Parsimony with that Salad?

I am watching in amusement as the mythtics, in some exasperation, encounter the problem of parsimony for the first time.

The “father” of the word, William of Ockham (Occam), was a famous Franciscan logician when the two words were not considered a contradiction in terms. He actually stole the idea from Aristotle, but keep it quiet.

His tri-partite axiom is that “Pluralitas non est ponenda sine neccesitate” (Complexity should not be extended without necessity); that “Frustra fit per plura quod potest fieri per pauciora” (It is useless to posit many things that can be explained by a single thing); and ”Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem” (Things [causes] should not be multiplied beyond necessity).

Only one of these formulations (the first one) is his. It means that when you have two competing predictive theories the simpler one is the better. It has been used as far afield as philosophy and quantum physics, as with Stephen Hawking’s famous comment in Brief History of Time, “We could still imagine that there is a set of laws that determines events completely for some supernatural being, who could observe the present state of the universe without disturbing it. However, such models of the universe are not of much interest to us mortals. It seems better to employ the principle known as Occam’s razor.”

In the later history of philosophy, the principle is known as economy (Ernst Mach) and by its more common name, “parsimony.”

It is interesting that the mythtics do not see that arguments from distant analogies and might-be or might-have-beens are needlessly complex and hence violate this principle.

They repeatedly try to stick the fallacies of “straw man” and “circular reasoning” to my comments, presumably because these are favourite recourses and the only fallacies they know.

Another they might want to know is iterari assertionem, a form of wishful thinking that operates on the principle that if you say something often enough, people will think you’re right. It is notable that they do not see that a simple statement–that the gospels present material typical of their time and place and that the figure they present is a typical figure of his time and place–is a parsimonious statement accounting for the existence of the gospels. I can’t entirely blame them for this since for almost two thousand years theologians argued that Jesus violated all of these categories and that the gospels were a unique species of literature unparalleled in the Hellenistic world.

My argument is not an argument for the divinity of Jesus. It is not a conclusive argument for the historicity of Jesus. Instead, it constitutes an aporia against the argument that Jesus was not historical. It also requires any alternative theorist to present a more plausible and economical explanation of the existence of the gospels, and to defend the suggestion that they are fabrications against the parsimonious observation that they are, at least with respect to their primary subject matter, telling the truth. Such an argument, just to save time later, does not consist in the repeated assertion that stories of other gods are made up because these other stories are not gospels and don’t even look very much like the gospels.

This is not propositional truth, obviously–which is why tests like Bayes’s theorem fall flat in testing it–but truth as being a generally accepted statement of events as they were perceived by observers and reported under the conditions of their time and place. Historians have to rely on this rather modest definition of truth all the time, and much of our general theory of history is built on it, figure to figure, movement to movement, and place to place. It is not infallible, but then neither are the general theories of physics: it would be a pretty dim scientist who thinks that if he could actually witness the event of the Big Bang he would not need to make adjustments to his theory. If that is true, think of all the history that would need to be re-written if we could send historians in to record the death of Socrates, Marco Polo’s audience with the Khan, or (assuming it happened) the crucifixion.

The multiplication of analogies and difficulties violates this basic principle in the same way that metaphysical explanations of the world’s causation violate it in modern cosmology.

Of course no one is arguing that the law of parsimony is a substitute for insight, careful reasoning and the full operation of the scientific method. However, attempting to substitute the weakest form of argument–analogy–for more transparent and compelling approaches does not set the stage for meaningful discussion.
The three C’s I have invoked, therefore, have to be addressed not by counter-propositions (and trivial, mainly useless appeals to “logic” as the mythics have come to use the word) but by evidence: The mythtics need to provide positive evidence that a character “like” Jesus (or if they prefer, one imported from another myth, Greek, Jewish, or other, adapted to use) explains the existence of the gospels and their central message more adequately than the economical view that an historical individual named Jesus, who was typical of his time, culture and background as we know it, is the source of artifacts dating very close to the time he is reckoned to have lived.

Alternatively, they need to show what events, causes, and conditions may have led first century writers, of no apparent skill, to fabricate the basic elements of their story. This may seem elementary because it is.

56 thoughts on “Parsimony with that Salad?

  1. For comic relief, here is a little song of a crowing master of fallacies, that some Queensland apostle, from his neck of the woods, propagandizes as the nec plus ultra manipulation of historicity denial — with my thanks to Gilbert and Sullivan:

    I am the very model of a modern Mythicist-General,
    I conjure information mythical, spiritual and theological,
    I know the books of G.A. Wells, and I quote the epistles historical
    From Paul to Revelation, in order categorical;
    I’m very well acquainted, too, with matters problematical,
    I understand parables, both the simple and allegorical,
    About the Mark conundrum I’m teeming with a lot of suppositions,
    With many cheerful facts from free-flowing divagations.

    With many cheerful facts from free-flowing divagations.

    I’m very good at mixing and diluting conclusions;
    I learnt the Greek names of ideas of delusions:
    In short, in matters terrestrial, mythological, and celestial,
    I am the very model of a modern Mythicist-General.

    In short, in matters terrestrial, mythological, and celestial,
    He is the very model of a modern Mythicist-General..

    I know our fantasy history, Enoch, Daniel and Isaiah’s ascension;
    I can solve Hebrew acrostics, I’ve a pretty taste for comparison,
    I drown in whirlpools all the crimes of historicists,
    With spinning cobwebs I can trap flying apologists;
    I can tell undoubted manuscripts from forgery and interpolation,
    I know the roaring chorus from the quibbling New Oxonion!
    Then I can recite an argument of which I’ve read the content before,
    And paraphrase subtle ideas from past scholarship galore.

    And paraphrase subtle ideas from past scholarship galore.

    Then I can write a new article in bewildering English,
    And learn cute new words to give my swampy prose polish
    In short, in matters terrestrial, mythological, and celestial,
    I am the very model of a modern Mythicist-General.

    In short, in matters terrestrial, mythological, and celestial,
    He is the very model of a modern Mythicist-General.

    In fact, when I know what is meant by “imitatio” and “variatio”,
    When I can tell at sight a tsunami from a juggernaut “controversio”
    When such conundrums as Persian magis at Luxor are no surprise,
    And when I know precisely what is meant by “Lazarus, arise”,
    When I have learnt what progress has been made in literary borrowing,
    When I know more of gabbing rhetorics than a bartender in training–
    In short, when I’ve of winning polemics a real mastery
    You’ll say a better Mythicist-General has never been so blustery.

    You’ll say a better Mythicist-General has never been so blustery.

    For my scholarly supremacy, though I’m plucky and adventury,
    Has only been consecrated as the summum of the century;
    But still, in matters terrestrial, mythological, and celestial,
    I am the very model of a modern Mythicist-General.

