth)That you think I defended that passage's historicity suggests to me you have a poor command of even basic logic.

I only demonstrated that certain (not all, but certain specific) arguments against its historicity are invalid. That an argument is invalid does not mean it's conclusion is false. There could still be other reasons to reject a passage's historicity. I simply demonstrated that the "absence of a cliff" isn't one of them. I never said that the passage was therefore historical.

If you can't even get that right, then there is clearly no point in discussing method with you.

And many scholars have more credentials than you have, and they will disagree with you on many points, as they are disagreeing between themselves.They don't disagree with me on the very point I was referring to. Exactly as I said. Nice attempt to dodge that fact. But such dodging is exactly why it is a waste of time to converse with you.

So having all kind of credentials is meaningless.That's a nice bit of bullsh*t. Credentials are essential, for exactly the reasons I said (and which, curiously, you completely ignored). It's now sounding like you don't even have any credentials yourself. After all, only someone who didn't would try arguing they didn't matter (indeed, not only didn't matter, but were actually meaningless!).

And now you are tied up to the total mythicist position, which you adopted in a flash (rather than through long studies)Now you are really making sh*t up. I was opposed to mythicism as a professional historian for many years, and I became persuaded the myth theory had merit only after years of focused professional study. That wasn't a flash. But I suppose you have to invent the belief that it was, since otherwise you can't explain how I can know what I'm talking about and still disagree with you. Presto. Now I'm suddenly a "flash-convert" to mythicism whose every opinion can now be ignored. Hence again you are sounding more and more like a crazy fundamentalist.

I will leave the rest of your arduous and rambling posts up here because they are at least on-topic. But you are no longer arguing anything that has anything to do with what I have ever actually said or argued. So there is nothing for me to respond to. Like the remarks above, you've just gone off the rails. We're done.

Richard Carrier said...

RGB said... The specific methodology that I suggest needs to be added to the mix are the concepts and ideas of the Bayesian theory of probability and its close adjunct the algebra of plausible reason.You must be new here! :-) That's exactly the argument of the paper I delivered at Amherst. I quite agree with you. Every point you make in general points of method, I made in Amherst, and will continue recommending to the Project as we proceed (except the notion that P(miracles) should be zero--it should be very low, but never zero, for specific mathematical and methodological reasons).

The challenge is that we have over a dozen scholars each with his own pet theory of how the evidence came to exist (and most of those have a historical Jesus at the core), so we need to use Bayes' Theorem to ascertain the relative probability of all their different theories, so we can rank them in order of likelihood, and ascertain if any of them have sufficient credibility (i.e. a final epistemic probability above 0.50) that we can say it is most likely what happened.

P.S. You can ignore Bernard. He doesn't understand the method or how to employ it properly or why it works even in the presence of bias. He evidently refuses to read the discussion of it that I linked to, which covers all that, and as you may have noticed, he doesn't even pay attention to what you actually said. For example, he keeps repeating to you, as if his own wise revelations, things you had just said yourself, e.g. he tells you to "Be careful. What is plausible is not necessarily true," yet you already said that very thing yourself. Bernard somehow managed not to notice that. Such a person is hardly worth conversing with.

rgb said...

Hi Richard,

Yes, sorry I didn't read the whole thread through and notice that you were a Bayesian, but hey, great minds think alike and all that:-)

Sure, P(miracles) should never be zero, but remember I'm a physicist. So my belief in my set of physical and metaphysical priors is very, very strong. There are no actual zeros or ones in proper Laplace-Bayes-Boole-Cox-Jaynes reasoning because one has to bear in mind things like the possibility of us living in a Matrix-like environment and being mistaken about everything we think we know, one has to remember that all the air molecules in the room could go over to the upper left corner and coalesce in a blob of liquid air. The probability of the latter isn't zero, but it is good friends with zero -- their kids go to the same schools, they play bridge together, that sort of thing.

I even have my own classification system for miracles, more or less ripped off from nomenclature for perpetual motion machines. A miracle of the first kind violates conservation of mass-energy. This is the flashiest possible kind of miracle -- creating space-time continua, stopping the Earth's rotation. Such a miracle will always violate the second law of thermodynamics too, but that's more or less incidental.

A miracle of the second kind violates only the second law of thermodynamics. That is, it is simply very, very unlikely, but not "physically impossible" on the grounds of mass-energy conservation. Raising people from the dead, walking on water, and changing water into wine, healing the sick (suddenly), that sort of thing, are all miracles of the second kind -- there is plenty of matter and energy around to support that sort of thing, but it is in the wrong form. Well, water into wine is a bit tricky -- nucleosynthesis involves a lot of energy (mostly getting rid of it) and there aren't any carbon atoms in that water to start with. One would hate for all the wedding guests to turn out radioactive...;-)

IMO miracles of the first kind are as close to zero probability as one can get, given that no human has yet observed a single known violation of mass-energy conservation. Miracles of the second kind, well, at a minimum one is proposing radically new physics to support them, since the improbability of repairing all of those lysed cells in a dead body even ten minutes after death occurs -- as numbers go that's a pretty small one.

