The Jesus Process: Stephanie Louise Fisher

AN EXHIBITION OF INCOMPETENCE: TRICKERY DICKERY BAYES

(c) 2012 by Stephanie Fisher, University of Nottingham

Introduction.

The purpose of this essay is to make a further contribution to refuting the methods of recent mythicists and drawing attention to their unprofessional attitudes and prejudices.  It also exposes their lack of discernment and inability to engage with critical scholarship. Scholarship is compromised by these evangelising, self-promoting pedlars of incompetence. I discuss especially the recent attempt of atheist blogger, Richard Carrier to replace historical method with Bayes’ theorem, followed by scholars of whom he makes use. I go on to refute some criticisms of my previous comments, and finally put Albert Schweitzer, some of whose comments are routinely misinterpreted, in his historical context.

Carrier and Bayes’ Theorem.

Atheist blogger Richard Carrier, has now added to his passionate flushings of incompetence with another book, for which he has eventually found a publisher other than himself. See Richard C. Carrier, Proving History: Bayes’s Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus (Amherst, New York: Prometheus, 2012).

Bayes’ theorem can be traced back to Thomas Bayes (1702-64), in whose name it was first published in 1764. It was generally used, however, only after it was reworked by the mathematician P-S. Laplace (1749-1827), who was not initially aware of Bayes’ work. It has been used much more in recent years, during which it has been applied to all kinds of things, though not without criticism. It was, for example, successfully used by Alan Turing in deciphering the German Enigma code. It is basically at home in aspects of Maths and the Natural Sciences, where abstract measures of probability are needed.

The centre of Bayes’ theorem is the following:

Here P stands for ‘Probability’, and A and B are two different sets being assessed. Carrier has this slightly more complex version necessitated by the consideration of the relative probability of different hypotheses:

P(h|b) x P(e|h.b)

P(h|e.b)=――—─────――—─────――—─────

[P(h|b) x P(e|h.b] + [P(~h|b) x P(e|~h.b]

Carrier explains briefly, ‘P = probability, = hypothesis, = evidence, and = background knowledge.’[1]

Carrier uses this in a discussion which he calls ‘A Bayesian Analysis of the Disappearing Sun.’[2] This is the story that ‘there was darkness all over the land from the sixth hour until the ninth hour’ (Mk 15.33//Matt. 27.45//Lk 23.44-5). Critical biblical scholars have known for a long time that this story is not literally true.[3] Carrier’s discussion adds nothing significant to this discussion. Carrier includes the completely irrelevant notion that there might have been similar three-hour darkness in 1983, which we all know is false too. Carrier concludes that ‘Instead of letting us get away with vague verbiage about how likely or unlikely things are, Bayes’ theorem forces us to identify exactly what we mean. It thus forces us to identify whether our reasoning is even sound.’[4] Carrier’s discussion shows that this is not what happens. He tries to make it seem plausible by ignoring all the best critical scholarship, and discussing methodologically inadequate, ideologically-motivated pseudo-scholarship instead.

Most analysts would say that Bayes’ theorem is not in the least amenable to complex and composite historical texts. Carrier has too much misplaced faith in the value of his own assumptions. He claims, “[Bayes’] conclusions are always necessarily true — if its premises are true. By ‘premises’ here I mean the probabilities we enter into the equation, which are essentially the premises in a logical argument.”[5]  Bayes theorem was devised to ascertain mathematical probability. It is completely inappropriate for, and unrelated to historical occurrence and therefore irrelevant for application to historical texts. Carrier doesn’t have a structured method of application, but worse, he is dealing with mixed material, some of which is primary, much of which is secondary, legendary, myth mixed accretion. He has no method, and offers none,  of distinguishing the difference and this renders his argument a complete muddle. Effectively in the end, he can conveniently dispose of inconvenient tradition, with a regrettable illusion that Bayes provides a veneer of scientific certainty to prior conclusions he is determined to ‘prove unarguable’.

The Quest of the Historical Jesus: Supercilious Pseudo-Scholars, and the Omission of Inconvenient Critical Scholars.

Carrier begins his book by arguing that the Quest for a historical Jesus has been a failure because it has reached no consensus on criteria or results.[6] He does not seem to realise that this is partly because he has included under the general umbrella of ‘Jesus scholars’ virtually anyone who has written about him, regardless of competence or bias. If he had included only recognised academics in top tier universities with qualifications in ancient history and New Testament Studies, he would have got a different result. As it is, he includes ‘scholars’ such as Burton Mack, who left the Church of the Nazarene to became a methodologically incompetent radical, and Stanley Porter, who is an equally incompetent Christian fundamentalist. Of course they don’t end up with the same picture of Jesus, and this is partly because both of them are totally incompetent in method. It does not follow that we should all drop reasonable historical criteria and use Bayes’ theorem instead, as Carrier has unwittingly demonstrated by means of his own extensive incompetence.

Notably incompetent are his discussions the “Criterion of Embarrassment.”[7] Carrier begins with a blunt declaration of a typical mythicist view: ‘The assumption is that embarrassing material “would naturally be either suppressed or softened in the later stages of the tradition.” But all extant Gospels are already very late stages of the “Gospel tradition”, the Gospel having already been preached for nearly an entire lifetime across three continents before any Gospel was written’.[8] There are two serious things wrong with this. The first is the description of Meier’s view as an ‘assumption’. No-one reading this without checking Meier’s enormous book would imagine that Meier’s comment is the beginning of a coherent argument of some length, not an ‘assumption’ at all. The second problem is the very late date assumed for all the Gospels. As early as 1998, Casey proposed Aramaic reconstructions of a small number of passages of Mark’s Gospel, and on that basis he rather tentatively proposed a date c. 40 CE for this Gospel. This was worked through in detail and reinforced with considerable evidence and argument by James Crossley in a doctoral thesis published in 2004.[9] Carrier knows just what to do with such learned arguments leading to results which he does not wish to believe in: he leaves them all out. What defence does Bayes’ theorem offer against this? It cannot provide any defence against such professional incompetence and methodological bias.

Among many details which illustrate Carrier’s total inability to understand Jesus’ culture is the story of Jesus’ betrayal, arrest and execution. He declares,

‘The authorities did not need Judas… to find or identify Jesus. Given what Mark has Jesus say in 14:49 (and what Jesus had been doing in Jerusalem only days before), the authorities knew what he looked like, and they could have seized him any time he appeared in public.’

It was fortunate for the Jewish people of the time that the Sagan, the chief priest in charge of security in the Temple, was wiser than Carrier. He will not have forgotten what happened in 4 BCE, when Herod Archelaus was faced with a serious protest in the Temple. Archelaus sent people to talk to the protesters, but when Passover came round and support for them increased, he sent in a cohort led by a tribune, so some 500 soldiers led by an officer: the crowd stoned them with such violence that most of the cohort were killed. Archelaus then sent in his army in force: the result was 3,000 dead Jews and the wreckage of a major festival (Jos. War II, 5-13: Ant XVII, 206-8). This is arguably what the chief priests were avoiding by not arresting Jesus in public in the Temple, yet Carrier shows not a glimmer of awareness of the event in the time of Archelaus ever happening..

Mark reports the possible mob scenario events with precision, but Carrier, despite presenting himself as a competent historian of the ancient world, seems to have depended on a traditional English translation. He announces that for the authorities to have arrested Jesus would not only be ‘politically suicidal’, but also that the idea that the ‘Jewish elite would be that stupid is vanishingly small (a fact fully admitted by Mark, cf. 14.1-2, who nevertheless has them stupidly contradict themselves in the very next chapter…’).[10] This supposed contradiction depends on a traditional translation of μὴ ἐν τῇ ἑορτῇ, (Mk 14.2) as, e.g.,  ‘Not during the festival’ (NRSV). Jeremias long ago pointed out that the Greek heortē also means ‘festival crowd’, as standard secondary literature intermittently repeats.[11] Moreover, Mark’s Greek will represent the chief priests saying in Aramaic al behaggā, which also means ‘not in the festival crowd’.[12] This is why Judah of Kerioth led a party to arrest Jesus in a garden at night. They were then able to hand him over to Pilate, the Roman governor, early the following morning, so that he could be crucified outside the city walls at about 9 a.m., when his disciples had fled and there were no crowds about.

As support for not believing the story of the betrayal and arrest at all, Carrier calls on part of the work of the Jewish scholar Haim Cohn.[13] Cohn was a German Jew who emigrated to Israel, where he became Attorney General of Israel, and Minister of Justice, as well as a member of the Supreme Court of Israel and the International Court of Justice in the Hague. He was a member of the “T’hila” Movement for Israeli Jewish secularism. It is culturally ludicrous to expect anyone like Cohn to give a fair account of a New Testament narrative, especially one which has played such an appalling role in the history of Christian anti-Semitism.

Cohn’s total ineptitude in historical research runs through his whole book. For example, at the beginning of his chapter on Jesus, he declares ‘Our purpose is to show that neither Pharisees nor Sadducees, neither priests nor elders, neither scribes nor any Jews, had any reasonable cause to seek the death of Jesus or his removal. Without such, it will be submitted, the reports that they sought to destroy him (Matt. 12:14; Luke 19:47) or that they counseled together “for to put him to death” (John 11:53; Luke 22:2; Mark 14:1) are stripped of all plausibility’.[14] This illustrates the way that Cohn ignores all historical evidence in favour of his own ideologically orientated fantasies, much as Carrier and other mythicists do.

Carrier follows the religious bias of amateurs as greedily as he does his own mistaken prejudices, rather than relying on competent Jewish scholars such as Amy-Jill Levine, Paula Fredriksen and Geza Vermes, when he opines that ‘The fact that Jesus’ betrayer’s name means “Jew” should already make us suspicious’.[15] It should not. Juda(s) (יהודה:  Yehuda, God is praised) was believed to have been the fourth son of the Biblical patriarch Jacob, and hence regarded as the eponymous ancestor of the tribe of Judah;  it is a well attested and popular Jewish name of the period. Famous examples included Judah ‘the hammer’, better known in English as Judas Maccabaeus, leader of the Maccabean revolt in the second century BCE: and Rabbi Judah the Prince. Another example is one of Jesus’ brothers (Mk 6.3). Many real people have been called ‘Judah’ ever since: one of the most famous recent examples is the musician, Yehudi Menuhin.

Carrier then suggests that ‘Iscariot’ is ‘an Aramaicism for the Latin “Sicarius”’. This etymology however is barely coherent. The Latin ‘Sicarius’ is not otherwise used for Jewish insurgents until much later, and no-one had any good reason to put the Hebrew Ish and the Latin Sicarius into a single name at any time. The Hebrew Ish was however sometimes used in names, and the very varied forms of Iscariot, including for example Iskariōth (e.g. Mk 3.19) and apo Karyōtou (D at Jn 12.4) make perfect sense if his designation was originally ‘man of Kerioth’, a village right in the south of Judaea, and this also makes good sense of him.[16]

How much help is Bayes’ theorem in understanding all this? It is of no help whatever. It can do nothing to prevent Carrier from being totally incompetent in doing the meticulous business of historical research, torturing  false assumptions into premises, and using equally incompetent pseudo-scholars such as the hopelessly radical Mack, the Christian fundamentalist Porter, and the equally bigoted  Cohn as pillars in his argumentative travesty. Mack and Porter have in common with Carrier that they cannot read Aramaic, and consequently cannot understand any arguments based on features in the text of the synoptic Gospels, especially Mark, which have often been thought to reflect Aramaic sources. Cohn simply seems not to have done so, and wrote too early to have read recent work written in the light of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Caeci caecos decentes: An ambitious blogger on New Testament subjects with no formal training in the field at all, Tom Verenna, who often makes unqualified pronouncements, has praised Richard Carrier’s piece on the ‘Bible and Interpretation’ on-line journal as an ‘Exceptional article’.[17] And it is indeed exceptional: an exceptionally flawed and overblown piece, Bayes’ Theorem and the Modern Historian: Proving History Requires Improving Methods,[18] in which he is typically misleading and characteristically over confident about his convictions. Especially in evidence in this article is his inability to provide sufficient or adequate references.

In an earlier blog post in which Carrier attempted to promote himself and his book Proving History, he made the most extraordinary and unqualified claim that ‘every expert who is a specialist in methodology has concluded, one and all, that the methods now used in Jesus studies are also totally fucked’.

Whom Carrier considers to be expert, and what criteria he assumes qualifies one as an expert are unclear, especially as Carrier considers himself to be an expert in fields in which he has no qualifications. All competent and critical New Testament scholars investigating the history of early Christianity, should be competent in methodology in order to pursue academic enquiry. Carrier’s claim is ludicrous. In this so-called ‘exceptional’ article, Carrier is still unclear and seems completely disconnected from the reality of the academic process of critical enquiry, debate and progress. He would like us to believe that a collection of essays will be featuring

‘such luminaries as Mark Goodacre and Morna Hooker, all coming to the same conclusion: the method of criteria is simply not logically viable. This leaves the field of Jesus studies with no valid method, and puts into question all consensus positions in the field, insofar as they have all been based, to one extent or another, on these logically invalid methods.’

We cannot assess essays which have not been published. Nevertheless Mark Goodacre has generously sent me his contribution prior to publication. Carrier then goes on to include several other people, including Tom Verenna who has no qualifications and Thomas Thompson who is not a New Testament scholar, suggesting they all reject historical method as leading to confusing results. This is a grotesque caricature of scholarship, and Carrier’s expectation that consensus should be reached by people of such different ideological perspectives is fantasy.

Premised on his assumption that methods in historical studies must be non-duplicative, non-competitive and homogenous, Carrier claims

‘When everyone picks up the same method, applies it to the same facts, and gets a different result, we can be certain that that method is invalid and should be abandoned. Yet historians in Jesus studies don’t abandon the demonstrably failed methods they purport to employ.’

He concludes after accepting his own verdict that ‘This has to end’.

It’s a shame Carrier has collected such a disparate group of people and selected helpful words out of context in order to argue his own conviction that New Testament studies is ‘fucked’. It’s also regrettable that Carrier avoids discussion of crucial historical Jesus scholars such as Roger Aus, Maurice Casey (whose work on Aramaic Carrier routinely omits because it is inconvenient and he cannot understand it) Martin Hengel, William Horbury, who discuss method, evaluate it and constantly seek to improve it.

Method evolves with advances in knowledge and technical expertise; it cannot be shortcut by bogus and inapplicable mathematical formulas. Indeed, the nature of critical scholarship is to provide a continuing critique of the historical methods of previous generations and their application; to evaluate and revise them, and to help them to evolve and to improve.  At no point in such a process does a critical scholar throw his or her hands in the air and pronounce a fatwah on all preceding efforts.  Discussing and debating application and constantly evaluating method, Mark Goodacre whom Carrier cites out of context, writes,

‘This is not to argue for the replacement of one criterion (multiple attestation) for another (accidental information), but to suggest, rather, that crude, ham-fisted application of criteria was never likely to yield reliable historical results in the quest of the historical Jesus.[19]

Goodacre’s incisive comments are entirely correct and illustrate the sort of academic discussion critical scholars are engaged in.

It is presently too early to expect a consensus, even on methods, among all critical scholars, in view of new evidence and new argument especially since the 1970s and in view of more recent developments in Aramaic scholarship. Consensus involving ideological extremes is impossible and this has a regrettable effect on the most critical scholarship because all critical scholars are human beings who necessarily begin and continue their lives within some kind of social framework.

Aramaic, Greek and Porter.

Carrier’s section on ‘Aramaic Context’ moves beyond the incompetent to the barely comprehensible.[20] Astonishingly he once again relies on the Christian fundamentalist Stanley Porter, forcing even an inattentive reader to ask whether he cannot read any reputable critical scholars? Porter needs to believe that Jesus taught in Greek. He put this clearly on the Website of McMaster Divinity College, the theological seminary where he works. Here Porter comments on New Testament Greek: ‘I love the challenge of developing students who are passionate about learning New Testament Greek, the language that God used when he wished to communicate with us directly about his Son, and in which the New Testament is written.’[21]

So that’s it, then. Jesus must have spoken Greek because it is God’s language. It follows that Porter’s scholarship is a sham, and this is why it contains so many predicable mistakes. One mistake is to downplay or even omit the evidence that Jesus spoke and consequently taught in Aramaic. Noting quotations in Aramaic in the synoptic Gospels, Porter comments, ‘By this reasoning it is more plausible to argue that Jesus did most of his teaching in Greek, since the Gospels are all Greek documents.’[22]

This misrepresents the nature of the Gospels themselves. They were written in Greek to communicate the ‘good news’ to Greek-speaking Christians. This mere fact does not tell us in which language Jesus taught, whereas the Aramaic words and idioms in the synoptic Gospels cannot be explained unless the Gospel writers could expect their audiences to know or be told that the ministry took place in an Aramaic-speaking environment, and this is part of the evidence that Jesus must have taught in Aramaic. This is supported by peculiarities such as ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου, which is not normal monoglot Greek, and which makes excellent sense as a translation of br ’nash(a)’. Porter’s second major mistake is to exaggerate the use of Greek in Israel. For example, Porter has Galilee ‘completely surrounded by Hellenistic culture’.[23] This Hellenistic culture was however Gentile, and its presence in cities such as Tyre and Scythopolis is entirely consistent with its rejection by Aramaic-speaking Jews. Again, Porter refers to the Greek names of the musical instruments at Daniel 3.5.[24] These are however the instruments of Nebuchadnezzar, and represent in real life the favourite instruments of the Hellenistic persecutor, Antiochus IV Epiphanes. They are the only Greek words in the text of Daniel precisely because they represent Hellenistic persecution, so they reveal very little knowledge of Greek and absolute rejection of it.

Moreover, it is notorious that this is the limit of Greek words in Biblical Aramaic. Qumran Aramaic has no Greek loanwords,[25] an there were very few Greek loanwords in Aramaic until after the time of Jesus. Fundamentalist Christians, however, believe in the traditions of their elders, according to which the book of Daniel, iconic in conservative circles for its providential significance to Christianity, is indisputable scriptural evidence of the use of Greek words in Aramaic in the sixth century BCE, a view which on scholarly grounds must be regarded as completely wrong.

Among genuine evidence of Jews using Greek, Porter cites the funerary inscriptions from Beth She‘arim, noting that they date from the first to the sixth centuries CE, and subsequently responding to criticism by continuing to maintain them as evidence that ‘some from that area, including possibly Jesus, used Greek’.[26] But ‘only a few of the village’s tombs date to the first century CE, and these do not contain inscriptions’.[27] Thus all the tomb inscriptions from Beth She‘arim are too late in date to affect the question of which language(s) Jesus is likely to have spoken in order to communicate with audiences in first century rural Galilee.

So much of Porter’s evidence is from a later time or the wrong place that it should not be used to support the notion of Jesus conducting a Greek-speaking ministry in the Galilean countryside or in relatively small towns such as Capernaum. Porter also drew on what was then recent research to support his view, including the blunt declaration that Sepphoris, where Jesus’ ministry conspicuously did not take place, was a ‘thoroughly Hellenized city.’ This has now been exposed as a temporary American trend, and the Jewishness of the area of the historic ministry has been recognised.[28]

Yet fundamentalist Christian Porter is a ‘scholar’ on whom Carrier relies.

Carrier also dismisses all proposed evidence of Aramaisms in the Gospels with ludicrous comments which show that he has not read relevant primary sources nor any significant secondary literature upon which it is based. He comments, ‘If every instance is a Semitism, then it is not evidence of an Aramaic source’,[29] and then assumes that every instance is a general Semitism (although he doesn’t distinguish the difference) and dismisses Casey’s evidence and entire argument of cumulative weight.[30]

Indeed Carrier has assumed it’s sufficient not to read Casey’s meticulous works because he can dismiss them on a prior assumption, but won’t read his academic arguments to see why Casey believes in written Aramaic sources underlying parts of the synoptic Gospels, not just ‘general Semitisms’. Casey does address the possibility of general Semitisms and has demonstrated in his arguments precisely why and where they are invalid. Carrier for his part repeatedly claims to have referred to ‘experts’, but he does not give proper references, and much scholarship precedes the discovery of Aramaic documents in the Dead Sea Scrolls and is consequently out of date. When he says that experts he knows reject Casey’s work on the ‘son of man’ he is oblivious to the difference between critical reviews and those clouded by hopeless bias.[31]  Needless to say, Casey’s work is rejected by all fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals, who are determined to believe that ‘Son of man’ in the Gospels is derived from Daniel 7, a view which is still attractive to more liberal Christians because it derives what they think of as a Christological title from Scripture. The unfortunate fact is that most New Testament scholars are not competent Aramaists and Casey’s work has to be interpreted and interpreters trusted for critical interpretation. How many of these ‘scholars’ read more than 3,500 examples of the Aramaic term br ’nash(a)’ when they were deciding what it meant? Casey is the only such scholar known to me!

The Family of the Historical Jesus

Another significant point of contention is Jesus’ family, whose existence is one of the arguments in favour of his existence. Mythicists pour scorn on this, and especially on Gal. 1.19. At Gal. 1.18, Paul says that after his conversion he went to Arabia, then after three years he went up to Jerusalem to question Cephas, and stayed with him for 15 days: ‘but I did not see any other of the apostles except Jacob the brother of the Lord.’ Of course the Greek word ‘adelphos’ does not necessarily denote a sibling, because it is also used to denote members of a community. Doherty cites 1 Cor 15.6, according to which the risen Jesus appeared to ‘over 500 brethren at once’.[32] These were obviously members of the Christian community, not siblings of the historical Jesus. Noting however not very accurately Phil. 1.14, where members of the community are described by Paul in prison as ‘most of the brethren who have been made confident in the Lord because of my chains’, he declares that ‘James seems to have been head of a community in Jerusalem which bore witness to the spiritual Christ, a group apparently calling itself “brethren in/of the Lord”; the two versions were probably interchangeable.’[33] This is completely spurious: Jacob, and anyone else who might have been a sibling of Jesus, is never called ‘brother in the Lord’, and members of the community in general are never called ‘brethren of the Lord’.

Doherty then seeks to sidestep 1 Cor. 9.5, which has a long tradition of being misinterpreted, going back at least to Drews and others in the late nineteenth century. Here Paul clearly distinguishes a group and a person, ‘the brothers of the Lord and Cephas’. It is obvious that the term ‘brother(s) of the Lord’ is not applied to all members of the community, but Doherty suggests that this ‘may be due to a certain looseness of language’, and that Peter’s separate mention in this text ‘may be for emphasis and need not mean that he is not one of the “brothers”.[34] This suggestion is completely arbitrary. Paul’s language is mundanely precise. ‘The brothers of the Lord’ are Jesus’ brothers enumerated at Mark 6.3f., and Cephas was not one of them. Doherty then expounds his fantasy world to replace this;

‘…other explanations are possible. My own would be that the Jerusalem sect known to Paul began a number of years earlier as a monastic group calling itself “brothers of the Lord” (possibly meaning God) and after those initial visions revealing the existence of the dying and rising Son as recounted in 1 Corinthians 15:5-7, this group expanded its “mandate” to encompass apostolic work and attracted satellite members who, while being referred to as “brothers,” were thought of as distinctive from the original core group.’[35]

This is creative fiction, not scholarship, assumptions supported by guesses and distortion, by Doherty alone, not historical research at all, and it is regrettable that anyone should take it seriously.

Doherty then makes the convenient suggestion that the word ‘the (ton)’ might not have been in the earliest mss., though there is no evidence of its omission. He then declares, ‘I once asked if Paul had the word ton written in big caps’, because Doherty is too ignorant to know that all mss at this date were written in large capital letters – small letters or miniscules having not yet come into use.[36] This illustrates very well that, years after fundamentalist treatment of the text of the New Testament as inerrant, mythicists treat it as something they can always alter when they feel like it, in accordance with their predilections and in total contempt for anything recognisable as principles of reasonable textual criticism.