    But still, in matters terrestrial, mythological, and celestial,
    He is the very model of a modern Mythicist-General.

    Roo Bookaroo, Jan 9, 2013

  2. All truth has its context, as you mention, and the gospels retell (within an oral, not written tradition, and thus with some expedience) a story that had to have some drivers in it, as such tales required if they were to gain audience attention. Such hyperbole was accepted as the context of their day, given the paucity of science and learning in that time to prove things different.

    The play’s the thing, and of course it’s fanciful, or else the dramatist has not done his work – he is otherwise left with celebration and laments. It’s how the audience leaves the theatre that counts, and clearly the Jesus tale struck a chord that echoed something people wanted to hear. An account as legitimate as Hamlet, and always transparent to reason for its own sake.

  3. I do not find the mythicists’ explanation for the gospels terribly persuasive either. On the other hand, I find the historicists’ explanations for the epistles equally unconvincing.

    • I’m not sure what you mean by historicists’ explanations of the epistles. Is there an historical view of the epistles beyond the idea that Paul wrote some and not others? Nothing much historical rides on what he says about Jesus.

      • The explanations for why Paul doesn’t seem to know anything about Jesus’ earthly ministry or even that he had one.

      • Whose ‘explanations’ are those which claim Paul didn’t know anything about Jesus’ teaching, Vinny? Other than Price and other prominent mythicists, that is.

      • Yes Steph. Those are the explanations that make more sense to me than anything that the historicists have to offer concerning the scarcity of anything in Paul that corroborates those facts which historicists claim we can know with relative certainty about the historical Jesus.

      • I still don’t know what you mean by historicists’ explanations of the epistles. Who are these ‘historicists’ and what are their ‘explanations’ – other than the idea that not all that is attributed to Paul was written by Paul. But regardless of any supposed arguments in favour of Paul knowing of Jesus’s ministry and those arguments for Paul knowing nothing of a historical Jesus at all, and whose arguments you find most convincing, why would Paul discuss Jesus’ ministry? He was writing short epistles to communities who probably knew about Jesus’ ministry anyway, and Paul was addressing issues and problems in those communities. It had already been claimed that Jesus had supposedly ‘risen’ from the dead and Christianity had already been ‘born’. Paul persecuted a few Christians before he was converted – after Jesus’ crucifixion. It’s slightly amusing that some mythicists need Paul to have written about Jesus’ life (about which he might well have even felt crippling guilt) for Jesus to have existed, when Jesus wasn’t the point of the letters. Paul’s letters are not ‘evidence’ for a historical Jesus but as letters are evidence of Christianity’s beginnings.

      • Historicists seem willing to write off one huge chunk of the Bible after another, as non-historical; like most of Paul But then they want to assert certainty, to some small part of it. Though clearly the majority of stuff was junk; and so why not go with majority opinion, on the whole lot?

        Especially when the “historical” methodologies that “prove” the tiny remnant, are laughable cases of all-too-special pleadings, deviating from real historigraphy.

        Then too in any case? If Steph admits that Paul founded what came to be known as Christianity? Then doesn’t that suggest that indeed, Paul is in EVERY sense, founder of Christianity? That no “historical” Jesus was ever needed.

      • @ Garcia:
        When you say ‘the Bible’ you are talking about an artificial creation, not a book whose truth or falsity can be established at a single stroke or using the same methods book to book. It entail a thousand year long evolutionary process. Even the distinction between the letters of Paul and the gospels illustrates the problems facing historians from the standpoint of methodology. So the process as you describe it, implying a kind of arbitrary selectivity, is false. I suspect this is what many mythicists inadvertently miss – just the same as many fundamentalists might miss it.

      • Steph,

        I find it hard to believe that there would have been any issues or problems upon which someone would not have claimed that something Jesus said or did favored his position. For example, someone would have claimed that circumcision was required because Jesus observed the law. The less scrupulous would simply have invented sayings and attributed them to Jesus while the more scrupulous would reshaped their memories of him without realizing they were doing it.

        Because of this, I think that discussions and disputes about the meaning of the things Jesus and did would have been both necessary and ubiquitous, as would have been discussions and disputes about what things Jesus actually said or did. Even though Paul did not know Jesus personally, I think that he would have been forced to deal with arguments from people who either actually knew Jesus or claimed to have known him. I find it quite puzzling that there is evidence of disputes about the authenticity of teachings attributed to Paul, but none of any about the authenticity of teachings attributed to Jesus.

      • How do you know they didn’t? And how do you know he wasn’t dealing with those arguments? We’re reading some of what Paul wrote, not with what others claimed. And Paul was more concerned with his own mission than what we have now, attributed to Jesus with a mission to the people of Israel in the gospels – some of which Paul contradicted. Why would there be evidence of anything that wasn’t even available (tradition attributed to Jesus in the gospels) or any more than traces of oral tradition, which is more likely the case. Your argument reminds me of conservative arguments claiming that Jesus wasn’t breast fed because the gospels don’t say he was.

      • Steph,

        Unfortunately, I don’t know anything about arguments and issues that arose in Paul’s communities beyond what I find in the extant letters. They are the only evidence I have. If I had additional letters and writings, I might get a very different picture of the understanding of the earthly Jesus that prevailed in those communities, but there is no way to know in which direction my understanding would move. I cannot know whether that information would push me towards historicity or away from it. As a starting point, I think I have to treat the extant letters as representative of the kinds of questions that arose in Paul communities and how those questions were resolved. If I don’t find any indication that Paul was concerned with anything other that a supernatural being who manifested himself in visions and revelations, I have to take seriously the possibility that he wasn’t.

        I frankly cannot imagine any reason why anyone would ever mention whether Jesus was breast fed. On the other hand, I can think of good reasons why Paul would have had to deal with questions concerning the meaning of things that Jesus said or did during his earthly ministry.

      • And as I asked you above Vinny, how do you know (or rather are you assuming) he didn’t? He wrote letters from a distance, not accounts of dialogues, to communities as you know, with instructions and answers to problems and disputes and he claims authority from the Lord (never mind wriggling out of the title used.) Some of his instruction deals with a few social issues in the gospel material attributed to Jesus, which might have been encountered in an oral developing stage. He also encountered issues to do with the new growing church that Jesus would not have had to deal with. Ultimately none of the epistles are helpful for learning anything about an historical Jesus.

      • And as I indicated above Steph, I don’t know what I don’t know. I can only draw inferences from evidence that I do have. I can certainly acknowledge the possibility that additional evidence might cause me to modify my conclusions and given the limited amount of evidence I have, I cannot claim a high degree of certainty. Nevertheless, I still think that I have to start my inquiry with inferences based on what the earliest writings contain.

        Paul might have encountered some of the gospel material in an oral developing stage, but I don’t see how I can assume that he did. He only cites revelation and scripture as his sources, which I don’t think I can take at face value, but which I think makes it very difficult to attribute anything specific to other sources.