To go higher, one has to start with an assumption like "physics is seriously incorrect". In which case I'd have to ask for credible evidence that this is the case...:-)

I'd love to look over your results in the fullness of time. As I was discussing with Bernard, I'm not particularly convinced of a historical Jesus at all at this point, simply because the evidence tends to either:

a) Derive from the NT, and I consider the NT precisely as credible as The Book of Mormon, and for similar reasons. Well, OK, maybe a BIT more credible, but not a lot. It's that boy-who-cried-wolf problem (which is pure Bayesian). Once somebody is established as a liar (or a producer of myths) or the chain of custody of the evidence passes through the hands of the group being judged for a thousand years or so, it is really, really difficult to winnow any residual truth out of it. When the evidence is clearly derivative (from each other, from Q, from an actual eyewitness, from one person's overactive imagination) and one doesn't even know the name or date or author of the original, cannot place the original in space or time, and can see the evolution of the original text (quite rapid in many cases) over time from the oldest fragments, well -- I'm very interested to see what you end up concluding and how you assess a probability of it being valid.

As far as I can see, with my doubtless far inferior mastery of the historical sources and data (although I try, I don't read greek and have a career -- maybe even two or three at once:-) the one APPROXIMATELY reliable independent reference to a historical Jesus is pretty much Josephus.

Josephus isn't exactly contemporary -- being born about the time Jesus would have been dying. He wasn't exactly a great historian. We have nothing like an original copy of his works, and the passages on Jesus were quoted no earlier than two hundred years after Josephus was dead, by Eusebius.

Eusebius? The Bishop who was one of the primary architects of Nicaea? The man who wrote:

"We shall introduce to this history in general only those events which may be useful first to ourselves and after to prosperity"? And to have said that at times it is a "necessary medicine" that historians fabricate history? The man who was the direct overseer of the reconstruction of history and the initial purging of "heresy" from the newly minted church under Constantine? Isn't that sort of like trusting Goebbels or any other propaganda officer?

So try as I might, I can't bring myself to raise P(Jesus) to over 0.5. Maybe 0.01 to 0.20 -- not particularly close to zero, but cynically low. It would require SOME source of unbiased objective evidence that is not the NT or apocrypha being itself judge or work derived therefrom or from where the chain of custody passed through the hands of its defenders at a time when burning or "fixing" heretical books (and not infrequently their authors) was not SOP. I like my history unfabricated.

rgb

Richard Carrier said...

RGB said... Sure, P(miracles) should never be zero, but remember I'm a physicist. So my belief in my set of physical and metaphysical priors is very, very strong. There are no actual zeros or ones in proper Laplace-Bayes-Boole-Cox-Jaynes reasoning because one has to bear in mind things like the possibility of us living in a Matrix-like environment and being mistaken about everything we think we know, one has to remember that all the air molecules in the room could go over to the upper left corner and coalesce in a blob of liquid air. The probability of the latter isn't zero, but it is good friends with zero -- their kids go to the same schools, they play bridge together, that sort of thing.

Well said. :-)

Yes, certainly--and when we are conversing and debating with fellow physicists and naturalists, we can certainly regard divine miracles as having a vanishingly small and thus negligible prior probability (because the evidence really, honestly, confirms this).

But if we are to fairly consider the possibility (i.e. if we are conversing and debating with someone still reasonable who nevertheless is unconvinced of this), we should allow a small but non-vanishing prior, because when the conclusion comes out our way despite that, we will have proven our point a priori, and if any occasion comes up in which the conclusion does not come out our way, that occasion will for that very reason warrant our further scrutiny, because at the very least something unusual and remarkable must have happened (and as scientists we are always interested in that) and at the very most it may indeed be the long lost example of a bona fide miracle (which we will only be able to discover if we start assigning a non-ambiguous prior probability, no matter how small--so in such a case we can't get away with simply saying it is vanishingly small, we have to actually start figuring out what it is, at least relative to the posterior probabilities in the case).

I even have my own classification system for miracles, more or less ripped off from nomenclature for perpetual motion machines. A miracle of the first kind violates conservation of mass-energy....A miracle of the second kind violates only the second law of thermodynamics. That is, it is simply very, very unlikely, but not "physically impossible" on the grounds of mass-energy conservation.

Back to your great minds think alike I guess. I posit an almost identical schema in my article on biogenesis in Biology & Philosophy (where I articulate three kinds of impossibility: logical, physical, and practical, the probability of the first always being zero or as near to as we can imagine, and the probability of the second always being lower than the first, and the probability of the third being ramified by some calculable probability threshold, as remarked most recently on my blog).

I'm not particularly convinced of a historical Jesus at all at this point, simply because the evidence tends to either: a) Derive from the NT, and I consider the NT precisely as credible as The Book of Mormon...

