Yes. Mythicism Is Still A Joke

Should Mythicism be treated as a serious idea? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Over at New Testament scholar Larry Hurtado’s blog, for some reason, Dr. Hurtado began writing about mythicism. I was curious to see what was said because NT scholars rarely say anything about mythicism for the same reason geologists would rarely say anything about Flat Earthers. The idea is simply considered a joke.

There’s good and bad sides to this. The good is that NT scholars do have much more important things to do than to get involved in internet squabbles. One can understand them not wanting to take their time to deal with an idea that they do not think should be taken seriously, and they’re right. The bad is that sadly, people are uninformed and they do take it seriously. This is the kind of idea that spreads on college campuses and on the internet among people who don’t know how to do history.

Naturally, posting like this soon reaches the ears of prominent internet blogger Richard Carrier, the rare person who has a Ph.D. in a relevant field and holds to mythicism. Carrier takes the time to say that he wasn’t going to engage one day because it was his birthday recently and there were orgies to be had. Others had responded, but it was time for him to take on Hurtado.

“Surely you’re joking! You wouldn’t write a serious piece interacting with a highly established NT scholar and talk about having orgies would you?”

Well, Richard Carrier would.

Carrier also showed up on Hurtado’s blog, to which Hurtado didn’t even blink at it, but simply pointed out that his reading was highly off. That was last night and I have seen nothing new today about it and Hurtado has said that he has much more important interests to deal with. Who can blame him?

As I said, the theory of mythicism is popular on the internet, but I think Hurtado could be right in that this is a last hurrah for mythicism, at least for now. While Carrier is the best the mythicist case has, it’s not really saying much. Others in the field, both Christian and non-Christian, are looking and aren’t really impressed. The only people that seem to be impressed are those who are already mythicists and atheists who want to hear what they already think.

Such it is with conspiracy theorists. You can see conservative and liberal Facebook pages that will show claims that are easily shown to be false, but many people on each side want to believe what they already believe. Mythicism is just that. It’s a conspiracy theory for atheists. The evidence can sound convincing and persuasive if you don’t understand history, but once you do, the whole thing falls and we all see that the emperor has no clothes.

An interesting twist is that mythicism can be to history what solipsism is to philosophy. It’s usually thought that when you get to solipsism in your philosophy, you’ve made a mistake somewhere. Mythicism can show us how history should be done by showing us how bad history is done. Perhaps this will further refine our criteria of history which I don’t doubt will put Jesus in an even better light historically. After all, death could not defeat Him 2,000 years ago. There is no reason to think the historical method will today.

There have been stories of soldiers of Japan who were unaware that the war had ended decades earlier. So it is that we have many mythicists fighting a battle today unaware that the war is already over and that the historicity of Jesus is solid bedrock. Hopefully, more will see before too long that the battle is already done, but my concern is that there will still be eternal casualties with those who do not know realize the facade that they’ve been sold.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Dear Mythicist

What do I think when I meet a mythicist? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Okay. I get it. You’re skeptical of the Bible. You know what? That’s understandable. There are a lot of strong claims that the Bible makes. It’s not simple to believe that a man rose from the dead and that man happened to be both fully God and fully man. Those positions should be evidenced. I get that. I agree.

There is such a thing as reasonable doubt. There is also such a thing as unreasonable doubt. Your case is the latter. Let’s suppose you came to this question not knowing anything about history. What if I then told you that there is not a single professor of ancient history or New Testament or classical history teaching at an accredited university that doubts Jesus existed.

“But those are Christians so they’re biased!”

You do know that these topics are taught at secular universities? Right? Do you think that all these secular universities are hiring evangelical Christians only to teach these topics? There are more than enough non-Christian scholars in the field to teach this stuff and they don’t doubt that Jesus existed at all. In fact, if you read the scholarly literature, this kind of idea is lucky to get a footnote.

“But I do read the scholars. I especially read Richard Carrier!”