        I don’t think it matters that Jesus wouldn’t have had to deal with particular issues. If Jesus had been viewed as an authoritative teacher, for any issue upon which there was a controversy, someone would have claimed that Jesus had dealt with it. Just as people forged letters in Paul’s name and Peter’s name to deal with issues that arose after their deaths, people would have attributed positions to Jesus on issues that he never would have needed to address.

        I quite agree that the epistles are unhelpful for learning anything about a historical Jesus, but the issue for me is why that should be. Is it because the historical Jesus never did or said anything that was relevant to the issues dealt with in the epistles or is it because the beliefs of the writers of the epistles were based on visions and revelations of a supernatural being rather than the teachings of a recently deceased itinerant healer and teacher? I think the latter hypothesis makes more sense of what we find in the epistles, because even if the former were true, I think we would still find teachings attributed to Jesus.

    • It is not an assumption Vinny. It is a reference to arguments elsewhere about parallels in Paul’s letters with gospel tradition from his address to God as abba going back to Jesus, to the 1 Corinthians 7.10 on divorce. He indicates that his teachings come from the Lord and he contrasts them with his own counsel. (7.12). Paul ‘recalls’ the command that permits financial support for those that preach ‘the gospel’ eg Luke 7.10 etc etc. Other examples are documented elsewhere (see Bultmann, Allison, WD Davies, The ‘HD’ JD Dunn, Martin Hengel etcetcetc). How can he say ‘Jesus told me this’ when he didn’t know him, or ‘I read this in a gospel’ which hadn’t been written. But we don’t assume. We examine the evidence and apply historical methods to construct plausible arguments which are supported by the evidence. You say “If Jesus had been viewed as an authoritative teacher, for any issue upon which there was a controversy, someone would have claimed that Jesus had dealt with it.” Why do you assume they would always lie about authority? And how would that be obvious in Paul’s instruction anyway? The epistles are useful as evidence for the origin of Christianity which didn’t happen until after Jesus died. They aren’t about Jesus, they are about Christian communities from Paul’s perspective. Your generally healthy scepticism is looking slightly jaundiced ;-), not only ignoring the examples but in demanding letters are written in a certain way so they become evidence for what they are not – an historical Jesus. The winners write the ‘history’ – not the losers, Vinny.

      • Steph,

        I think that there is an assumption regarding which direction the parallels flow. Paul doesn’t seem to use any language that points towards an oral tradition about a historical person as his source, whereas he does speak in terms of revelation. Paul claims that he received revelation and he talks about people in his communities receiving “words of knowledge” and “words of wisdom.” I don’t find any discussions of stories about a historical person traditions being passed on by eyewitnesses.

        I don’t assume that everyone would always lie about authority, but mainstream scholarship tells me that most of the epistles in the New Testament are examples of someone fabricating teachings and ascribing them to some authoritative figure. I think that it is reasonable to expect that this would have occurred with respect to one who was thought to be the most authoritative figure of them all.

        I don’t believe that I am demanding that the epistles be written in any particular way. I think that I am simply trying to make sense of the way that they are written.

      • It is not an assumption Vinny. It depends on arguments for the contexts and dates of the written material. What exactly does “language that points towards an oral tradition about a historical person as his source” look like? I don’t think you are thinking in historical context at all. Unless you believe in the reality of divine revelation, it seems rather likely it was in his mind, put there by oral tradition. Why on earth do you expect to find “discussions of stories about a historical person traditions being passed on by eyewitnesses.” in letters written by Paul, who claims authority to give advice and instruction, to early Christian communities.You make a lot of assumptions about what you think is reasonable without any historical evidence at all.

      • I expect it because the things that Jesus said or did would have been authoritative and people who could claim to have known what Jesus said or did could have bolstered their position in any dispute by citing their relationship with Jesus. Just as every Republican presidential candidate claims the legacy of Ronald Reagan and Brigham Young claimed the legacy of Joseph Smith, Paul and every one of his rivals and opponents would have wanted to claim the legacy of the earthly Jesus. I think that there is plenty of evidence of this kind of thing happening in all sorts of contexts throughout history. Attempts to claim Jesus’ legacy are what I think would reflect the existence of an oral tradition about the earthly Jesus.

        Only if no one could claim to have been Jesus’ disciple during his earthly ministry would everyone have been forced to rely upon supernatural signs and revelations to support their personal claims to authority. Although I don’t believe in the reality of divine revelation, I suspect that Paul did (or at least that he recognized the effectiveness claiming that he did). Any religious leader who wants to live off of his flock can recognize the benefit of claiming that God has commanded it.

      • vinny: Paul claimed authority from the Lord. You are projecting 21st century contexts onto first century Christianity. The issue of Jesus’ humanity was not an issue in Paul’s day – why on earth did he need to state an earthly Jesus, whom he had never met, when all his authority came through ‘revelation’ – which would have had far more authoritative in Paul’s day. Jesus’ humanity wasn’t an issue! Think about it Vinny. “Only if no one could claim to have been Jesus’ disciple during his earthly ministry would everyone have been forced to rely upon supernatural signs and revelations to support their personal claims to authority.” Who says? You? You want these letters to become evidence of Jesus’ life, something that wasn’t an issue in Paul’s time. As far as we know there weren’t any Jesus deniers or fundamentalists or ex fundamentalists. What else do you want to claim should contain evidence of Jesus’ life that was not Paul’s problem to solve – it (the ‘problem’) ‘didn’t exist’…

      • Steph,

        How can I know what was an issue in Paul’s time other than by reading Paul’s letters? If Paul doesn’t say anything about Jesus’ teaching and healing ministry, how can I know that Paul thought he had one? If Paul doesn’t say that Jesus had disciples and that Peter was chief among them, how can I know that this was Paul’s understanding? It’s not that I want Paul’s letters to contain more information about the historical Jesus. What I want is a clearer picture of Paul’s understanding of the historical Jesus, which such information might give me.

        It is unfortunately the case that Paul’s letters constitute only one side of the conversation. I think that this is a reasonably common problem for historians and the best one can do is try to infer what the other side might have been saying based on the points that Paul felt compelled to make. It has always struck me as odd that he thought it necessary to point out that Jesus was “born of a woman” if there wasn’t some controversy about the issue. The fact that Paul, pseudo-Paul, and the writers of the Johannine and Petrine epistles didn’t need to get into the meaning of the things that Jesus said or did during his earthly ministry gives me some reason to think that it wasn’t an issue in the early church.

