The train crash that is modern mythicism is built on the train crash that was earlier mythicism. The chance of the crash happening twice in just the same way? About 50%.
In a previous post I reproduced chapter three of Shirley Jackson Case’s 1912 study, The Historicity of Jesus, which is a fair account of the state of the question in his day. At the end of his book, Case writes,
“If the possibility of his non-historicity is to be entertained at all it must be brought about by reconstructing, without reference to him, so strong a theory of Christian origins that the traditional view will pale before it as a lesser light in the presence of a greater luminary. Will the radicals’ constructive hypothesis stand this test?”
The new mythtics (some anyway) have claimed that their argument can be won by the application of Bayes’s theorem. Confronted with arguments about why the theorem is useless in deciding a question like this, their recourse has been to repeat two assertions: (1) It is too useful; and (2) People who say it isn’t useful don’t “get” it. Whereupon they usually invoke some parallel as distant from what they are trying to prove as Herakles is from Jesus.
The rush of excitement that greeted Richard Carrier’s suggestion that the Jesus question could be settled with relative finality has been offset slightly by the failure to recognize that the first step in using Bayes’s Theorem is to establish plausible assumptions. A few bloggers at Vridar have suggested that proving Jesus is like proving a case at law: after all, we’re trying to reach a verdict on whether Jesus existed, so, since a trial deals with events that happened in the past, and Jesus existed in the past, you could say that the application of probability to the Jesus question is like determining guilt or innocence. All you need to do is compile the evidence, plug it into your probability machine, write the equation, and you’re home free.
Except you’re not. In a law case–let’s make this one a murder so we can use DNA–the variable to be decided is not the event (E), the crime, but the cause (C) of the crime. Let’s make it a ghastly murder, a murder most foul (they like to quote Shakespeare over at Vridar– just trying it on). You postulate a murderer. Good job. You discover a bloody knife. A glove–shades of OJ–fingerprints, crime scene, probable time of death. It is a linear progression of data that points to Mr. Jones as the perp: the right man in the right place at the right time with the right motive and the right DNA. What has not changed in all of this? (E) has not changed: the murder itself is not in doubt. It raises the speculation and creates uncertainty about (C).
In the case of Jesus, as the mythtics frame the case, we are doubting an event (E) has taken place at all: the mythtics are not asking whether Jesus rose from the dead (= dealt the fatal wound causing E) but whether there was an E. They are saying all the reports of E–what he said and did are falsifications of an historical occurrence.
To prove this contention (the groundwork of the assumptions that will then be used to establish probability) they offer not evidence but a succession of increasingly more tortuous challenges to the only available evidence, thus trying to prove through improbability what a linear progression of known, envalued variables (the sort of thing that makes statistics useful in law cases) cannot readily establish.
In no particular order, individually and conglomeratively mythicists have argued:
1. The evidence for E is hopelessly tainted and unreliable, proving that E did not occur.
2. The sayings and deeds attributed to E are the work of a single author or the “church” and were intended to propagate a cult.
2. The so-called evidence for E was mostly written in the second century by unknown authors, forgers, or copyists.
3. It is based on a combination of myths and stories familiar to the forger or copyist or his naive imitators. These range from ancient stories like the Gilgamesh to first century tales about the death and apotheosis of Hercules, and everything in between (“A myth is a myth, like a rose is a rose”).
4. Elements of the record that appear to be “historical” are decoration provided by the fabricator to create a veneer of authenticity–especially the use of place names and Aramaic, the language E is alleged to have spoken.
5. The original second-century document was probably composed in Rome where myths and mystery religions circulated freely and a copyist could make a living and use the libraries.
6. Prove postpositive that the gospels are fabrications is provided by the inexplicable silence of someone [Paul] who “should have” known him but doesn’t say much about him.
7. References in Paul’s writings to both Jesus, his brothers, his most important followers, their interference with his mission, the existence of churches that worship him and believers who supervise them, and the correlation of names between the gospels and this writer’s references to Jesus and his circle are not dispositive because they do not fit the pattern of what this writer actually believed.
7. Some of Paul’s letters are forged. Those that are “authentic” and seem to speak of an historical individual are tainted, like the gospels, with additons, corrections and interpolations. All passages that seem to speak of an historical figure are interpolations. All references to historical-biological relatives of Jesus are figures of speech referring to the church.
8. It is plausible that this writer did not exist at all.
9. If he did not exist, it is stronger than average proof that Jesus did not exist either. It is not necessary to explain who wrote Paul’s letters or explain what he was talking about if he did not write them. (In all likelihood, the church wrote them too.)
10. The fact that the gospels do not differ substantially from many Graeco-Roman historical writings concerning known historical figures, except in length and subject, is of no importance to the case.
11. The fact that miracles, healings, miraculous births and ascensions to heaven are attibuted to historical figures in the Roman world has no bearing on the case.