Yeah. I get it. You trot out the name Richard Carrier like I’m either supposed to be quaking in my boots or holding immediate respect. Neither is the case. Carrier doesn’t teach at an accredited university and has even been banned from Skepticon. There’s a reason I refer to him as the prominent polyamorous internet blogger. For a guy with a Ph.D., that’s pretty much all he’s doing these days.

Oh? He wrote a book on Jesus mythicism. Yeah. I read it. Hardly any scholars even bothered to review it. No doubt, it was hoped to make a big splash, but it would be interesting to know if it barely made a ripple. It just wasn’t noticed. The academy has still gone on its way. Mythicism is still a joke.

In fact, I often tell Christians we should thank God for Richard Carrier. Richard Carrier is doing so much to undermine atheism and build up Christianity. You see, he’s lowering the standards of his fellow atheists because he’s so caught up in his own perceived greatness that he thinks what he writes on any subject must be excellent. His followers have bought into that idea and have helped prolong it so lo and behold, if Carrier upholds mythicism, so will they. I know of Christians who have donated to his patreon because they want to see this keep going.

Besides, it seems rather odd that here you have the overwhelming majority of scholars on both sides of the Christian fence not doubting at all that Jesus existed and here you have a lone wolf saying otherwise. Yes. There are an isolated number of others like Robert Price, but the number of mythicist scholars are minimal and their work is not garnering attention. If you have all of that, as an outsider, what is the best route to take?

Let’s use another example. I am a heliocentrist, but I could not begin to make to you a defense of heliocentrism. That’s not because I’m anti-science. It’s just not an area I’m interested in. We do this in most every field. If you were going to court, you would hire a lawyer, but your need of one is not because you’re anti-law. You just haven’t studied it. You will likely go to your doctor if you’re sick and take whatever he tells you. You don’t know what to do on your own not because you’re anti-medicine, but just because you haven’t studied it and while you can question your doctor, if you don’t have the skill and knowledge, it would be pretty ridiculous to argue with him that he’s wrong.

So let’s suppose I come across the work of Gerry Bouw. Gerry Bouw does have a Ph.D. in astronomy and he is a geocentrist. Should I consider this a sign that heliocentrism is to be overturned? No. If Bouw is right, he will need some really good evidence, but as an outsider, when I see the academy of astronomy not paying attention to the idea, I deem it wise that I shouldn’t either.

Amusingly, this is like evolution. I get that the majority of you are atheists and have no problem with evolution. In all honesty, I don’t either. I just choose to not argue for or against it because like I said, I’m not a scientist. I could not mount a scientific defense of and I could not present an accurate scientific critique. Therefore, I will just grant it for the sake of argument.

If I jump on the internet, it looks like there’s a lot of debate on evolution. You can even go to a site like TalkOrigins and see this being debated regularly. What am I to conclude from this? Does this mean that the academy is debating evolution? Well, they are in one sense. They’re debating theories about it, but they are not debating if evolution is true or not.

You see, this is the danger of the internet. Anyone can put up an idea and have it seem smart. After all, if you make a presentation that draws people with a fascinating web site or an interesting YouTube video and you can cite names of people who agree with you, then it sure looks like you’re an informed person. You can also write a book on the topic and well, that surely means it’s a serious idea. Right?

But again, let’s go to the evolution example. You can find plenty of people doing just this with evolution. In fact, I can find some Ph.D.s in science that dissent from Darwin. Again, I am not agreeing or disagreeing with them here. I’m just acknowledging their existence. If you say “Yeah, but those are the outliers” then I say “As is the case with mythicism.” In fact, if you think we need to take mythicism seriously, then I, in turn, would say based on that standard you need to take young-earth creationism seriously, and no, I am not a young-earth creationist. By the standards you have set, young-earth creationism should be considered a serious worldview. I know many of you consider that a horrendous thought, but that’s just the way it is.