Doherty includes a very confused and ignorant discussion of what was possible in Greek, and of what we should call the generic use of the Greek article. First of all he declares that ‘there was no way to specify “brother of the Lord” except by simply leaving out the definite article.[37] Paul could however have done this. Secondly, he could have written adelphos tis tou kuriou, ‘a brother of the Lord’. Thirdly, he could have written heis tōn adelphōn tou kuriou, ‘one of the brothers of the Lord’. Paul had however no reason to write any of these things. Jacob was a common name in a culture which had no equivalent of our surnames, and Paul had this very simple way of saying which Jacob he met, in a high context culture in which further explanation was not necessary.  After his inadequate discussion of the Greek article, which should have said simply that it is generic more often than e.g. the English definite article ‘the’, Doherty is left without a reason for Paul’s description of Jacob as ‘the brother of the Lord’. He ends up suggesting that it may have originated ‘as an interpolation or a marginal gloss’. All this is caused by anti-historical convictions that Paul could not have referred to Jesus’ brother Jacob, as he did. It is also based on an arbitrary view of New Testament textual criticism, which is hopelessly out of date.

The rest of Jesus’ family also had names drawn from major figures of Jewish history and culture. His father was called ‘Joseph’, after a major patriarch who ruled over Egypt under the Pharaoh. His mother was called ‘Miriam’, after Moses’ sister. ‘Jesus’ is derived from the Greek form of Yēshua‘¸ whom we usually call ‘Joshua’, the major figure of Jewish history who was believed to have succeeded Moses and led Israel across the Jordan into the promised land. At the time of Jesus this name was believed to mean YHWH saves, or the like, so in effect ‘God saves’ (cf. Matt. 1.21). His brother ‘Jacob’ was of course called after the eponymous patriarch of the whole nation, ‘Jacob’ who was also called ‘Israel’. The other brothers were called ‘Judah’, after the fourth son of the Biblical patriarch Jacob, who was regarded as the eponymous ancestor of the tribe of Judah: ‘Joseph’ again: and ‘Simeon’, who was believed to have been the second son of Jacob and Leah, and thus the eponymous ancestor of the tribe of Simeon.

This family background locates Jesus right inside traditional Judaism. Trying to explain this to contemporary English speaking readers, Fredriksen drew a regrettable analogy with famous Americans’ names, regrettable because the result is not what one expects. Atheist blogger Neil Godfrey, an Australian ‘meta-data’ librarian, thus plucked her brief comments completely out of context, and cited her in favour of the opposite interpretation. While she correctly said, ‘the names themselves convey a close identification with the nation’s foundational past’, Godfrey declared,

‘Add to this the fact that the names are introduced within a narrative that serves the purpose of likening Jesus’ family situation to that of other biblical heroes, like Joseph and David to name only the most prominent ones, and thus conforms to the biblical pattern of being rejected by his own family, and we are entitled to hold some reservations about the authenticity of the list.’[38]

This means nothing more significant than that Godfrey proposes not to believe what he does not fancy. As a member of the Worldwide Church of God he could not cope with the Jewishness of Jesus, and when he converted to atheism this did not change.  As N.T. Wrong astutely observed, ‘Once a fundie always a fundie. He’s just batting for the other side, now.’ [39]

Still More Incompetence.

The undergraduate student Tom Verenna has recently attempted to contribute a piece, ‘Did Jesus Exist? The Trouble with Certainty in Historical Jesus Scholarship’, in Bible and Interpretation May, 2012.[40] This is yet another scandalously ignorant outpouring written in the form of (yet another) attack on New Testament scholar, Bart Ehrman. I do not wish to defend Ehrman’s book but Verenna’s ignorance of New Testament scholarship is indicated by his declaration that the whole idea that Jesus existed is contrary to recent scholarship. In particular, his reference to ‘credible scholars like Thomas Thompson, Bob Price or Carrier’ has two people (Thompson and Carrier) who have never been properly qualified in New Testament Studies, and one (Price) who was a fundamentalist and who was converted to atheism without ever progressing through the rites of academic passage that would make him a critical scholar as opposed to a populariser of radical and unsupportable ideas.[41] Verenna ought to learn more before he pronounces, but his enthusiastic outpourings show no signs of a desire to learn.

Carrier’s over-long blog post[42] reviewing a very very brief piece by Ehrman in the Huffington Post (whenever was a book review ten times longer than the thing reviewed?), misrepresents several things. For example, he cites Philo, De Prov. II, 64, to show that Philo ‘made regular pilgrimages to Jerusalem’. This passage survives only in Armenian, which in general does not provide reliable tradition. Moreover, the passage does not say that he ‘made regular pilgrimages’ at all. It only says that he went via Ascalon, and it is perfectly consistent with the common view that he went only once.

Both Carrier and Verenna claim that Ehrman implies one’s career will be ruined if a scholars challenges the historical existence of Jesus. Ehrman, of course, does not, and Verenna and Carrier, who have never held academic positions, can point to no case since the nineteenth century in German protestant faculties where a career has been jeopardized by holding radical views, competently argued, vetted and defended. This is because there is no evidence and they assume a conspicuous falsehood.  The modern university in most parts of the developed world prizes academic freedom as an unalienable right to profess what you have learned without restriction:  that is why the convention called academic tenure exists. Indeed, even untenured lecturers, especially in the United Kingdom and the Antipodes, are appointed to permanent positions where they suffer no fear for voicing inconvenient positions.  One stands aghast not only that people like Carrier, Godfrey and Verenna subscribe to such opinions but that they feel free to broadcast their ignorance in writing.

Atheist blogger Neil Godfrey defends himself for his misleading comments on the work of Casey, Crossley and other scholars whom he has criticised for ‘circular reasoning, begging the question and special pleading’ after conveniently replacing their learned arguments (which he did not understand) with simplistic and misleading summaries which is all he can understand.  It is also apparent he does not read whole books, once claiming on his blog ‘I’m a librarian, but I never see or touch a book.’[43]

This is perhaps the one credible statement in Godfrey’s expanding dabble into the field of biblical studies: if one does not read entire books from beginning to end as a matter of habit before commenting on or attempting to critique them, what chance is there for scholarship to be fairly represented, and what confidence can a reader have in the validity of such critiques?  Much scholarship is incompletely available on line which could lead to the sort of hopeless misrepresentations, misinterpretations and muddles, by the likes of these atheist bloggers. A recent example of internet noise passing for information was a post by Godfrey  defending Steven Carr who had complained that Casey’s recent book Jesus of Nazareth was not given on a Nottingham university reading list. When I pointed out that there had not been time to put it there, given its recent publication date,   Godfrey announced that to list it  ‘needs nothing more than that the book is available and in print.’[44] This is completely untrue, and shows no grasp of what is involved in running a major university library. This illustrates as well the recurrent petulance of the comments by Godfrey and Carr, to which I have frequently drawn attention–and atheist blogger Neil Godfrey, who is a librarian, ought to know better.

Albert Schweitzer in his Historical Context

Martin Luther, condemning the selection of words out of context and misrepresentation, says, ‘He does nothing more than latch on to a small word and smear over with his spittle as he pleases, but meanwhile he does not take into account other texts which overthrow he who smear and spits, so that he is up-ended with all four limbs in the air. So here, after he has raved and smeared for a long time … [he] is like the ostrich, the foolish bird which thinks it is wholly concealed when it gets its neck under a branch.’[45]

Mythicists also love to quote old scholarship out of its historical context. Schweitzer is one of their favourites for this. For example, atheist blogger Godfrey comments, apparently trying to demonstrate mythicists don’t use Schweitzer to support their claims, but his comment merely demonstrates that they do.  He is oblivious to the fact that nobody suggests that mythicists pretend Schweitzer was a mythicist.  This is further demonstration that Godfrey shows utter ignorance of what misrepresentation of scholarship is.  Mythicists misinterpret Schweitzer to claim there is no historically valid evidence for historicity of Jesus.  On his blog Godrey writes:[46]

‘Schweitzer understood the limitations of what generally passes for historical method far better than nearly every contemporary historical Jesus scholar I have read: In reality, however, these writers [those arguing for the historicity of Jesus against mythicists] are faced with the enormous problem that strictly speaking absolutely nothing can be proved by evidence from the past, but can only be shown to be more or less probable. Moreover, in the case of Jesus, the theoretical reservations are even greater because all the reports about him go back to the one source of tradition, early Christianity itself, and there are no data available in Jewish or Gentile secular history which could be used as controls. Thus the degree of certainty cannot even by raised so high as positive probability.” (From page 402 of The Quest of the Historical Jesus, 2001, by Albert Schweitzer.)

Little wonder that Schweitzer called upon Christians to let go of their faith in an unknowable historical Jesus (whose very existence could not even pass the theoretical norms of positive probability) and ‘turn to a new metaphysic.’

This ignores the fact that, like von Ranke, whom Godfrey also loves to quote , Schweitzer was a committed German Christian and was not inveighing against the historicity of Jesus or advocating an end of the search to establish his actual historical coordinates. As such, Schweitzer believed that salvation was by faith, not by works, and historical research was merely a ‘work’. This is what he considered ‘uncertain’ about all historical research. It has nothing to do with what present-day historians or incompetent bloggers mean when they think that something is ‘historically uncertain’, which normally indicates that it may or may not have happened. It is well known that Schweitzer followed Weiss in supposing that Jesus expected the kingdom of God to come in his own time–and was mistaken. Schweitzer deserves to be quoted at length, since his memorable statement of the status quaestiones has dominated serious historical research for a century:

His [Weiss’s] Jesus’ Proclamation of the Kingdom of God, published in 1892, is in its own way as important as Strauss’s first Life of Jesus. He lays down the third great alternative which the study of the life of Jesus had to meet….either eschatological or non-eschatological!….The general conception of the kingdom was first grasped by Johannes Weiss. All modern ideas, he insists…must be eliminated from it; when this is done, we arrive at a kingdom of God which is wholly future….He exercises no ‘messianic functions’, but waits, like others, for God to bring about the coming of the kingdom by supernatural means…. But it was not as near as Jesus thought. The impenitence and hardness of heart of a great part of the people, and the implacable enmity of his opponents, at length convinced him that the establishment of the kingdom of God could not yet take place….It becomes clear to him that his own death must be the ransom price….

The setting up of the kingdom was to be preceded by the day of judgement. In describing the messianic glory Jesus makes use of the traditional picture, but he does so with modesty, restraint and sobriety. Therein consists his greatness….

The ministry of Jesus is therefore not in principle different from that of John the Baptist….What distinguishes the work of Jesus from that of the Baptist is only his consciousness of being the Messiah. He awoke to this consciousness at his baptism. But the messiahship which he claims is not a present office; its exercise belongs to the future….

…Reimarus…was the first, and indeed before Johannes Weiss, the only writer to recognise and point out that the teaching of Jesus was purely eschatological….But Weiss places the assertion on an unassailable scholarly basis.”[47]

Now where has all the supposedly historical uncertainty gone? It was never there! In this second passage, Schweitzer was discussing what really happened, and he had no doubts about that at all. His apparent doubts in the much quoted passage above are not historical doubts. They are entirely due to his conviction, which comes indirectly from his Lutheran beginnings, that salvation is by faith, not works, and historical research is a ‘work’ which does not bring salvation.

Genuine historical knowledge, however, restores to theology full freedom of movement! It presents to it the person of Jesus in an eschatological world-view, yet one which is modern through and through because His mighty spirit pervades it.

This Jesus is far greater than the one conceived in modern terms: he is really a superhuman personality. With his death he destroyed the form of his Weltanschauung, rendering his own eschatology impossible. Thereby he gives to all peoples and to all times the right to apprehend him in terms of their thoughts and conceptions, in order that his spirit may pervade their ‘Weltanschauung’ as it quickened and transfigured the Jewish eschatology.”[48]

Future

Successus improborum plures allicit.[50] Carrier slanders scholars with spurious and unqualified accusations such as being ‘insane’ and a ‘liar’ which is merely a reflection of his own n0n-professionalism and inability to engage in critical academic debate.  He has no evidence that his claims are accurate. His attacks are entirely personal and usually conducted in the kind of language we would expect after a few rounds at the local.  They merely appear to be defensive emotional outursts.

Carrier  holds no academic post and the prospect for such is unlikely, a prophecy he would no doubt find preordained in the conspiracy of  ‘mainstream’ biblical scholarship against the truth of his conclusions.  In any case his field is not New Testament or the History of Religion.  To date, his doctoral thesis has not been published.  How does an author of self published books, which have never been peer reviewed, become renowned?   His atheist blog boasts “Richard Carrier is the renowned author of Sense and Goodness without God,  Proving History, and Not the Impossible Faith, as well as numerous articles online and in print. His avid fans span the world from Hong Kong to Poland. With a Ph.D. in ancient history from Columbia University, he specializes in the modern philosophy of naturalism, the origins of Christianity, and the intellectual history of Greece and Rome, with particular expertise in ancient philosophy, science and technology. He has also become a noted defender of scientific and moral realism, Bayesian reasoning, and the epistemology of history.”  One does not generally assume to have ‘expertise’ in areas one is self taught.  Carrier does and his egotistical pretences of learning, compromise his claim to credibility further. As Frank Leahy apparently said ‘Egotism is the anaesthetic that dulls the pains of stupidity’.[51]

His self published books follow here:

http://www.amazon.com/Sense-Goodness-Without-God-Metaphysical/dp/1420802933
self published: AuthorHouse
http://www.amazon.com/Why-Am-Not-Christian-Conclusive/dp/1456588850/ref=pd_sim_b_1
self published: CreateSpace
http://www.amazon.com/Not-Impossible-Faith-Richard-Carrier/dp/0557044642/ref=pd_sim_b_5
self published: Lulu
Doctoral Thesis?? not published.

‘Renowned’?  If Richard Carrier had been Jesus at least we’d know how the gospels got published.  He has claimed on facebook to have covered “the whole issue [of historical criteria, citing] all the relevant scholarship on why those criteria are all flawed.”  He has done neither of these things.  His forthcoming volume is called On the Historicity of Jesus Christ.  The title alone in fact demonstrates how out of touch with critical scholarship Carrier is.  “Christ”?

It was unfortunate that Carrier managed to be invited by Robert M Price onto the Jesus Project.  As Bruce Chilton wrote in January 2009

“the Project has focused on an incoherent set of some of the least important questions in scholarship. For example, it keeps asking “Did Jesus exist?” as if that issue had not been raised repeatedly during the past two centuries… the Project has attempted to address questions of critical approach without a thorough grounding in academic study since the eighteenth century. The result is that some of the assertions made by contributors to the Project are not well informed and invoke quests for “objectivity” that seem more at home in nineteenth-century Europe than in twenty-first century America. What is more worrying, actual knowledge of primary sources (and of their languages) does not seem as great among participants in the Project as among Fellows of the Seminar… Fundamentalists are not the only partisans who permit their wishes to cloud what they see and that it takes more than a declaration of “objectivity” to acquire the discipline of reasoning from evidence, both textual and archaeological”.[52]

Chilton accurately identifies flaws which are so deplorably typical of the mythicist approaches to religious texts today.

Delusion is defined according to Carrier by three criteria: certainty (held with absolute conviction), incorrigibilty (not changeable by compelling counter argument or proof to the contrary), and impossibility or falsity of content.   These criteria are as characteristic of fundamentalist belief, as they are of atheistic Jesus denial, and Carrier’s atheistic convictions, and self image.  It is slightly ironic therefore that he announces during this same talk on Christian Delusion, “I don’t think there’s a problem with being a dick”.[53] If that clownish attitude existed in critical scholarship, academia would be a circus.[54]

In order to continue to advance knowledge and make progress in historical enquiry, we need to extinguish the maladroit methods and bumbling amateurism from scholarship.  From the muddled and ignorant delusions of Richard Carrier to the ideological extremes which have lingered too long and still creep into scholarship through the theological seminary corridor.

To ensure the healthy future of critical historical enquiry and continue to inspire the process of constructive debate and analysis, the continued development of new argument and evidence, and encourage the evolution of improved methodological approaches and application through precision and fine tuning, we need to start taking responsibility for maintaining high standards in scholarship.

This will be ensured with expertise brought about by specific specialist training in all aspects of New Testament and religion, including ancient languages and history, accompanied with sophisticated interdisciplinary knowledge.

It seems fitting to return to Albert Schweitzer.  Although he is renowned as marking the end of the first Quest for a historical Jesus, it could be argued that he inspired future historians with his insight and attitude, and also with his passion for life, his empathy and dedication to clarity:  “What has been presented as Christianity during these nineteen centuries is only a beginning, full of mistakes, not full blown Christianity springing from the spirit of Jesus… To the question whether I am a pessimist or an optimist, I answer that my knowledge is pessimistic, but my willing and hoping are optimistic.”[55]

[1] Richard C. Carrier, Proving History: Bayes’s Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus (Amherst, New York: Prometheus, 2012) p.50, with p.301 n.10.

[2] Carrier, Proving History, pp.54-60.

[3] See especially R.D. Aus, Samuel, Saul and Jesus: Three Early Palestinian Jewish Christian Gospel Haggadoth, (Scholar’s Press, 1994) ch. 3, esp. pp. 134-57, with a summary for the general reader at Casey, Jesus of Nazareth: An Independent Historian’s Account of His Life and Teaching, (T&T Clarke, 2010) pp. 447-8.

[4] Carrier, Proving History, p. 60.

[5] Carrier, Proving History, p. 45.

[6] Carrier, Proving History, pp. 11-14.

[7] Carrier, Proving History, pp. 126-69.

[8] Carrier, Proving History, p. 126, quoting J.P. Meier, Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus (New York: Doubleday, ABRL), vol I p.168.

[9] Maurice Casey, Aramaic Sources of Mark’s Gospel (Society for New Testament Studies, Monograph Series 102; Cambridge: University Press, 1998);  J. G. Crossley, The Date of Mark’s Gospel: Insight from the Law in Earliest Christianity (JSNTSup 266. London: T&T Clark International, 2004).

[10] Carrier, Proving History, p. 317 n. 68.

[11] Joachim Jeremias, Eucharistic Words, translated by Norman Perrin, (S.C.M. Press, 1966) pp. 71-3, utilising older secondary literature in German.

[12] For a fully explanatory summary, see now Maurice Casey, Jesus of Nazareth: An Independent Historian’s Account of His Life and Teachings (T&T Clarke, 2010) pp. 415-7, 425-8, 438-47.

[13] Carrier, Proving History, pp. 153-5, with p. 317 n. 68, citing Haim Cohn, The Trial and Death of Jesus (NY: Harper & Row, 1971).

[14] Cohn, Trial, p. 38.

[15] Carrier, Proving History, p. 154.

[16] cf. Maurice Casey, Jesus of Nazareth: An Independent Historian’s Account of his Life and Teaching, (T&T Clark, 2010) pp. 191-2, 425-8, 439.

[17] http://tomverenna.wordpress.com/2012/04/24/richard-carrier-bayess-theorem-and-historical-jesus-criteria/

[18] http://www.bibleinterp.com/PDFs/Bayes.pdf

[19] Mark Goodacre, “Criticizing the Criterion of Multiple Attestation: The Historical Jesus and the Question of Sources” in Chris Keith and Anthony LeDonne (eds), Jesus, Criteria, and the Demise of Authenticity (T & T Clark, 2012) forthcoming.

[20] Carrier, Proving History, pp. 185-6.

[22] Stanley Porter, “Jesus and the Use of Greek”, 125 n. 9, repeated in Porter, “EXCURSUS”, 171.

[23] Porter, ‘Jesus and the Use of Greek’, p. 135.

[24] Porter, ‘Jesus and the Use of Greek’, p. 139.

[25] F. García Martínez, ‘Greek Loanwords in the Copper Scroll’, in F. García Martínez & G.P. Luttikhuizen, Jerusalem, Alexandria, Rome: Studies in Ancient Cultural Interaction in Honour of A.Hilhorst (JSJSup 82. Leiden: Brill, 2003), pp. 119-45 (121), noting also the absence of Greek loanwords from Qumran Hebrew, other than in the Copper Scroll.

[26] Porter, ‘Jesus and the Use of Greek’, 146-7; ‘EXCURSUS’, 172-3, responding to Casey, ‘In Which Language’, p. 327, and Aramaic Sources of Mark’s Gospel (Society for New Testament Studies, Monograph Series 102; Cambridge: University Press, 1998) p. 66.

[27] M. Chancey, The Myth of a Gentile Galilee (SNTSMS 118. Cambridge: CUP, 2002), 108-9, citing N. Avigad, Beth She‘arim. Report on the Excavations during 1953-1958. Vol. III: Catacombs 12-23 (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1976): 260-1. Avigad (pp. 124-5, 261) has catacomb 21 as the earliest, dating perhaps from the Herodian period, but perhaps later, and with no inscriptions.

[28] Porter, ‘EXCURSUS’, p. 176: see now especially M. Chancey, ‘The Cultural Milieu of Ancient Sepphoris’, NTS 47 (2001): 127-45; id., Myth of a Gentile Galileeid., Greco-Roman Culture and the Galilee of Jesus (SNTSMS 134. Cambridge: CUP, 2005).

[30] Carrier, Proving History, pp. 185-6.

[32] E. Doherty, Jesus: Neither God Nor ManThe Case for a Mythical Jesus (Ottawa: Age of Reason, 2009), pp. 60-61.

[33] Doherty, Jesus: Neither God Nor Man, p. 60.

[34] Doherty, Jesus: Neither God Nor Man, p. 61.

[35] Doherty, Jesus: Neither God Nor Man, p. 61.

[36] Doherty, Jesus: Neither God Nor Man, p. 62.

[37] Doherty, Jesus: Neither God Nor Man, p. 62.

[38] P. Fredriksen, Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews: A Jewish Life and the Emergence of Christianity (New York: Random House, 1999), p. 240; quoted out of context by atheist blogger Neil Godfrey:  http://vridar.wordpress.com/2010/05/02/applying-sound-historical-methodology-to-james-the-brother-of-the-lord/#comments

[41] See Casey’s essay in this series: and further on Joel Watts’ blog, with comments by Casey and myself, http://unsettledchristianity.com/2012/04/the-seven-fungusmentals-of-mythticism/. Casey’s comments include a refutation of Verenna.

[45] Against the Heavenly Prophets: In the Matter of Images and Sacrament, (1525) Vol. 40, Martin Luther’s Works: Church and Ministry II (Translated by Conrad Bergendof) p. 185.

[47] Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus (First Complete Edition. Translated by W. Montgomery, J.R.Coates, Susan Cupitt and John Bowden from the German Geschichte der Leben-Jesus-Forschung, published 1913 by J.C.B.Mohr, Tübingen. Ed. John Bowden. London: SCM, 2000), pp. 198-201.

[48] Albert Schweitzer: The Mystery of the Kingdom of God, translated by Walter Lowrie (Dodd Mead and Co, New York, 1914) p. 251.

[49] Albert Schweitzer, Ehrfurcht vor den Tieren: Ein Lesebuch, (München, Beck, 2011) p. 22.

[50] The success of the wicked encourages more: Phaedrus, Fables, II. 3. 7.

[51] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Leahy appropriately Wikipedia for stupid people.

[55] Albert Schweitzer: Out of my Life and Thought, (John Hopkins University Press, 1998) pp 241-2.

_____

223 thoughts on “The Jesus Process: Stephanie Louise Fisher”

1. ROO BOOKAROO

Absolutely disappointed by the space devoted to acrimonious vituperations and empty admonitions. A lot of empty language (which she may feel loaded with “meaning”), as in:

“To ensure the healthy future of critical historical enquiry and continue to inspire the process of constructive debate and analysis, the continued development of new argument and evidence, and encourage the evolution of improved methodological approaches and application through precision and fine tuning, we need to start taking responsibility for maintaining high standards in scholarship.”

Superficial demolition job on Richard Carrier. Her message: If you don’t know Aramaic, don’t pretend to understand anything about the Gospels. Leave it to the only few experts who do.
Maurice Casey’s article had much more meat and less fluff. Even if his background research on those infamous mythicists was carried by this lady. LIke Ehrman’s own background research must probably have been provided by his cohort of graduate students.