12. The external sources are completely irrelevant to the case, as they are either silent, clearly forged or heavily interpolated. Sources almost uniformly agreed to be authentic like Tacitus are of no relevance to the case. Sources that require more judicious treatment–like Josephus–are clearly fabrications.
13. The fact that no ancient writer questioned the historicity of Jesus and the fact that no church writer felt compelled to defend it is of no relevance to the case.
The anti-evidence continues until the mythtics are satisfied that their demolition has proved the non-occurrence of E. To challenge this brutually unsatisfying logic is to be a fundamentalist, or to use a word they are trying to make current as a counterpoint to the word “mythtic” and “mythicist,” an “historicist.” There is a strong implication that not believing in Jesus is the rational complement to not believing in God. As a rule, most mythicists are atheists. As a rule, most people who subscribe to mythicism are not biblical scholars, trained in biblical studies but regard such training as a kind of “brainswashing” in the methods that have been used for the last century and a half to investigate the origins of Christanity and the context of Jesus. To know something about human anatomy is good for a doctor. But to know something about the technical aspects of biblical studies is a liability to knowing anything about this subject.
It seems to me that this latest and less impressive incarnation of mythicism has tried and failed to satisfy Case’s 1912 challenge to them, which, frankly, in the wake of substantial advances in New Testament scholarship, makes their work much more difficult than it was at the opening of the last century. Salvation by Bayesth alone will not really help: they are stuck precisely where the formidable Morton Smith left them in 1986: “The myth theory is almost entirely based on an argument from silence, especially the ‘silence’ of Paul….In order to explain just what it was that Paul and other early Christians believed, the mythicists are forced to manufacture unknown proto-Christians who build up an unattested myth . . . about an unspecified supernatural entity that at an indefinite time was sent by God into the world as a man to save mankind and was crucified… [presenting us with] a piece of private mythology that I find incredible beyond anything in the Gospels.”
They are not likely to create the plausible reconstruction demanded by their task from the debris they leave behind when they are done with their work. In fact, there is no indication that they acknowledge or are capable of meeting that challenge. They are puzzlingly content to locate the answer to how did it happen?in their belief that it did not happen at all, at least not in the way the only available evidence asserts. And that is a very curious position for people who are looking for “reasonable” solutions to adopt.
Few counterpoints. Both points numbered 7 are actually relevant, since it’s clear the authentic Paul had no knowledge of a Jesus according to the flesh. Point 13 is relevant, since non-Jews had no reason to worry about Jesus in general vs. general messianic claimants for decades and decades. Let’s not forget that, all those writings aside, if you accept Rodney Stark’s steady 40 percent a decade growth rate from 1,000 people in 40 CE, Christianity was still quite small well into the second century. Point 12 is also at least partially relevant. Tacitus was speaking of general messianic disturbances in Rome, not a particular individual; by using the wrong word for Christ, yes, he is of limited value beyond that. And Josephus? If the whole passage is an interpolation, then yes, he loses relevance, too.
BTW, not all “mythicists” today are “Gnus,” or close to it. If polemics against ahistoricists get fused with polemics against Gnu Atheists, it only muddies the waters.
Do I think Jesus never existed? Not necessarily, but I do think it has enough possibility to be the subject of legitimate discussion.
Funny. Critical scholarship has evidence and argument which refutes you and demonstrates all points completely relevant. But never mind. By the way, “As a rule, most mythicists are atheists.” Gnus haven’t been distinguished from other atheists here for quite a long, long while and are pretty much redundant (or irrelevant) anyway.
Re the two points 7, Paul never claimed to know anything about Jesus other than that he was “born of a woman,” i.e., not a Docetist appearance.
Point 13? Rodney Stark, in case you’re not familiar with him, postulates a starting point of 1,000 Christians in, IIRC, 50 CE, and growth of 40 percent a decade. With an imperial population of 60 million at its peak, Christians wouldn’t have passed 1 percent of imperial population, at 7 million or so, until 180 CE. In short, numbers too small to draw pagan attention through most of the second century, myths about Justin Martyr, etc., aside. Critical scholarship right there from a top-notch sociologist of religion. I suggest familiarizing yourself more with Stark’s thought here.
Point 12, Josephus? Many critical scholars believe the entire comment about Josephus, not just the adulatory gloss, is an add-on/forgery. I’d venture that it might be a majority of critical scholars.
Point 12, Tacitus? It’s pretty clear he was just talking about general messianic disturbances, and that he knew little about Judaism in general, beginning with the use of the word ChrEstus instead of ChristOs. (And, no, I don’t believe there’s “no distinction” here any more.
Pulling Gnu issues into the mix? Quite relevant. Hoffmann is apparently driven, in part, by animosity toward Carrier in particular and Gnus in general.
Otherwise, I’d like to hear his responses, not yours, or not just yours.