Of course, let’s not leave out the best part of the presentation. The memes! Once again, you have people like myself who read books written by scholars and yet we see a meme and we’re supposed to topple over immediately. Not at all. The memes often convince me further you don’t know what you’re talking about. The arguments are just hideous.

Now you could say a lot of scholars don’t answer the arguments. You could be right there. It’s also the same reason a lot of scientists don’t answer arguments for young-earth creationism. They’re not serious ideas to the scientists and the scientists want to engage with serious ideas. In fact, many specialists in the field would have a hard time with YEC arguments not because they think they’re so powerful, but because they’re so unusual. These deal with isolated claims and such that most scholars don’t bother to study.

Nevertheless, let’s look at some of the claims. We’re often told for instance that Jesus was supposed to be God in the flesh who did the most important event in human history and no one wrote about it. Does that not sound strange?

Not at all.

I could tell you right now that there are claims of people being healed at places like Lourdes. There are people who are absolutely certain the Virgin Mary is appearing to them. There are people who are convinced that they have been healed at a Benny Hinn Crusade. Question. Are you going to go and start investigating all these claims immediately?

Odds are no. You’re just going to discount them. Note that I’m not saying all these claims are valid. Still, you are a skeptic and the possibility doesn’t seem like a real option to your worldview, so you discount it. This is something we all tend to have. We all think skepticism really means being skeptical of that which disagrees with our worldview. Anything that agrees normally gets a free pass. If you are a true skeptic, you are skeptical of arguments against your worldview AND for your worldview.

You see, I am a political conservative. I’m sure many of you disagree with that, but it doesn’t matter here. The point I want to make is that during the Obama presidency, when someone shared something that was false about Obama, I made sure to correct it if I found out. Why? Because I wanted to take him down, but not with lies. You can see the same thing here in my response to Reclaim America with them misrepresenting a Muslim scholar. My point is I try to be skeptical of arguments for or against.

So let’s get back to Jesus. If you’re a Roman writer in the first century, you’re among the educated elite. You hear a story about a man claiming to be God who died and rose again and it’s all the way in this area called Judea. You think the people already have strange beliefs. I mean, they don’t even honor the gods! Now you hear also that this man was crucified. Well that settles it. The gods would not be with someone who was crucified. No person worthy of being considered a deity or a king or anything like that would be crucified. Do you investigate the claims? Not at all. This group is a marginal sect and they will disappear. In the long run, for them, Jesus is not worth talking about.

You should also know this, the argument from silence is really the weakest of the arguments. It’s sadly the biggest one that mythicists have. It’s expected that everyone should have been talking about Jesus and when they weren’t, well that just proves it.

Let’s also talk about this whole thing about contemporary eyewitnesses. Let’s consider it with another man. This guy is Hannibal. No. I don’t mean the guy from The Silence of the Lambs. I mean the ancient general of Carthage. This is a man who was their greatest general. He was the hero of heroes. Kids would have pictures of him on their lunchboxes. If movies had existed back then, you would see movies about Hannibal in Carthage. This guy defeated Roman army after Roman army. Keep in mind the Roman army was the most powerful empire the world had seen. In fact, he nearly conquered Rome itself. He was defeated, but he got the closest for his time. This was someone all the world would have known about.

What contemporary eyewitness do we have of him?

None. Not a one. Nothing.

Now I could play the mythicist game. You see, it’s obvious that what happened is that Rome had got into a sense of complacency and people thought that Rome wasn’t all that great. I mean, they’re only where they were because of luck. It’s not like they had to strive to get there. So what happened? Roman officials decided to create a figure that in the past beyond the time of eyewitnesses decided to go after Rome and nearly won, but Rome defeated him. Therefore, Rome overcame great odds to be where it was and we should not grow lax in our military in case another Hannibal shows up.

Do I think that’s likely? Not at all. It’s preposterous. The simple thing to do is realize that Hannibal existed despite lack of eyewitness testimony.

