The Humphreys Intervention

All I knew about a man named Kenneth Humphreys is that he is regarded as the clear loser in a debate with Christian apologist Gary Habermas.  He enjoys this reputation not because a bevvy of evangelical zealots cheered Mr Habermas to victory on the topic of Jesus’ Resurrection (Yes: people are still talking about that) but because his own cheerleaders found him badly prepared, inarticulate, and just not up to the job.  Intrigued, I wondered if Mr Humphreys was not just having a bad night so I decided to find out more about him.

It is difficult to find out much about Mr Humphreys.  –Apparently even for the sponsors of the debate.  This is what his side provided for a curriculum vitae:

“Some people want to know where I’m coming from: I’m an ex-college lecturer, ex-photographer, ex-computer salesman – but not an ex-Christian, Jew, Moslem or Nazi! I had a religion-free childhood and from the youngest age acquired an interest in history. In turns I was both fascinated and appalled by the history of the ‘Christian Faith’ and have made its legacy and crimes a life-long study, not because – as Christian apologists often imagine, I was ever ‘hurt’, abused, or rejected by the Church or Christians – but because humanity’s fate has for so long been held captive by this pernicious creed. But all religion is inherently dangerous.”

Like some of the pernicious New Testament figures—or rather figments—Mr Humphreys likes to discuss, the literary evidence for his existence is therefore pretty scant. He says he is on a mission to rescue people from the clutches of imaginary friends.  And if you ask me, that is a significant thing to want to do.

Of course, in an important mission like this, even insurgency and misinformation are justifiable. A visit to Mr Humphreys’ panoramically rich and colourful website welcomes the superstitious masses with the amusing  greeting “Welcome to Enlightenment!”

Here in a carnival of choice you will find answers to the questions Pastor Bob never asked.  The sample menu:

  • Christianity was the ultimate product of religious syncretism in the ancient world. Its emergence owed nothing to a holy carpenter. There were many Jesuses but the fable was a cultural construct.
  • The nativity yarn is a concatenation of nonsense. The genealogies of Jesus, both Matthew’s version and Luke’s, are pious fiction. Nazareth did not exist in the 1st century AD – the area was a burial ground of rock-cut tombs.
  • With multiple authors behind the original gospel story it is no surprise that the figure of “Jesus” is a mess of contradictions. Yet the story is so thinly drawn that being a “good Christian” might mean almost anything.
  • The 12 disciples are as fictitious as their master, invented to legitimise the claims of the early churches. The original Mary was not a virgin, that idea was borrowed from pagan goddesses. The pagan world knew all about virgins getting pregnant by randy gods: The Mythical “Virgin Mother”.
  • Scholars have known all this for more than 200 years but priestcraft is a highly profitable business and finances an industry of deceit to keep the show on the road.
  • “Jesus better documented than any other ancient figure”? Don’t believe a word of it. Unlike the mythical Jesus, a real historical figure like Julius Caesar has a mass of mutually supporting evidence.
  • The case for a mythical Jesus – Nailing Jesus.

Nailing Jesus.  Lol.  Scholarship is a dry and thankless business.  I see nothing wrong with sexing it up a little, and nothing (except maybe the NaturallyNaughty Toy Store) is as sexy as Mr Humphrey’s salvation emporium.  Try this:

“The trail-blazing Christian missionary and apostle, St Paul, appears nowhere in the secular histories of his age. Ironically, though supposedly in Jerusalem at the right time, he can give no witness to a historical Jesus. But was Paul himself a genuine historical figure? Viewed without the rose-tinted spectacles of Christian faith, the first voyage of Paul is as fanciful as the first voyage of Sinbad….” 

Still, for all his enthusiasm and a menu that rivals Zabar’s Online for variety, I am a little unhappy with Mr Humphreys.

Our modest project called the Jesus Process has got his attention and he seems to think it doesn’t answer any of the questions he has already answered with different answers.  He is understandably annoyed and has gone to a lot of trouble to bring the subject back to Jesus and Paul never having existed–and of course, the conspiracy that keeps the fiction alive and the yahoos on their knees.