That said, I thought I had posted a similar comment Saturday night. Don’t know if it was balky Internet, or something more, like my comment not clearing moderation.
I m posting this, as it were; despite its being useless, to wit:
1. Paul is not silent about Jesus. That is simply a conceit of mythticism, tirelessly repeated and totally ludicrous. Perhaps what you mean to say is that Paul does not provide biographical detail. That is not the same as saying he provides no detail: he knows Jesus was crucified. He knows that this is an embarrassment to his own messianic or “saviour” theology. He knows a tradition about a ceremonial meal and a tradition about the betrayal of Jesus. He knows the name of Jesus’ brother(s) and his primary followers, whom he excoriates as “super-apostles.” There are good reasons why he does not talk about these biographical details, and if you had read the essay I contributed to the discussion [https://rjosephhoffmann.wordpress.com/2012/05/22/the-jesus-process-a-consultation-on-the-historical-jesus/], in the section on Paul’s silence, you would know at least one of them. But you haven’t because you have decided to go the way of evidence-denying along with the risible conclusions about Paul that go back to Drews and Co. and have now been weaponized by their re-discoverers.
2. I have said since I think 1984 in Jesus Outside the Gospels that I find the whole passage in Josephus to be spurious, so not sure why you choose to focus on that except it’s the easier pickin’s of the sentence. You are making far too much out of Tacitus’s reference, except that it is almost certainly a valid reference and even though it is hearsay and probably imperfect, it is still a reference. You will be relieved to know that I am familiar with the e/i aporia in the 11th century Medicean codex of the annals 15.44. You seem to think we have something much more ancient, perhaps in Tacitus’s own handwriting? Just kidding. If ever there were an insignificant correction, it is that, since the term Χρ[ι]στιανός is perfectly clear and we could get by on even fewer letters. Tacitus was born pretty close on to the beginnings of the movement. As to the value of the passage, I am somewhere between thinking with Guignebert that it is almost useless (not worthless) in establishing a historicity for Jesus and useful, with Crossan, if Tacitus is quoting as he sometimes does from official records concerning the fire of 64CE. We do know that the Annals is a very important book and chock full of things we wouldn’t know otherwise. It is a useful insight into the Roman mentality towards Judaea and insurrection in general as it was perceived in the early second century, after the destruction of Jerusalem and the early spread of Christianity. It shows the linkage of Judaism and Christianity in the popular imagination as well, since the Jews are elsewhere indicted for their “detesting” mankind.
3. re Starkian Stats: Again, I have to disappoint you: First, I do not regard Stark as first class. His attempt to analogize the spread of early Christianity to the spread of Mormonism strikes me as one of the biggest hoo-haws in modern scholarship. But that is beside the point, since you seem to have misunderstood my point: Are you saying that Christianity was too small to matter, garner attention, evoke the kind of notice that would be reserved for only larger or more obnoxious groups? Are you then trying to link this back to Tacitus? But why? If the passage in T. is authentic, then you have just defeated your own claim, and there is no good reason to think it is not. But the Younger Pliny writes to Trajan about the sect in 110/11, and Celsus–a pagan I know a bit about–wrote his diatribe against the Christians as a well- developed sect before the end of the 2nd century. Perhaps you have just misread the point since I cannot fathom yours.
steve snyder: I read your original comment, and I read your slightly irrelevant appeal to Stark. I am all too familiar with his little book which I regrettably also own, so your little lecture is unnecessary and Stark is not generally regarded as “a top-notch sociologist of religion” by critical scholarship. I suggest you start familiarising yourself more with self more with critical discussion of Stark’s work. See for example Crossley, “Why Christianity Happened” (WJK, 2006) etc.
steve snyder: I read your original comment, and I read your slightly irrelevant appeal to Stark. I am all too familiar with his little book which I regrettably also own, so your little lecture is unnecessary and Stark is not generally regarded as “a top-notch sociologist of religion” by critical scholarship. I suggest you start familiarising yourself more with critical discussion of Stark’s work. See for example Crossley, “Why Christianity Happened” (WJK, 2006) etc.
This isn’t the case. The event “E” is “Christianity happened”. The explanation (hypothesis) for E is that there was a historical Jesus. Just like in the above murder example, the evidence E is the murdered person, and the hypothesis is the explanation for the murder.
This is actually how I point out the hypocrisy of Creationists. The evidence E is the myriads of biological evidence, the hypothesis is the theory of evolution. They reject evolution because it’s “only a theory”, yet the same logic would apply to anything, even the historical Jesus. He is also “only a theory” but so far that hypothesis has been the mainstream consensus about why Christianity happened. If something can be rejected because it’s “only a theory” then Creationists should also reject the historical Jesus.