In fact, in my debate with Ken Humphreys, I caught him in such a contradiction. I asked him if he was certain that Josephus existed. I was told he was absolutely certain Josephus existed. I then asked if we have any first century testimony to Josephus. This caught him flatfooted. We don’t.

Now some of my fellow Christians are saying “We do have contemporary evidence of Jesus. It’s the Gospels and Paul!” To this, the mythicist likes to respond that this source is biased and can’t be trusted! I really hate to have to tell you this, but every source is biased. The only exceptions would be people writing about something they care nothing about, but then if they don’t care about it, why write about it?

The reality is you’re treating the Bible like the fundamentalist you condemn. The Christian fundamentalist will say the Bible stands on its own. God said it and you believe it! There’s no need for all this apologetics stuff. You just trust the Bible! The Bible is in a special category immune to historical research.

How is your response different? Only in the conclusion. The Bible says it and therefore we should be hyper skeptical of it. All of this apologetics stuff is bunk. You just question the Bible! The Bible is not open to historical research because all the authors were biased!

For Christians like myself, our request is simple. Treat the Bible like any other book in the ancient world. We’re not asking you to treat it like the inerrant Word of God. If you conclude that that is what it is, act accordingly. Until then, treat it like any other book from the ancient world claiming to give a historical account.

Let’s also say a word about Paul. Paul apparently doesn’t say much about the life of Jesus. Indeed. Why should he? His letters were occasional letters. They were written to deal with specific circumstances in the life of the church. Issues that told stories about the life of Jesus were apparently not necessary.

In fact, if you were to visit Facebook and see me and my friends, you would find we often make a big deal about affirming the virgin birth, which I do affirm. Why do I do this? Because of this argument about the silence of Paul. If you want to see how that works, just consider this post on why I affirm the virgin birth, which I do affirm.

In the long run, if anyone wants to convince me that they’re absolutely clueless on ancient history, there’s an easy way to do it. Just affirm mythicism. I will sometimes answer you for a little while, but I honestly consider it like pushing a slinky down the stairs. It seems kind of fun at first, but after awhile it’s the same old stuff. It’s nothing new.

What do I recommend you do? Pick up some more scholarship than what you’re doing. Use sources other than Wikipedia. If you think mythicism is a serious option, just pick up books on the historical Jesus, even books by non-Christians, and see how seriously they treat mythicism if they do at all.

Then wake up and join reality. Jesus existed. You can believe He existed without believing He’s the Son of God or rose from the dead or did miracles. In fact, as I often say, many atheists admit a historical Jesus existed and go on to lead happy and meaningful lives.

Be one of them.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

A Response To Bob Seidensticker on oral tradition

Were the Gospel stories corrupted before writing them down? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Recently in a discussion on oral tradition I was given a link to an article by Bob Seidensticker. Now this is someone that as soon as I saw the name, I decided to move on at the time. I’ve responded to his stuff before and found it incredibly lacking, but in the interest of being thorough, I’ll take the time now.

Bob asks us to begin with a story about being a merchant and a traveler stops and asks for some lodging. You have him in and tell him about Jesus. He likes the story and asks you to repeat it. You instead ask him to repeat the story. You all go over it a few times and then make any necessary corrections and the next day he’s on his way to share the story himself.

It’s a nice story, but sadly, that’s all it is. A story. Bob has not consulted any works on scholarship to find out if this is how it would come about in the ancient world. There is no looking at the groundbreaking research of Perry and Lord. There is nothing from Bauckham, Bailey, or Dunn. At the least he could have cited Bart Ehrman with Jesus Before the Gospels, but no.

So at the start, I’m wondering why I should take this account seriously. These stories were not told in isolation but in group settings. This is still the way things are done in the Middle East. These stories were told repeatedly and this in a culture where people had far better memories.

We’ll see why this matters soon.