This lady knows nothing of the misery of PhDs in America: “Why So Many Ph.D.s Are On Food Stamps”. Most PhDs will never get a real teaching career.

http://www.npr.org/2012/05/15/152751116/why-so-many-ph-d-s-are-on-food-stamps?ft=3&f=111787346&sc=nl&cc=es-20120520

In addition, she could have found out that Carrier’s PhD was in History of Philosophy, making his prospects for an academic career doubly problematic. So he may have made a smart survival choice by trying to carve himself a place in the fuzzy, but public, field of Christianity origins.

• stephanie louise fisher

• stephanie louise fisher

Roo Buckaroo, thank you for drawing attention to the fact that Carrier’s unpublished doctoral thesis is in Ancient History. It is quoted above in the last section of my brief essay, within his blog self promotion: “His avid fans span the world from Hong Kong to Poland. With a Ph.D. in ancient history from Columbia University…” followed by all the areas he fancies himself as a self taught specialist. I also expressed the fact that he is not qualified in New Testament studies earlier in the essay.

• Mike Wilson

Great work one and all. I’m getting to like Casey the more I read of his ideas. When time allows I hope to read his book on the historical Jesus. I agree with his position that just because Luke doesn’t use Matthew doesn’t mean he was unaware of it, he very well could have thought it to be spurious. I also agree that the popular post 70 date of Mark based on the prophecy is not iron clad. Given the temperament of the time lots of people may have been expecting a Jewish war with Rome, and it is true that Mark’s prophecy is hardly specific enough for anyone to conclude that it was made in hind sight. Also, the fact that people took the pseudo-graphical Apocalypses to be genuine no doubt means that contemporary would be prophets would have also made their own apocalypses.

Regarding Buckaroo, is he suggesting that you ought not to criticize Carrier because he needs to whore out his PhD to buy bread? Fuck him, if he can’t get honest university work the Army is still hiring.

• Not to intervene and certainly not to correct my colleague Steph but I believe Roo (is there a Big Roo and Little Roo, or is mum’s name Kanga?), I think his point was that in fact Carrier can be absolved of knowing anything about history because his PhD was in the history pf philosophy rather than that dreary stuff about dates, names, places, and events, and the like. Somehow, this came as a relief to me. On the other hand, per above: this is not what he says about himself. So which is it?

• ROO BOOKAROO

I’m even disappointed by the quality of your ballyhooed “research”. What you call research is a compilation of quick pickings from the Web, without any additional outside checking.
Real definitive research would have involved an email to the Registry of the graduate School at Columbia, or the chairman of the History Department, just to ask for the title of Carrier’s thesis for instance. But you never went to any such trouble, for sure. You’re happy with your blank condemnation statements as if they expressed some truths that we had never suspected.
You could also have sent an email directly to Carrier asking for information or confirmation. That too, you never did.

I think that Carrier’s Ph.D. thesis was in history of philosophy, probably on a subject of ancient Greek philosophy (my guess), which is intimately connected with the field of ancient Greek literature and religion. Carrier’s final degree was a History Ph.D from the History Dep’t of Columbia.

This is a field infinitely more complex and vast than the field of Christian origins, with has only a pretty limited stock of primary sources, a limited gallery of original characters, and only an immensity of subjective interpretations.
Christianity scholars have a relatively easy life compared to any research in ancient Greek civilization. My own favorite author in this field remains Gilbert Murray.

Similarly, in 1930, Alvin Boyd Kuhn had obtained his Ph.D. in History from Columbia with a thesis on “Theosophy: A Modern Revival of the Ancient Wisdom” (at the remarkable age of 50!)

The Columbia Dep’t of History must have granted quite a few similar Ph.Ds. But only an inquiry with the right office at Columbia could provide data and statistics.
What you present as “research” is, I suspect, superficial culling on the Internet, which certainly is valuable, but remains only the first step of the effort, and not much more. It is too simplistic and secondary to have final scholarly value without verification and authentification from original sources.

• Roo writes: “This [ancient history?] is a field infinitely more complex and vast than the field of Christian origins, with has only a pretty limited stock of primary sources, a limited gallery of original characters, and only an immensity of subjective interpretations. Christianity scholars have a relatively easy life compared to any research in ancient Greek civilization.”

This is absolute nonsense. A field whose members have to study everything from the Qumran scrolls to the Nag Hammadi papyri in Coptic and a thousand years of patristic literature in about five languages? I am embarrassed for you.

• stephanie louise fisher

Interesting “defence” but it does not contribute anything new or demonstrate how a mathematical theorem is relevant the complex historical data. You make a claim and contradict the conclusions here, without providing evidence and argument.

• (1) Inferences based upon historical data, including complex historical data, involve uncertainty. (This is the essence of the first paragraph, where I said that T’s report is at best evidence that E occurred.)

(2) Uncertain inferences are by nature probabilistic, i.e., the strength of the evidence for a conclusion can be measured as the probability of the conclusion conditional upon the evidence. (This was the first 3 sentences of the 2nd paragraph.)

(3) Therefore, conditional probability is relevant to inferences based upon historical data, including complex historical data. (3rd sentence of 2nd paragraph)

(4) Bayes’ Theorem can be derived from the axioms of the probability calculus and the definition of conditional probability. (last sentence of 2nd paragraph)

(5) Therefore, Bayes’ Theorem is relevant to inferences based upon historical data, including complex historical data. (last sentence of 2nd paragraph)

To expand on (5), logically (inductively) correct inferences based upon historical data, including complex historical data, must conform to the pattern of probability relations expressed by Bayes’ Theorem. I freely grant that one can “do history” without having ever heard of Bayes’ Theorem, much less use it. But that doesn’t deny the point that Bayes’s Theorem is *relevant*, since any logically (inductively) correct inferences will conform to the pattern of probability relations expressed by Bayes’ Theorem.

• JJL:

You begin with the “necessarily true” tautology that ” Inferences based upon historical data, including complex historical data, involve uncertainty.” I understand how probabilism works.

1. Neither historical data nor especially complex historical data is quantifed in this assertion [I won’t argue differences between assumptions, assertions, prior assumptions and premises here, but they are often tossed around interchangeably]. What counts as complex historical data?
2. To arrive at the point where Bayes might be applicable, there are technical preconditions: To educe such data, even if it assumed that documents like gospels contain complex historical data, linguistic, textual, provenantial and chronological conditions apply. These are lower order conditions involving the nature and state of the evidence itself; higher order conditions involve the training and skills of the interpreter or analyst, just as in the sciences. These are hermeneutical and “skill” sets that affect the epistemic conditions under which basic assumptions are formed. In Bayes, these assumptions should become part of the calculus, although they are mot made explicit at any stage.
3. Bayes attempts to compensate for this by frontloading (your contention) that “Uncertain inferences are by nature probabilistic, i.e., the strength of the evidence for a conclusion can be measured as the probability of the conclusion conditional upon the evidence.” This of course is also true because it is tautological: something is true (or probably true) if the evidence adduced in its favor shows it to be true, allowing for the nature/quality of the evidence. This sounds good–especially a word like probabilistic–but it is simply the philosopher’s way of saying that every inference is defeasible based upon the conditions that apply in forming assumptions. (Every student in basic logic knows that a conclusion is valid (argumentatively sound) no matter how false as long as the terms are distributed correctly in the two premises.).Bayes turns this into values for probability of occurrence and based on the (often fatally flawed) assumptions that have been frontloaded into the equation can then declare the game over and the conclusion unarguable. But this isn’t history; it’s a parlor game.

4. Another, crueler way of saying this would be to say that Bayes fails because the way it will work for Richard Carrier, lacking as he does the technical skills to form the assumptions that would lead to greater or lesser confidence in the probability of a conclusion, is very different from the way it would work for a Maurice Casey, who can bring with him a greater degree of sophistication in satisfying the technical requirements under which such premises can be formed. Bayes may be an atttempt to level the methodological playing field to permit Carrier to play ball, but in fact, rightly deconstructed, it simply calls attention to how uneven the field is and how difficult it is to achieve certainty.

• If you are dealing with uncertainty, and building arguments that depend on those uncertainties, then you have to follow the laws of probability. Even if you make educated guesses on “complex historical data”, the rules of probability still apply.

Case in point: The princieple of falsifiability follows necessarily from Bayes’ Theorem. It’s not just a handy demarcation between science and non-science, but a way of separating a more probable hypothesis from a less probable hypothesis (wouldn’t it be nice to know if mythicists were positing unfalsifiable interpretations of evidence…).

Extraordinary claims requiring extraordinary evidence? That is Bayes’ Theorem; the Humean principle that Dr. Hoffmann alluded to in his essay ([a story] even more incredible than the story they are trying to debunk) itself follows necessarily from Bayes’ Theorem.

Rejecting such a ubituitous and powerful tool just because someone you don’t like (or whose conclusions you disagree with) is using it is likely to do yourself a disservice. Just like you implicitly use formal logic correctly when you reason and argue correctly, you also implicitly use Bayesian epistemology correctly when you reason and argue correctly. It can only help if you become consciously aware of these tools.

• RJH:

You wrote:

“1. Neither historical data nor especially complex historical data is quantifed in this assertion [I won’t argue differences between assumptions, assertions, prior assumptions and premises here, but they are often tossed around interchangeably].”

What does “this” refer to in your first sentence?

“What counts as complex historical data?”

I was re-using Fisher’s wording, so I’ll defer to her to define it. My point is that data is data: it makes no difference to BT whether the data is “simple” or “complex.”

“2. To arrive at the point where Bayes might be applicable, there are technical preconditions: To educe such data, even if it assumed that documents like gospels contain complex historical data, linguistic, textual, provenantial and chronological conditions apply. ”

I am happy to agree with you that “linguistic, textual, provenantial and chronological conditions apply.” In fact, nothing I’ve written contradicts this. In fact, I would think that all of the conditions would need to be included in the background information (B), the evidence to be explained (E), or both, in a proper application of BT to a historical issue.

“These are lower order conditions involving the nature and state of the evidence itself; higher order conditions involve the training and skills of the interpreter or analyst, just as in the sciences. These are hermeneutical and “skill” sets that affect the epistemic conditions under which basic assumptions are formed. In Bayes, these assumptions should become part of the calculus, although they are mot made explicit at any stage.”

I see your point. In that sense, I guess you could describe BT as a sort of “high-level” methodology which specifies the questions that need to be asked without telling you how to get the answers. That doesn’t invalidate the relevance of BT to history, but it does show that BT, by itself, is insufficient to address historical questions. Again, I am happy to agree and nothing I’ve written contradicts that.

“3. Bayes attempts to compensate for this by frontloading (your contention) that “Uncertain inferences are by nature probabilistic, i.e., the strength of the evidence for a conclusion can be measured as the probability of the conclusion conditional upon the evidence.” This of course is also true because it is tautological: something is true (or probably true) if the evidence adduced in its favor shows it to be true, allowing for the nature/quality of the evidence. This sounds good–especially a word like probabilistic–but it is simply the philosopher’s way of saying that every inference is defeasible based upon the conditions that apply in forming assumptions. (Every student in basic logic knows that a conclusion is valid (argumentatively sound) no matter how false as long as the terms are distributed correctly in the two premises.).Bayes turns this into values for probability of occurrence and based on the (often fatally flawed) assumptions that have been frontloaded into the equation can then declare the game over and the conclusion unarguable. But this isn’t history; it’s a parlor game.”

I agree there is a sort of ‘garbage in, garbage out’ risk with BT. The fact that BT can be abused by “frontloading” “(often fatally flawed) assumptions” is not of obvious relevance to the fact that uncertain inferences based upon evidence must conform to the pattern of probability relations specified by BT.

“Bayes may be an atttempt to level the methodological playing field to permit Carrier to play ball,”

My defense of the relevance of BT to history has nothing to do with Carrier. Attributing motives like this–either to Carrier or to others (?)–is not helpful.

“but in fact, rightly deconstructed,it simply calls attention to how uneven the field is and how difficult it is to achieve certainty.”

I agree that BT can show how difficult it is to achieve certainty. It can also do more than that. Again, it can be used to specify the pattern of probability relations that must exist for logically (inductively) correct inferences to be made.

Regards,

Jeff

2. It seems there are only two kinds of students of the NT texts in Ms Fisher’s world: unassailable scholarly sages and ‘self-promoting pedlars of incompetence’ with ‘total inability to understand’. Some of her deep thoughts and sommersaults in logic are truly a thing to behold:

“Cohn was a German Jew who emigrated to Israel, where he
became Attorney General of Israel, and Minister of Justice,….
He was a member of the “T’hila” Movement for Israeli Jewish
secularism. It is culturally ludicrous to expect anyone like Cohn to
give a fair account of a New Testament narrative, especially one
which has played such an appalling role in the history of Christian
anti-Semitism. ”

It is not at all clear what Ms. Fisher finds in Mr Cohn credentials that makes it “culturally ludicrous” to expect an intelligent – independent – view of NT from him. Lost a connecting thread perhaps ? Another triple salto with sure-footed landing:

“Are [the synoptics] pristine, objective, verbatim accounts of the life
of Jesus? Hardly. Are they infused with assumptions about who
Jesus is and approximations of what he said? Yes. Can we
find “heresiological”, or more properly controversial material in
them—material intended to defend a sketchy proto-orthodox
teaching about Jesus against less acceptable beliefs?
Of course—as John Fenton showed,especially in relation to
Matthew’s gospel. These considerations, however, are the
surest proof that Jesus really lived and that the
preservers of the Jesus-tradition knew what they were
defending: they were squeamish about the divine man
Christology [sic] that dominated in much of the church, and
is at least “available” in the gospel of John. ”

This is precisely this type of vacuous rhetoric that invites deep skepticism if not outright scorn. Why should this kind of “surest proof” sway me one inch from believing the gospels to be allegorical narratives, or as Jan Wojcik called them, samples of “narrative gnosticism” ? Why should I not read Ms. Fisher’s method of reading the texts, an excellent illustration of what A.N. Whitehead called “the fallacy of misplaced concreteness”? Why was Jesus first not an agreed- on form of personifying what the early Christ visionaries believed was the holy spirit of God that was abroad announcing the end of times ? Is it because Steph Fisher’s mentor invented yet another form of a (not yet) academically vetted testimonial that Jesus walked on earth and was recorded early in yet another non-existent, unprovable screed, tablet or plurality thereof ? Why should I take them seriously when the best they can do is self-serving pap like :

Casey: ” I hope…that the forthcoming book by Stephanie Fisher will
establish it (a new theory of gospel sourcing) beyond
reasonable doubt as the normative view of New Testament
scholars. ” (Jesus, p. 80)

“A normative view of NT scholars” ? This statement best testifies of a seriously impaired sense of not just academic standards (since when one comments on as-yet unpublished work ?) but an elementary struggle with reality. Ms Fisher so far overwhelms only the intellectually destitute with her wayward Jesus Process of thinking, to wit:

“All competent and critical New Testament scholars investigating the history of early Christianity, should be competent in methodology in order to pursue academic enquiry.”

Mind-boggling.

Best,
Jiri

• Jiri retorts: “Why should this kind of “surest proof” sway me one inch from believing the gospels to be allegorical narratives, or as Jan Wojcik called them, samples of “narrative gnosticism” ?
I suspect nothing will sway you as you are determined not to be swayed. But commenting only on Wojick’s illiterate view of the gospels as “narrative gnosticism” I suggest that you prefer reading fairy tales to real history. Wojcik knew zilch about the modern study of gnosticism and would have called breakfast a myth if it was lunchtime. Try to do better and read more carefully. The very fact that you cite Wojcik as a reliable standard authority is embarrassing enough, were it not for the fact that this is exactly the kind of silliness that all mythicists do, stretching for supporting footnotes into the land of non-specialists. If you want (to repeat) the best proof that the gospels are not allegories, get a cheap copy of the Nag Hammadi Library in English (no Coptic needed) and read through it. Then after a breath of fresh air, sit down and read the gospel of Mark. If that doesn’t cure you, nothing will.

• The thing is this: There is this bright guy, Mark Vonnegut, the son of a famous American writer, who is an MD and who like myself has a challenge called “bi-polar disorder”. (I am a retired computer engineer). He wrote a memoir called “Just Like Someone Without Mental Illness Only More So” asking why there are not more questions about Early Christianity. Do you understand what he is saying ? I bet you haven’t a clue.

Not because you have no personal familiarity with the phenomena which the texts advertize and seek to interpret, but because you don’t even know that should know something about that. You will read in Mark 10:46 that Jesus and Co went in and out of Jericho without incident, and you have no way to interpret that. (It’s not because of Secret Mark I pray you; Mark waves the same flag with Bethany 11:11-12). You have no idea why the trip to Bethsaida in 6:45 – with Jesus in the boat ends – in Gennesaret. You are at a loss to explain the defiance of the ‘multitude’ in 7:36 : ‘he charged them to tell no one; but the more he charged them the more they proclaimed (him)’. You probably even think there was a multitude. How about Jesus curing Jarius daughter and people laughing when he says she is only sleeping. Why would they do that ? Would that be the expected human reaction in the context for which it is suggested ? Ie, human life believed lost and a hope for it is rekindled by the expert brought into the house for that very purpose. Ha, ha, ha ! That’s funny ! How about people so busy when they have Jesus around they cannot even eat ? Hello ? Any idea what this alludes to ? I bet not ! Bartimaeus throwing off his cloak when asked to join ? Not either, good. Jesus tells his apostolic angels to go by themselves to a secluded place, but everyone knows where they are going and arrive there before them. No problem: true story ! And then the Lord shortening the days of the elect (it appears it already happened) as a way to save them through the future tribulations ? Makes perfect sense in Aramaic, I bet !

Now all of this – and there is more, trust me – argues vigorously against Mark writing actual events. It looks rather obvious he was writing for his friends, potential converts and pulling the leg of accredited scholars of his time who were wont to swoop on the Jesus apparitions from Jerusalem and declare his (!) cures the work of the prince of devils.

Yep, I have read Mark and made my independent assessment of him. Over twenty four years. Final verdict: He is a Pauline allegorist. The women running away from the tomb without telling anyone anything is a way to assert the primacy of the Paul’s gospel over the claims of the traditions associated with the disciples. The missing body in the tomb is a pun carried over from 4:10, ‘those around Jesus’ (hoi peri Iesou) when he is alone (kata monas) are the ‘body of Christ’ as per 1 Cor 12:27. They are in the mythical Galilee. The disciples, or rather their followers, are asked to accept the cross and join !

Don’t believe it ! Gnostic black magic ! Sure, sure ! Except you see, there are the statistical odds against finding the second half of the hidden Malachi 3:1 reference (from Mk 1:2) in the messenger’s reporting in the tomb. What would they be, I wonder, if Mark was reporting and not composing : one in a million, two in ten million ? Oh, you have not found the reference was explicit enough ? What a pity ! We could have had a reasoned conversation.

Best,
Jiri

ETA: ok, I give you the solution for 7:36. The ‘disobedience’ relates to glossolalia. The multitude cannot stop the praise of Jesus, because the visions of him themselves are ‘apo kyriou pneumatos’ (2 Cor 3:2). Typical ecstatic humour of Mark !

• Rabbie

You might demonstrate your faith in the non-allegorical nature of Mark by adopting several pet rattlesnakes, allowing them to slither freely around you as you write your posts. Things might have gone better for a recently deceased charismatic preacher had he not taken Mark “au pied de la lettre”.

• @Rabbie: yes, of course: we were all taught in our graduate classes to take Mark literally. I regularly let my children play with black mambas while they were growing up just to test the word of God. In fact, I used Bayes’s Theorem to decide the probability of their getting bit, and then, of course, of their dying should they get bit. I kept getting .50 because the verses occur in the longer ending of Mark and there is a 50% chance it was added after Mark, and then of course only a 50% chance that Mark had ever seen a snake. Taking account of this, the solar eclipse, and the fact that I had had tacos for dinner and rushed through the equation, I finally was able to push the envelope to get 75% prob. that they would survive a venomous attack. God rest their souls.

• stephanie louise fisher

Repeat and contradict. Your comment is indeed mind boggling Jiri. It fails to have apprehended the main points outlined above. It fails to contribute anything helpful to the conversation. And Jiri, I’m an Antipodean and we don’t believe in ‘mentors’ – they’re dangerously close to tall poppies. The little idea that I have a ‘mentor’ is constructed in your own imagination to satisfy your own beliefs. Your inability to perceive bias is probably a reflection of your own

• Steph,
do you really, truly, believe that when people see a quickie off-the-cuff essay titled ‘An Exhibition of Incopetence: Trickery Dickery Bayes’ they’ll figure, ‘Aha, Steph wants to stimulate a rational conversation’ ? Really, truly ? Because you see, it looks to this former dummy-half more like a regular ‘haka’.

• stephanie louise fisher

and what do you mean by a ‘regular haka’? It sounds not just culturally insensitive but a massively ignorant racist slur.

• stephanie louise fisher

Jiri, you repeat and contradict. Your comment is indeed mind boggling. It fails to apprehend any main points outlined above or contribute anything relevant of helpful to the conversion. Indeed, it seems to reflect a lack of elementary skills of reading comprehension. And Jiri, I am an Antipodean and I don’t believe in ‘mentors’ or titles. The idea of ‘mentor’ creeps dangerously close to the idea of tall poppies. Your failure to recognise bias where it exists probably reflects your own.

stephanie

• Grog

I’m really glad you said this twice, because I didn’t get it the first time.

• stephanie louise fisher

Not surprising.

• Is the “debate” between Historicists and Mythicists, really an objective debate?

The language, the emotional tone and axis of blogs, is not really objective scholarly debate; though ideas are often advanced, deeper underneath it is all to often, normally, a simple contest of adolescent egos, rivals. One in which the players all see themselves in terms that are finally, rather too much like cartoon superheroes: heros vanquishing evil villains. “Brilliant” heroes vanquishing “fools” and so forth. But of course? Tthere is something far from scholarship in the prevailing ego contest, fo the internet,

And in fact, there is something even psychologially dangerous, in this self-vs.-others agonism of Internet blogs: there is something that feeds into/creates more serious disorders. My own theory of one “antipodean” mode for example – Manic Depressive disorder – sees it as stemming from an exaggerated sense of self. And for that matter, sees it in nearly biblical or ethical terms: as beginning with 1) simple Vanity. With an exaggerated sense of self, of the self as powerful hero, in the manic phase. But 2) then, after having committed excesses of Vanity, and errors of overselfconfidence in that phase? Next comes the depressive phase. Which need not be seen as hopelessly inexplicable or arcane. But which I see as … simply natural sense of Remorse; or contrition. Which is called “depression.” But is more properly, simply? Remorse.

In the lower realms of academe there is a sense especially, that the most erudite voice is the superhero, that is always right. And that always wins; since the erudite voice knows the rules of The Game better than anyone, and plays by them better than the untutored. And yet however? There are so many cases where the best knowledge base that we have is by no means enough. So that the most academic and erudite discussion, amounts to mere wheel-spinning. And the showest exihibitions? Failing, soon lead to simple … Remorse.

The task of vanquishing “fools,” and “miscreants,” and evil mythicists … interfaces all too completely, with the basic character of the Internet. Or for that matter, with a moral, CHristian evil: Vanity. One hopes that this character is presented in so obvious a way on blogs, exaggerated, in order to be obviously, self-parodying.

Though if the perpetrator is experiencing Remorse later on? Undoubtedly it was all too real, for all too many participants.