It’s crucial to understand the difference between fact and hypothesis. Some hypotheses are so well evidenced that they might as well be considered facts, but there’s still a possibility that the hypothesis can be wrong. That is the fundamental difference; facts (evidence) cannot be right or wrong but interpretations of those facts can be. There’s no mistake that Christianity happened (or that there’s a dead body, or that biological organisms reproduce imperfectly), but any explanation for that fact has a non-zero probability of being right or wrong. It’s certainly possible that the theory of evolution is incorrect, but that’s highly unlikely. Many people in these sorts of conversations (both historical/mythical Jesus and evolutionist/creationist) argue from hypothesis instead of arguing from fact, leading to everyone talking past each other.
@Quinton: This is not altogether bad. Now for the lecture: Your analogy would work if the mythicist position pivoted on “Christianity happened” But we both know that it doesn’t. It pivots on the denial of an event, viz the historicity of Jesus and thereby breaks one of the two possible explanations for the event eo ipso–as casus prius as the old logicians used to say. Bayes himself would have understood that.
You are obviously committed to your forensic/legal model of trying this case, but you need to know that only Kalthoff (and to a much lesser extent Strauss) were concerned with “how” it began as opposed to nullifying the founder hypothesis. The standard mythtic position has been to deny E, , not to equate it with a question about C. Thus as it stands, there is a false analogy shot through the whole discussion, and it is not mine. Current equations using BayesT as far as I can tell are also only interested in excluding E, which, as you are a logician, will agree is self-defeating propositionally. Please tell me if there are any among the 13 propositions typical of mythicism that help us to construct a plausible view of how it actually happened and defeat by their coherence the traditional view? Your whole case depends on this, because the traditional case is stronger now than it was in 1912. Finally, I agree with you that E ought to equate the crime in my analogy and the E=how of Xty. Generally. My whole point is that in the mythtic calculus it does not and so exceeds the bounds of logic.
The evolution analogy works exactly the opposite way. In the case of the theory of evolution, there is an abundance of evidence to support the theory…evidence from independent intersecting disciplines. In science, when there is evidence that contradicts the theory, the theory is either adjusted or thrown out. The theory makes accurate predictions. For example, Shubin did not go out to a random hill and start digging to find Tiktaalik. He knew where to look and what he was looking for. Darwin predicted that the origins of humankind would be found in Africa. However, the theory of evolution is falsifiable. One can imagine evidence that would cause a serious rethinking of the theory.
The theory (really hypothesis) that Christianity originated with the execution of a mostly obscure Jewish apocalyptic preacher does not explain the earliest evidence. From the outset, it has flaws that cause proponents to postulate an increasingly implausible set of unfalsifiable, ad hoc rationalizations. The hypothesis itself entails a non-existent event horizon to make itself immune to falsification (absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, “Jesus was obscure” “Paul had no reason to mention the teachings of Jesus,” etc.) The project of excavating the origins of Christianity starts from a flawed premise. It is like beginning the search for human origins by looking for the remains of Adam
Is this a ‘faith document’?
It would be easier for me to read if you used the word event instead of E. I took me a few tries before I got it.
Reblogged this on luvsiesous and commented:
A blogger just wrote a rather deep discussion of the historicity of Jesus argument. It is good. It might help you understand why Myth-makers make the history of Jesus into a story.
Brilliantly incisive. I love the allusions – several from the title to the train crash. I’m sorry I found the 13 “key” “unarguable” principles so hilarious because they are all so regrettably accurate. And old. Dismiss all inconvenient evidence from the courtroom. Isn’t it funny how as a rule, most people who subscribe to mythicism are not biblical scholars or trained in biblical studies. I wonder why… It’s ironic that in order to deny a historical Jesus existed, the mythtics must turn so many ancient people into forgers, liars and evil manipulators, and the rest into gullible ignorant masses. I wonder what this says about themselves.
You fail to recognize your argument is merely begging the question of historicity — that the faith documents we have today do in fact establish the historicity of Jesus: http://vridar.wordpress.com/2011/04/18/the-historical-jesus-hypothesis-does-not-even-rise-to-the-level-of-requiring-investigation/
@Gdfrey: It is not “Begging the question” to challenge you to produce your plausible reconstruction, unless the definiiton of that fallacy has changed considerably–please advise. And pray tell, what in the heck is a “faith document”?
The implications of your assertions about what you cite as evidence for the existence of Jesus are indeed question begging. Ignoring that with some sort of tit for tat retort does not change that fact. (I do not, by the way, conclude that therefore there was no historical Jesus.)
I am sorry if I coin a term for documents that I understood were generally agreed to be expressions and promotions or explanations of a faith movement of some kind. If you don’t like it I’m quite happy to remove it from the table and use some other word for the same thing.
Please tell me which beg what questions and don’t throw fallacy accusations like so many snowballs … It isn’t hitting a target.