Bob is willing to grant twenty years of history before the Gospels are written down for the sake of argument. He notes that this is a pre-scientific culture. Of course, we’re left wondering what this has to do with the price of tea in China. That a culture does not have science does not say anything about the reliability of oral transmission. We might as well say textual transmission isn’t reliable today because your newspaper can still have the horoscope in it.

He also says the account is about the creator of the universe coming to Earth. Of course, scholars have different responses to the idea of early high Christology, though it is interesting that Bob is probably unknowingly siding with the conservatives. What has to be asked is how this changes the content of the stories or the means of memorization.

Let’s state some aspects that need to be stated.

To begin with, Jesus was an itinerant speaker. I do public speaking. Many people do. If you’re a public speaker, you often tell the same story many many times. If I was asked to speak at a church some Sunday and it was Saturday night, I would go with a stock sermon that I have. Jesus was in many towns and cities and spoke to many different people. Are we to think that every great story He had, He only told once?

Second, many of Jesus’s sayings were aphorisms. These were simple sayings that were easy to remember. Some of them could go on a bumper sticker today. It is better to give than to receive. Turn the other cheek. What does it profit a man to gain the world and lose his soul?

Third, Jesus often told parables. These stories were easy to remember. Many of us could tell the parable of the prodigal son. The stories were not long and had “gotcha” endings many times. We could relate it to how many of us can tell jokes after hearing them just once.

Fourth, Jesus did live in an orally-based culture. In this culture, memorization was taken far more seriously. James Dunn has this in his great work on the topic Jesus Remembered. Jesus sent out his own disciples two by two and they were to pass on His teachings. Obviously, He would make sure that they knew these teachings.

Fifth, many of the events of Jesus’s life would be what we call flashbulb moments, such as are described by Robert McIver. Many of you remember where you were when you first heard about 9/11. Those who are older remember when they first heard that JFK had been shot. This would be the same for if you were suddenly healed of leprosy or paralysis or something like that. There’s a huge gap between giving an encouraging pep talk to a blind man and opening the eyes of a blind man.

Of course, Bob says nothing about any of this. The rule apparently is that if you’re an atheist on the internet, reading on a topic isn’t necessary and definitely you don’t need to read anything that disagrees with you. Just tell a story about how you think it probably was, and that’s enough.

Bob then compares the accounts to Bernadette in 1858 who had visions that were investigated and concluded to be true a year and a half later. One wonders what the parallel here is. I do not know if the accounts are true or not, although I would say an interesting look can be found in the second section of this book.

From there, we have numerous references to Wikipedia and alleged copycats. Wikipedia is, of course, a bastion of scholarly research where the best minds go to for their information. Perhaps Bob should also read The Death of Expertise and learn a little bit about why Wikipedia should not be trusted on something like this.

If it’s not Wikipedia, he refers to only himself. With the copycat claim, he admits in the article that he does not possess the expertise to comment. He also points out that there is a Christian web site that will offer $1,000 to anyone who can prove that the lists of parallel gods is actually true. Obviously, Bob hasn’t cashed in because he doesn’t think it is, but apparently that doesn’t stop him from spreading the claim anyway. Naturally, you won’t see any interaction with scholarly material like this.

The next is about how Paul doesn’t tell the Gospel story, to which the question has to be asked why should he? This would be covered in the oral tradition. Paul wrote to churches to deal with issues in their midst. The truth of the story of Jesus was never an issue. What was an issue was the outworkings of what that meant.

We’re not at all surprised to see that the only real source he has on this is the prominent polyamorous internet blogger Richard Carrier. It’s as if skeptics have an allergy so often to anything that disagrees with them. Instead of getting a scholar that actually teaches at an accredited university, they go for Carrier. Carrier is often the alpha and omega of Biblical scholarship to a skeptic.

Bob will later say that it is often said that people in the first century had better memories. He says that there is no reason to imagine that this is how it was. Indeed, there isn’t. We should instead consult the best scholars in the field. Apparently, it’s okay for Bob to imagine a just-so story about a merchant, but if you say something different about how things went in the ancient world, well you’re just imagining.