• @Garcia: This is thoughtful. I can assure you that what precipitates this discussion–which is not a debate because the sides are not matched as they would be in serious academic interchange–is the increasing adventurism of the mythtics and their repeated sniping at scholarship. Many of us on what is being called the “historicist” side of the discussion are concerned that left unchallenged, a whole generation of people who get most of their information from the internet will simply assume that the idea of the historical Jesus is equivalent to belief in a divine savior. The propositions are entirely different and openly acknowledged by members of the profession–many of whom–myself included–do not mind being called unbelievers. But “belief” is not the issue here: it is how historical sources are handled. Is the internet the best place for serious discussion–of course not, and Professor Casey has said as much in his opening remarks. Should scholars respond to suggestions that a profession–to quote Mr Carrier-is “fucked up”– when, as far as anyone can determine, the religious studies and cognate departments at Chicago, Yale, Harvard, Oxford, Nottingham and Stanford are chugging along just fine and turning out methodologically sophisticated scholars. Of course. There is no reason to be moralistic about this and to accuse people who are stating confidently the facts as they know them of ‘acting superior.” Scholarship is not an internet debate: you are right about that. But ideas that can be substantiated are superior ideas. What I am discovering is that this discussion is long overdue, and if it prevents even five people from accepting the appeals to unreason and superstitious reading of texts using discredited “authorities” a century old, it will have been worth the trouble. Let me say also for the benefits of those who are just looking in on tis discussion and may surprised at its tone: atheist like to say that the belief in God is irrational and that atheism is therefore a reasonable position. I’ve often said, that is a perfectly valid position to take and has to be argued philosophically. There is NOTHING remotely similar between that position and the “belief” that Jesus of Nazareth was an historical individual. Philosophy and especially logic play implicit roles in this discussion, but they are not the primary tools for deciding the question. The fact is, we need the most efficient, simplest, and most plausible explanation for the beginning of the Christian movement which developed not in a haze but in the full glare of antiquity. Our primary sources offer a sufficient if loaded explanation for that event. The mythtics offer us jello.

3. “At no point in such a process does a critical scholar throw his or her hands in the air and pronounce a fatwah on all preceding efforts”

Well Stephanie that was so funny and so true for not until we let go of the literal letter can we begin to appreciate the life of the spirit.

Now this matter of Joseph’s breakfast might just take on a new light if one were performing deep self inquiry , “Is the self that had breakfast the same as the self now eating lunch” Yep a brand new critter is having lunch and we can take Paul literally here……2 Cor. 5:17; Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. You can be very thankful we are not in a historical Christ……lol….. It’s the Magic of ordinary life ! We are all mythical creatures for nobody is who they “THINK” they are.

Actually it’s the NHC which may actually assist in opening the understanding of the spiritual allegories in the canon.

Stephanie says;
“But all extant Gospels are already very late stages of the “Gospel tradition”, the Gospel having already been preached for nearly an entire lifetime across three continents before any Gospel was written”

I wonder who‘s gospel’s you are thinking about, maybe Maricon or Valentinus , Cerinthus, or perhaps even Philo and Basilides. Bet ya Simon Magus, Apollos and Cephas had mighty gospels as well. I would even contend that Ecsebius merged four entirely different traditions into one universal ring to rule them all. Perhaps you consider Paul the end all which could live and guide a community entirely without the gospels as Maricon did without the OT. How many pagan oral traditions were whirling around in the soup as well?

• Much Expanded……………

.Alogi

Apellianists

Artemonites

Basilidians

> Cainites

Capocratians

Cerdonians

Cerinthians

Cleobians

Dosithereans

Ebionites

Elchasaites

Encrites

Manicheans

Marcelinians

Marcionites

Menandrians

Montanists

> Nazarenes

Nicolatians

> Noetians

Novatians

Ophites

Praxeans

Proto-Orthodox

Saturninians

Sethians

Simonians

Theodotians

Valentinians

Thanks to Jake Jones IV at Jesus Mysteries

• Nice list; what’s it for? Is the girlfriend a myth, too? Darn

• “Nice list; what’s it for? Is the girlfriend a myth, too? Darn”

Well,I was thinking again, of that old Latin saying; “Never less alone than when alone”

The proto-orthodox were not alone………………lol

• stephanie louise fisher

Thank you. 🙂

4. alnitak

“Atheist blogger Richard Carrier, has now added to his passionate flushings of incompetence with another book,…”

I’m afraid you lost me at that early point. If you are a reputable academic (sorry, I don’t know -your- credentials, for all your shaming of his) then you have not only the weight of an in-depth formal education in this or related subjects coupled to years of thought, discussion, and analysis, but you are also trained to communicate your ideas effectively. Surely you are prepared to deal concisely with the facts of Carrier’s presentation, firmly but without rancor. It should be easy if he is as inept as you imply. I gather that he used has used intemperate language in the past; perhaps that fault of his is worth a footnote, perhaps not.

I am perhaps overly affected by my own field, biology, where ideas are dealt with in egalitarian fashion, and even the most rank amateur can present an idea or ask a question that provokes discussion, sometimes among the most learned in their field. In a field like mine, “having written several books” often equates to “being learned about -past- research.”

I will try to more than scan your essay, but it is made difficult by the hyperbolic tone, which has been used by authors less knowledgeable than yourself to hide insufficiency of thought or fact.

• ROO BOOKAROO

Alnitak, that is a great point.

This lady Fisher does not realize that she undermines her own message (assuming there’s one) with her abundance of vitriol, because there’s so much of it that it’s hard to see what else is there she wants to communicate.
It often seems that her only satisfaction is to throw aspersions on the victims of her anger. Even after having read her stuff completely, I have a hard time remembering the points she is trying to make, whereas I remember more distinctly what Casey is trying to prove.

For your amusement, and possible use in the future, note that scholars and debaters of the 19th century had some cute, Latin expressions to express those two aspects inherent in most debates on religion: If your opponent criticized you without even having read or understood your stuff, you would say that he/she attacked you “sine studio” (without any examination), which you would answer, in your high-minded nobility of mind, “sine ira” (without anger, or resentment).
This lady Fisher could try to use this “sine ira” mode of response. But it goes against her grain and freedom of expression. It is not possible to switch centuries so easily.

• stephanie louise fisher

Roo: It is astonishing that you seem not to have evolved since the nineteenth century, and joined the modern convention of addressing human beings equally without being sexually discriminating and derogatory to boot.

• stephanie louise fisher

Carrier makes unqualified pronouncements without sound argument or evidence and accompanies it with plenty of vitriol against New Testament scholars and their work. I am in favour of discussion and debate and interested people being involved. However this is not how Carrier approaches the study of history. I am glad you appreciated Professor Hoffmann’s essay so much. I did too.

• ROO BOOKAROO

Alnitak:

You were hoping for fair dealings “without rancor”, that is “sine ira.” However, the opposite, “cum ira” is this lady Fisher’s modus vivendi. She seems to thrive only when venting out invectives, derogations and deprecations.
Coming from we don’t know where, she suddenly arrogates to herself the right to “express the fact that [Carrier] is not qualified in New Testament studies”, that’s right, as if she’s been designated by the Holy Spirit to declare incompetences and adjudicate qualifications about who can do what.
After 15 years of studies, he’d been waiting for her kind of final endorsement, and, surprise, he’s finally been given his pink slip from the profession. How is he going to make a living and support his wife and children?

That this is promoted as a site for learned discussions of Christian interpretations, when it is in fact a site for pouring out hostility on certain visitors and scholars she despises like Richard Carrier or Earl Doherty (a harmless, aging man who’s not even given a modicum of respect for his silver hair) is discouraging. I was naively expecting quality of tone, and some depth of insight, but nothing like this no-holds-barred mano a mano. Even Thomas Paine, in his Age of Reason, was more gracious in style than this modern Fury.

• stephanie louise fisher

Our comments Neil, were slightly tongue and cheek. I didn’t find it the post accidentally. I noted it at the time. Yes I commented at the time about the benefits outweighing the risks of living on a faultline but could hardly forget your light hearted post which was a consequence of an earthquake that subsequently devastated the lives of many people, some of whom I know. I also took note of that particular post because it was ironic considering the fact that you constantly misrepresent scholarship you claim to have thoroughly read. Hence literal interpretation: tongue and cheek to ‘explain’ your misrepresentation of scholarship conveniently.

• stephanie louise fisher

Poor Neil – he goes on, really scraping the barrel.

• stephanie louise fisher

… reflecting more about themselves than anyone else.

5. Subscribing.

• stephanie louise fisher

Be happy and smile.

• Aw isn’t this sweet Ben Schuldt, all this effort for your mate Dick Carrier. And all this effort in addition to all the foul language you direct at us. “War on Error” – but that’s so characteristic, isn’t it. You have alot of “courage” coming here don’t you. http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/archives/268

6. David Mills

Stephanie,

‘Speaking’ as an agnostic on the issue of Jesus’ historicity, my uncertainty about ‘Brothers of the Lord’ in 1 Cor 9.5 is that if this is siblings, then it it eminent/privileged members of the upper end of the church, indeed arguably travelling missionaries.

Given what I think is a complete absence of any tradition in which siblings had such roles or held such positions, I feel that the suggestion that this is a clear reference to siblings is unwarranted. They do not even, for example, appear on the list of witnesses later in the same book. As far as I know, they do not appear anywhere.

As for looking for a distinct group, why not just those brothers who are far enough up the pecking order to qualify for privileges? Does it have to be a clear and distinct group, in those very early days in which we might reasonably expect a degree of flux? One word which springs to mind is ‘elders’.

• stephanie louise fisher

David: The tradition in Mark 6.3 points to Jesus having siblings. There does not seem to be any reasonable argument to doubt that this tradition is true. Interpreting Paul, he refers to brothers in the Lord as plural suggesting close followers, which is distinguished from brothers ‘of’ the Lord in 1 Cor 9.5 which suggests siblings. For example when Paul refers to a brother of the Lord, ἀδελφὸs τοῦ Κυρίου, in Gal 1.19, it is reasonable to interpret a sibling. The assumption that traditions must be repeated and repeated if they are true is not reasonable considering the limited writings preserved of Paul, the expectations of his audience who didn’t need to be constantly reminded, and ultimately the limited evidence from early Christianity.

• David Mills

Thanks Stephanie.

Regarding Mark, didnt Paula Fredriksen once offer the observaton that the names of Jesus’ brothers were, er, notably symbolic. I believe the analogy she used was that it was a bit like describing a significant American as having brothers named Washington, Lincoln and Truman. I may not have recalled the correct prsidents there. 🙂

My problem with Mark is that a lot of it seems as if it might be allegory, not history, and I don’t know how one can reliably tell the difference.

I take your points about 1 Cor 9.5, but I can’t honestly say I can agree with them. To me, 1 Cor 9.5 is pretty ambiguous, if not in fact accessible to a more coherent explanation as non-siblings, in my humble opinion, for a variety of reasons, including the ones I mentioned.

I do accept that Gal 1.19 seems more like sibling, but, rational sceptic that I am, I find it hard to justify any certainty, or even decisive likliehood. And Gal 1.19 depends on 1 Cor 9.5.

As an agnostic, I can agree with a lot of what is said about mythicists, including a number of your points. I do wish there was more agnosticism though, since I feel it is the most warranted position.

David

• stephanie louise fisher

7. samphire53

“….that if this is siblings, then it it (sic, presumably “they were”) eminent/privileged members of the upper end of the church, indeed arguably travelling missionaries.”

It is a pity none of them could write or even dictate then we wouldn’t have had 2,000 years of non-stop argumentation. Could it have been so difficult for a real person or his brothers to have set down his ideas in a clear and concise manner in a form which would have survived until the present day? Given that Matthew, Mark etc managed it then why not Jesus? Perhaps the problem is that he was born just 40 years too early. What a convenient cock-up.

• Dustin Cooper

Given the apocalyptic nature of much of Jesus’ teaching, are you really surprised that neither he nor his earliest followers didn’t see an immediate need to preserve Jesus’s words and deeds for posterity?

• Exactly right, Dustin.

8. samphire53

Stephanie,

“the crowd stoned them with such violence that most of the cohort were killed. Archelaus then sent in his army in force: the result was 3,000 dead Jews and the wreckage of a major festival (Jos. War II, 5-13: Ant XVII, 206-8). This is arguably what the chief priests were avoiding by not arresting Jesus in public in the Temple, yet Carrier shows not a glimmer of awareness of the event in the time of Archelaus ever happening..”

Good point. So Jesus having been arrested secretly to avoid a riot is then just a few hours later put in front of a baying mob who, presumably, had been first checked out by the new stone-detector machines just introduced by the Romans.

I also like another point you make that Luke thought Matthew a complete liar on the matter of the nativity. In that, I agree with Luke. But I go one step further and think Luke was a liar too in his claim to be writing history. Clearly, he was writing theology.

• stephanie louise fisher

Hi Sam, Thank you for your comments. I think Maurice discusses this, but I say too, that the nativity stories are far from historical truth! I hope it is implicit that storytelling in ‘Matthew’ is replaced by storytelling of ‘Luke’. However I wouldn’t call Matthew or Luke ‘liars’. I think that’s anachronistic. It was storytelling, and ‘Luke’ was replacing the mess in ‘Matthew’ with something ‘better’ and more fitting. The author of Matthew was also a horrendous misogynist and ‘Luke’ wasn’t. The late great Michael Goulder pointed that out. Goulder wrote: “Matthew, as is evident from his recasting of Mark’s divorce ruling, was a conventional Jewish male chauvinist, to whom it was natural to think of Jesus’ birth from the angle of the putative father. But Luke was of a more liberal cast of mind, for which women were in many ways the spiritual equals of men” (LNP 221). If only Roo Bookaroo (thread above), was a little more like ‘Luke’. 🙂

9. samphire53

“….that if this is siblings, then it it (sic, presumably “they were”?) eminent/privileged members of the upper end of the church, indeed arguably travelling missionaries.”

It is a pity none of Jesus’ siblings could write or even dictate then we wouldn’t have had 2,000 years of non-stop argumentation. Could it have been so difficult for a real person or his real brothers to have set down their ideas and histories in a clear and concise manner and in a form which would have survived until the present day? Given that Matthew, Mark etc managed it then why not Jesus or Jacob? What an incompetent way to run an apostolic church.

Perhaps the problem is that Jesus was born just 40 years too early. What a convenient cock-up.

P.S. I love it when Stephanie quotes dirty.

• The problem with amateur detectives applying their “skill set” to the gospels is that they ask questions like the following without realizing how obtuse they are:

Could it have been so difficult for a real person or his real brothers to have set down their ideas and histories in a clear and concise manner and in a form which would have survived until the present day?

The answer is, yes. Probably impossible. And why would they? Have you read the autobiography of Alexander the Great? Do you know why?

Augustine did leave us one, in the 5th century–sort of–and good luck sorting out fact and fiction in that.

My non-sarcastic point is that the road back through time is riddled with potholes and sinkholes and the farther back you go the more treacherous they become. The argument against the mythicists isn’t about authority and credentials–except when a surprising number show that they believe they can fly over these anachronisms (like angels?) without ever learning how to drive.

• stephanie louise fisher

A couple of useful references on the realities and difficulties of reading and writing in antiquity might be found with:

Alan Millard, Reading and Writing in the Time of Jesus (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000).

R. A. Derrenbacker Jr., Ancient Compositional Practices and the Synoptic Problem (Bibliotheca Ephemeridum Theologicarum Lovaniensium 186; Leuven: Peeters, 2006).

and a brief article for luck (very good)

R. A. Derrenbacker, “Greco-Roman Writing Practices and Luke’s Gospel” in Christopher A. Rollston, The Gospels According to Michael Goulder: A North American Response (Harrisburg: PA; Trinity Press, 2004).

10. samphire53

“The answer is, yes. Probably impossible. And why would they? Have you read the autobiography of Alexander the Great?”

Not yet. The 40-ton 32 wheeler lorry with the tablets containing Chapter 1 arrives tomorrow.

“Do you know why?”

Yes – but Alexander wasn’t the Son of God. It doesn’t matter to me or the rest of mankind whether Alexander existed or not any more than it matters to me and my fellow English whether or not King Arthur was real or mythical.

I’m told that the entire and perfectly-preserved New Testament was completed within 100 years of the date a resurrected body (in a form St Paul and William Lane Craig cannot agree on) disappeared upwards into a conveniently placed white cloud.

This is my eternal soul and those of another 100 billion people I’m talking about here. Why couldn’t Jesus or his brothers do what St Paul did? Nothing startling in data recording and transmission was invented in between the supposed crucifixion and the date “St Paul” allegedly started writing to his flock so what’s your objection to Jesus and/or his brothers jotting down a few notes to convince me and my fellow 100 billion of the reality of his historical existence?

Let me spell it out. Jesus could have written or dictated stuff to Cephas and/or James. Cephas and James could have had the memoir copied and they could have given one of the copies to Paul when he visited them in Jerusalem. Paul could have then copied the copy and stapled a copy to each of his letters etc etc. But this perfectly technically-acheivable process did not happen. Why not? Because faith is more important than truth?

In view of the fact that the whole purported point of christianity is that it achieves the reconnection of mankind to God for all time are you suggesting that, unlike Mohamed, the Son of the genuine God couldn’t afford the cost of a few leaves of papyrus and half a pint of squid ink to ensure that his message was transmitted down the centuries?

Why couldn’t God achieve what Paul is supposed to have managed time after time?

11. David Hillman

I can not get to the arguments through all the ad hominem attacks, name dropping. snobbery, and abuse. When I argue with Physicists about quantum theory I get to grips with their ideas and their arguments and facts, not with what degree they got or whether they once believed in the Copenhagen interpretation. Does it matter, really, if someone was once a fundamentalist? This supercilious attitude makes getting to any real contribution to history like treading through treacle – and after several tries I give up.

• I can not get to the arguments through all the ad hominem attacks, name dropping. snobbery, and abuse. When I argue with Physicists about quantum theory I get to grips with their ideas and their arguments and facts

Good for you. And your qualifications in Biblical studies are….what? I’d be very happy to argue with you.

• David Hillman

Yeah, O.K., I have a B.A. and M.A. in History from Oxford and also first class honours in Physics and Maths. But these mean less than my own studies over 50 years, including many visits to the holy land. I am not interested in peoples’ qualifications, rather in the quality of their arguments. Thank God people love my poetry without asking if I’ve done a course in creative writing.Long live Faraday and William Blake who spoke with authority but not as the scribes.

• stephanie louise fisher

Sounds like it’s long past time for you to give up David. Yes it does matter if someone has deconverted from some form of fundamentalist belief in which they held convictions without argument or evidence. Nobody can approach problems in life with pure objectivity. We are human beings who necessarily begin and continue our lives within some kind of social framework and we are shaped by our environments life experiences.

• David Mills

I could not agree more, David. Though you forgot arguments from authority.

• stephanie louise fisher

Eh – talking to yourself? See comment currently at bottom of entire comment thread by rjosephhhoffmann on authority.

12. samphire53

Stephanie,

“A couple of useful references on the realities and difficulties of reading and writing in antiquity might be found with:…”

I’m not naive. I understand the difficulties in the writing and transmission of delicate documents down the ages but fundamentalists tell me that the New Testament (and, indeed, the OT) have indeed arrived on our doorstep pretty much in the same form as in the original autographs all of which proves, despite the extreme difficulties and Mr Hoffman’s opinion, that such transmission is possible. But, Mr Hoffman tells me, that in the case of Jesus and his brothers such transmission is “probably impossible”. Even for the Son of God?

So please tell me why Jesus couldn’t do what Paul and the evangelists seemingly did without difficulty.

• Oh Gish Samphire : Do you really want me to respond to this?

• samphire53

Yes, please. Please explain why the historical Jesus Christ and/or his brothers couldn’t do what Paul manage to do many times? Well, seven times, maybe.

And don’t gallop through it.

• Let me spell it out. Jesus could have written or dictated stuff to Cephas and/or James. Cephas and James could have had the memoir copied and they could have given one of the copies to Paul when he visited them in Jerusalem. Paul could have then copied the copy and stapled a copy to each of his letters etc etc. But this perfectly technically-acheivable process did not happen. Why not? Because faith is more important than truth?

I am sure this sounds reasonable to you. That is sad. Because it is unreasonable to not just me but to anyone in ancient history or classical studies. Are you for example saying that if there had been a historical Jesus who knew he was the son of God he should have … x,y, z? Fascinating thought. But that is not what scholars are saying or thinking. Except perhaps the mythicists like Carrier. The fact that you do not know why it is ludicrous is why we need the Jesus Process. But in language I think you will understand, your question is an inductive fallacy: hypothesis contrary to fact.

• Grog

RJH
“Are you for example saying that if there had been a historical Jesus who knew he was the son of God he should have … x,y, z? Fascinating thought. But that is not what scholars are saying or thinking. Except perhaps the mythicists like Carrier.”

Hmmm…This strikes me as a mischaracterization of Carrier’s views. Care to defend?

• stephanie louise fisher

Well ‘grog’ – why for example, does Carrion struggle so desparately, contrary to critical argument and evidence, to deny that Jesus had siblings? Without x=siblings Jesus has less historical verisimilitude and the mythtic illusion is perceived by themselves as necessarily ‘unarguable’.

• David Mills

Samphire53,

He/they could have done, but apparently he/they didn’t. It doesn’t seem unusual to me. I don’t think we should infer anything from it.

13. samphire53

Hi Steph

“I think Maurice discusses this, but I say too, that the nativity stories are far from historical truth! I hope it is implicit that storytelling in ‘Matthew’ is replaced by storytelling of ‘Luke’. However I wouldn’t call Matthew or Luke ‘liars’.”

I agree. As I wrote above, the gospels are theology and not history (IMAO).

I was taught never to call anybody a “liar” – a very nasty word – so, when we were caught lying, we were told “not to tell stories”. This could mean not gossiping or sneaking but it also had this second meaning of not lying. In an historical setting telling stories not based upon historical actuality is telling untruths or lying. In a theological setting one can say what one likes because some-one will always find theological truth within the historical falsity.

“I think that’s anachronistic.”

As in “thou shall not bear false witness”? Or is the admonishment against bearing false witness purely relevant solely in a legalistic setting?

“It was storytelling, and ‘Luke’ was replacing the mess in ‘Matthew’ with something ‘better’ and more fitting.”

And inspired?

“The author of Matthew was also a horrendous misogynist …….”

So not inspired?

“If only Roo Bookaroo (thread above), was a little more like ‘Luke’. ”

Beardwise, they are very similar. But Luke never wore white socks with sandals, I bet.

• stephanie louise fisher

Ancient storytelling is not synonymous with 21st century lying to deceive. The gospel authors were following cultural conventions and norms in an historical context far removed from our own where we have the post enlightenment clear distinction between myth and reality.

• samphire53

These things I’m aware of. But it is this colloidal mix of fact and myth which makes Mr.Casey’s apologetics of why Paul failed to provide any history of or reference to a recently living man so risibly incongruous as, indeed, is Paul’s claim that he failed to meet the other apostles on his visit to Jerusalem, a city of 60,000 and which any healed cripple could limp across in half an hour.

Is it likely a real Paul who had walked hundreds of tough miles along rough stoney tracks to a far off city to meet his co-religionists would fail to seek the company of most if not all of Jesus’ death-defying proselytising and closest mates? Would anybody fly across the Atlantic in relative comfort to stay a fortnight with Billy Graham and not seek out an evening’s entertainment with George Beverley Shea? But when it comes to discussing the mythic virginity of Mary it isn’t necessary to talk to the entire College of Cardinals to discover what the Catholic church’s teaching is on the matter; one man in a red hat and red shoes will do. In Paul’s story, only if Jesus was a mythic Son of God character who none of the lads had actually ever physically met would this tale make any sense.

Or, perhaps, if Paul himself was mythic.

• “Paul himself was mythic.” You really are reading selectively aren’t you mate?

• David Mills

Joseph,

How has it come to this? Only a few years ago you were describing the historicity question as open and unanswerable. At that point, I admired you for saying what I personally thought was the most reasonable, rational thing I believed I had ever heard from an NT scholar. Now it’s derision and not much else.

I can understand exasperation with mythicists, really I can, but what about a return to a healthy dash of uncertainty? 🙂

• @David: It is clear alas! David that you have not read my essay at all; you are not even posting this comment on it. There is nothing derisive in it except derision of some bad ideas. I say repeatedly ” I have come to the conclusion.” That is a process, not a fixed position. Some of us see that process as reasonable as we learn more and investigate more. At this moment, the cumulative weight of what I know makes the existence of Jesus the reasonable position. Of course, that could change, but it will not change without substantial additional evidence to the contrary: that is to say, not on the basis of a contrived method that turns analogies and bad assumptions into premises at the touch of Midas’s finger.