I’m not a biblical scholar and have no position regarding the historical existence of Jesus. I am a lawyer and will comment on Joe’s crime analogy. The first thing a prosecutor must do is prove the existence of a crime. In the case of a homicide the prosecutor must also provide evidence that satisfies the degree of criminality charged. Is it manslaughter or first degree murder? The evidence Joe set out made it fairly easy to establish the elements of first degree. That is not always so easy. Sometimes there is no body and the existence of a crime must be proven by circumstantial evidence. Sometimes the jury buys it, sometimes not. Even if there is a body, it may not be easy to prove a crime. In a recent South Florida case the prosecutor charged the husband with strangling his wife relying on the testimony of the medical examiner. The defense brought in eminent experts who said that the supposed victim had a heart attack due to a congenital heart anomaly and that she hit her neck on a magazine rack. The prosecution evidence did not satisfy the jury and it found the defendant not guilty. Essentially the verdict was a ruling that a crime had not been proved. In the case of Jesus the mythicists may not have proven their case, but have they or others so shredded the historicists evidence that it is fair to say that the case for a historical Jesus is not proven? I don’t know, but it seems to me that Christians who rely on more than pure faith would be as worried by such a conclusion as they would by definitive proof that he did not exist.
Oh, this is good. Like Spock from Star Trek I find this conversation fascinating. Conspiracy nutters never fail to fascinate me.
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10. The fact that the gospels do not differ substantially from many Graeco-Roman historical writings concerning known historical figures, except in length and subject, is of no importance to the case.
11. The fact that miracles, healings, miraculous births and ascensions to heaven are attibuted to historical figures in the Roman world has no bearing on the case.
Your 11. actually glosses over one of the substantial differences between the gospels and Greco-Roman historical writings. Nearly invariably (to my knowledge; counter-examples are welcome), Greco-Roman biographers and historians set such claims at a remove from their account by a number of devices: sarcastic or skeptical tone (Tacitus on Vespasian), claim to be reporting another’s account, with or without skeptical commentary (Plutarch on Augustus, Diogenes on Plato, many others), presenting a rationalist version of the story along with the miraculous or proposing a rationalized explanation of the same event (Plutarch on Alexander, where he presents accounts of Olympias both confessing and denying to Alexander that he was divinely conceived). I could adduce a great many more examples here, and again I know of no counterexamples, though I’d love to know of them if they exist. (All of these devices can be found in Herodotus at various points.)
The contrast to the gospels and Acts couldn’t be more pronounced. And that is what I despise about this sort of glibness on the part of defenders of Jesus’s historicity. As if it’s enough to simply wave one’s hand in the direction of the ancients’ belief in the possibility of miracles and thereby declare that the gospels are cut from the same cloth as Plutarch or Arrian. They simply are not, and I maintain that only a superficial treatment that eschews any engagement whatever with the details of the accounts being proposed as parallels in G-R historical texts would lead anyone to believe otherwise.
O’Brien: I cite two examples (many more could be cited!) in my recent post (https://rjosephhoffmann.wordpress.com/2012/05/22/the-jesus-process-a-consultation-on-the-historical-jesus/), one from Livy, another from Suetonius, that suggest the frequency of incorporating the miraculous alongside the ordinary: it is absolutely typical. It is true that occasionally sarcasm and even skepticism are employed rhetorically, but as it stands your comment is simply mistaken. You cannot wade six pages into Livy, the most prolific writer of the Augustan historians, without tripping over miracles; indeed, in the 4th century, the last pagan emperor Julian virtually lived his day by consulting oracles. In any event, “Nearly invariably (to my knowledge; counter-examples are welcome), Greco-Roman biographers and historians set such claims at a remove….: is quite erroneous. The first century was a credulous age, and it would be very odd indeed it the gospels did not share in that credulity. I think your suggestion that biblical scholars wave their hands dismissively is also misdirected: a little extensive reading in ancient sources would cure you of it.
Just as an exercise (consider it a childish game of the sort the unlettered like to amuse themselves with), imagine the episode related in Acts 19:11 in the hands of, say, Tacitus.
You have changed your goal: You were trying to say Roman historiography was systematically skeptical. It isn’t, and you ought to know better. The gospels and Acts employ sources called aretalogies which were popular collections of miracle stories, unfettered by historians’editing for the most part. You should know that too. On the other hand, there is ample evidence that the gospel writers did exercise some editorial discretion about what to include, and what they finally included were miracles of a fairly standard variety–ascensions, epiphanies, healings–the sort of thing in fact we can get from…Roman history. No need to play your game; I’m an historian.
If I’m wasting our time, and you’re not going to publish any further comments from me, please do me the courtesy of briefly saying so.