He also brings up the canard of perfect accuracy. Perfect accuracy assumes there is one original story. While there was an original event, the story would be told differently. For the parables and such, there could be variation depending on the audience and setting much like any itinerant speaker today. For a story, ancients were fine with the gist of the story being the same even if some secondary details were a bit different. The problem so often is that many moderns approach the ancients and expect them to tell stories according to modern standards instead of ancient ones.

In the end, we conclude that there is no reason to take Bob seriously on this topic. He has not taken modern scholarship seriously and instead relied on Wikipedia and Richard Carrier. In turn, he is not going to be taken seriously. Why respond to this then? Because sadly some people do take this seriously so it is necessary to have something for them.

Hopefully, Bob will crack open a book next time.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Transcending Proof

What do I think of Don McIntosh’s book published by Christian Cadre publishing? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I want to thank Don for sending me this book to see what I thought. As I read through, there were some parts I really did like, and some that I wasn’t so sure about it. I definitely did like seeing a foreword by Stephen Bedard, someone I have a great respect for. Since I said it was a mixed bag, I’ll go with what I did like and then mention ways I think a future edition could be better.

McIntosh makes an interesting beginning by starting with the problem of evil. One would think this is not where you would begin your case for theism, but it is for him. McIntosh I think spends the most time on this part of the book. He looks at evil and all the explanations for it. At times, I found myself thinking an objection from the other side could be easily answered, but then he answered it later on.

I also like that McIntosh is willing to take on popular internet atheists such as Richard Carrier. Again, this part is a case for theism and relies highly on the usages of the problem of evil. McIntosh makes a fine dissection of Carrier’s argument, though it’s quite likely you won’t follow along as well if you don’t know the argument of Carrier.

The same applies to Dan Barker. Of course, Dan Barker is about as fundamentalist as you could get and is a poster child for fundamentalist atheism. McIntosh replies to an argument he has against theism based on God having omniscience and free-will both and how Barker thinks that is contradictory. Again, it’s good to see popular atheists that aren’t as well known being taken on because you do find them often mentioned on the internet and many popular apologists don’t deal with them.

It was also good to see a section on the reliability of Scripture, which is quite important for Christian theism, and a section on Gnosticism. I see Gnosticism often coming back in the church. This includes ideas like the body being secondary and a sort of add-on. (Think about sexual ethics. People who think sex is dirty and a sort of necessary evil and people who think “It’s just sex and no big deal what you do with it” are both making the same mistake.)  I also see Gnosticism with the emphasis on signs and the idea of God speaking to us constantly and personal revelation being individualized.

That having been said, there are some areas that I do think could be improved. One of the biggest ones is it looked like I was jumping all over the place when I went through. It was as if one chapter didn’t seem to have any connection to the next one. I would have liked to have seen a specific plan followed through. If there was one, I could not tell it.

I am also iffy on critiques I often see of evolution. I am not a specialist in the area to be sure, but yet I wonder how well these would do against an actual scientist and I still think this is the wrong battle to fight. I also found it troublesome that the God of the living could not be the same as the one described as the abstract deity that was Aristotle’s prime mover of the universe. I do not see why not. I think Aristotle’s prime mover is truly found in the God of Scripture and that God is more living and active than any other being that is. I am not troubled by God using an evolutionary process to create life than I am by God using a natural process to form my own life in the womb and yet I can still be fearfully and wonderfully made.

I also would have liked to have seen a chapter focusing solely on the resurrection and giving the best arguments for and against it. I think it’s incomplete to have a look at Christian theism without giving the very basis for specific Christian theism. It’s good to have the reliability of Scripture, but there needs to be something specific on the resurrection.

Still, I think McIntosh has given us a good start and there is plenty that could be talked about. I do look forward to a future writing to see what it will lead to. We need more people who are not known willing to step forward and write on apologetics and especially those willing to engage with the other side.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

 

Book Plunge: Jesus Is No Myth

What do I think of David Marshall’s book published by Kuai Mu Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out!