• Samphire: “Is it likely a real Paul who had walked hundreds of tough miles along rough stoney tracks to a far off city to meet his co-religionists would fail to seek the company of most if not all of Jesus’ death-defying proselytising and closest mates? Would anybody fly across the Atlantic in relative comfort to stay a fortnight with Billy Graham and not seek out an evening’s entertainment with George Beverley Shea?” It is always difficult to have to invent an imaginary and anachronistic scenario to get to a “probability” as you have done here. This is a good example of why the Bayes Machine produces sausage rather than conclusions.

• stephanie louise fisher

Sam… what is the point of inventing 21st century analogies from your own culture? It is all completely irrelevant. Apologetics is defence of a faith. Providing historical evidence combined with textual interpretation and analysis is not apologetics.

• David Mills

@ Joseph.

No, Joseph, it is not ‘clear’ that I haven’t read your article, but since I accept that my saying ‘derision and not much else’ was not a good choice of words and not accurate, I can understand why it seemed like that to you.

Yes, you do spend a lot of time on decent arguments, IMHO, but I am not the only poster here, nor elsewhere on other discussion forums where I have currently seen the issue discussed, who feels that there is a tad too much of a, shalll we say, less measured and mannered debate.

However, that is bye the bye, and arguably a proto-ad hom in itself. 🙂

My general impression is that there is not much of a middle ground in this matter, which I think is unfortunate for any debate, and that was why I was curious to know how it was that you came to go from ‘open, unanswerable question’, to your present position, since it was, I think, only in 2009 that you wrote that.

So, I would like to ask you the same question again. It’s not a leading question. I am a genuine agnostic.

• @David Thanks, and I do detect a sincere open mindedness on your part. Unfortunately the positions are emotionally charged on both sides. There are undoubtedly a few who think that a mythical Jesus would “serve the Church right” for the harm it has foisted on people. I take it for granted that people in that circle are merely looking for emotional support. There are at the other extreme people who see the historical existence of Jesus as the sine qua non of their born-again belief system. The idea of a mythic Jesus is repugnant to them. For about three centuries now, liberal theology has stripped away the supernatural garments of the divine man and has done such a good job of deconstructing him that there is not much left of Paul s savior figure, the fully divine-full-human hybrid that the church eventually taught. Neither the old mythtics nor the new dispatched him; liberal theology and various schools of biblical criticism did. In the long run, the historical existence of Jesus may not matter very much: it certainly does not matter to me at any emotional level. The early deists and rationalists like Paine would have been much happier with a merely human Jesus who did exist than with a myth–and said as much–but I think (and have said so) that we are in the throes of certain thoroughgoing atheists who think that Jesus denial is a logical complement to God denial. I happen to think that while you can account for the beginnings of any religion without postulating an historical founder, it is ludicrous to think that historical religions like Judaism, Islam and Christianity developed as the result of some religious big bang or as the work of an overzealous fiction writer or story teller. Those of us who consider ourselves ‘experts” in this field would do better to explain our reasoning in archaeological terms because we look at the details by strata and try not to mix the beliefs of say the year 100CE into the formative beliefs of, say, the year 40CE. I would be the first to say it is risky business. Also the first to say that it cannot be done by intuition, appeals to analogy or to “common sense,” which has led many a scholar down the road to disaster. A lot of what I am seeing on this site is infinitely commonsensical and almost certainly wrongheaded–e.g., If Jesus or his brothers existed they could have written their memoirs. But enough for now. Thanks for writing.

• David Mills

@ Joseph

Thanks for that. It is reassuring and sensible. I can’t think of anything in it I would strongly disagree with. And thanks for not correcting my syntax. I think it ought to have been ‘by the by’ not ‘bye the bye’. I need to proofread more thoroughly. 🙂

It seems to me, as an outsider (i.e. not a scholar) that there is quite a risk in trying to discuss the issue ‘agnostically’, if that’s the correct word, perhaps ‘as an open question’ is better. I get the impression that to do so, perhaps especially these days, invites a sort of sensationalizing stampede of what I can agree are inexpert and somewhat tenuous contributors.

I have a pet theory (I’m guessing of course) that you started the Jesus Project in good faith, only to find the process hijacked, if that’s not too strong a word, by those who leaned a bit too much in the direction of mythicism.

I’m sure you and I could have a delightful discussion, had we the time. I respect your position, even if I do not entirely agree with it and think that you were on the money in 2009. 🙂

Anyhows, I’ll finish by saying that one of my favourite pieces on this topic was an article by linguist Elvar Ellegard, entitled ‘Theologians as Historians’ which was followed by a set of commentaries/reviews, from various scholars and historians (not many of whom agreed with him I might add) but all conducted with the sort of reasoned argument that one could hope for. The last review piece was by Professor Rolf Torstendal, not a scholar, but an historian. If any one piece summed up my own persp[ective, that was it. You are probably familiar with it.

http://www.sciecom.org/ojs/index.php/scandia/article/viewFile/1078/863

• @ Joseph

ps

I meant the Torstendahl commentary, not the Ellegard article, when I said it represented my approximate approach.

14. samphire53

Stephanie,

“and a brief article for luck (very good)

R. A. Derrenbacker, “Greco-Roman Writing Practices and Luke’s Gospel” in Christopher A. Rollston, The Gospels According to Michael Goulder: A North American Response (Harrisburg: PA; Trinity Press, 2004).”

i found plenty of references but no link to the Derrenbacker article. Is it available on the net and, if so, may I have the link?

At £32 for the Millard even in paperback I shall have to remain in ignorance of its contents until my winter fuel allowance comes through later this year. Could I swop a barely-opened Lee Strobel for your copy?

Thought not.

• stephanie louise fisher

It is an essay in a book. All three books I cited are available in most university libraries I imagine – check the CAT. Alternatively you can interloan them as well. I paid less than £32 for all three – try harder… haggle. 🙂

15. Blood

“It is culturally ludicrous to expect anyone like Haim Cohn to give a fair account of a New Testament narrative…”

Oh really? It isn’t any more “ludicrous” than expecting the average Christian NT scholar to give a fair account … as if they weren’t culturally biased.

• I have a dog in this fight but not concerning this essay, but I do find a piece of illogic in this thread disconcerting. Many of you are complaining that Fisher and Casey have “appealed” to authority. This apparently is an attempt to make their arguments fallacious, as appeals to authority are usually considered fallacious. But they are not appealing to authority: they are appealing to knowledge and merit. It is the same sort of appeal we use in any profession to establish qualifications. Unless you want to say that qualifications and credentials are irrelevant, you need to make this distinction. If you do think this, then you have no way of distinguishing the bogus view of a Baptist preacher who says the Bible is verbatim true and the PhD of a Richard Carrier, which credential is repeatedly invoked by many of you in favour of his ideas. I am only playing umpire here, but this is very sloppy reasoning on your part: An appeal to knowledge and skill and demonstrated accomplishment vs incompetence or prejudice is not an appeal to authority, so please calm down a bit when you see words like “respectable” or “highly regarded” or “expert” used.

16. Ken Scaletta

Steph said

“Well ‘grog’ – why for example, does Carrion struggle so desparately, contrary to critical argument and evidence, to deny that Jesus had siblings?”

Hoffman also denies this – or at least rejects the consensus that ἀδελφὸν τοῦ κυρίου in Gal. 1:19 indicates a biological relationship between Jesus and James. Hoffman obviously does not see this as an argument against historicity, but he does deny that James was Jesus’ brother, so if you’re going to disparage the scholarly validity of this view then you also have to disparage RJH (http://www.butterfliesandwheels.org/2007/faccidents-bad-assumptions-and-the-jesus-tomb-debacle/).

I’m not a myther, by the way, nor am I convinced by Hoffman’s argument that Paul was using the term, ADELPHOS, ecclesiastically/congregationally (for multiple reasons), but it’s not a crackpot view.

• David Mills

Carrion?

Please tell me that’s not a snide moniker, to go with ‘penis-nose’ on another comments section here. 🙂

• David, Ironic but irrelevant isn’t it. It might have escaped your notice however that Carrier, in his outpourings loaded with foul language and abuse against Professor Hoffmann (see Carrier’s blog), persists in spelling Hoffmann inaccurately. His fans often imitate.

• David Mills

Well, Steph and Joseph, I have been, if you’ll pardon a pun, no saint, when it comes to banter, and what I believe is known on internet discussion forums as douchebaggery. I guess i just wasn’t expecting to find it here, from, er, both sides. From Richard Carrier, it is not surprising. He comes across as a bit of a hothead at times.

• Excuse me? I miss typed Carrier on this thread once. Perhaps you might like to count how many times Carrier uses the ‘f’ word in connection with NT studies, method, scholarship and individuals. http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/archives/255
I’m disappointed you are behaving like the moral authority without contributing useful conversation or engaging with actual arguments.

• My point was about Carrier considering the sibling evidence vital and better when conveniently got rid of. However you seem to have made some effort to determine a disagreement of opinion between Joe and myself. Now would a hypothetical disagreement of opinion in scholarship be an indication of one disparaging another? Really? Do you understand what academic discussion and debate is about? The three of us approach the texts critically with independent trained minds. We share ideas, and constantly apply critical methods self critically and our ideas evolve. If we agreed on all things we’d be prone to unhealthy convictions. Disagreement is generally healthy and can lead to advanced resolutions and we do tend to form ideas which blend. By the way you spelt Hoffmann wrong.

• In fairness to the Inquirer, the majority of people tuned into this are not here for academic discussion; they are interested in debate, and that involves assuming an argumentative position, usually fixed and unyielding, and winning. It’s pretty common in atheist and freethought circles–and I see nothing wrong with it in context–but of course, trying to settle a question like this can’t be done as though the goal were to score points. I just want to say that modern universities couldn’t exist if fixed positions ruled the waves. We had that once: it was called the Middle Ages. Debates ruled; discussion was unheard of. Sic et Non, up or down, the advantage being, the Church always had the final answer.

17. Enigma

Question for Carrier fans: GIven the revolutionary nature of Dr. Carrier’s argument, can you please cite the article where he makes his case? I’m not interested in blog posts or popular books. I’m looking for the peer-reviewed journal article(s).

Perhaps we are trying to swallow the whole elephant, and would have better luck digesting it one bite at a time.

I’m a supporter of the use of BT in historical analysis, but there are more basic issues that should probably be addressed first, before trying to answer the question ‘Is BT relevant to historical analysis?’.

If there is agreement on some more basic issues, that could provide common grounds for further discussion of the relevance or irrelevance of BT. If there is disagreement on the more basic issues, then further discussion of the merits of BT are likely to be unproductive, because the real issues are at a more basic level.

The more basic issues I have in mind are: ‘Are quantified probabilities relevant to historical analysis?’ and ‘Are logical/mathematical manipulations of quantified probabilities relevant to historical analysis?’

I also have a specific example in mind for each of these more basic questions:

Quantified Probabilities were used by the Jesus Seminar. (The Five Gospels, p.36-37). The 0 to 1.0 scale is not explicitly stated to be a scale of probabilities, but given the descriptions on page 36, this is a natural way of interpreting the 0 to 1.0 scale. Is such a quantification of probability of authenticity helpful, useful, and relevant to historical analysis?

Logical/Mathematical manipulation of quantified probabilities was used by Robert Stein in a skeptical argument about Q in Jesus the Messiah, p.39 & 40. Stein assigns estimated probabilities to various assumptions related to Q, and then uses the simple rule of multiplication to derive the low probability that all of the set of assumptions about Q are correct. The assumptions are supposedly required by any attempt at reconstruction of the original text of Q, and so Stein concludes that we should be skeptical about such efforts.

I don’t necessarily buy Stein’s argument, but it seems to me that his use of the simple multiplication rule on quantified probabilities is useful, helpful, and relevant to the presentation of his skeptical argument about reconstructions of Q.

• It has been a while since I read Stein, but I don’t recall he used Bayes and almost all recent discussion uses some form of “probability” calculus that grows organically from the sourses and incorporate basic hermeneutical principles. Am I wrong about Stein? I am looking at Mark Goodacre’s reaction to it, which calls it weak and a little unbalanced. As a judgement, however, I should have thought that the Jesus Seminar would have been a billboard warning against putting faith in probabilistic calculus in biblical studies.

Correct. Stein does not use Bayes Theorem in the argument I mentioned. He uses a simple multiplication rule:

If claim X has a probability of .8 and claim Y has a probability of .6, and if the probability of X is independent of the probability of Y, then the probability of it being the case that both X and Y are true is equal to the product of the probability of X and the probability of Y, which in this example is .8 x .6 = .48 or .5 rounded to one significant figure.

I was trying to get away from arguing about BT and to focus on more basic questions about the use of quantified probabilities.

It sounds like there is no disagreement here about the relevance of quantified probabilities in historical analysis.

It also sounds like there is no disagreement here about the relevance of logical/mathematical manipulation of quantified probabilities in historical analysis.

Did I understand you correctly?

• David Mills

I believe someone once said that mathematizing history is like dancing about architecture. Or something like that.

At a fundamental level, I doubt if it is possible for the human mind to rationally analyse anything, including historical data/evidence, without resort to logic, maths, statististics and probability, at least informally. I think that the danger arises when it becomes a formalized approach, because the input data is usually heavily assumptive. I don’t think maths is designed to answer historical questions.

On the other hand, nor, it seems to me, is the criterion of embarrassment, so perhaps there is a case for both, so long as their degree of reliability is understood, and they are not used, at least not on their own, to support or justify any conclusions.

19. First of all the Jesus Seminar failed to be useful in furthering historical knowledge and determining reliable historical critical method or establishing convincing arguments for historical evidence. In fact, “The Jesus of the Westar project is a talking doll with a questionable repertoire of thirty-one sayings. Pull a string and he blesses the poor” (RJH 1993). Second Robert Stein has not been helpful in critical analysis. He teaches at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and is a fundamentalist Christian as demonstrated in Jesus the Messiah: A Survey of the Life of Christ.

“Without an openness to the supernatural, the result of any investigation of the life of Christ has predetermined that the resulting Jesus will be radically different from the Jesus who was born of a virgin, was anointed by the Spirit, healed the sick, raised the dead, died for the sins of the world, rose from the dead and ascended into heaven. Yet it is this supernatural Jesus that humanity desperately needs, for only this supernatural Jesus can bridge the gap between human sin and God’s holiness. What the world so critically needs is a Savior, but only a supernatural Jesus can be a Savior….In writing this work I have assumed the presence of the supernatural in the life of Jesus. In other words, this life of Christ has been written from a believer’s viewpoint.”(Jesus the Messiah, p. 13)

Stein considers the virgin birth, Herod’s slaughter of the children, and the visit of the three wise men to be historical incidents. Stein concludes by saying that the life of Jesus did not end with the crucifixion, as Jesus rose from the dead and will return on the last day.

Bradley, you suggest: “It sounds like there is no disagreement here about the relevance of quantified probabilities in historical analysis. It also sounds like there is no disagreement here about the relevance of logical/mathematical manipulation of quantified probabilities in historical analysis.”

We discuss probability in relation to sources and characteristics of authors in textual interpretation, but the quantified probabilities that you are referring to, and manipulation of such, are agreed by most historians to be unhelpful for application to complex and composite historical texts. They don’t allow for human inconsistencies and fluctuations and composite nature of the texts and they are dependent on assumptions being consistently true and ‘unarguable’. There are no short cuts in method. Method is constantly evaluated and careful and cautious critical application of appropriate criteria continually assessed. We do not declare that continual discussion and evaluation in conjunction with new evidence and argument, is declaration of failure. However that is the unbelievable assumption of the author of ‘Proving History’.

• Candor for a moment: Even if it could be argued that BT is useful for historical studies, and I do not grant that, it is far from clear that biblical studies and historical studies are the same thing. I will be happy to unpack that comment in another space. But for now let me make it abundantly clear that BT is not useful for biblical studies as biblical studies currently works. To put to rest any fears, I do not mean by this that “The Bible” is immune from historical analysis, but the way in which raw data can be extracted is far different and more susceptible of linguistic, anthropological and hermeneutical approaches prior to any operations that can be described as simply “historical.” Not coincidentally, the mythtics make most of their errors at these levels. As far as I know, Carrier & Co., Doherty, Godfrey and Verenna for example, have no qualifications at all to be doing research in biblical studies. I am fascinated by work in linguistic anthropology–even have a Masters degree in the area–but would e terribly gun shy about writing a professional article in the subject since I have nothing beyond that and have never studied the field in depth. So I have to ask: what makes these guys so confident, if not their errant presuppositions, that anyone who can read can read and make scholarly pronouncements about the Bible. Worse, when corrected, they pronounce the whole field askew and themselves right. That is not the way serious scholarship works–and I think, in their heart of hearts they must know that they are simply playing a game.

• David Mills

Fresh as I am from a lively discussion on another forum where those arguing the case for an historical Jesus were keen to stress that biblical studies and ancient history share the same methodology, and that this lends credibility to the former, I would be curious to briefly know what distinction you would draw between biblical studies and history generally.

History is, ultimately, a humanity, arguably at least in part an art. Furthermore, when the subject matter is ancient history, and ‘hard’ evidence is largely lacking (primary and secondary evidence, archaeology etc) then it seems to me it becomes, for any similar figure, a matter of assessing texts, and this will probably pull in considerations of linguistics, hermeneutics and anthroplogy.

I hear what you say about a particularly important need for an appreciation of the subtleties in this case, and would agree up to a point, but I can’t help sometimes thinking that there is a related issue, that if we step off the well worn track of historiographical method, we may inevitably (I sometimes think) need to admit that the ground becomes quite soft, in epistological terms.

Perhaps my, er, concern is best summed up by my saying that I don’t find it reassuring that even a scholar as qualified as E. P. Sanders can say (and I’m paraphrasing from memory here) that the evidence for Jesus is on a par with the evidence for Alexander the Great, and perhaps better, since the nature of the evidence for the latter does not generally allow us to work out what Alexander thought.

In other words, I wonder if Jesus isn’t a special case, in some ways, because he is treated as a special case. 🙂

• @David: Sorry for the delay–I am behind on moderation. Biblical studies is far more composite than what is usually classified “ancient history”; they obviously are not identical fields–not least because a great deal of textual and physical biblical history is pre-ancient and has more in common with archaeology and anthropology–and biblical studies isn’t a subset of ancient history because the primary artifacts have different historical and cultural origins. At the same time, there could be no such thing as a conclusion which would be “true” for ancient history that is not also “true” for biblical studies at a factual level. Maybe your source was trying to discuss biblical history and archaeology which is one piece of biblical studies. It has probably contributed at least as much to the study of ancient history as the study of ancient history has ever contributed to it, especially in the study and authentication of texts and dating. Finally, and far more closely related to biblical studies is classics and what used to be designated philology (historical and descriptive linguistics/linguisitic anthropology) where much of the heavy lifting usually then made available to historians of the ancient world is actually performed. I remember thinking it odd that Richard Carrier took umbrage when Bart Ehrman called him a “classicist” and how eager he was to distance himself from that designation–when he should have taken it as a compliment. My own field is patristics and early Christianity; I would frankly be unable to function if I weren’t first and foremost a classicist. As to Jesus being a special case: I think I said pretty clearly in my own wrticle that the field of New Testament studies is infested with the belief in the divinity of Jesus and that this has had methodological implications for the way the literature has been treated. But perhaps you are saying something different?

• David Mills

@ Joseph

Not being an historian, I can only say that my impression of ancient history generally is that it too is composite, in terms of all the various strands of inquiry and analysis that you mentioned. Though I accept distinctions for different circumstances, obviously.

I suppose what I am asking is if we, any of us, were to forage for “true facts” (double inverted commas intentional there :)) about any minor figure from ancient history, then why would we adpot a different approach for this figure, Jesus? Or, are we going in the direction of saying he is an unusual case, evidentially?

I think I may as well be candid here, becaue I think you appreciate I have no sharp axes to grind. Is it possible that Jesus has become over-analysed? Do some scholars, immersed as they have been dring a lifetime of study, lose sight of the fact that at bottom, the evidence is, er, ultimately ,not strong’?

My basic position is that if you presented me with another figure having the same set of accounts and evidences, I believe i would be justified in having doubts.

Stephanie Fisher – Thank you for taking the time to respond to my comments. I agree with your assessment of Mr. Stein.

My point was not that Mr. Stein is a great Jesus scholar and that since he uses BT, we ought to all jump on the bandwagon with him.

So far as I know Mr. Stein may well have never used BT in any argument about the historical Jesus.

My point was a much more humble one. Although Mr. Stein may not be much of a Jesus scholar, he did manage to produce at least one interesting argument, not necessarily a good argument either, but a skeptical argument that is interesting, at least to me. It may well be a bad argument that commits the fallacy of Straw Man or that is based on some questionable probability claims in his premises.

Nevertheless, on this one particular occasion, perhaps the only one in his career, Mr. Stein used quantified probabilities and the simple multiplication rule of probability, and I think that in doing so he enhanced his argument. Even if the argument fails to establish its conclusion, it is a better argument because of his use of quantified probabilities and use of the simple multiplication rule.

He could have presented the argument without doing this. He could have said “Look, there are a whole bunch of assumptions that scholars who are attempting to reconstruct the original text of Q are making, and none of those assumptions is certain, each is only probable at best, so given that there are many such assumptions it is very likely that at least one of them will turn out to be mistaken.” But his point was more precise and more logically rigorous by his assigning probability estimates to various assumptions that allegedly are being made by those attempting to reconstruct the original text of Q.

I’m just saying that I think there are some instances where quantified probabilities and mathematical calculations involving probabilities can enhance an argument that relates to the historical Jesus.

It appears to me that neither you nor Mr. Hoffman disagree with this point, so perhaps my example was not necessary.

• David Mills

Antonio,

If BT turned out positive estimates of probability in this case, I doubt there would be such an issue.

I’m kidding. 🙂

I see the historian Christopher McCullough has a chapter on the use of statistics in history in his book, ‘Justifying Historical Descriptions’. You can actually read it online here:

I just love the last part of this sentence from the publisher’s blurb, because as with Rolf Torstendahl, it seems to sum up what i consider to be the most interesting, perhaps even crucial, though not in my experience often aired aspect of the matter:

‘The author concludes that no historical description can be finally proved, and that we are only ever justified in believing them for certain practical purposes.’

Incidentally, I believe McCullough has a particular interest in early Christianity, and is a committed Christian himself.

David – Thank you for the Google Book reference to Justifying Historical Descriptions. Pages 58 and 59 have a couple of objections to the use of BT in relation to inferences from general knowledge to singular historical claims.

McCullagh argues that statistical inferences are much more common in historical reasoning of this sort, and that statistical inferences are superior to inference to best explanation (p. 46).

The pattern of statistical inference involves two premises involving probability, in which the probabilities are multiplied to yield the probability conferred on the conclusion by that particular evidence (not taking into account other evidence which might either confirm or dis-confirm the conclusion):

1. There is a probability (of the degree p1) that whatever is an A is a B.
2. It is probable (to the degree p2) that this is an A.
Therefore (relative to these premises):
3. It is probable (to the degree p1 x p2) that this is a B.

(see p.48)

So, it appears that McCullagh agrees that quantified probabilities and mathematical calculation using those quantified probabilities has an important role to play in historical reasoning, esp. the use of the simple rule of multiplication.

I had Chinese take out for dinner last night, and my fortune cookie contained this message: “Mathematics will figure in a fortunate occasion for you this week.” What are the chances of getting this fortune this week? (Perhaps a sign from God for me to sing the praises of probability calculations?).

I’m no math whiz. Never had a course in statistics. Only took algebra and trig in college….many decades ago. But I do enjoy math, and try to use it whenever I can in my reasoning, especially probability.