My central issue is this: I find it deeply disconcerting that a professional, an expert in the field, could state “the gospels do not differ substantially from many Graeco-Roman historical writings concerning known historical figures, except in length and subject” as a fact. Just blithely waving aside “subject” is deeply problematic, for if the gospels are to be taken as some species of bios, then surely it is substantial that they treat as their subject a presumably landless tekton from the hinterland, in radical contrast to the usual interests of ancient biographers.
I would honestly like to see you at least qualify that claim.
Start here: Plutarch, Life of Numa Pompilius. And
Livy, 1.16, trans. A. de Selincourt, The Early History of Rome, 34-35) rel2243-04.fa03.fsu.ed
…weary of kingly government, and exasperated of late by the imperious deportment of Romulus toward them, had plotted against his life and made him away, so that they might assume the authority and government into their own hands. This suspicion they sought to turn aside by decreeing divine honors to Romulus, as to one not dead, but translated to a higher condition. And Proculus, a man of note, took oath that he saw Romulus caught up into heaven in his arms and vestments, and heard him, as he ascended, cry out that they should hereafter style him by the name of Quirinus
Livy repeats more or less the same story, but shifts the initiative for deification to the people of Rome:
Then a few voices began to proclaim Romulus’s divinity; the cry was taken up, and at last every man present hailed him as a god and son of a god, and prayed to him to be forever gracious and to protect his children. However, even on this great occasion there were, I believe, a few dissenters who secretly maintained that the king had been torn to pieces by the senators. At all events the story got about, though in veiled terms; but it was not important, as awe, and admiration for Romulus’s greatness, set the seal upon the other version of his end, which was, moreover, given further credit by the timely action of a certain Julius Proculus, a man, we are told, honored for his wise counsel on weighty matters. The loss of the king had left the people in an uneasy mood and suspicious of the senators, and Proculus, aware of the prevalent temper, conceived the shrewd idea of addressing the Assembly. ‘Romulus’, he declared, ‘the father of our city descended from heaven at dawn this morning and appeared to me. In awe and reverence I stood before him, praying for permission to look upon his face without sin. Go, he said, and tell the Romans that by heaven’s will my Rome shall be capital of the world. Let them learn to be soldiers. Let them know, and teach their children, that no power on earth can stand against Roman arms. Having spoken these words, he was taken up again into the sky”
I also recommend my book on Julian the Apostate esp the introduction and his biographical traditions, keeping in mind they date from the 4th century. I say rather explicitly that the gospels are not intended to be history but that that they provide flashes of historical information; that is something almost all ancient historians and biblical scholars would say. I have no idea where you are getting off on the idea that the differences are either not registered or not accounted for in critical studies, except that you seem to “think” so. When I say in my piece for the Jesus process (you read it?) that the gospels are not intended to be biographical records or chronicles, I meant what I said; in fact a large chunk of the section called “The Later Second Century” deals with speculation about what kind of literature they are. But you seem doggedly determined to immunize yourself from reading or if you have read it understanding it. You are not having every repetitive comment posted because you are continuing to say the same wrong things (*go back and read you own first post, which is simply mistaken*) and avoiding the evidence in front of you. It is one of unfortunate traits of mythtics generally that they reason from poor conclusions to worse premises. The headline here is that Livy and Co, are not von Ranke, not even Gibbon, and did not write for the same purposes. What “really” happened is often at the service of what their patron wanted to happen, and what Rome required. The Christians did not invent hagiography or even the aretalogies; but your superimposition of post-Enlightenment “parameters” on the early writers completely glosses over the tangency and overlaps between the genres. On the other hand, it is undeniable that Luke, who was writing for a patron, filled his gospel and esp Acts with the sorts of pseudo-historical and miraculous tales that a donor might have wanted to read. Whatever the case, the wedge you want to drive is porous at best.
Gibbon on Herodotus:
“The philosopher, who with calm suspicion examines the dreams and omens, the miracles and prodigies of profane and even of ecclesiastical history, will probably conclude, that if the eyes of the spectators have sometimes been deceived by fraud, the understanding of the readers have much more frequently been insulted by fiction. Every event, or appearance, or accident, which seems lo deviate from the ordinary course of nature, has been rashly ascribed to the immediate action of the deity, and the astonished fancy of the multitude has sometimes given shape, colour, language, and motion to the fleeting but uncommon meteors of the air.”
The quicquid Graecia mendax audet in historia, applied by the Roman satirist to the Greek historians, partakes more of insolence than justice; perhaps it is not very extravagant to affirm, that there are more prodigies in Livy, than in all the Greek historians together.
You don’t hear the skepticism, the distance, the coolness in these two Roman accounts of those who claimed to have seen gods?
Note that 1) in Plutarch, the deification of Romulus is recounted … but it is presented as having been a ruse or ploy. In Livy likewise, 2) we hear the voice of dissenters, presented at least equally to believers; while we are hearing not an alleged factual account of an alleged divinity like Jesus. In fact, in Livy we are hearing a process of divinization objectified, and spoken of, rather cynically, and at a distance.