If you’re on the internet and you’re completely unaware of scholarship, you might think mythicism is the next big phase of historical Jesus studies. You’d be completely wrong on that. Mythicism was, is, and will be a joke still. There are three figures that have stolen the spotlight recently and although only one is a mythicist (One is in fact strongly an anti-mythicist), all have had their impact.

Reza Aslan stirred some of the waters by publishing a book called Zealot. In this, he argued that Jesus belonged to the group at the time known as Zealots. Some of you might have even seen him on Fox News. Is Reza Aslan a scholar worth taking seriously?

If you’re a skeptic on the internet, usually you take Richard Carrier as the alpha and omega of Biblical scholarship. Why not? He’s a world-renowned philosopher and historian. I know this because hey, Richard Carrier said so. Is Carrier thus shaking the boat seriously and causing scholars to rethink their views on the historical Jesus?

Finally, many already use Bart Ehrman and have done so. Normally, if your skeptic isn’t pointing to Richard Carrier, they’re pointing to Bart Ehrman. He’s definitely not a mythicist, but he is definitely not an evangelical Christian either. He’s made some claims of Jesus being similar to other great figures. Is he right?

Marshall takes on all of these, the group that he calls ACE in this book. The book is a lively and engaging read. Marshall is an unusual mix. He is well-read in ancient literature and knows what was going on in the times of the Bible, but he’s also brought something else interesting, and that’s a knowledge of Chinese and other Far Eastern histories. After all, one can step outside of the world in the Bible to see what other cultures were like for comparison and how history was done in them.

Not only that, he also comes equipped with some great pop culture references. The closest that comes to his style of writing in scholarly works is actually Michael Bird. Marshall manages to make references in his book to Dr. House, epic rap battles, and Pokemon. A reference like this can bring an extra smile of delight and humor. Marshall is heavy on substance, but he brings light humor as well.

Still, let’s focus on the substance, and there’s plenty of it. Marshall takes on all three of these. Aslan is probably the simplest one seeing as he really isn’t a scholarly in the field and makes some simple mistakes that real scholars have corrected him on, but he does serve the purpose of showing us what not to do. Marshall shows how Aslan cherry picks the evidence so that Jesus comes out the way he wants him to.

Carrier is a different story. If you’re like many skeptics on the internet, you think Carrier is everything. Most in the scholarly world really have no idea who he is. That’s right. Not only is he not shaking the boat, he’s not really making any ripples in the water at all. Still, Marshall takes him on, particularly on the point of parallels to the Gospels in older literature. This also includes a great admirer of Carrier, Matthew Ferguson.

Marshall also takes on the mythicism of Carrier and others. For Carrier, there is a look at the whole Rank-Raglan idea and Marshall shows that it just doesn’t apply well. He also pays attention to the claims of the arguments of silence as well as shows that the methodology of Carrier in history would lead to disastrous results and no, ideas like the criterion of embarrassment have not been thrown out.

Dealing with Ehrman means dealing with a lot of parallels. One favorite one to use is Apollonius of Tyana. Marshall goes through this work showing that Apollonius is not a valid parallel to Jesus. This is material quite helpful for anyone encountering this kind of claim.

Another figure he deals with is the Baal Shem Tov. This was a historical Jewish figure that lived in Poland that Ehrman brought up in a debate with Tim McGrew. Unfortunately, Ehrman didn’t get out all the facts about the Baal Shem Tov and if listeners knew what Marshall shares in this book, they never would have taken Ehrman’s claim seriously.

I should also point out that Marshall writes not just with an intellectual blowtorch that burns through the rubbish in bad arguments, but he writes from the perspective of a devout Christian who sees Jesus as far greater than any other figure. That’s another benefit of this book. It allows you to see Jesus as different and how weak the attacks are against Him. If anything, they only make the Christian faith all the stronger.