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First we are told that “Alarm bells have sounded in the ivory towers.” I am a pretty light sleeper, yet I have heard nothing.  But granting that Mr Humphreys may be referring to mythical bells, I am somewhat worried about what fire escape to use when the forces of reason, as Mr Humphreys assures us they will, drive the priests from our temple. I’ll say one thing though: it is a good thing that Mr Humphreys is an ex-lecturer and got out while the getting was good.

Mr Humphreys then goes on to quote me and my colleague Maurice Casey as saying,

“One of the most remarkable features of public discussion of Jesus of Nazareth in the twenty-first century has been a massive upsurge in the view that this important historical figure did not even exist.” – Maurice Casey

“The endorsement of amateurs by amateurs is becoming a rampant, annoying and distressing problem for biblical scholarship … The disease these buggers spread is ignorance disguised as common sense … the popularity of the non-historicity thesis … now threatens to distract biblical studies from the serious business of illuminating the causes, context and development of early Christianity.” – Joseph Hoffmann

I apologize for my error: I should have known better—and I do.  Buggers do not spread disease.  Probably an autocorrect for ideas.

Jesus of Nazareth: Self-portrait, 32 CE

But Mr Humphreys is not through with me yet.  When you are fighting against people who believe in ghosts and apparitions, say what you need to say because, after all, the Truth will set you free.  Before letting me off the hook after a long time out of the water, just to keep the metaphor, Mr Humphreys notes that I am, in no particular order

(a) Opposed to the tactics and rhetoric of the new atheists (true–or rather, guilty).  Nothing is more important to my scholarship than this bit of information, which makes it possible for me to move seamlessly from being pro-God to pro-Jesus;

(2) A lapsed Catholic (guilty again, depending on what lapsed means: does it mean I have acquired the self-confidence to snigger through my father’s funeral Mass?);

(3) A fan of Alvin Plantinga, or maybe Alvin Plantinga or even William Lane Craig,  based on a reposted review of Plantinga’s recent book by Chris Tollefsen,  and a quote therefrom which I did not write but which is positioned, curiously enough, as though I said it.  In this battle, one depends on the philosophy of “dynamic representation” rather than real quotations–I get it (but false: I am not Alvin Plantinga).

(4) Finally: that I have been indecisive about the existence of Jesus. I think Mr. Humphreys likes the term “flip-flop”, but that would involve turning over and over without purpose, and I am pretty one-directional in this regard, having moved from diffidence in Jesus outside the Gospels to mild skepticism to the view that there is no reason to think Jesus did not exist. But as to the charge, true!–to the point where I would enjoy reading a coherent and convincing argument from mythicists that would challenge the standard view in place of the twittery and absurdity that in my flipfloppy way I regard as useless and unintelligible.  I am not saying Mr. Humphreys’ arguments and research are absurd.  I haven’t really had time to check them, since I am busy working on my finely nuanced, fully loaded views.  But I have high hopes that when I look at them my mind will be changed in a flash, a little like the figmentary Paul’s mind was changed about the non-existent Jesus in the road to Damascus.

And there is this, which I find somewhat puzzling–that “having lived with Jesus as man and boy, Hoffmann, like Ehrman, finds it’s too difficult to dismiss his beloved Jesus for good.” I am from a small family and I would have noticed if Jesus had been at Thanksgiving dinner.  I can’t of course speak for Bart Ehrman, but I would be surprised if this isn’t also true of him.  Besides, pre-lapsed Catholics knew where to find Jesus: in the tabernacle on the altar at St Mary Immaculate on Broadway. Lapsed Catholics may have noticed that the church is now a restaurant.

I am not quite sure what the word “dismiss” means. But it seems to mean dismissing the idea that Jesus was a real human being rather than dismissing the belief that Jesus was God. Many of the people I cutely refer to as mythtics think that the latter entails the former, though for the life of me I can’t see how what third and fourth century Christians believed makes the existence of a first century Jesus improbable.  This is the kind of thing I am going to learn when I read Mr Humphreys in more depth.