You didn’t perceive the Irony in the Roman accounts? Which puts their accounts of “miracles” in a different realm, than simple belief.
By the way? This kind of evidence of awareness/cynicism regarding attributions of godhood – also recently evident in the matter of Julius Caesar – lends support to one mythicist thesis: that the Romans cynically created a passive, “suffering,” slave-like “god” in Jesus; to direct the masses towards slavish obedience.
“also recently evident in the matter of Julius Caesar …” I thought he was dead.
(*go back and read you own first post, which is simply mistaken*)
Okay. When I do, I find that in my muddleheadedness I said that one of the devices a Greco-Roman historian might employ in the course of recounting a prodigy or a miracle was “presenting a rationalist version of the story along with the miraculous.” I do believe my addlement must persist, as I am hard-pressed to comprehend how this, from your proffered counter-example, Livy, doesn’t fit my description:
The fact that the rationalist version serves as a foil for a tendentious argument in support of the miraculous is beside the point. If you think, as you said before, that my distinction depends on the idea that “Roman historiography was systematically skeptical” or that “Livy and Co. are … von Ranke” then you’re reading beyond what I’m saying. This kind of airing of an alternate version, however disingenuously, however in the service of traditional pieties after all, is as “absolutely typical” of G-R historiography as is “incorporating the miraculous alongside the ordinary,” but it is completely absent from the gospels. A thin, perhaps fragile, wedge it may be, as I am not nearly as ignorant as you assume of the vexed nature of retrospective genre distinctions and the tendency to split ancient continuities into modern compartments, but “porous” I still say not.
Also, let’s recall the terms of your 10. and 11. that prompted my comment. We’re supposed to be talking about “known historical figures” (10.) and “historical figures” (11.). I’ll allow that Jesus of Nazareth is at least as necessary a figure of any plausible reconstruction of the origins of Christianity as The Historical Romulus is for the foundation of Rome, but I don’t think that’s what you meant Livy to demonstrate.
@Garcia and O’Brien. Nice try. You seem to miss the rather significant point that Livy, whom Gibbon (quoted in this thread) accuses of using more miracles and wonders than all the Greek historians put together, recounts the story of Romulus as though it was pure history–when the events, if they bear any semblance of fact, happened at least 700 years before his time and were simply the wash of legend and Livy’s vivid imagination–and his patron’s preferences. If you prefer Plutarch’s account, he connects the twin brothers to Aeneas’s escape from Troy as impeccably historically recounted by Vergil in the Aeneid. It is true there is skepticism about the parentage of the kids: Mars, Amulius (the virgin Rhea’s uncle), and Hercules. (The relatively simple choice between the Holy spirit and Joseph in the Galilean story is much less taxing.) The apotheosis of Romulus is the least of Livy’s (or Plutarch’s) inventions.
Would you say that if the entire story of Jesus is a fabrication that the walking on water bit deserves special opprobrium for not having been presented skeptically? or would the chief objection be to the sermon on the mount for putting words in his mouth, as Livy does when he recounts the reactions to Romulus’s death? In addition to that wowser (you do tend to accumulate them every time you come back to this)–you keep missing this point: I said pretty clearly in my article for the Jesus Process what everybody already knows: the gospels were not designed to provide a biography of Jesus (Luke partially excepted), any more than the Book of Genesis was intended to teach physics. If they were intended to be “biographies”, even of the sort we find in the Roman historians, we might not be much better off because Hellenistic biography is mainly legend, as you will know from Philostratus. (?) I actually don’t have the time to teach you a parallel course in ancient history-writing alas, but just some advice: (a) Roman history writing is more fond of decoration than Greek, despite the fact that Herodotus is known in the trade as “the father of lies”; (b) your point about skepticism is nullifed by the sheer weight of various writers’ preferences for decoration and legend; (c) while empirical tendencies certainly exist, this tendency toward Loving the extraordinary tends to get worse, until we get to the time of Libanius, at the dawn of late antiquity, who never met an omen, augur or earthquake he didn’t like. It is true, the gospels and apocryphal literature do not bring these native traditions under control very early, but that is hardly the point: they reflect (as I say one last time) the credulity of the era.
As a matter of fact can you tell me that Vergil believed Aeneas came from Troy just wondering?
@Steve Burned: Octavian was happy with the story; that’s all we know, and that he paid for it. Vergil had no commitment to “real” history–just the glory of Rome and the glorification of an insecure Octavian. As to the quote from Gibbon–spurious? Plutarch bought it. Ennius believed Romulus had become the first god and so justified Augustus’ deification: this isn’t conjecture, it’s on the coins. You do know about the coins, yes? Do you call this a myth? Vergil’s 4th eclogue [read it here: [http://www.archive.org/stream/virgilsprophecy00virggoog/virgilsprophecy00virggoog_djvu.txtis] probably, not certainly, a basis for Luke’s story of angels singing in the sky at the birth of Jesus: the 4th eclogue can be dated:[ http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/25010631?uid=3739696&uid=2&uid=4&uid=3739256&sid=21100852225281%5D. It is a glorification myth. But Augustus really lived. I am frankly amazed that on the basis of so little information you are willing to challenge what critical scholarship has known for 100 years and the mythtics seem not to know at all: clearly, you need better teachers and not just the rank amateurs whose silly notions you are swallowing. I can guess whose.