John Locke was a believer in probability. It made a nice contrast between his empiricist attitude and that of Descartes and Spinoza, who tried to turn philosophy into a branch of Geometry, with their deductive metaphysical ‘proofs’.

Locke focused probability as the critical thinker’s alternative to the unmerited and unmitigated certainty of religious enthusiasts. Like Locke, probability reminds me of our limitations as humans, and of the difficulty of achieving certainty, as well as the suspicion that is appropriate to feel towards those who frequently assert their beliefs to be certain.

I especially appreciate quantified probabilities, because they provide a bit more precision than ordinary language terms, such as ‘probable’, ‘very probable’, ‘improbable’, ‘very improbable’, ‘almost certain’, and so on. Even when the data does not clearly imply a particular probability (like .73), it is at least helpful to know the degree of confidence someone places in a claim or assumption (a probability of .6 or .7 is significantly different than a probability of .9, although .7 might be said to be ‘very probable’ in some instances, and .9 expressed as simply ‘probable’ in some instances).

Multiplication of probabilities, when multiple assumptions are required to get to a conclusion, is a simple bit of math, but I think it is common to fail to appreciate this little bit of logic.

In my job (Project Management) a common failure of project management is the failure to recognize this bit of logic. If you have a schedule with consecutive tasks A, B, and C, where task A must complete prior to starting task B, and B must complete prior to starting C, each task having a high probability of completing on time (say .8), people often fail to see how it is somewhat probable that such a schedule will fail to complete on time. Since each task must complete on time for the project to complete on time, the probability of the project completing on time is .8 x .8 x .8 = .512 or .5 rounded to one significant figure. Although each individual task is very likely to complete on time, the three phase project has only a 50/50 chance of completing on time. It is very common for people to fail to do this simple bit of reasoning and to recognize the degree of risk that the project will fail to complete on time.

I also look on conditional probability with a significant degree of affection.

P (A/B) means The probability that A is the case, given that B is the case.

A basic principle of probability is that the probability of a claim is always relative to a body of evidence or assumptions. So, the little slash mark serves as a constant reminder (to me) of how our beliefs and claims are bound by point of view. Good scholarly writing generally begins with a statement of ones basic assumptions.

Mr. Hoffmann, for example, listed several background assumptions about first century Palestine in one of his comments here concerning whether there was an historical Jesus. There are many such assumptions made by Jesus scholars, assumptions that may be generally accepted by other Jesus scholars, but not by all. For example, that Matthew and Luke used a written copy of Mark as one of their main sources is a common assumption made by most Jesus and NT scholars, but this assumption is not universally accepted. So, it is good to lay out such assumptions at the beginning of a book or article, so others can see the point of view in which one’s thinking is grounded.

It is entirely possible to spend one’s life thinking and reasoning from a particular point of view, only to discover late in life that this point of view is fundamentally in error. This is a sad and even tragic event for someone who loves to think and make intellectual discoveries, but it is an unavoidable risk of being a finite and limited human being.

In any case, the little slash in conditional probability reminds me that not only should my beliefs generally be ‘probable’ rather than ‘certain’ but also that there is an additional layer of uncertainty in all human thinking, which is the unavoidable fact that we must always think from some point of view or other, from one particular set of assumptions rather than another set, and that those assumptions themselves are subject to doubt, dis-confirmation, or revision in the light of new evidence.

• “Mathematics will figure in a fortunate occasion for you this week.”

I have not studied Carrier’s articles proposing BT as the solution to ‘the problem’ of ‘invalid or defective’ methodology in historical Jesus studies. So, I’m not in a position to pass judgment on his proposal.

It does seem, on the face of it, to be a rather implausible proposal, like suggesting the use of Venn diagrams or symbolic logic to turn philosophy into a science. I have nothing against Venn diagrams or symbolic logic, but (a) bad philosophy will not be fixed by such technical means, and (b) philosophy is not and never will be a science.

But there appears to be an interesting disagreement here over whether or not there is a crisis or dramatic turning point in historical Jesus studies, where an old paradigm is being widely challenged and there is a scramble to develop a new approach.

Another question, perhaps the unmentioned elephant in the living room, is whether historical Jesus studies can or should be scientific. Your comment about consensus strikes me as hitting on that issue:

“It is presently too early to expect a consensus, even on methods, among all critical scholars, in view of new evidence and new argument especially since the 1970s and in view of more recent developments in Aramaic scholarship. Consensus involving ideological extremes is impossible and this has a regrettable effect on the most critical scholarship because all critical scholars are human beings who necessarily begin and continue their lives within some kind of social framework.”

The idea that is is ‘too early’ to expect consensus on methods seems like special pleading to me, and pointing to some recent change in the field is irrelevant, because the same point could be made about any alleged scholarly or scientific field, including pseudo sciences such as astrology and Scientology.

But the problem of the failure to arrive at consensus among historical Jesus experts is one that cannot be easily side-stepped. Chemistry and biology don’t vary according to ideology. There is no ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’ chemistry. No ‘Christian’ verses ‘Hindu’ biology. We have international and cross-cultural consensus in the sciences, but cannot even get American Christian Jesus scholars to come to any consensus about the historical Jesus.

Please say a bit more about your views on historical analysis, science, and the problem of lack of consensus about the historical Jesus.

• “But the problem of the failure to arrive at consensus among historical Jesus experts is one that cannot be easily side-stepped.” I don’t think anyone is. It was experts in Christian origins who identified the problem, which is a residuum of source analysis–pretty technical stuff–which I’d be happy to demonstrate–which is precisely why packing the problem into predictive templates (see Albert’s useful comment on “Proving What?”) is useless. Given many of the same assumptions that are piled onto different species of ancient literature, I can plausibly argue that Alexander and Pythagoras did not exist and that he rose from the dead.

As far as I can see, it is a simple cart-horse problem which certain probablists are trying to apply to dead horses and dysfunctional carts. “There is no ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’ chemistry. No ‘Christian’ verses ‘Hindu’ biology. We have international and cross-cultural consensus in the sciences, but cannot even get American Christian Jesus scholars to come to any consensus about the historical Jesus.” As you must know, these are obvious points; but then you cannot expect history to work like the pure sciences and mathematics, which is not to say that there are not relatively sophisticated and relatively objective methods for dealing with questions of evidence and composition. Besides, consensus as to method has never been an end in itself in scholarship; consensus is not the same as finding the right method, and in historical studies, conclusions remain to be overturned by the next “find,” as happened with the Dead Sea scrolls and the Nag Hammadi documents—which btw, the mythtics hardly ever mention as having toppled some of their pillar assumptions. Please try to avoid using emotive terms like “American Christian Jesus scholars”–I do not deny their existence, if you mean people who practice their religion through their scholarship; for historical reasons, we have more of our share in the United States. But no one who drives research forward in this area is unaware of the special burden they represent–just as there are apparently “respected” scientists out there who deny global warming and claim to use the same method that other scientists use. Where is your consensus then?

• David Mills

@ Joseph

Briefly, what parts of some mythicist assumptions would you say are incompatible with the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hammadi documents?

Mark Powell’s survey of modern historical Jesus scholars does, as Carrier states, “the whole confusion of contradictory opinions that has resulted from applying these methods” [i.e. the methods used for distinguishing authentic sayings and deeds of Jesus from inauthentic sayings and deeds.

However, it is important to note that what modern historical Jesus scholars have in common, is those methods, and Powell sees no problem with that fact:

“…scholars will usually rely most heavily on those sources that they determine to be the earliest. …some scholars rely more heavily upon certain criteria than others. Some also modify the criteria that are defined here, in an attempt to apply them with more precision than their peers. For now though, let us list six factors that, in one way or another, come into consideration for almost all researchers studying the historical Jesus.” (Jesus as a Figure in History, p.46)

Powell then covers: multiple attestation, dissimilarity, memorable content or form, language & environment, explanation, and coherence (p.46-50).

Jesus scholars covered by Powell’s book are: John Crossan, Marcus Borg, E.P. Sanders, John Meier, and N.T. Wright.

Carrier also quotes James Charlesworth:

“James Charlesworth concurs, concluding that ‘what had been perceived to be a developing consensus in the 1980s has collapsed into a chaos of opinions.’ ”

Again, Charlesworth does not draw the conclusion that Carrier does from this lack of consensus among modern historical Jesus scholars:

“What are the most reliable methods for discerning Jesus’ own traditions recorded by the Evangelists? Five are major.” (The Historical Jesus: An Essential Guide, p.20)

Charlesworth then goes on to describe the following five methods:
embarrassment, dissimilarity, multiple attestation, coherence, Palestinian Jewish setting/historical plausibility. (p.20-27). He then describes ten “additional supporting methods” (p.27-30).

Powell and Charlesworth acknowledge the diversity of views and lack of consensus among modern Jesus scholars, but they don’t see this as implying a crisis for the methodology used in historical Jesus research.

• @Brad: Yes, good points: Variety of method and even theories of method are not indicative of “chaos.” Even if you are using the term scientific method as a norm, it doesn’t consist of a single approach “but refers to a body of techniques for investigating phenomena, acquiring new knowledge, or correcting and integrating previous knowledge” (Goldhaber, 2010) The Oxford English Dictionary says that scientific method is “a method or procedure that has characterized natural science since the 17th century, consisting in systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses…” The way in which the method works on empirical data–microbes for example– will obviously differ from the way it is applied to historical data or social phenomena.

20. “Yet it is this supernatural Jesus that humanity desperately needs, for only this supernatural Jesus can bridge the gap between human sin and God’s holiness”

Didn’t we do this already for 1500 some odd years ? but we need more of the same………….lol

Also of major importance is that all supernatural events need to be understood on other levels beyond a literal past,a Gnosis so to speak…………..

• I was quoting a fundamentalist Christian, Stein, who is completely out of touch with ciritical historical analysis of texts. He was professing his convictions of faith. Critical scholarship distinguishes the difference between myth and plausible reality in texts. Gnosticism is a completely separate matter.

21. Still Steph, the distinctions the Critical scholars make between myth and plausible reality are contained in a vacuum of one dimensional literal interpretation in a piece of literature that is Spiritual. What is spiritual? Well beyond the material literal understanding for sure.

Example: Jesus walks on water is dismissed by historians as a myth, prop for the story or legend when taken in the literal sense however it is as oblivious as skating on ice,a walk in the park or a piece of cake if one considers waters are none other than the cares, riches and pleasures of the world and being able to enter one of the three heavens in this flesh and blood body as Paul mentioned one is not sinking into deeps of the waters attractions and aversions of worldly existence (Equanimity) It’s not like these states of consciousness have not been fully quantified in the east as the 8 Jhanas as well as in Pistis Sophia and the NHC or even the born again experience. Waters is also symbolic of the second chakra responsible for the whole host of attractions and aversions of the other kind…..lol…(sexual)

One cannot surgically remove un-plausible reality inherent for the overall comprehension of the story and expect anything other than a butchered unrecognizable patient.
The only solution is that Critical scholars must join John of the Cross or Ibn Arabi and become Scholar mystic ships and plunge past the dark night of critical material literalism.

Ps I am a natural redhead………lol……….really

• I think Joe is right: ‘when corrected, they pronounce the whole field askew and themselves right. That is not the way serious scholarship works–and I think, in their heart of hearts they must know that they are simply playing a game.’ I think perhaps the alarming over confidence, there is still a conviction that it really is all just a game.

• or rather ‘despite’ the alarming over confidence.

• Antonio Jerez

Steph,
I think you are on to something. I often get the impression that for people like Richard Carrier and Neil Godfrey the search for the non-existent Jesus is just an intellectual game. It´s like they are testing a very odd idea to see how far they can stretch things by making intellectual acrobatics (Bayes theorem.. etc etc), making extremely farfetched mythological analogies (Comparing the death of Hercules with the death of Jesus etc etc) and thereby earn some adulation by a lot of others fools and incompetents on the Internet who think heroes like Carrier, Doherty and Godfrey have finally given a deathly blow to Christianity by sheer brainpower.

22. Ken Scaletta

I would agree. Carrier strikes me not so much as an objective investigator as a hired expert witness. He’s qualified and smart enough to know how to massage and frame the data to support a desired conclusion, but it feels forced and predisposed and leans on tendentious interpretations and connections. I don’t think he’s generally reckless or dishonest. His stuff is presented in a superficially logical way, and he’s not irresponsible about facts or sources, but his arguments come off more as “clever” to me than revelatory.

• think Neil is a little bit miffed my brief essay wasn’t all about him. Like Carrier he has gone to great lengths to contradict a slight allusion. Perhaps he was just too irrelevant. He thinks his ‘skills’ in analysis ought to have been celebrated and I’m a little astonished he still doesn’t quite grasp his abuse of Schweitzer. Never mind – he has his own soap box.

23. David Mills

@ Steph and Joseph.

As a percentage, where would you normally choose to put the strength of your view that Jesus existed, with zero as total certainty that he didn’t, 100 as total certainty that he did and 50 as completely neutral.

Yes, I know it’s a hugely oversimplified question. On the other hand, it can be interesting, and potentially constructive, because a lot of the time those discussing this hot topic can appear to slide, perhaps needlessly, into either the 0-10 trench or the 90-100 trench and end up lobbing points across a no man’s land.

Same question to any other poster who is interested in giving their answer.

For myself, I tend to fluctuate between 45 and 60, that is to say not far away from neutral and if anything usually falling slightly on the side of historicity. A few years ago, I would have said always slightly on the side of historicity, but I have widened my range a tad. 🙂

• @David: If you begin with facts that are supported by general agreement: Rome existed, the province of Palestine existed, the Herodians existed, Pilate existed, apocalyptic Judaism existed, radical political and dissident religious parties existed, food rules existed, sexual apartheid between men and women existed, sects existed, the Herodian bulding proejct existed, “publicans” existed, eschatological preachers existed, the Galil ha’goyim called Galilee in the the gospels existed, magicians and healers existed, cults existed, the cruicifixion of bandits and troublemakers existed, messiahs existed, baptism existed, both rabinical and synagogue Judaism (we now know for sure) existed, the Sanhedrin existed, Caiphas existed, Greek as a lingua franca of Judaea existed, Aramaic as a language of both Judaea and the region existed, .. I will stop, but not because I am out of items. Does parsimony then lead you to the following: Jesus of Nazareth, who is perfectly typical of this context, did not exist. Or are you basing an argument for non-historicity on exceptions (e.g., syanagogue Judaism may have existed but there may not have been one in Nazareth…)–or something more visercal (Resurrections and sons of god don’t exist…) or something conspiratorial (All Cretans are liars; the gospels are written by Cretans)? It seems to me an exception to the clear historicity of context would have to use some extrapolation of one or more of those bases.

The seduction of BT, for those easily seduced, is merely that Carrier is using it like a priestly argot to impresss his followers; in fact, everyone knows that Bayes is nothing more than a logic game performed on premises devised by the machine operator. Stuff in sausage out. In Carrier’s Bayes machine, the assumptions and the values are Carrier’s; Bayes is just the system. Onlookers need to be clear about that before they think this is really about degrees of certainty in relation to facts as opposed to degrees of confidence in propositions. In (for the sake of argument) John Q. Fundamentalist’s Bayes machine, the variables will be different and so will the unarguable conclusion. I am happy to play the plausibility game because that is where research takes us. But I’m not at all persuaded that throwing probability dust at unsorted assumptions–many of them real absurdities and worn down by age and criticism–gets us closer to facts. BT deals with probability as the data are loaded into the system; and anyone knows that probability in logic has nothing necessarily to do with factuality.

• David Mills

@ Joseph.

You don’t need to convince me to be sceptical about the application of BT here. I already have enough reservations not to give it undue weight, so I agree with you on that.

As to your initial question, and here I hope you will appreciate that I am temporarily considering one side of an argument which I consider to be undecided in overall terms, I would simply say this, that being plausible in context seems qite a separate thing from historicity for an individual, not least because figures who are or were taken to be historical but about whom there are doubts, often fit plausibly into the context of accounts concerning them. Muhammad al Mahdi is one example which springs to mind, but there are many others, Prester John, Buddha, Budai, Krishna, Ned Ludd, William tell, Betty crocker, John Frum, Paul Bunyan…..so I am not sure how much weight to give to that.

IMO, there are features of the evidence which are in favour of historicity, and there are features which aren’t, and when I either add up the former, starting from a hypothetical zero, or alternatively start from 1 and deduct according to the shortcomings and conta-indicators, I find myself close to 0.5 in both cases.

• David Mills

@ Joseph. Whoops, that was meant to be ‘contra-indicators’ and ‘quite’, not conta-indicators and qite.

• Ken Scaletta

I think you have to define “Jesus” here. I’ve found that it’s difficult to pin mythicists down on what would constitute a “Historical Jesus,” or what would falsify mythicism. I’ve generally try to unload the question by completely ignoring the Gospels and asking whether the basic Tacitus claim is inherently implausible. I’ve found that some of them, if pushed, will grant that some kind of historical crucifixion is possible, or that some real personality cult lies at the root of Christian origins but they are vague about whether this is sufficient to constitute a Historical Jesus. To some of them, it seems, only Bible Jesus is Jesus, and Bible Jesus didn’t exist, ergo Jesus didn’t
exist.

• ROO BOOKAROO

You’re touching the real problem.
And it is not one for the mythicists alone, it’s equally true for the historicists.
For us, being born in the 20th century, how do we approach the concept of “Jesus”? What is the phenomenological birth and growth of the concept in a 20th century brain? It’s got to start with the Christian Churches, the Bible documents, the popular images and icons of the Christ on the Cross. Has it not struck you that Christianity seems to be the only religion universally adoring the image of a corpse?
Anyway, if you don’t start with the Jesus Christ of the Bible, how on earth are you ever going to define or clarify the mental concept of “Jesus”?
When Paul was writing his letters, how come his recipients were fustigated for listening to “other” Gospels of the Christ. Who were those other apostles competing with Paul? How come they were already there? Was there a pre-existing concept of Jesus Christ already circulating and different from Paul’s? Were there many Christs being already preached around the Meditteranean when Paul was travelling?
Gabriel in Luke’s annunciation gives the future baby the name of Jesus, “the Son of the Most High,”. After the birth, an angel is kind enough to come down and advertise the event to the shepherds out in the field: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” This Jesus was a “Savior”.

Whichever way you take it, our concept of Jesus starts with the Christ of the Bible, the one and only divine Jesus.
Then it’s up to you how to define your concept of Jesus stripped of divinity, and reduced to a normal human figure, and make sure that you can make it clearly identifiable from the multitude of other Jesuses crowding the early manuscripts of the 1st and 2d centuries.

If this figure turns out to be a pale shadow lost in the mists of times, how do we know we’re still dealing with a residue of our original Jesus? This is homeopathic theology or would-be history. Strip, reduce, dilute, bury in the fog, and you’re still dealing with Jesus? What Jesus?
Your final remarks are just a little too glib for the fundamental problem.

• @Roo: There are interesting points but a few too many assumptions in this comment. My Schweitzer is not in front of me (he is probably in front of Steff, who thinks of him as her Schweitzer) but at the conclusion of the QofHJ he says that the Jesus of the popular mind and of the church has died a death of a thousand cuts–indeed, that that Jesus never really lived. Almost all critical Christian origins scholars agree with that assessment. I know I do. And most would also say that contemporary investigation began with that challenge; it didn’t end there. Your further point however — that you are left with a cipher — is simply not correct. And the tendency of the mythtics, who conflate the results of 19th and 20th century scholarship with their own hyper-view of “how it really happened,” is simply an attempt to fill in the gaps with fluff instead of the hard cement and reasoned conclusions based in real research. The Jesus of later Christian doctrine who had no historical existence is no more the cul de sac to investigation of the Jesus who did than the Augustus who became a god by proclamation would be an end of inquiry into the life and works of Octavian. In fact, what was done with and to the image of Jesus is also entirely plausible within its historical context: this is the way signifcant men were memorialized. We don’t get any sort of record of insignificant events and men. –Except of course Augustus had a Livy and even a Vergil and Jesus had nothing like it. Plus, as Helmut Koester used to remind his students, papyrus was expensive.

• ROO BOOKAROO

“I think you have to define “Jesus” here.” Sure, and that it s the problem.
Accepting the divine Jesus is no problem. You simply absorb whatever the churches or theologians are willing to push down your throat, or your brain.
Modern existence deniers have a simple solution: they finesse the problem entirely.
Ancient skeptics couldn’t swallow the tall tales and thought that Christians were inventing their Jesus Christ.
Modern mythicists reject the whole construction altogether. Clean the table, label all the Christian documents as great literature, or interesting fictions, or a subtle invention of a new mystery cult (an attractive hypothesis), or see in your new God a Gnostic spirit floating somewhere and connected by holy radio to human brains. Sublunar? Why not? Supralunar and in the clouds? Why not?
Or a construct of a preacher spewing out Seneca-like wisdom, like with Bruno Bauer, or cynic-like morality, as is the modern fashion? Any way you want to conceive this imaginary figure.

But the problem is more acute for historicists. They can’t sweep all the biblical stuff under the carpet. Something has to be salvaged. What? Jesus as a “historical man”? What man? Why is he called Jesus? How is he differentiated from the thousand of Jesuses in Palestine history?
And if he is lost in the mist of times, what can we say about this phantomatic figure? Why is that nearly evanescent shadow still Jesus?

Herakles didn’t exist? Fine, suit yourself. But then, why did this Jesus (assuming we’ve satisfied Ken Scaletta’s inquisitive mind) exist? On what basis? What on earth do we know of him?
Thomas Paine thought it was philanthropy. Or are we constructing and inventing another Jesus? Schweitzer thought so. What was his criterion for spotting the existence of Jesus? His immense “spiritual” influence that descended through the ages to him. Spiritualism was a rage in Europe and the States at the end of the 19th century. Schweitzer’s Jesus joined the crowd of famous spiritual influences.

And why does Bart Ehrman, undisputedly a fine brain, feel that he has to produce a book “proving” the existence of Jesus? He’s declared that he’s the first one to do so. Really? Nobody had done it before? Never mind the spate of books on “Jesus: Myth or History?” produced since the late 19th century, all the way to 1946.
Once we’ve rejected the Jesus of divine origin, the questions of who is this historical Jesus? How do we get to him? Who is this man Jesus? have no obvious immediate answers.

Ken Scaletta has a great point. It touches on the phenomenological perception of Jesus, and beyond that the mental definition of a “historical” Jesus. You have to analyze your own brain to discover what you mean by a “historical Jesus”. Empty sentences on the generalities of “good” critical research don’t even get to it.

• @Roo: “But the problem is more acute for historicists. They can’t sweep all the biblical stuff under the carpet.” I think you just shot yourself in the foot. I suspect that even Carrier and Doherty might agree, though who can tell?

• ROO BOOKAROO

I don’t know about shooting oneself in the foot, or the mouth, or the head. I don’t get the answer.

I still don’t understand how a 20th century brain can “define” a historical Jesus by starting from thin air. What Jesus?
That brain has got to start from somewhere, and this starting point must be the concept and images presented and transmitted by the Bible documents. Historicists cannot escape starting from the original Biblical documents even to formulate any simple idea of Jesus.
Then they take out their scissors, like Thomas Jefferson, or they mark out the “mythical parts” like David Strauss, until by a process of elimination and reduction, they obtain a “residue” that they call the “historical” Jesus. So the whole process hinges on the reduction and cutting out process.

Otherwise I don’t understand how any “historical” Jesus can be defined and reached by a modern brain. Historicists are obliged to start with the Biblical material in order to reach a reduction which is the “historical ” component of their initial material.

The definition of the Jesus requested by Ken Scaletta will consist of outlining the process of elimination and reduction, and pointing to the residue, if there is any.
I don’t understand how else can a 20th century brain conceive any idea of a Jesus, if this brain is not connected by a mysterious radio to some mystical source of knowledge.