Or maybe it means believing what Mr Humphreys believes in his massively construed 510-page revised edition of the self-published Jesus Never Existed! Tipping the scales at around 5,000,000th at I cite this statistic not with malice but because Mr Humphreys has written that

“Hoffmann has long flip-flopped between believing there was a Jesus and believing there wasn’t. No crime there. But he wants to project something masterful and profound about his enduring uncertainty by using obscure language, tortuous argument and an avalanche of complex, pretentious sentences. Someone should tell him that people have stopped listening.”

I am grateful for this warning because it will save me a lot of trouble.  I can now choose whether to work on my complex, pretentious sentences or buy a bigger sound system.  But the warning does worry me,  because if my books are doing a little better after so many years on the cart–not as well as Bart Ehrman’s but then who’s counting?–who is listening to Mr Humphreys, the man with the real answers?  On the other hand, he can be cheered by the fact that he has proof Christianity didn’t spread quickly. Unchristianity can be expected to spread even more slowly, I reckon.

Sadly, there isn’t much I understand in the redlined sections, meant to be the substantive portion of  Mr Humphreys’  blog, which follow directly from the therapeutic sections (is he an ex-lecturer in psychology, I wonder?) when he gets around to it.  He has clearly thought much more seriously about how Christianity really began than I have. –One of the problems living in an ivory tower is that you don’t meet the right people, on the ground as it were.  I will have a long hard look at what I have written, especially the meat of his suggestion that

“Paul’s ‘lack of interest’ in a historical Jesus is quite bizarre support for the existence of a historical Jesus. Perhaps Paul’s lack of interest – and he was ostensibly in the right place at the right time – was because there was no Jesus of Nazareth to be interested in! Hoffmann’s “finely nuanced” argument here will be lost on most of humanity – as it surely should be – but my guess is that our irate academic grand master doesn’t give a damn and even remains unaware that his ambivalent and tortured message is not passing through to his confused readers.”

Damn–the ambivalent and tortured message-thing again.  But (and I am embarrassed to say so) I am slightly confused.  I especially want to know why this explanation is nuanced and the explanation bizarre.  I guess what I need to know is why something as well known as Paul’s neglect of the Jesus of history can only be explained as there being no Jesus of Nazareth to be interested in, when Paul was clearly interested in something called Jesus.  A real Paul would have been a jealous Paul, competing with real apostles for the palm of authority conferred by a real Jesus.  Naively, to me, that is what comes through in the letters. Even in the gospels. It shows you how, even though my sentences are ‘finely nuanced’, they are really contrived to hide my utter confusion about these things.

Also, it shows what clever forgers and charlatans the gospel-writers were when they invented Christianity, and how smart the inventor of Paul was, throwing him into the mix just to confuse us. It would never have occurred to me, based on a straight reading of Galatians and the Corinthian letters,  that Paul is a figment  interested in a figment who went by the name of Jesus.

But I can’t know everything, and even if I did I couldn’t squeeze it into 510 pages.  Thank God for a sane, straightforward approach to puzzles that have perplexed me for a long, long time.  As Mr Humphreys says, “Welcome to Enlightenment.”

22 thoughts on “The Humphreys Intervention

  1. Hoffmann: I apologize for my error: I should have known better—and I do. Buggers do not spread disease. Probably an autocorrect for ideas.

    Here’s the original quote from 23 April:

    We can just ignore the provocative ignorance of Myers, Jerry Coyne, Neil Godfrey, and Richard Carrier et al. like so many mosquitoes.

    Except mosquitoes are tough to ignore, and some carry Dengue [fever] and Malaria. If the last two years has proved anything, it is that the spawn of the new atheist movement, like Alex Forrest in Fatal Attraction, will not be ignored. Insult works. Spew works. Faitheist baiting works. What works works.