Just for the record Im not a “mythtic” exactly. The coins prove one thing : whoever coined them wanted people to believe that they were as one with whatever deity they were associated with on that coin. But then again see Gaius inre Drusilla He divinized her for what reason? I would suspect a similar reason to Jews divinizing their “messiah” idea. Does that make me amythtic? Please tell me impremator.
Hoffmann? It seems to be a popular idea on this blog among Historicists, that since the Greeks and Romans believed in gods and miracles, therefore, they were no more rational than early Christians. And that therefore, their asserted existence of Roman emperors, say, is no more reliable, no more likely or not, than assertions of the existence of Jesus?
But do you really wanted to say … THAT? That 1) Greco-Roman culture was just as superstitious as Judeo-Christiantiy? And 2) that the existence of Roman emperors for example therefore, is no more or less certain, than the historical existence of Jesus?
What happens if we compare their relative claims to existence. Suppose we say of Greco-Romans and early Christians, that both believed in miracles equally. Then say, belief in miracles cancels out as a constant. So suppose we go on and look for OTHER EVIDENCE? We might seek proof of historical existence in other things: like say, 1) important, major works, like roads and battles and so forth. And 2) accounts of contemporaries, and 3) other documents. And in the case of Roman emperors? We have LOTS of such accounts. Whereas regarding Jesus? Almost nothing
Then too? It is likely that MANY Romans believed in (many of?) the gods; and believed that emperors specifically were gods, or sons of them. But did ALL Romans believe that? Plato and Socrates at times acknowledged the gods … but other times said things that seemed to cast doubt on them. (Which is the reason that Socrates was ordered to comitt suicide). While (in at least Shakespeare’s account), by the time of Julius Caesar, many Romans, Senators, did not believe that their emperor/leader was a god; it was indeed because Julius claimed to be that, that he was killed.
Many uneducated Romans believed that their currrent, modern leaders were gods; but much of the intelligencia were not so certain. And if we believe the cynics were right there … why not in the case of Jesus as well? Why not just see the divinization of Jesus as being culturally conditioned, by the absurd (popular if not elite) beliefs of the day, both Roman and Jewish; and the beliefs of both as being equally reprehensible?
By the time of Julius, many Romans clearly saw their emperors were not gods. And today, we believe they were right. Why not the case of Jesus as well?
But in any case, furthermore, if the non-divinity of Jesus is conceded by some Historicists – but his non-existence is not? Note that by the time of Jesus, while some Romans believed in miracles, or prodigies (great works?), many – if not all – educated Romans knew real, objective history fairly well. And they had a civilization that was realistic and reliable enough, to rather fully see the real nature and existence of many things – and the nonexistence of others. Whereas, out in the provinces? And especially among rude, uneducated Galilean fishermen? Their vision was far, far, far less reliable.
So that? Though both classical culture and Judeo-Christian cultures believe at times in supernatural miracles, still, Romans were a bit more realistic, and had better records (which itself is proof of greater reliability).
And therefore? Reports of the “real existence” of Jesus, are far, far, far less reliable than Roman reports of the real existence of their own recent emperors, etc…
Garcia: I am beginning to see the root of your fallacy: “But do you really wanted to say … THAT? That 1) Greco-Roman culture was just as superstitious as Judeo-Christiantiy?” Leaving aside the phrases “Graeco-Roman,” and “Judaeo-Christian” yo seem not to recognize that these are not parallel but that the latter is a subset of the latter, especially Christianity. As to this statement: “Many – if not all – educated Romans knew real, objective history fairly well. And they had a civilization that was realistic and reliable enough, to rather fully see the real nature and existence of many things – and the nonexistence of others. Whereas, out in the provinces? And especially among rude, uneducated Galilean fishermen? Their vision was far, far, far less reliable.” Huh? I suppose you will find a friend in Lucretius, but e is not an historian, as the the general thrust of your comment it is simply false, false, false. In addition to that, not because they loved facts,have acquired the values you retroject into their writings?
Joe: Some of us reading this blog and the comments are not expert in the matters under discussion. When you say that a comment contains falsehoods please educate us by telling us what is false and why. As I stated previously in another way, I don’t have a dog in this fight. Up to now, I haven’t been convinced one way or the other, although I’m impressed with some of the name calling. So far, for me, it’s not proved either way.
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