        What I see going on in the New Testament is people forging letters in the names of Peter and Paul. That suggests to me that people in the day recognized the value in attributing teachings to an authoritative figure. If in fact, revelation would have had the most authority in Paul’s day, then why would we think that any of the parallels represented elements of an oral tradition? If Paul would have viewed what the Lord had told him directly as more important than what he heard of Jesus’ earthly teaching, why shouldn’t we think it just as likely that the divorce teaching originated as a revelation claimed by Paul or someone prominent in one of his communities?

        I don’t think that attempts to claim the legacy of a deceased leader are strictly a 21st century phenomenon. In the 7th century, Muslims split over who was the legitimate heir of Mohammed. Both sides fervently believed in revelation, and yet, they still saw the value in basing their claims on more direct links to the Prophet. Perhaps things were so different in the 1st century that no one would have tried to bolster their claim by asserting their personal relationship with the earthy Jesus, but I would be interested in seeing the evidence that this was so.

      • “How can I know what was an issue in Paul’s time other than by reading Paul’s letters?”

        You can’t. Why demand you should? Why assume you should know? They’re not evidence of an historical Jesus.

        “What I want is a clearer picture of Paul’s understanding of the historical Jesus, which such information might give me.” Why complain the letters he wrote weren’t gospels. Continual complaining such as is evident here, will not make them say something they don’t. They are not used as evidence for Jesus’ historicity. Why assume Paul should contain evidence of your issue that Paul wasn’t concerned with? We have arguments and evidence based on gospel sources, arguments and evidence written up in books Vinny. We find these arguments are supported by external sources and other NT material using methods of historical analysis.

        “If Paul doesn’t say anything about Jesus’ teaching and healing ministry, how can I know that Paul thought he had one? “

        You can’t. You can only distinguish between the plausible and perfectly ridiculous.

        That Paul doesn’t say anything is based on your assumption which ignores arguments with evidence that he it would be implausible that he didn’t. Do we know what Paul thought about Caligula, Tiberius, Caligula or Claudius, or the cause of the weather? Do we know what he thought about the body and spirit in his belief in resurrection? Do we know what he learned from the Christians he persecuted?

        Paul doesn’t say that Jesus had disciples and that Peter was chief among them, how can I know that this was Paul’s understanding? It’s not that I want Paul’s letters to contain more information about the historical Jesus. What I want is a clearer picture of Paul’s understanding of the historical Jesus, which such information might give me.

        Paul does refer to ‘the twelve’, his own role to Gentiles, and the first gospel to the Jews, the special role of Peter etc. He had no reason to explain that Jesus chose disciples, a tradition they would have known. That he would have would have appeared superfluous at be best, but ultimately ridiculous.

        Vinny – Paul’s letters were written after Jesus died. They are about early Christianity not Jesus’ life. It is not ‘unfortunate’ that his letters are only his perspective, in fact probably the opposite. But Paul is not of much use to historians and it really doesn’t bother historians. And they’re about Christian communities and mainly on issues like the nature of resurrection, not Jesus’ life, Vinny!!! Does Winnie the Pooh contain evidence of the life of AA Milne? Or WWI? Rhetorical, answer not necessary Vinny.

        Later disputes about birth weren’t over whether or not Jesus existed or not. They were about his humanity and divinity. You are still incessantly making assumptions about what the letters should be about, forcing the letters to be evidence of something they are not, without consideration of the context and conditions of a developing early Church communities.

        You contradict yourself or perhaps it’s just ignoring context again with your assumptions about what is valuable in attribution of teaching and authority. Paul claimed to have authority from ‘the Lord’ and attributed his teaching. Why are you imposing your 21st century view of reality on first century Judeo/Christianity?

        I believe nothing would persuade you of plausibility. Paul’s letters weren’t intended to, Paul wasn’t concerned with issues you demand him to be, and you are committed to disbelief. Even a photo could have been fabricated, or not really ‘him’, if they had had a camera to shoot one. I also wonder how much and what you actually read. But I’m much happier never to know. Not ever.

      • By the way Vinny, I hope you’ve read the latest New Oxonian post which I think answers your complaints here in a much more thorough and helpful way than my attempts to have. For example “[Paul’s] turnabout from Judaism was so complete that his only intelligent interpreter, Marcion, believed he must have been speaking of a completely different God. As Harnack once remarked, “There was only one man in the second century who understood Paul, and he misunderstood him”.

        Sad, it seems to me, that so much of the mythicist argument is based on what Paul does or doesn’t say about Jesus, considering there is a world of thought there that, cast to one side, makes it virtually impossible to know what Paul was talking about. Mythicism, among it many other dubious achievements, has achieved a new level of illiteracy in relation to Paul’s ideological and religious world.”

      • Steph,

        I did read Hoffman’s latest post and I think that it is a very interesting hypothesis. Off the top of my head, I would say that it is plausible, but I’m not at all certain that it is any less speculative than most reconstructions of the origins of Christianity. It seems to me that lack of direct evidence is still a problem.

        I know that historicists love to charge mythicists with “wanting Paul to write gospels” or “complaining that Paul doesn’t write gospels,” but as far as I’m concerned, that’s just empty rhetoric. It’s a put down that doesn’t have any substance. The epistles needn’t have been gospels in order to corroborate the historicity of Jesus. They merely would have had to more clearly reflect that the Christian movement had its origins in a historical person whose teachings and actions during his earthly life were viewed as normative rather than in a supernatural being who manifested himself through visions and revelations.

        Moreover, I think I have to base my conclusions on evidence of what was known, rather than conjecture about what everybody would have known.

        Paul’s letters were written after Jesus died. They are about early Christianity not Jesus’ life. It is not ‘unfortunate’ that his letters are only his perspective, in fact probably the opposite. And they’re about Christian communities, not Jesus Vinny!!!

        Notwithstanding the exclamation points, I do not find this persuasive Steph. The Pastorals were written after Paul died and the Petrine epistles were written after Peter died, but because Paul and Peter were viewed as authoritative figures, people wrote letters in their names in order to have them address issues that they never would have addressed. By the same token, if Jesus was viewed as an authoritative figure, I expect that his authority would also have been invoked on issues that he hadn’t actually addressed.

        I am not committed to any particular position, but when my earliest sources for the origins of Christianity contain no historical information on its supposed founder, I think I have some legitimate reasons to have questions.