    The disease these buggers spread is ignorance disguised as common sense. They are the single greatest threat, next to fundamentalism, to the calm and considered academic study of religion, touting the scientific method as their Mod Op while ignoring its application to historical study.

    Since “ignorance” stands in apposition to malaria and Dengue Fever in the above tirade, the point seems to have been that Coyne, Godfrey, Carrier, et al. are pests who carry a “disease” not people who spread ideas.

    Naturally, if you want to persist in the polite fiction that your autocorrect changed the word, that’s up to you. I’m even up for a do-ever — an Internet mulligan, so to speak.

    BTW, do you still think that, other than fundamentalism, provocative mosquito-people are the greatest threat to the academic study of religion? Because it would seem to me the gross, widespread incompetence within academia itself (especially in NT studies) might pose a bigger threat — one more difficult to face and, therefore, correct.

    • @Tim. Oh my, Timothy: We don’t do irony, do we? Your quotation is quite correct. I did say what I said–that “buggers spread disease”, and of course it wasn’t an autocorrect error, as I would have thought anyone with an ounce of sense would see that the term to have likely caused offense was “buggers.” And yes, I see the proliferation of stupidity in this field by the likes of Mr Humphreys infectious because it encourages people to think that preposterous ideas are as good as smart ones. To me, that is the opposite of intellectual well-being. Btw, have you learned the definition of “pure mathematics” yet?

      • I’m just glad they’ve spread the incompetence net to include the whole of academia. It’s just a step away from the world being run by illuminati alien reptiles.

      • The Boy Timmy, complains: ‘Yes, Joe, it is hard to convey irony in print media, isn’t it?’ This is priceless. Does he not read? Satire is primarily a literary genre or form, although literalistic minds will have the privilege of enjoyment compromised or even, as in Timmy’s case, apparently denied.

      • The irony is that they don’t understand satire commenting on reality, but find such childish delight in the most ridiculous flustered nonsense with no sense of reality. A foreign colleague and friend said to me, ‘ah but truth is wasted on some people’, as is satire therefore, and that’s probably a good thing.

      • @Steph–
        “Damn with faint praise, assent with civil leer, And without sneering teach the rest to sneer; Willing to wound, and yet afraid to strike, Just hint a fault, and hesitate dislike; Alike reserv’d to blame, or to commend, A tim’rous foe, and a suspicious friend.” Hard to see what role “mudslinging” plays in this noble tradition.

      • All kidding aside, Dr. Hoffmann — are you sure you’ve thrown your lot in with the right bunch? Is this really how you want to be remembered?

        When Mike “Boobs” Wilson is cheering you on, it has to make you want to look in the mirror wonder where you went wrong.

        The offer of a do-over (mulligan) still stands.

      • Some people have the skin of a crocodile, the same plastic smile and a complete absence of wit. The kid’s kidding himself. The plain truth is transparent: no mythtic now will convince anyone outside their own social sub group.

      • Another irony. Timmy and friends frolicking on Vridar have lost the plot again. They’ve completely overlooked the fact that we haven’t announced our Jesus Process team yet, despite the fact it’s been mentioned several times here. Is this a reflection of their short term memory loss or evidence they can’t read?

      • Possibly too busy writing limericks and drinking green beer/ here’s one:

        The man who invented St Paul
        Was fat, had bad breath and one ball:
        His entire reputation
        Hinged on saying “Salvation
        Comes through Jesus or don’t come at all”

        See–you can do scandalous things and not be a cur.

  2. This is my first comment on your blog, but, I recently started to read your blog, and can I just say, I really love it, and this is one of my favourite posts, just because I’ve seen old man Ken around on the internet before, and find him to be, to be honest, quite a boring individual, with paranoid delusions (I mean, seriously, he believes the Church is a conspiring to “keep” the truth of Jesus’ non-existence from the public, perhaps, he should sell that idea to Dan Brown, it sounds right up his street!).