• “Still don’t understand how a 20th century brain can “define” a historical Jesus by starting from thin air. What Jesus?” There comes a point where Jesus denial borders on Holocaust denial and germ theory of disease denial: If you know of a reputable historical verdict achieved by major faculties that gets us to that point, I should like to hear about it. Or are you saying that the coven you belong to has all the answers, and the rest of scholarship is, in the words of Richard Carrier, fucked because it can’t bring itself to that conclusion. This is probation. Not a tutorial or a sounding board for your increasingly private views.

• The problem is, I think it’s not just ‘over simplified’ but it is an irrelevant question to the nature of responsible historical enquiry. Probability and parsimony can be useful in explanatory logic, like simple hypotheses, but neither reflect historical realities or incorporate literary complexity. For example the simple hypothesis of Q as a single written Greek document, when reconstructed and claimed to be a source for history, is not only flawed, forcing evidence where it does not fit for the sake of simplicity, but it is based on the assumption that it exists. It is therefore unhelpful and destructive to critical historical enquiry. As Joe says, “I’m not at all persuaded that throwing probability dust at unsorted assumptions–many of them real absurdities and worn down by age and criticism–gets us closer to facts.”

• David Mills

@ Steph. That may be your view, but it appears statistical analysis is accepted by some professional historians to have a minor role in historiography. How minor is probably up for grabs. But I don’t think it’s justified to say that is is blanket ‘destructive and unhelpful to critical historical enquiry’. My view is in no way to support carrier’s use of BT.

• ROO BOOKAROO

David Mills:

Not only it is a personal view, but it is an answer loaded with empty sentences and phrases. That’s the sad part of this blog.

Watch:
“an irrelevant question to the nature of responsible historical enquiry. ” What does that mean? Do you get it? I don’t.

“Probability and parsimony can be useful in explanatory logic, like simple hypotheses, but neither reflect historical realities or incorporate literary complexity”. Do you get it? I don’t.

“For example the simple hypothesis of [Q as a single written Greek document,] when reconstructed and claimed to be a source for history, is not only flawed, forcing evidence where it does not fit for the sake of simplicity, but it is based on the assumption that it exists. ” You get the part in bracket, but what about the part outside the brackets? Who wants to read that stuff?

“It is therefore unhelpful and destructive to critical historical enquiry. ” What does that really mean? Empty sentence.

““I’m not at all persuaded that throwing probability dust at unsorted assumptions–many of them real absurdities and worn down by age and criticism–gets us closer to facts.” Is there anything really said in here? Anything to learn? Or is it just empty text?

And reams after reams of this profound-sounding but really empty language are being offered as…as what indeed? Advice? Generalities? Platitudes? Or space fillers?
Which publisher would accept to publish this kind of empty text? Bewildering.
When it comes to factual pronouncements, they edge and equivocate, because they don’t want to be quoted later.
They’ll never give you your percentage of conviction.

• Dear Roo:

“Factual Pronouncements.” The only factual pronouncements you want to hear is Jesus did not exist. That is not factual. You have no way to corroborate this. But you speak of facts. You have evidently not read much in this area, but every comment is a bit worse and less knowledgeable than the one before. If you wish to whine about this, go and whine within the mythtic cult and not here. You seem to regard yourself as an arbiter of what counts as evidence. Silence is not evidence. Superficial analogies from indeterminate sources randomly assigned are not evidence. You proclaim your ignorance as though it was a credential, and sound very much like a sophomore when you say you don’t “get” things that, in order to be a meaningful participant in a discussion like this, you need to get. You are careless of fact, indifferent toward detail, dismissive of consensus and frankly just not very knowledgeable but want to be taken seriously. Why? I suggest you post your further comments on another site–because no one who is trying to engage the material has time to conduct the tutorial necessary to bring you up to speed. The only empty sentences I see here are your assertions that there are empty sentences. Other correspondents have been challenging on matters of fact and history. But not you. I think they have been treated rather well because, after all, truth comes from learning, not from digging holes in trenches and defending positions. There is another Harvard song, btw: http://www.math.harvard.edu/~knill/music/mar_24_2006/mar_24_2006_001.mp3

24. James

I’m a little late to this discussion but just to lend my support to Stephanie’s case and the good points she raises. Nothing much to add to her essay or the other cases made but we could really do without the sexist discourse attributed to “Roo Buckaroo” (!!) when the internet warrior says “this lady”.

• Thanks James. The cowardly Roo no relation to Kanga (except Disney’s)… he’s a dinosaur from the Victorian era and like NT Wright’s zombies, still haunting the globe. I have honestly never personally encountered this sort of sexism before. It’s not just inappropriate, it’s pathetic. Buckaroo… who would choose that!! Maybe Philip Philips.

25. David Mills

@ Steph and joseph

I see that neither of you wants to ascribe a figure. That’s perhaps understandable in one way, but also a bit puzzling, since surely you must lie somewhere on the spectrum of conviction?

The way it would be understandable would be if you think I am confusing a personal estimation with a mathematical probability, which would be silly. What I am asking is nothing more that what could be also expressed in language (and often is, in questionnaires and polls for example) as, ‘do you agree/disagree slightly, somewhat or strongly, or are you undecided.’

I won’t press this question. I just wanted to clarify that point. 🙂

• “Spectrum of conviction.” Gosh: was there a spectrum of conviction before probability? I suspect there was. Same as here was Plato before Aristotle. John before Jesus (whoops).
How’s this: I would be dumbfounded if, transported back to Jerusalem round about the time it is supposed to have happened, not to put too fine a point on it, an accused felon name Yeshua, pejoratively Yeshu ben Stada, but immortalized as Yshu ben h’enosh, was not sentenced to die by a Roman tribunal. Is that Okay? What do I have on my side: a collection of very early documents that only a very odd skepticism can trump. What do the mythicists have on theirs? A very odd skepticism based on silence, analogies that do not fit the picture, and private mythologies “more incredible than anything in a gospel.” Like Hercules. And David: I really have no confidence based on your comments that you have read my article. Sorry to say so. There are many better things to read on the topic–but interestingly, nobody at Carrierville and Vridarland is asking for suggestions–they are just batting away at whatever contradicts them.

• You haven’t demonstrated from the direction of your comments, a reasonable comprehension of Joe’s essay. Perhaps you have ‘read’ it but not read it. How can you fail to understand context means everything and expression in context is not expression in another context? How can you fail to understand that as scholarship makes progress, new evidence and argument take shape. Inspired by healthy discussion and debate, self critical independent critical thinking individuals form new ideas. Ideas evolve. Convictions stay the same and belong to fundamentalisms. Change of heart? Belongs to people with convictions without evidence and argument, who end up ‘changing heart’ and batting for the other side. Contrary conviction, no argument or evidence, new heart.

• Do you like playing games David?

• David Mills

When I came here, it was out of honest curiosity as to why someone changed their view from one to which I would subscribe to one to which I would not subscribe. If that was because of new evidence, or new reasoning, then what were the new bits?

I have no idea what you mean about playing games.

Regarding Joseph’s essay, I’m sure there may be elements of his argument which I do not fully appreciate. That’s a given, in the circumstances.

When the mythic and allegorical and supernatural features are stripped away from Jesus, there is no doubt that what is left can be a plausible person, in harmony with context. But surely, establishing plausibility in a context is not the same as establishing historicity, by a long chalk? To say that Jesus should not be compared to antecedent mythologies is one thing, but to say that he can’t be compared to other figures who were also plausible in context is another.

I might add that to an outsider, it seems that there are quite a variety of plausible Jesuses, with several versions being presented by different scholars.

• Probabilily games David.

As to seeming lack of comprehension of Joe’s essay, your direction of questioning dealt with issues discussed in his essay and you showed no signs of engaging with them, disagreeing, agreeing or acknowledging them.

And as to a number of plausible Jesuses eminating from recent critical scholarship, there are more agreements than disagreements and certain major socio-historical things can be agreed upon with evidence and argument. It is not a probability game. With constant evolution of methodology we make progress in ascertaining the reason for and shaping of Christian origins.

• probability… (plobiblee?)

• Antonio Jerez

I think some folks who have shown up in the discussion are playing games with us. Definitely Roo Bookaroo. The fact that they don´t dare show up with their real names on a site like this with academic standards show it. I wish that they could go to some islamology site and play intellectual games trying to prove that Mohammed never existed and that the Quaran was fabricated hundreds of years after the traditional dating.

26. David Mills

As an aside, when I discussed this topic with Earl Doherty on a different forum, he also felt that I hadn’t read his stuff, or if I had I hadn’t understood it, and indeed that I must be playing games of some sort. That’s not to compare or equate Joseph Hoffmann with Earl Doherty in terms of knowledge and expertize, but it is puzzling. I sometimes think that, in general terms, those on either side of a debate do really have trouble comprehending why some are not on any side, and so treat such people as if they were part of the other side.

• @David: Rest assured, my concern is not that anyone be “on my side” in this discussion. It is that a fair number of questions posed by you, and not just by you, seemed not to reflect the fact that I had dealt at some length with the issues in my article. My article deals with tips of tips of icebergs, so there would be nothing, of a big picture variety, to side with me about…

• David Mills

@ Joseph.

Thanks.

I have been in many a conversations on this fascinating topic. It seems to me there are two basic types. One is to go up close, close enough to analyse the pixels, to temporarily use a visual analogy, and the other is to step back and look at the overall. picture. IMO, both are important, perhaps equally so. This did not seem to be the place for the former. 🙂

That is why I restricted my response to your article to the general question, how can fit with context, no matter what level of conformity we find, go any closer to historicity than establishing plausibility?

Perhaps you would agree that it can’t. Perhaps you would say that it is a matter of comparing the relative coherence of various explanations. I can understand this argument, and accept that going with what may appear to be the ‘most plausible scenario’ option is sufficient for many thoughtful, intelligent people.

But I do think one has to opt for this definition of ‘convincing’ before the evidence is even inspected. Which is fine. In many respects that is what historians and scholars do.

For myself, I cannot say that if I were presented with an identical set of evidences and accounts for any other figure, that i would not have doubts.

27. Bayes is only useful in determining conditional probability, which by definition is a probability regarding future events based on historical occurrrence.

The probability that event A occurs, given that event B has occurred, is called a conditional probability.

The conditional probability of A, given B, is denoted by the symbol P(A|B).

In other words, it could not be used for historical occurrences where the event is sui generis.

The mythtics also invent mythtics victories (see Vridar for the latest) to create the illusion of success; maybe they think this is what the apostles did to spread news of the resurrection Hallelujah, except – O wait – there was no resurrection, so what were they on about?

Because there was no Jesus, they also invented their joy at the death of their non existent nondead non raised nonleader, which makes perfect sense; it was hiding under our noses all the time… but the truth and the stench…

When to Apply Bayes’ Theorem
Part of the challenge in applying Bayes’ theorem involves recognizing the types of problems that warrant its use. You should consider Bayes’ theorem when the following conditions exist.

The sample space is partitioned into a set of mutually exclusive events { A1, A2, . . . , An }.
Within the sample space, there exists an event B, for which P(B) > 0.
The analytical goal is to compute a conditional probability of the form: P( Ak | B ).
You know at least one of the two sets of probabilities described below.
P( Ak ∩ B ) for each Ak
P( Ak ) and P( B | Ak ) for each Ak

Unarguable.

I heard it somewhere.

28. Neil complains that I haven’t drawn attention to his main focus which he claims focuses mainly on the question of Christian origins. I am drawing attention to his misuse of Schweitzer as an atheist blogger in a post that is about flawed methodology among people who reject critical evidence and argument for historicity. The point is that Vridar’s questioning of Christian origins involves contradicting and misrepresenting scholarship and a high degree of manipulating evidence out of context. Besides he is irrelevant ultimately and not the subject of my post. He is merely an example demonstrating mad method.

He claims I say historical arguments can’t be summarised. It is Neil I have criticised for misrepresenting historical arguments. His comment on James Crossley was: “Any one of these arguments, Crossley admits, may not be persuasive for all readers, but together they become an argument of “cumulative weight” and therefore much stronger. The maths proves it: 0+0+0=3.” This is obviously not a summary of anything which James ever wrote, but a deliberate attempt to make him look stupid. This is basically what is wrong with Godfrey’s summaries. The problem with summaries in general is only that they are summaries and can never be proofs. Godfrey does not seem to understand that difference either. None of us has every suggested that no-one should summarise arguments accurately, or that even an accurate argument is a substititute for a learned proof. Neil is incapable of summarising historical arguments with conclusions he disagrees with. He merely mocks and invents silly analogies and misrepresents. And now he misrepresents me on his blog post and claims I never demonstrated his misrepresentations. But then he has denied that all along the way despite evidence to the contrary.

Neil says ‘I have pointed out on numerous occasions that the very reason I quote Schweitzer’s statement on historical methodology is BECAUSE he is a “historicist” and “not a mythicist”. His words would hardly have any force for my own particular point, otherwise. Stephanie is simply flat wrong when she says I am “oblivious to the fact that nobody suggests that mythicists pretend Schweitzer was a mythicist”.’

Yet Neil just confirms what I said. Yes indeed Neil, nobody is accusing you or other mythtics of pretending Schweitzer was a mythicist. We know you know he believed in a historical figure. I can’t believe Neil’s failure to comprehend something so simple, and quote it and still interpret it as the opposite to what it says. So yes we all agree that Schweitzer did believe in a Jesus who was historical, and he followed Weiss, as I pointed out in my essay: Schweitzer was a committed German Lutheran Christian. What mythicists don’t understand is that Schweitzer like Weiss DID think we could use historical methodology to demonstrate it in historical terms because they quote him out of his own historical context and I pointed this out in my essay which Neil fails to comprehend. As such, Schweitzer believed that salvation was by faith, not by works, and historical research was merely a ‘work’.

This is what he considered ‘uncertain’ about all historical research. It has nothing to do with what decent present-day historians or incompetent bloggers mean when they think that something is ‘historically uncertain’, which normally indicates that it may or may not have happened. It is well known that Schweitzer followed Weiss in supposing that Jesus expected the kingdom of God to come in his own time, and was mistaken. He commented,
His Jesus’ Proclamation of the Kingdom of God, published in 1892, is in its own way as important as Strauss’s first Life of Jesus. He lays down the third great alternative which the study of the life of Jesus had to meet….either eschatological or non-eschatological!….The general conception of the kingdom was first grasped by Johannes Weiss. All modern ideas, he insists…must be eliminated from it; when this is done, we arrive at a kingdom of God which is wholly future….He exercises no ‘messianic functions’, but waits, like others, for God to bring about the coming of the kingdom by supernatural means….But it was not as near as Jesus thought. The impenitence and hardness of heart of a great part of the people, and the implacable enmity of his opponents, at length convinced him that the establishment of the kingdom of God could not yet take place….It becomes clear to him that his own death must be the ransom price….
The setting up of the kingdom was to be preceded by the day of judgement. In describing the messianic glory Jesus makes use of the traditional picture, but he does so with modesty, restraint and sobriety. Therein consists his greatness….
The ministry of Jesus is therefore not in principle different from that of John the Baptist….What distinguishes the work of Jesus from that of the Baptist is only his consciousness of being the Messiah. He awoke to this consciousness at his baptism. But the messiahship which he claims is not a present office; its exercise belongs to the future….
…Reimarus…was the first, and indeed before Johannes Weiss, the only writer to recognise and point out that the teaching of Jesus was purely eschatological….But Weiss places the assertion on an unassailable scholarly basis.[1]
Now where has all the supposedly historical uncertainty gone? It was never there! In this second passage, Schweitzer was discussing what really happened, and he had no doubts about that at all. His apparent doubts in the much quoted passage above are not historical doubts, as Neil understands them, at all. They are entirely due to his German Lutheran conviction that salvation is by faith, not works, and historical research is a ‘work’ which does not bring salvation. Neil says, ‘I have always in discussions stressed that the methodological principle is NOT an argument for mythicism. It is an argument for an understanding of what constitutes a valid historical methodology.’

Once again, Neil misses the point and has taken Schweitzer out of his historical context, and deliberately persistently fails to acknowledge it, to make him sound like people he had never heard of him. Moreover, the whole idea that the judgement of anyone more than a century ago can be treated as if it were a judgement on the work of Sanders, Vermes and competent scholars who have written since then shows a total lack of historical sense.

For all Neil’s trumpeting of holding a degree which includes modern history, he failed to learn something we all learned in stage one if we weren’t already aware of it. He fails to put people in their own modern historical context. He does this with Fredriksen’s regrettably unhelpful analogy which he took out of historical context and applied to ancient history which is a clear abuse of her demonstration. No he is not implying that didn’t suggest “Fredriksen’s point meant that Jesus was a myth.” I never said that. He is abusing her analogy out of context. Neil does not understand context and the implications of context. Neil also refers to Fredriksen as “a naughty schoolgirl who has no interest in the content of the lesson, believing the teacher to be a real dolt, and who accordingly seeks to impress her giggly “know-it-all” classmates by interjecting the teacher with smart alec rejoinders at any opportunity” and me as “a vampire declaring an outrage if someone shows it the sign of the cross” and biblical scholars as “silly detectives” etc: all completely ludicrous.

As for identification of Neil as an ‘atheist’ blogger, that epithet is significant in view of ‘Christian origins’ and his bias, just as he would refer to a Christian scholar or atheist scholar etc. I never identify people by their race or sexual orientation like Roo Buckaroo. It’s irrelevant here or anywhere. Does Neil regularly identify people like that?

As to his final sentence in his post, I can’t resist repeating it because it is a clear example of his malice and spite ‘But if “The Jesus Process (c)” aspires to make a serious contribution to the “required debunking” of the Christ-Myth it is going to have to refrain from diluting their efforts with the uncomprehending Stephanie Louise Fisher.’ Neil has already pronounced that the copyright symbol is “unnecessary but pretentious, demonstrating his ignorance of the necessity of litigation processes, and now, in addition to his malice and spite, he demonstrates a complete lack of comprehension of the purpose and aims of the Jesus Process.

I suspect Neil has found criticisms of me while gazing at himself in the mirror.

• “As such, Schweitzer believed that salvation was by faith, not by works, and historical research was merely a ‘work”

Who could perform this labyrinthine tangle of historical/ahistorical inquiry without faith and both be justified to boot?

• Completely incompetent, ludicrously malicious, drivel. Irrelevant.

29. Ralph

I was disappointed in the vindictiveness of this comment of yours.
“As a member of the Worldwide Church of God he could not cope with the Jewishness of Jesus, and when he converted to atheism this did not change. As N.T. Wrong astutely observed, ‘Once a fundie always a fundie. He’s just batting for the other side, now.”

I suggest you read this post of Neil’s, in which he describes in detail the experience of leaving the cult and how that taught him to continually question his own assumptions. What he describes is very different to your accusation.
’http://vridar.wordpress.com/2011/05/03/i-left-the-cult-and-met-the-enemy/

• Precisely Ralph. I think we’ve all read that account. Perhaps you don’t realise the implications of conversion experiences. And yes that claim is not uncommon and contradicts subsequent behaviour and the concept of the ‘Christ myth’.

• The claim that he continually questions his own assumptions, ie is constantly self critical.

• Ralph, Unfortunately questioning his own assumptions is not what Neil does, at least not rationally. His level of argumentation is so poor that have questioned his commitment to the ideas he champions, but that sort of twisting of evidence is the way things are done in the off brand religious sects, so it seems that their methods of twisted logic still suit Neil.

On Steph’s mention of the World Wide Church of God and Jewishness of Jesus, I think that the WWCG was one of the Christian sects like the 7th day Adventist that maintained that the Levitical laws applied to their adherents; they also thought that the English were descended from the lost tribes of Israel. Neil’s support for holocaust “revisionist” and the anti-Semitic regimes of Iran and Syria seem to stem more from his far left world view than Drew’s disgust of Jewishness in Christianity. Of course on the issue of what to do with the Zionist entity the far right and far left have found themselves in agreement, even if for completely different motivations.

• From the interaction I’ve had with Godfrey, he seems wholly unable to respond dispassionately to *other people* questioning his assumptions. So I seriously doubt that he has a little inner Socrates testing his every idea, whatever he might say on his blog.

• Vindictive presupposes an inclintation towards revenge. Now that’s a bit silly. I have read that account as have my colleagues. Perhaps you don’t realise the regrettable and inevitable implications of conversion experiences and the continuation of convictions, but different convictions. The claim to self criticism and continual questioning of assumptions is not an uncommon illusion among people who have left a situation like that but it does not reflect the reality of his subsequent behaviour, while the concept of the non Jewish ‘Christ myth’ is one of the consequences. This is not synonymous with anti semitism, but it is a reflection that the Jewish historical figure without the ‘Christ myth’ accretions’ has been denied.

• David Mills

Couldn’t we have a little bit less of the ad hom approach? A man’s arguments are all that matter, surely? Not that I subscribe to his, you understand, I don’t, for the most part. But if we were to take the line that those who held or indeed still hold certain beliefs about supernatural this or that may have their thinking coloured, where would it end? It would leave us wide open to people saying, ‘well you’re a committed Christian, maybe that affects your approach and judgement’? Which a lot of critics do say about Bible scholars. Phrases involving the words goose, gander, hoist, petard, pot, black and kettle spring to mind. 🙂

• @David: it seems to me, you are the one who emphasizes Bayes. I thought this might be.,..instructive. It is hardly a name-calling exercise. You are welcome to deal with it at some deeper level; I can handle it.

30. David Mills

I see E. P. Sanders has got a mention, and that he is held in high regard.

From where I’m seeing things, it is quite the opposite of reassuring to hear that he has apparently said words to the effect that the evidence for Jesus is on a par with Alexander the Great and in fact may be considered better, since for the former we cannot explore what he thought.

I might even go as far as to say that this comment might neatly articulate some of my, er, misgivings about Bible Scholarship.

• David, he wrote that in 1993 in the book he wrote for a popular audience, The Historical Figure of Jesus, on page 4. He wrote that before the surge in interest in Christian origins which inspired an equivalent increase in amateur and especially internet-based speculation and attempts to promote mythicist arguments. Do you really think it reflects badly on his entire contribution to scholarship including his detailed research and published work on early Judaism and its sources, such as Judaism: Practice and Belief (1992) for example?

• David Mills

@ Steph.

No, I don’t think it reflects badly on his entire contribution.

Setting that aside, I’m not sure why it matters where he wrote it. It either is or isn’t an accurate thing to say.

@ Joseph

I have no idea where you think I emphasized Bayes.

Regarding the tone and unnecessary personalization of some (emphasis some) of the discussion, I can handle it too. I just wasn’t expecting it, here.

• As most objections to Bayes are usually (as by Sober: “Likelihood and the Duhem/Quine Problem,” ) over its predictive accuracy, it would be interesting to hear your view on how predictive accuracy applies retrogressively to past events. With respect to Bayes, I would like to see a calculation of the likelihood that Jesus was the messiah based strictly and without interpretation on the messianic and apocalyptic texts of the period 167BCE through 135 CE. It seems to me that the probability is very high indeed–maybe .80?–that using the premises that can be constructed from occurrences, Jesus was indeed the messiah. And of course, this must mean he really existed.

• Hi David, No that was just a rumination–not in response. I take you at your word that you are not pushing Bayes T. Almost no one is.

• Of course it matters when he wrote it. Context is essential. And there is no ‘right or wrong’ answer in this case. It is a matter of interpretation within a social and historical context which has altered since he wrote.

• David Mills

@ steph. Let me just get this straight. Are you actually suggesting there is a context in which it is or was in 1993 accurate to say that the evidence for Jesus is on a par with Alexander, indeed better, because we can’t explore what the former thought? Is that something you are willing to make a case for?

• David Mills

Whoops. Meant to say latter, not former.

• David Mills

@ Joseph

Regarding Bayes, it certainly could be a very interesting case, the one you would like to hear, and I might enjoy reading it too, but (for the second time) I’m not sure why you might think I’m the one to put that case, since I’ve not indicated any inclination to apply Bayes? I have tended in quite the opposite direction in regard to Bayes, on more than one occasion here.

• David Mills

@ Joseph.