      • Rather than dismissing all historical scholarship’s tentative conclusions on Jesus in one fell swoop, as ‘speculative’ and based on assumptions, it’s helpful to actually engage with the arguments and evidence. Critical scholarship isn’t speculative. It examines the evidence and applies historical method forming plausible arguments. The main point about the post was to demonstrate why Paul didn’t provide the answers you demand from him today. It’s should have been obvious too, that the post is a summary of arguments based on evidence which will appear in the book. It’s shameful that so many mythicists persist in misrepresenting scholarship with a lack of critical discernment to discriminate between the individual proposals. Just selecting one example, critical scholarship does not dismiss the NT as a ‘pack of lies’, contra a blogger flipping what the post rightly claims of mythicists (ie made up on the basis of myths and storytelling in ancient literature), on ‘historicists’. This is a twentieth century concept implying devious motives which sensible people know was not part of the process of rewriting and embellishing traditions with contemporary concerns in mind, in their historical context. I am not including Bart Ehrman who does apply inappropriate terms and understanding with his flippant use of ‘forgery’ and ‘lies’. Resorting regrettably to an analogy, your demands of the letters in the NT are like someone wanting a doctor’s prescription for anti depressants from a recipe for chocolate cake. Although on reflection that’s a bad analogy as it is quite obvious that chocolate is a cure for depression…

      • Steph,

        Unfortunately, as much as I would like to be helpful, it is rather difficult to engage with arguments and evidence that are contained in a book that hasn’t been published yet. It was in fact obvious to me that I was going to have to wait to see Hoffman’s argument presented in full in order to know whether it answers my questions and concerns. Personally, I think it would be helpful if you stopped characterizing my ideas about the epistles as “demands” and “complaints.” It seems to me that it has been decided which box I belong in and I am to be shoved into it regardless of what I say. That seems to happen a lot on both sides of these discussions.

      • You weren’t just dismissing the tentative conclusions of this post. You described all reconstructions as ‘speculative’. I was suggesting it might be of benefit to yourself to engage with published arguments as well as the arguments forthcoming. You appear to be committed to a position of doubt – which is fine (I have no unchangeable convictions either) – until ancient sources provide the sort of evidence that you might find from more recent historical sources. In this case different historical methods would be applied, appropriate to material in a later historical context. In any case it’s futile: the historical Jesus is not the founder of the religion of the gospel brought to the Gentiles and preached by Paul.

      • No Steph. I described most reconstructions as speculative, which seems like a rather measured description to me given how many different reconstructions there are.

      • Ah – so you did, my apologies. I wonder which ones you don’t find ‘speculative’. Personally I think far too many are based on prior assumptions of faith or unfaith and the evidence is manipulated to fit arguments. Furthermore the conclusions ‘reached’ are based on unshakable convictions. But critical scholarship and the Process of research is not about convictions – or speculation.

      • Steph,

        Trying to reconstruct Christian origins has always seemed to me to be like trying to figure out the picture on a five-thousand piece jigsaw puzzle when you only have about seventy-five of the pieces. Some of the pieces you have may fit together in nice little clumps but there is no way to be certain what the spaces between the clumps look like. You can make educated guesses that the blue pieces are sky and the green pieces are foliage, but there is no way to overcome the problem of the missing pieces.

        Prior to the 2008 financial crisis, many of the finest minds in the field of finance and economics thought that they knew a lot more about how things worked than it turned out that they actually knew. One of the problems that few recognized is that the percentage of economic history and the range of economic conditions for which testable data exists is really quite small. You had lots and lots of experts combing over the same forty to fifty years worth of data and extrapolating all sorts of models and predictions. I think this created an echo chamber effect which convinced the experts that they understood a lot more than they really did.

        It seems to me that the field of New Testament studies faces a similar problem. We only have a handful of pieces to the puzzle that is the origin of Christianity, but we have a disproportionate number of scholars combing over those pieces with ever finer combs. I think that New Testament scholars may have succeeded in convincing themselves that they can have a much greater degree of certainty about their conclusions than the sparse data is intrinsically capable of supporting. You can develop the most sophisticated techniques imaginable, but you are still limited by the data upon which you base your conclusions.

        I’m not sure that I’ve read any New Testament scholar who hasn’t seemed to me to be making at least some educated guesses to deal with the problem of the missing pieces. I’ve generally thought that Ehrman is careful not to go overboard, but I still think that he is forced to resort to speculation and assumption to fill the gaps. The assumptions and speculation may be both reasonable and plausible, but the evidence to corroborate them just isn’t there.

      • OK. We don’t have many pieces. We don’t have all the pieces of any historical figure. It is not about guessing. It is about analysing the limited sources we have and examining the evidence. It is about following where it leads. It is not about being dogmatic and convincing ourselves we’re right. It’s about tentative hypotheses based on arguments supported by the evidence, and accepting limits and uncertainties, and developing method.The problem you identify regarding (incompetent) over confidence is not limited to scholarship. It is a human problem: an inability to be self critical. I see it in conservative scholarship as much as I see it in Price and Doherty for example. Bart Ehrman is a qualified NT scholar but he does not represent NT scholarship and in particular, he does not represent independent scholarship of the Jesus Process. We do not endorse his work or methods. As for ‘overboard’, he makes various assumptions, ignores some important evidence that we do have, and he makes mistakes. Also he’s guilty of the heinous sin – anachronism. I think it might be helpful if you stopped characterising historical scholarship on early Christianity as speculative and assumptions. There’s a difference between Bart Ehrman and Roger Aus for example.;-)

  4. You used to be a mythicists, right Joe? And now you claim that you aren’t very interested in the historicity of Jesus. Yet you keep writing about it over and over and plan to write a book about it. Iterari assertionem, perhaps? But on to substance.

    In the first and third partites of Occam, “necessity” seems important. Others have stated the same thing by expressing the razor as favoring simplicity if the explanatory power of the competing theories are equal. Your example from Hawking fits this bill exactly. The laws of physics and a god controlling the laws of physics explain the evidence equally well. So by Occam’s razor, just the laws of physics, without a god, is the favored theory. Another example, staying with physics, Newton’s law of gravitation is much simpler than Einstein’s general relativity. Yet GR explains much more data than gravitation. Quantum mechanics is notoriously complex. Yet it is the most accurate theory in all of science. It is necessary to explain the evidence.

    • I said the question is interesting but that I am much more interested in the matrix than the man, and now we have to see a conjunction between the two, in a way that theological approaches always prevented–Jesus was the transcendent saviour. I think everyone should hang fire on some of this condensed soup until the book actually comes out, which it will not if I have to spend all my time unpacking it outline with bare assertions–which is fair enough…

  5. “It also requires any alternative theorist to present a more plausible and economical explanation of the existence of the gospels, and to defend the suggestion that they are fabrications against the parsimonious observation that they are, at least with respect to their primary subject matter, telling the truth.”

    Again, if it explains the evidence better, a theory is allowed to be un-economical. It is simple to say the gospels are telling the truth. Apologists say it all the time. What if the theory of fabrication explains the evidence better? Would you stick with the gospel truth?

    What is the primary subject matter of the gospels? The laundry list you posted the other day? The figure of Jesus fits into the milieu of second temple Galilee? What about the fact Mark doesn’t get many details about Galilee right? What about calling Jesus rabbi? How do you parse the conditions? So many questions!