    I’m not sure if you have the saying in America but over here (UK, same as Kenny), we have a saying – jack of all trades, master of none, which, after reading Ken’s career history, I’d have to say fits him completely).

    I’m sure if old man Ken sees this, he’ll dismiss me as some Christian, just like he’ll do to Ehrman, you, Casey, or anyone else who disagrees with him, but, like him, I never had a religious upbringing either. I just have a brain and use it, and know what critical scholarship looks like (I’ve recently finished uni, so, it’s fresh in my mind) and, I do know that Humphrey’s is as far removed from actual scholarship as you can get.

    Still, I do feel sorry for him, as he seems to have a lot of time on his hands to both maintain his website, blog (I didn’t know he had one), forum, and rant in the comments sections of blogs.

    Anyway, sorry for the long-winded post, but, again, just wanted to say, really excellent post and I’m sure I’ll enjoy a lot of them in the future.

    • Having been reared a Methodist and educated at a Jesuit university, I have seen the Elephant of religion from a number of aspects. As an adult working in the field of foreign assistance for 30 years..(some 12 nations) I must say I find more in Mr. Humphreys’ writings that accord with my life’s experiences that I ever found in anyone’s religious beliefs. I have a simple question for believers. If as you believe, our universe or multiverse is the creation of some kind of super creating eternally existing entity. As it is defined in most religious writings this entity is a perfect object. It is all knowing, all powerful and possess all foreknowledge of each and every event throughout the universe or multiverse. What is it about this entity that makes you believe it requires its creatures to worship it? That, after all is the basis of all religions. For this perfect entity to require, need or want something outside itself is logically incredible. That would include the worship or approval or gratitude of its creations.

  3. You said: A visit to Mr Humphreys’ panoramically rich and colourful website welcomes the superstitious masses with the amusing greeting “Welcome to Salvation!”

    I clicked the link and searched for “Welcome to Salvation!” — couldn’t find it. Did find “Open for Salvation!”

  4. And as for the idea that Kenneth Humphreys lost and Gary Habermas won the debate. Humphreys started too slow in his first speech. However, the point he makes about snow white that if you start with the assumption it is history and then make bits and pieces of it independent testimony despite it coming right there from the storybook then you end up with the same situation as what is done with the gospels. Habermas clearly concedes this point since he resolves to know nothing among us but Paul, and really only 1st Corinthians 15 at that! Habermas says basically: Paul says in 1 Cor 15 that 500 brethren saw Jesus resurrected, therefore Jesus was resurrected. I’d call that an automatic lose for Habermas myself.

    • @cljormsbee: No I did not until I looked at the site, which others may wish to do: At least at a glance it is a playground for Neo-Nazis, conspiracy theorists, secret science addicts and other schmutz. Another title in their distinguished religion series is called “Did Jesus Really Have Holes in His Hands,” which can be yours for only 7 quid. As they say, “Are you up [sic] the rigours of intellectual challenge and the judgement of your peers? If so, the Historical Review Press is for you. Contact us today via the contact page on this site.” Reading the list of their “hard to find books” (with a smattering of reprints of others thrown in the measure) it felt very much like visiting a porn site. Not that I would know. To the extent that mythtics defends work like this by creeps like this, their microminority opinion will stay in the lower cellar with the rotting onions

  5. Pingback: Jesus, John, Paul, George, and Ringo Mythicism

  6. It’s regrettable that Edinburgh have imported so many fundies, like David Owen etc, and come under the influence of the bullying tactics of conservatives like Hurtado (now emeritus staying on in Edinburgh instead of returning to his homeland). It’s a travesty that critical scholars in the UK are necessarily confronting. The situation in no way vindicates the vulgar rudeness and incompetence of Ken Humphreys especially expressed on his website. Joe’s eloquent satire is the perfectly appropriate and welcome response and greatly appreciated by others who don’t comment on mythtics.

  7. Pingback: "Tales of the Christos Mythos": James J. O'Meara reviews Kenneth Humphreys' Jesus Never Existed | Counter-Currents Publishing

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