Ah. A rumination. I thought it might be, but wasn’t sure, and was reluctant to take up the offer, lest I be taken to be an advocate. 🙂

• David Mills

@ Joseph

Now that I know we are just ruminating…..

I should first admit that if philosophy and mathematics and logic can in some fundamental way be described as (not unrelated) ‘languages’, my fluency in them could be described as pigeon, at best. 

Regarding predictive accuracy being applied retrospectively, as I understand it, that is not a fundamental problem. In fact, it seems to me that BT is geared towards it, because it is not an attempt to predict a future event, but to go backwards to see how an hypothesis, or the conjunction part(s) of an hypothesis, fits with outcome evidence.

At this point, it might be briefly worth noting that BT is sometimes applied in a court of law, where again, the assessment analyses retrospectively, back to the crime scene. A court of law is not the same as the study of ancient history, of course, and although there are similarities, one could argue that there is more onus to make a call in the former than the latter. Those in favour of reducing the overcrowding in prisons might be pleased if courts had more leeway or inclination towards arriving at agnostic verdicts, but I suspect that indecision is more of an affordable luxury for both the historian and the general thinker (i.e. me). As an historian, you may disagree. I have heard historians argue that it is obtuse not to at least provisionally run with plausibility, but that is a slightly separate argument, and one which I have my own views on, speaking as a rational sceptic and not an historian. 

Regarding your second point, about a possible calculation based on apocalyptic texts from 167BC-135CE, what you seem to be saying (quite reasonably, IMO) is that we could, if you like, use the very theorem that Carrier uses against historicity to make a case FOR historicity, and in principle, perhaps we could. In a nutshell, it seems to me that this approach is akin to what you and Steph have been saying about how Jesus can arguably be deemed likely to have been historical because of a very good fit with context, that is to say, he is plausible. Which I agree is not an insignificant matter (though IMO inconclusive, for reasons briefly given previously, not the least of which is that I am tempted to opine that him not having actually existed is not implausible either, IMO).

Interestingly, I think it is often suggested that his historicity is enhanced precisely because he was not the expected messiah, that is to say not the type of messiah that was expected, so I don’t know how that affects the calculation. 

To finish a rather overlong post, I might end up by saying that the idea of a calculation of the sort you are suggesting seems to do more to confirm the idea that using BT is ropey in the circumstances, because of the subjective and arbitrary (i.e. non-mathematical) nature of many of the input probabilities, than it does to confirm the credibility of its usefulness in history. Perhaps that was your point, and you were being whimsical about suggesting its use? Anyhow, I would remain at my previous position, that while it may be intellectual fun, and possibly of some minor use, maths is not designed to resolve historical matters such as this, not least because the ‘crime scene’ in this case is so remote.

• David Mills

Errata:

The smileys I copied and pasted from Microsoft works have morphed. Please read  as a smiley in the above post.

Also, Joseph, if you could delete my double pasting while moderating I would be grateful. 🙂

Or not, as you prefer. I must, after all, take responsibility for my own technological shortcomings.

• Grog

“it would be interesting to hear your view on how predictive accuracy applies retrogressively to past events.”

Ahhh….a common creationist argument against Evolution. Almost word for word.

• @Grog: No. It’s not: there is a virtually unbroken string of evidence that supports evolution making the theory plausible, and Bayes wasn’t used to arrive at it. What a silly analogy.

• Dear David, I am relieved that you don’t think a claim made in 1993 reflects on his entire contribution to scholarship. That was however the implication I received from your association of Sanders being held in high regard with his statement articulating some of your ‘er’ misgivings about Bible Scholarship. It is essential to understand that what he wrote in 1993 he would not repeat now. In 1993 it was unnecessary to qualify such a claim, because his audience would have understood his qualifications as implicit. However since 1993 there has been a surge in interest in Christian origins which has inspired an uprise in amateur and especially internet-based speculation with attempts to promote mythicist arguments. Sanders would write something far more complicated to counteract precisely those sort of literal interpretations which make his words mean something different now.

• David Mills

Steph,

If I were to try to clarify how I could say that someone could write something which might summarize or typify some reservations I may have (whether they are justified or not is a separate issue, because I accept that they are essentially impressions) without it necessarily implying blanket criticism, it would simply be to say that anyone can have, er, if you’ll pardon my phrase, weaknesses and have strengths. In fact, most people I know have some of both. 🙂

I may, still, consider that observation to be an unjustifiable, particular thing to say, because I don’t yet understand the point you are making about the context at the time not requiring him to qualify it. In what way am I supposed to say, ‘oh well, in that case, it was a perfectly reasonable view to take’? But I would not presume to damn a person who as far as I can tell, ‘knows his onions’ in many other respects.

I Might add, incidentally, that I personally view Bart Ehrman’s recent expression of certainty in a somewhat similar light, that is to say, sounding very like the sort of thing someone might say when their objectivity is arguably wanting.

• David Mills

ps

…..their objectivity (arguably wanting) in one respect, or in one particular sense, not their objectivity generally. I can’t imagine that the latter would be a fair thing to say, given how many good scholars have demonstrated a willingness and a skill in explaining the texts with an admirable degree of rational criticism over the years. Rational sceptics like myself, especially those of us who declare agnosticism on this issue, probably have a great deal more in common with people like yourself and joseph, and sanders, than we have to differ about. 🙂

31. David Mills

If he didn’t say that, I will eat my humble hat, or whatever the expression is. In all honesty, I can’t believe he did.

• Save your hat. I think it is ‘I’ll eat my hat’ and its the pie that’s humble.

SLJ: Notably incompetent are his discussions the “Criterion of Embarrassment.”
——————————————————————————————
Can you summarise Meier’s coherent and lengthy argument for the criterion which you say follows the comment quoted by Carrier? Having stated what Carrier quotes, Meier does seem to proceed immediately (p168) to examples of things he thinks the early Church was “stuck with”, not to a detailed justification of the criterion. If so, is it so unreasonable to describe Meier’s view on the CofE as an ‘assumption’? It is not clear from your essay that ‘it is not an assumption at all’, nor how/why it is “notably incompetent” to say it is.

The criterion does raise questions: do we know what would ‘embarrass’ all elements of ‘the early church’, and who they would be embarrassed in front of? Was ‘the early church’ homogenous, and would their audience also have been consistently and homogenously embarrassable by the same things? What is the depth of our field knowledge of ancient embarrassment, and particularly in the context of religious movements? What is the dynamic of evangelists/redactors being ‘stuck with’ a particular detail – what would happen if they denied an embarrassing element or were ‘economical with the truth’? Meier thinks that the early church was “stuck with” the baptism of Jesus by John, then states that John didn’t just ‘soften’ but simply “erased” the episode. If the evangelists and redactors were embarrassed that Jesus came from Nazareth, why did they have to own up to it? How would they have been called out on it if they’d elided or changed that detail?

Meier appears to recognise that there were different beliefs, and that even within the proto-orthodox ‘church’ the putative feeling of ’embarrassment’ changed with time. Are there not inevitable incongruities between different thematic, symbolic, mystical and religious priorities, which complicate even further the difficulties of identifying ancient embarrassments?

• M. calls it embarrassment; it is more properly called the dissimilarity principle: that is to say, if a belief recorded or traditioned through an aporia in the gospel differs substantially on the basis of reasonable assumptions to what the church would have wanted to propagate, that element may be regarded provisionally as earlier to the tradition. It has nothing to do with embarrassment as you are using the term, and frankly I think the term embarrassment is embarrassing; as a general principle in the evolution of texts, however it is quite sound. Disconfirming and challenging outcomes dictate editorial changes to primary traditions when these can be effected. Vid., Heremeneutics of suspicion.

• It is regrettable that Meier calls it ’embarrassment’ which is a misleading term. It is appropriately called dissimilarity, as Joe has clarified. Meier discusses it, including its limitations, in his chapter 6 titled ‘Criteria’ from pp.167-95 in Volume One of his massive Four Volume “Marginal Jew”.

Yes, Meier calls it ’embarrassment’, but he also lists ‘dissimilarity’ (or ‘discontinuity’) as a separate criterion. While he does critique other criteria quite succinctly, he appears to deem the former limited mainly because there are few clear cases of “embarrassment”. Dissimilarity he sees as words or actions which are ‘discontinuous’ or ‘dissimilar’ in relation to 1st century ‘Judaism’ or ‘the early Church’ (e.g. the rejection of fasting). This seems to be a different notion to that of being ‘stuck with’ something ’embarrassing’ (because of a well established MS tradition rather than necessarily because the ’embarrassment’ is ‘true’?)

Meier points out the holes in his five primary criteria, but says if they are used in conjunction they represent reliable criteria of historicity. He does not appear to argue this closely, however – perhaps by some accumulation of indeterminate probabilities (?) – but it is not unambiguously clear that stacking sieves together will necessarily bring water from the historical well.

• David Mills

‘….but it is not unambiguously clear that stacking sieves together will necessarily bring water from the historical well.’

I have been scratching my head on many occasions to come up with an analogy to cover this, and that is the one I was looking for. 🙂

Of course, any response will revolve around the words ‘unambiguously clear’ and those who believe that Jesus existed will quite rightly point out that this is asking too much, and thus remain ‘as they were’.

Those of us who have a fondness for uncertainty will simply stop at ‘ambiguous’ and file under ‘unanswerable’.

Here is a question. What methodology allows us to tell the difference between a story and a cult which grew and was embellished around a non-historical figure from one which was embellished around a non-historical one?

If there is no clear answer to that one, what are we left with, other than a subjective choice about whether to approach the material with an attitude of trust or mistrust, both of which, or a combination of the two, are warranted, IMO.

• “What methodology allows us to tell the difference between a story and a cult which grew and was embellished around a non-historical figure from one which was embellished around a non-historical one…” You to seem to think the answer is “none.” The answer, which will be wholly unsatisfying, is that while cults do in fact produce rituals, stories and adherents (just like political systems do), the gospels are sufficiently unlike these narratives to require the approaches that have been developed to understand them. It is simply not the case that the historical critical method is sieve-like: radical biblical criticism developed from the same root system as mainstream critical studies at the end of the 18th century and then got tangled up in self-contradiction and confusion. The idea therefore that we are confronted with the choice between knowing nothing or only believing what the fundamentalists believe strikes me as a medieval choice. In fact, I am wondering why apparently smart people want to paint themselves into that corner. And btw, knowing that Jesus did not exist is not something we know. The evidence (you can spare me a lecture on “evidence,” please) does not begin to prove it, and the mythtic view of it has not changed or improved in a century. I was amused at a responder yesterday who said something to the effect, “Yeah but we don’t have any coins with the face of Jesus on them, do we?” The obvious answer is, if we did, it would prove only the existence of the coin.

• David Mills

I can concur on all fronts.

Having said that, I’d prefer if you’d reply to my agnosticism, and stop telling me of the shortcomings of mythicism. Are you (again) addressing mythicism via me, or what? J

I would not dream of giving you a lecture on ‘evidence’. Yes, that choice you gave is a medieval choice. I take your point about the coin. And yes, your answer to the question I posed is indeed unsatisfactory, to me personally, at this time, because I don’t agree that the sieve analogy is strained at all.

• David Mills

@ Joseph

In addition to comparing the stories of Jesus to stories from other cults, should we not also compare it to stories of people who were once thought to exist but are now thought either not to have or possibly not to have?

I am not sure whether you will object (and if you do I may want to probe a bit further as to why) if I mention Betty Crocker, who, I believe, was voted the USA’s second most influential woman in a magazine article in 1947, without existing.

I think we can all agree that people can become thought of as if they have existed, when they may not have. Why not Jesus?

• @David: You know that I will say these two cases are not symmetrical, though it is a valiant try if the point were simply to prove Mencken’s point (and Barnum’s) about the credulity of the American public or credulity in general.

• David Mills

@ joseph.

Of course they are not symmetrical. I am not sure why they need to be. Nor, in defense of Americans, is Betty the only example I can think of, by a long way.

Hm. A comparison between the credulity of ancient Judeans and modern Americans. Now that might be an interesting pub discussion, if nothing else. 🙂

SLF: This supposed contradiction depends on a traditional translation of μὴ ἐν τῇ ἑορτῇ, (Mk 14.2) as, e.g., ‘Not during the festival’ (NRSV). Jeremias long ago pointed out that the Greek heortē also means ‘festival crowd’, as standard secondary literature intermittently repeats
————————————————————————————
What examples of heorte meaning, clearly but implicitly (on its own), ‘festival crowd’ are cited by Jeremias (and what do you mean by the intermittent repetition of ‘secondary literature’)? Matthew/Mark refer first to he heorte and then separately to ho laos (likewise John 2:23, 4:45, 7:11 – as an elaboration, this could be read against as well as for such a meaning? It is difficult to read John 12:20 as referring to Greeks coming to worship in the festival crowd; likewise in the LXX, the phrase seems to clearly mean during the festival, with ‘in the festival crowd’ making little sense (it seems particularly unambiguous in its triple use for specific festivals in 2 Chronicles 8:13). So too with other prepositions/cases – Mark 15:6 seems to mean festival; Antiquities 18:90 seems to mean festival too. Further afield, there are unambiguous usages in Aristotle to mean ‘festival’.

The normal usage therefore seems to be ‘festival’. LJS gives Plotinus’ 6th Ennead as an instance where it means ‘assembled multitude at a festival’, though it seems to me that this is far from clear: Plotinus has the word in a list of words which includes ‘this’ and ‘what’ as well as army and crowd, and he goes on to repeat heorte and explicitly make the point that heorte means nothing apart from the people who are gathered at it. This suggests to me that he was quite deliberately proposing the meaning as part of his philosophical ruminations on monadic thought – how single things are in fact multiple in nature.

• Yes it meant festival which is how it came to also mean festival crown. Secondary literature refers to scholarship discussing primary texts.

But what are the chronologically appropriate instances of it clearly coming to mean that? The only one I could find was in Plotinus, as cited by LSJ. As I pointed out, though, this appears to be a self-conscious usage where Plotinus (in the 3rd century) is saying what is a festival if it’s not the festival crowd. What are your/Jeremias’ primary sources?

I’m not sure it’s a matter of great import, just curious!

• Yes it is fascinating. I’ve been held captive for days and days and weeks, a long time ago now, doing this sort of thing. Reading through texts, cataloguing references, making lists and lists and lists. I looked up sources a long time ago, some of which are in the British Library, and was convinced by them and haven’t kept a record. I suggest you do the same.

SLF: At no point in such a process does a critical scholar throw his or her hands in the air and pronounce a fatwah on all preceding efforts.
——————————————————————————————
I am unsure what you intend by fatwa, but in other arts/humanities fields scholars do occasionally question pretty much all that has gone before (and sometimes create new paradigms and orthodoxies by doing so). It is not forbidden, and while controversy and dispute do arise, I am not sure they generate anything like the heat seen here. The expression of such controversy usually centres on the arguments and evidence rather than the people involved.

A case which may be interesting (or even pertinent) is that of what we might generally call literary studies: in the last century scholars increasingly widened the supposed ‘context’ of a literary work, and, some would say, removed literary criticism from the common (sense, people) and vocationalised it. Barriers of ‘training’ and technique appeared around the new criticism, which ironically appeared to seep into everything the more private and solipsistic it became: if life was short, art was getting longer, and one needed to make one’s living in an academic post to have a voice. Yet voices from within did protest and mounted what were seen as ‘attacks’ on academic scholarship itself – a scholarship which continued to centre around the University English Department teaching abstract theory and ‘methodology’ as the key to unlocking literary works (placing the theoretical cart firmly in front of the literary horse). In some quarters, the more incomprehensible the theory (qua Derrida?!) the greater the ‘technical’ expertise” that was required: the antithesis, it seems to me, of opening up a discipline.

Yet still, given the current economic climate for literary studies, papers from individuals who are not professional academics do appear in refereed journals in the study of literature. Possibly there is some private contempt for these ‘amateurs’ (who in many cases simply did not have the same life opportunities as the professionals), but I have never seen it expressed in disparaging comments about the individual’s credentials, personal background, and even their personal psychological profile. And I have seen the dominant scholarly norm dismissed wholesale as a “disciplinary fiction”.

I am curious therefore about the dynamic of the personal reaction to internet ‘mythicists’. I have been an academic for over 20 years now (not in the subject I might have preferred, but I count my blessings daily for the privilege), and cannot imagine either denigrating others for failing to gain access to our turris eburnea (“top tier” or otherwise) – or attaching the name of my institution (as student or lecturer) to some of the personal ‘heat’ in this essay. Isn’t exchanging libel-proof insults what internet anonymity is for?!

I understand the notion of expertise in subjects that are relevant to the study of the NT (Greek, palaeography, ancient history etc), but my experience/understanding of “technical expertise” is knowledge of mechanical techniques based on demonstrable scientific principles which (usually) produce physical results – and these lend themselves to ‘training’. The techniques might employ a range of tools (chosen in accordance with the method) but the results in any case can be scientifically tested and verified. What techniques/technologies does the phrase “technical expertise” in NT studies refer to? Is the use of the phrase metaphorical (perhaps harking back to an original Greek nuance?), or is it intended to denote scientific technique (which people can be ‘trained’ in) and demonstrable correctness? It seems to me that criteria such as that of ‘embarrassment’ (see previous post) don’t constitute formal methods in this sense: if they represent technique or science, it is a very inexact one. I have not come across these ‘methods’ in other areas of history or mythology: are they transferable to other areas (e.g. Homer, Malory and associated writings)? How does one know from the results whether this criterion has been applied correctly or incorrectly? And why, in this era of the ‘edgeless university’ and the institutional VLE, do these particular techniques not lend themselves to self-study?

• I’m sorry my metaphor isn’t clear. Carrier has announced that New Testament studies is “f**ked” and historical method “invalid” which seems a bit to me as if he’s declaring a fatwa on an entire academic discipline. Banning it. All disciplines, including those of New Testament studies, Old Testament studies, and History of Religions, Classics, Modern History, etc, constantly discuss and debate and improve method and application in view of new evidence and argument. Carrier wasn’t making a concession for this or even acknowledging the existence of it in academic discussion. He seems oblivious to the existence of positive, constructive and ‘heated’ conversation in the discipline.

As far as claiming authority and expertise when one has no disciplined formal training, Proverbs 26.4-5 comes to mind. I am not rejecting the interest of amateurs, only those amateurs without training and critical skills who become ‘know-alls’.

• @Steph: “f*cked” yet seems to believe that the messiah is at hand.

• Amen. Maranatha. 🙂

35. WildBloom

Hi Stephanie and Joseph Hoffmann, thank you very much for having creating this interesting discussion. I’m an environmental scientist with a strong background in mathematics, which plaid a very important role in my PhD.
Why I find probability theory and Bayes’ theorem fascinating in their own right, I don’t believe their application to Jesus studies is going to avoid the subjectivity dominating many historical endeavors.

In order to evaluate the probability of an event E, for example, E = ( Mark wrote his gospel before 50 AC), given our background knowledge, is given by:

P (E|B) = P(B|E) * P(E) / P(B)

P(E|B) is the likelihood of E given our background knowledge B and is the quantity to be calculated.
P(B|E) is the probability of our background knowledge given the truth of the event.
P(E) and P(B) are the a priori probabilities of the event E and our background information.

In order to employ BT, one must first evaluate/estimate the quantity P(B|E), P(E) and P(B).
This is where subjectivity comes into play.
Let us consider P(E), most people in the field believe the gospels were written after the destruction of the second temple, so the number will be low. But why choose 0.04 instead of say 0.07, 0.01 or 0.03?
And if one gives some credence to the theory of Robinson „redating the gospel“ or James Crossley „The Date of Mark’s Gospel: Insight from the Law in Earliest Christianity“, the initial probability may very well vary between 0.4 and 0.8.

Evaluating P(B), if B designates all our background knowledge (like facts about second temple’s Judaism, about the Romans, the early church and so on and so forth.), evaluating its a priori probability will prove to be a tedious task. It is not surprising that different values will come from different authors with different biases.

The evaluation of P(B|E) will certainly be controversial. Folks who believe the mini-apocalypse of Mark to refer to the end of the second temple, and also believe that no supernatural prophecy can occur, will find very low values like 0.01, 0.005 or even lower. (despite the agreement towards low probabilities, the precise value is once again arbitrary.
However, people like James Crossley having developed other arguments will find high value like 0.7 or even 0.8.

As a conclusion, I believe the use of Bayes’ theorem might be useful in some cases for the study of the historical Jesus.
But one has to keep in mind that subjectivity and difference of interpretations of the evidence are still present in choosing the value of the input-probabilities.

To my mind, Carrier’s ambitious goal to use BT to avoid subjectivity and differences of interpretations altogether has failed.

A reminder: I’m not a biblical scholar, the example I gave may have inaccuracies, its only purpose was to illustrate the subjective nature of the use of BT in history and in biblical studies.

I would love to hear your opinion on that.

Regards, Hubert.

• I actually think the Bayes’s Theorem discussion has run its ridiculous course. It was a nice try on Richard Carrier’s part to garner attention and keep his fan base enthralled, but it has to be accounted a stillborn project. It is inapplicable mathematical razzle dazzle applied to ancient texts unwarranted by the questions it is is put forward to resolve–in fact silly questions ranging from was there or was there not an earthhquake on the afternoon of April 2, 33 AD to did Jesus exist. It is a debating strategy, not an assist to organic historical methods unless (as in archaeology) those methods have a real world (modal) evidence base that might benefit from various (not just BT) probability strategies.

The basic criterion or warrant for BT is that a problem presents itself in which an event has already happened such that the probability of another event is to be found. I can use it to argue for miracles. I can use it Humean style to argue against miracles. That’s how it works: It revises (reassigns) the probabilities of the events based on what is known beforehand (prior probabilities) and what can be calculated after information (A) is received as posterior probabilities of events. The real world conditions that wouold permit us to create the sample space for these mutually esclusive criteria are at issue. And thge conditions for the application of Baye’s formula is that prior events i.e. A1, A2, ……., An of the sample space are exhaustive and mutually exclusive i.e.
A1 U A2 U ……….. U An = S
and Ai ∩ Aj = Φ j, i = 1, 2, …….. n and i ≠ j

But the claim that Bayes “works” is not a warrant for its applicabilty to something as greasy as the historical Jesus question. BT is a theorem; of course it works. You can feed it anything. If I want to make sausage because I don’tike the sausage people are making I can throw my old socks, a stray cat, the noisy kid from next door and some journal articles I haven’t read into the grinder. At the end of the line, I get sausage. That’s what the grinder makes. Bayes can make unarguable conclusions from absurd premises constructed from naive assumptions derived from subjectivity, bias and errors of fact and emit them in a casing of illusion of finality and improbable probabilities.

36. Matt Gerrans

“Critical biblical scholars have known for a long time that this story is not literally true.”

What does that mean? Is it “figuratively true?” If so, what does that mean? Or is it simply not true? Did this miracle not in fact occur?

Does this mean every statement in the Bible is true, but it is only a matter of deciding whether it is “figuratively true” or “literally true?”

• No Matt. That it is not literally true does not mean it is figuratively true. No Matt. Miracles contradict the laws of nature and do not happen. No Matt. This does not mean that every statement in the Bible is true, figuratively or literally.

37. njaybe

Hi Steph

Thank you for your critique of a few of the mythicists and their positions, for the most part i agree! Though a question came up earlier about your credentials that as far as i could tell hadn’t been answered. I fully admit this is a total aside. I am currently attempting to put together a list of atheist bible scholars who reject the mythicist position (not to tally the votes so to speak, but to compile free resources from each scholar critiquing the mythicist position). And i was wondering if i can add you to that list as a person who has the appropriate credentials? Also, are you an atheist?

Just briefly, and since i am asking for your details, i am a PhD candidate in biochemistry (more specifically nanobiotechnology) and an MDiv candidate aiming to go on to a PhD in NT. I host a podcast called The Skeptics’ Testament and have spent some time on there critiquing Carrier, Price and pseudo-scholar DM Murdock among others.

Thanks so much for your time!
NJ