    • …As to theories: An uneconomical theory would certainly be permissible if the parsimonious one was inadequate to explain the cause or event behind a phenomenon. One of the things we confront is trying to identify exactly what the phenomenon is: is it the historical Jesus, a movement attributed to him, or some third thing? The problem of differentiation is enormous in this case–as you’ll recognize. However, my own “opinions” and what choir I used to sing in, mythtic or historical, are not the phenomenon we are investigating! Even if my “asseverations” only serve to keep mythicism honest, it will be useful since there may be ways to make the case a stronger one using methods that will come out of the Process.

      • Joe: ” – – trying to identify exactly what the phenomenon is: is it the historical Jesus, a movement attributed to him, or some third thing?” The phenomenon “it” must relate to the writings of the NT. In my comment below the point is made that none of the writings off the NT is a reliable source for knowledge of the HJ, thus it is not “the historical Jesus”, thus not “a movement attributed to him”, rather it is “some third thing”. The writings of the NT are written by Gentile authors, beginning some 40 years after Easter, written in the context of imaging the Pauline Crhrist of faith, not Jesus..
        Our sole sufficient evidence for knowledge of the HJ is our primary source containing the original and originating faith and witness of the apostles. This source is identified to be the Sermon on the Mount. See Essays on the Sermon on the Mount by Hans Dieter Betz.

      • Dear Ed,

        Your sensible response gives me a chance to say something constructive.
        1. The Jesus movement does not prove the existence of a historical Jesus any more than the existence of Hinduism argues the existence of Krishna. At the same time, many religions have had historical founders, though all are shrouded in legend.
        2. The degree to which the emphasis on Jesus’ status as a saviour god has influenced thinking about his historicity has been two-fold. For die-hard Christians, historicity is not very important. For Jesus-deniers, it means that historicity is not demonstrable.
        3. Beginning with the premise that Paul comes before the gospels has led to the postulate that Jesus was invented by Paul. This is itself is bad history, since it cannot be conclusively shown that Paul’s letters are earlier than oral historical tradition, and even if they were it would make Paul part of a process that is also contained in the more fanciful and legendary aspects of gospels as they develop beyond oral tradition.
        4. Most if the reason for placing Paul’s letters before the gospels is based on poor examples of relative chronology, an outdated view of apocalyptic that (eg) makes 1 Thess an early example of a genre, and circumstantial inferences–e.g., that Paul would have mentioned the destruction of Jerusalem, and the gospels at least in some degree seem to “look back” on the event. A more reasonable conclusion is that some elements of some gospels seem to look back on some events, others don’t.
        5. Hairsplitting and chronology aside, the Jesus of the gospels is not an especially extraordinary figure. He certainly violates ‘type” if we are talking about savior gods and legendary heroes (since when have many legendary superheroes only managed to get themselves arrested and killed). On the other hand, one who did might get even, narratively, if he could be raised from the dead and not end his life in humiliation. I am not saying that is what happened; I am saying that that is what his believers claimed happened.
        6. For the greatest part, the story about Jesus is not just plausible but typical. He belongs to a specific time, place, culture and says things characetritic of it. Hercules does not. Attis and Adonis and Mithra do not. His closest historical parallels–John Theydas, Judas the Galilean, etc. seem to have been like him but we know more about him than we do about them, so why would we want to substitute them as misremembered hims? If the answer is because we know them from Josephus, the answer has to be that we date the gospels, usually, before Josephus. This will not persuade a jaundiced skeptic, but it has to be at least acknowledged and saying that therefore gospels aren’t written until 150 or some equally absurd things doesn’t really help.
        This is just a taste of what I consider to be a parsimonious but inconclusive argument for the probability of Jesus’ historicity. The mythtics are howling because they refuse to admit that this has them cornered, so they are (again) resorting to sophomoric analogies to say that this is all too simple. It is simple, yes.

      • Joe, This is a Reply to your above Reply Jan. 11, 2013, @3:08 am.
        Thanks for your thoughtful response, even though I cannot avoid saying I have problems with each of your six comments. Rather than argument I can hope it might prove creative to attempt some discussion by way of understanding our differences in this highly problematic issue.
        An axiom which defines critical New Testament Studies: If you begin with Paul, you will misunderstand Jesus. If you begin with Jesus, you will understand Paul differently. To make sense here, two distinctly different earliest post-Easter movements is a given as per the comment.
        To begin with Paul is to begin with the writings of the NT, the letters of Paul, the Gospels, as well as the later writings of the NT, the sources for Christianity. Present understanding of certain of our top scholars argues that none of the writings of the NT is a reliable source for knowledge of Jesus, all are written in the context of imaging the Christ of faith not the person Jesus. (This understanding is confirmed by Eric Zuesse’s Christ’s Ventriloquist the first scientific probe of the NT). This essentially takes the writings of the NT off the table, whatever they may contain being irrelevant to whoever Jesus was and what he may have been up to. While a critical study of the NT under the conviction that its writings constitute our primary if not our sole source of Jesus understanding necessarily forms negative biases which seriously restrict any overall objective historical research of the NT over against authorial intent. Only since the 80s have certain of our top NT scholars, under the force of present historical methods and knowledge, identified our most certain alternative source which contains the original and originating faith and witness of the apostles, the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:3 – 7:27). Identifying this source “is a task to which specialized in the areas of philology, form and redaction criticism, literary criticism, history of religions, and New Testament theology necessarily applies”.

  6. Here’s two attempts at a sort of parsimony:

    1. Show me accounts concerning another figure which closely match those regarding Jesus, and I believe I will have doubts sufficient to consider his or her existence an open question.

    2. The principle established by the belief in the existence of numerous figures who were once thought to have been historical, and written about (or even to, in some cases, eg Prester John, as far as I am aware) but may not have existed, is arguably sufficient to dispense with the need for a detailed alternative to ‘historicity’ before considering the question open.

    Having said that, I tend to think that assuming, even if only slightly, that Jesus existed, is easily the more rational position.