Yet Joseph Smith existed. And though after his testimony as to the text's source the BoM is all fiction (set in a vastly distant past about people whom no one of Smith's time had ever met), one can still prima facie presume that the NT, which is all about something it claims was started recently by Jesus, in some sense is a product of something started by a historical man, whom even Paul (a contemporary) says was born, crucified, died, and buried. Paul even prima facie says he had brothers still living. So even if the NT is 99% bull, there is still a prima facie basis for believing Jesus was a historical person even on the sole basis of the NT. Of course, that the NT says almost nothing true about him is nevertheless still the case. But even the most egregious lies contain some truths, and we can often tell what they are. So is Jesus' existence part of the lie, or one of the truths around which the lies are built?

(insofar as we consider myths lies--I don't think that's necessarily an apt equation, but the same point carries over)

[or (b)] the one APPROXIMATELY reliable independent reference to a historical Jesus is pretty much Josephus [who] isn't exactly contemporary [or] a great historian...[and the passages in question are suspect]

All true. But even if we rule out all external evidence (as IMO we really should, because of the simple problem of non-independence, which gives no gain in likelihood, as we know from probability theory), P(external silence | Jesus existed) in this case is still ~1 if we regard Jesus to have been in fact an insignificant nobody to everyone but his rag tag cult. However, that doesn't mean P(NT | Jesus existed) = ~1. It may very well not, and that's the actual point in debate.

So try as I might, I can't bring myself to raise P(Jesus) to over 0.5. Maybe 0.01 to 0.20 -- not particularly close to zero, but cynically low.

I shall demonstrate in my book On the Historicity of Jesus Christ that the prior probability that Jesus was historical is actually startlingly low, hence in agreement with your point we need some strong evidence to overcome that. It just happens that historicists insist we have that evidence. Hence the need to examine it and ascertain it's actual relative strength.

Steven Carr said...

You can have really, really good prima facie evidence of people who do not exist.

Here is a Picture of the Maitreya, a totally non-existent person.

He doesn't exist, yet his followers can produce a picture of him!

Here are some of his teachings.

Creme even says outright that the Maitreya has a body 'He created his own body, and if you can create your own body you can keep it intact.'

Just like Paul says Jesus was descended according to the flesh?

'Between 1977 and 1982, Maitreya telepathically communicated fragments of his teachings to Benjamin Creme at Creme's regular public meetings in London.'

What exactly is the difference between the Maitreya and Paul's Jesus?

Apart from there being a picture of the Maitreya, and no picture of Jesus?

We have teachings of the Maitreya, communicated telepathically to Benjamin Creme. Is this similar to the way Paul received teachings from the Lord?

Richard Carrier said...

The retort would be, "How many people believe in Maitreya?" So far it sounds like just one guy. Or at most a few.

So a historicist could argue this is because you can't successfully market a non-existent man. Jesus was successfully marketed. Therefore he must have existed. (And so on etc.)

Of course, the argument would have to be qualified in terms of probability, but otherwise it does undermine the analogy a bit, don't you think?

Steven Carr said...

Comparing the success of marketing non-existent men today and the success of marketing non-existent men 2000 years ago hardly ruins the analogy.

The market today is already saturated with non-existent things - the Golden Plates, Angel Gabriel visits, crystal energies etc

Trying to introduce more non-existent things into a saturated market is hard.

Richard Carrier said...

Steven Carr said... Comparing the success of marketing non-existent men today and the success of marketing non-existent men 2000 years ago hardly ruins the analogy. The market today is already saturated with non-existent things - the Golden Plates, Angel Gabriel visits, crystal energies etc.

But these are all false analogies, even on straightforward logical analysis. No one today is successfully preaching a three-year public ministry and public execution of a non-existent man (angel or otherwise).

Personally, I think the analogy fails because the media and education systems differ in just those ways that would impede the success of such an effort, but that fact still does not allow Maitreya to be used effectively as an example, since you would have to contrafactually assume his cult would be more successful in antiquity, and therefore so would Christianity, which is basically (when you get down to it) a circular argument.

Trying to introduce more non-existent things into a saturated market is hard.

I don't see why that should be. The reverse could just as easily be the case: a high success rate for non-existent things could indicate a new one will have a high probability of success. It's not like we're talking about toothbrushes, where people who already have one don't need another, but even if we retain that point of analogy, the ancient world was in exactly the same sitch (they already had plenty of non-existent gods).

Again, speaking as Devil's Advocate, Maitreya is a false analogy precisely because it is a failed religion, and we are seeking to explain a successful one, not a failed one. In contrast, Cargo Cults, though now failed, were for a few decades entirely as successful as Christianity in its first decades (arguably far more so), and thus it is easy to carry that analogy by noting how Christianity adapted to continue its success in precisely those ways the Cargo Cults did not, and in any case long after Jesus was dead.