  7. Crucial new historical understandings of the “Jesus Puzzle” made possible by present historical and scientific methods and knowledge.
    Schubert Ogden: “We now not only know that none of the writings of the OT is prophetic witness to Christ, we also know that none of the writings of the NT is apostolic witness to Jesus.” This is a judgment based on historical evidence determined by an insider of the Guild of NT Studies. Eric Zuesse : “The religion of the NT actually has nothing to do with the person of the historical Jesus.” This is a scientific judgment based on scientific evidence determined by an outsider. Hence we now have convincing evidence, both from the methodologies of history from inside and science from the outside, that the writings of the NT, Paul’s letters, the Gospels, as well as the later writings of the NT, are not reliable sources for knowledge of Jesus. Our most certain historical evidence can only come from within the Guild of NT Studies, even as our best scientific evidence would reasonably come from outside. No evidence, historical or scientific, is presented to question the basic tenet of the Guild that we have a NT sources containing apostolic witness to Jesus. Only from within the Guild of NT Studies might a scholar have acquired sufficient competence in the Guild’s areas of special historical knowledge, which necessarily applies, for one is to become enabled to fully access the historical evidence necessary to identify this NT source of apostolic witness to Jesus. As Eric Zuesse’s probe (Christ’s Ventriloquist) demonstrates, full historical NT details of origins of Jesus traditions during the years 30-65, can only be accessed by historical scholars from within the Guild. E.g., Eric’s probe fails to recognize that there were two distinctly different post execution movements (denominations) during this earliest period of Jesus traditions, each with its own understanding of the significance of Jesus, marked by “an extraordinarily intimate, more precisely adversarial, relationship” (H. D. Betz). Both were pre Christian, pre Gospel, partly pre Pauline. The first movement was the Jerusalem Jesus Movement which began with the key disciples returning to Jerusalem, having fled to their native Galilee, purposing to again take up the teachings of Jesus. It was from this Jesus movement, later led by James Jesus’ brother, that we have our most certain source of apostolic witness to Jesus, identified by Betz to be the Sermon on the Mount. The second movement was soon to follow, a pre Pauline Hellenist movement which introduced the notion that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah whose significance was the salvific effects of his death and resurrection, which abrogated the Torah. This was in effect treason for Temple authorities. Paul is introduced as a participant in an apparent put-down by Temple authorities of some kind of anti Torah demonstration, holding the garment of those casting the stones in the Acts story of the stoning of Stephen, the leader of this Hellenist group (a historical reading counter to authorial intent). Next we have Paul as persecutor of this group, having his “vision” on the road to Damascus to where the Hellenist group fled. This resulted in Paul’s conversion to this group, from which he received his Christ myth gospel. In taking his gospel to the Gentile world, first to Antioch meeting with early success, this had the effect of severing true knowledge of Jesus from his teaching and his Jewish roots. As winners in the struggle for dominance, becoming Gentile Christianity, Paul’s Christ myth movement soon could label the Jesus Movement heresy to effectively remove it from the pages of history. The writings of the NT took place in the Gentile world under the primary influence of Pauline kerygma, to become the source for Christianity. Paul was never a member of the Jesus Movement actually he was its arch enemy. Thus the Gospels were written by followers of Paul’s Christ Myth gospel, not followers of Jesus in the Jesus Movement. All of these developments are sufficiently documented in the NT as it is read from a historical perspective over against authorial intent. It may well be rationally determined from the writings of the NT that there was a person named Jesus, However the real Jesus in his true significance can only be obtained from our most certain NT source containing the original and originating faith and witness of the apostles.

  8. Joe
    This is all really, really strange. I had intended to confine my remarks on this piece to a comment on Facebook, which seems to me to be a good place to note that I had been amused by the amusement afforded to you by the absence of any knowledge of Occam’s Razor in those short-changed by their absence from the Thinking 101 lectures which should have been included in what passed for their education.

    After all, I have some fascinating reading in hand; top of my Christmas present wish list was Volume 2 of Martin Wiggins’ Catalogue of British Drama, and a definitely unsecret Santa came through for me, so why waste my time on this tosh?

    But I’ve seen all this tosh before; delete Shakespeare and Jesus from the boilerplate text and scholarship disappears. It’s replaced in both cases by the fantasies of people who just cannot bring themselves to accept that some lower class person might have done something which has radically changed the way that human beings perceive themselves.

    Of course, in choosing his starting date of 1533 Martin recognised that the explosive growth of British drama was kick started by the English Reformation, and deliberately used by Henry VIII as a propaganda tool to enable the English Reformation to take place; history is pieced together on the data that you can find and is always up for revision if you find different data.

    If the massive increase in dramatic works that we can trace hadn’t happened then it would be a completely different ball game, but it did happen. Aye, there’s the rub; the mythicists want to pretend that data is dispensable, along with reason, because that’s the only way that they can arrive at their preferred destination. But if that is acceptable then everything is gone; we have neither a tall ship, nor a star to steer her by, in order to find any destination. You are perfectly free to dislike Masefield’s poetry but I am glad that you are refusing to abandon navigation…

  9. Just as simple, just as parsimonious, is this theory: that the story of Jesus originates in a single fictional story.

    This would explain, parsimoniously, why the character of Jesus perfectly reflects countless elements of what we know about then-contemporaneous culture: it was because that is the world that the author knew.

    A writer around c. 59 AD say, looking around, could have made up a sort of Stoic “humble hero” story. As a sort of modest parable on modesty. One based on, borrowing freely from, hundreds of similar tales all around. And as many authors do, the author placed his fictional, humble heroic martyr, in the setting most familiar to him: c. 10-60 Palestine.

    Nothing is simplier,more parsimonious, than this theory: someone in 10-60 AD Palestine, just made it all up.

    It all began with one fictional story. And an illiterate culture that hardly knew the difference between fiction and non-fiction, took it all as literally true. Since it had so many realistic details in it. And because the theme of a humble but ultimately triumphant hero, appealed to them.

    I’m not saying I support this common theory. But it does explain a lot of things, and meets a lot of your own criteria. It is for example, 1) parsimonious; and 2) it does explain why the Jesus story has so much realistic, culturally-appropriate context and detail in it.

    • @ Garcia:

      To be blunt, this shows a complete lack of understanding of the principle. You are now throwing the word around Humpty Dumpty style to make it mean what you want it to say. You are also violating the principle by continuing to extrapolate beyond necessity (as the logicians use it) reasons for the existence of the artefact and its content. You say “could have made up,” which invites further speculation; “stoic hero” is a category imposed on the story, “ultimately triumphant hero” a contradictory one (stoic heroes don’t rise form the dead, they embrace death, another contradiction). The story is not unified as to any of the elements of its composition, but you assume a single author theory and intent to “create” out of thin air a non-existence hero ‘based on similar tales…” (more extrapolation needed, as to which tales), to appeal to an Illiterate” culture that didn’t know the difference between fiction and non-fiction,” but why on earth would you write something to a population that couldn’t read? Do you think this was a bedtime story? And why would a story designed with your more grand motives in view be written as by Mark in such rudimentary Greek, or Greek at all since the “hero” isn’t? Parsimony in short keeps the discussion from spinning out of control like this Catherine wheel of idle and unfounded speculation that you seem to want to insist on. There isn’t evidence for any of what you say, which is chock full of contradictory premises and is about as far about from parsimony as it’s possible to get. I suggest you give your ideas a good shave with Occam’s razor.

      • We are looking here for a simple account, as to how it might be that the story of Jesus appeared. Especially we want to how it happened that this story seems to parallel much of what we know was happening in history, at the time. Here, the simplest explanation – is that the story was a literary creation; a single work of fiction.

        This hypothesis explains many things. If the story was made up by someone who lives in that same cultural nexus as his character, Jesus, that would explain, simply, why we find so many realistic details in it: like many writers, the author was using what he knew about his own time, as his backdrop. Writing about what he knew, in part.

        How does this explain the character of Jesus”? No doubt he used the setting around him. But then too, every fictional writer knows that many fictional characters too, are created in part, by putting together bits and pieces of other real persons, or other fictional characters the author has read about. So this explains how many different myths, might have been assembled into one character (“Jesus”).

        Where would anyone get an idea of a dying-and-resurrecting hero? We don’t know for sure that the first story had a resurrection. Likely this story was before Mark; though for that matter, if Mark is – as many think – our earliest gospel? Then not that often much of the resurrection at the end, is of largely left out, of many Bibles.

        For that matter: would the concept of a dying hero, be incomprehensible for a good Hellenistic Jewish author, say, in this timeframe? In fact, the notion of a person who dies for his country, to save his country, is one of the most common cultural cliches of all time. And it can be found in the Intertestamental works in fact; or in say 2 Maccabees 7.11-37. Where a hero dies, hoping for resurrection (7.13); giving up his life to serve as a moral example of noble self-sacrifice, to help save his country.

        So how was it that so many disparate myths might contribute to one character, and one coherent narrative? No great stretch of imagination would be required for an author looking for sources for a character, to start connecting these and dozens of other myths and legends, into his own main character; this is how writers usually do it.

        It might seem impossible to some; but putting together lots of bits and pieces, into a coherent narrative, is just exactly what the average writer of fiction DOES.

        No great leaps of imagination, no baroque departures from reason or simplicity, are required here. The solution is simplicity itself: a Jewish writer made up a single fictional story or parable, to serve as a moral example for the people of his own time. Using bits of what he saw around him, as his inspiration.

        To say someone “must made it up,” is speculation – or better, perhaps it is a useful hypothesis. It is a scenario that fits so many of the facts, as even you have described them, that finally it deserves real consideration.

        It DOES have a kind of simplicity: “it’s just a story. That someone made up.”

      • I’ve always found the late Prof. Howard Teeple’s observations on this question in his wonderful book “How Did Christianity Really Begin” to be quite cogent.
        He states….”If the Christians had created the person of Jesus out of thin air, their story of his life would not have included features that were contrary to Jewish expectations of the coming Messiah, features which early Christians tried desperately to explain in their efforts to persuade others, especially Jews, that Jesus was the Christ and fulfilled prophecy. A fictional Jesus would have conformed much better to the messianic hope and not have generated so many difficult problems for the early Christian communities.”

      • Ken,

        Good point. I used to find this somewhat persuasive too. But then I realised that the criterion of embarrassment is really a very weak tool and also, more to the point, that Jesus wasn’t, de facto, embarrassing to converts, thus wiping out much of the remaining strength of the observation.

    • David:

      You’re absolutely right. The so called criteria of embarrassment, dissimilarity and multiple attestation have been abused by scholarship. More recently they have rightly been severely criticised in recent historical New Testament scholarship (see Goodacre, Casey, etc). While they are of some value they are of very limited application. For example Perrin’s accurate labelling and description of ‘dissimilarity’ consequently led immediately to its demolition and Hooker rightly said it should no longer be used. It is obvious the criterion produces a ‘special’ or unique human being without connection to the Judaism or anything of the early Church: a special person who is therefore especially unreal. ‘Embarrassment’ has many difficulties including the fact that it’s beyond belief that the authors themselves were “embarrassed” about anything in their Gospels, unless of course you’re referring to the skandalon of the cross – but with that all the early Christians dealt with in different ways. E. P. Sanders uses the term “against the grain” instead and while this is far more useful than “embarrassment” it still has limitations. Looking for features in an account that go “against the grain” is what historians do all the time. Multiplication used as a criterion implies that traditions that are subsequently repeated, have historical strength which is wishful thinking and wrong. No criterion should never be used on its own. As soon as the criteria become a set of tools for historical Jesus scholars, they become problematic and it is particularly important to remember that ancient historians did not do the same. Historical Jesus scholars often carelessly give little thought to how the criteria work together with one another and give little attention if any to revision of method and new approaches. Method and application of previous scholarship has tended too, to be, cough, embarrassing for future New Testament critical Jesus scholarship. 🙂

  10. Yes, please, more Parsimony with that salad; moreover, more conclusions based on what is know or assumed to be true. That’s the scholarship part; the part that takes time, effor and patience.

  11. ‘Alternatively, they need to show what events, causes, and conditions may have led first century writers, of no apparent skill, to fabricate the basic elements of their story. This may seem elementary because it is.’

    This may be the nub. But I would dispute it, on a number of counts. First, I would suggest that the 1stC writers did not appear to lack skill, by any stretch of the imagination.

    What, I might ask, caused them to invent Joseph of Arimathea? I would suggest that they had a propensity to populate their narratives with figures who fitted their bill. Why not the main character?

    • I see. Your point is that they did not lack skill because they invented Joseph of Arimathea and that to have invented him required skill. I hardly know how to reply, so I won’t.

      The argument as to skill is not primarily about motive or detail but about language.

      The earliest gospel may have been written by a man with ulterior motives–he wanted to invent a saviour god built on models of other saviour gods to provoke debate in the twentieth century–same as Obama’s mother wanted to telephone in his birth to Hawaii knowing he would run for president one day. But if that is the case, Mark is a very poor prophet. I don’t want to invoke expertise, but this is a case where a little training would prevent embarrassing suggestions like this. The gospels, with Luke as an exception that has long been recognized as the third and improved edition, are written in the kind of Greek that can only be described as pauperish and common.

      I have the sense that the whole conversation is backwards: in an anxiety to deny what history has made of him, mythtics are trying to prove that he never was. That is an absurd position, though completely understandable. It does however raise the question of motive: we woud immediately diusqualify from this discusssion anyone precommitted to the belief that Jeus was the son of God. What shall we do with people who, having concluded there is no God, want to say that Jesus did not exist because he was called that? So was Augustus. So was Diocletian. So was Claudius. Or messiah–so was bar Kochba, so was Siomon of Paraea, so was Antroges, so was Menachen ben Juda, grandson of Judas of Galilee, so was… and they were all historical figures. Do you think they are historical because we know less about them than we know about Jesus, or do you think we know more about Jesus because some underskilled first century writer made him up?

      • Why assume that one of the published gospels is the original one?

        Especially given massive evidence of editing, redaction in essentially all of them. Crude as they sometimes are.

        Even Mark is still being edited to this very day. Today you can go to a bookstore, and get an edition that ends at say 16.19 – or another one. Where an editor took out that longer ending, to terminate the text at 16.8.

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