This is a book I highly recommend you read. Marshall has given us a gift with this excellent work. You owe it to yourself to partake of it and if you are a fan of ACE, you need to consider the arguments in this book.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Big Think On The Historical Jesus

Are scholars coming to doubt Jesus existed? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Ah yes. We’ve been down this road before. Another website claiming that there’s an increasing number of “scholars” who doubt the existence of a historical Jesus. Of course, as we’ll see, when they use the word scholars, there’s really only one reply to that.

inigomontoya

This time the website is Big Think, which is apparently inappropriately named. The article can be found here. I went through it when someone pointed it out to me just groaning at the massive ignorance of the author named Philip Perry. So what are his major errors? (Other than writing the whole thing?)

To begin with, we have the whole idea that Christmas was copied from the pagans, which is something sadly that many Christians fall for. The author claims that the traditions we celebrate came from Norse mythology and from Saturnalia. His source? Just another website. Most of the material if not all is answerable in my ministry partner’s book, Christmas is Pagan And Other MythsI want to focus more on the main article.

When we start talking about Jesus, we then see what the writer means by scholars. As he says “Today more and more, historians and bloggers alike are questioning whether the actual man called Jesus existed.” Yes. There are bloggers questioning this. There are bloggers also saying 9-11 was an inside job and the moon landing was a hoax. We could say there is a growing number. Will the author start treating them seriously?

The writer of course tells us which sources we shouldn’t accept. We should not accept religious scholars or atheists with an axe to grind. Interestingly, the atheist he cites can be found here and lo and behold, his source is Richard Carrier! (That is, Richard Carrier who is teaching at the prestigious university of…..ummmm…..well….okay. He’s not teaching anywhere for a scholar who is supposed to be world-renowned in philosophy and history, but oh well.)  Of course, Carrier is someone many of us don’t take seriously at all and when I hear his name, I just think of his theme song going through my head.

Let’s look at the question about religious scholars. John Dickson addressed this point in the past when he responded to Raphael Lataster, someone I have responded to as well here and here. John Dickson said about Lataster’s idea that Christians shouldn’t get involved in the study of the historical Jesus said that

Secondly, no student – let alone an aspiring scholar – could get away with suggesting that Christians “ought not to get involved” in the study of the historical Jesus. This is intellectual bigotry and has no place in academia, or journalism. I would likewise fail any Christian student who suggested that atheists should not research Jesus because they have an agenda. Nobody in the vast field of historical Jesus scholarship operates with such an us-and-them mentality. This is why the methods of history are so important. They are how we assess each other’s work. We don’t fret about other scholars’ private beliefs and doubts. We judge their handling of the acknowledged evidence according to the rules of historical inquiry. Anything else would be zealotry.

When it comes to peer-review, no one gets a pass for being a Christian or an atheist. The methodology is the same. Can you show you handle the scholarship and handle it properly? Would Perry be fine with my saying that no Christian should listen to an atheist on evolutionary biology since they come with a bias?

Perry also finds it interesting that we have Jesus go straight from 12 to 30 with nothing about what happened in-between. This is pretty simple. I challenge Perry to go and read other Greco-Roman biographies of the time and see how much time they devoted to someone’s childhood. Jesus’s biographies are nothing unusual in this regard. They are par for the course.

Perry then goes on to say:

Historians have measures in terms of a burden of proof. If an author for instance is writing about a subject more than 100 years after it occurred, it isn’t considered valid. Another important metric is the validity of authorship. If the author cannot be clearly established, it makes the record far less reliable.

Really? This is a rule? I have never heard about this 100 year rule. This rule would rule out most of ancient history. The huge majority of the lives of Plutarch would be thrown out. Our biographies of Alexander the Great would be out the door. Today, no one could write a book about the Civil War. Only people who have no clue about how to do history would say nonsense like this.

As for the rule about an author being clearly established, it can be helpful to know who the author is, but many times, we don’t know. We hold to Plutarch authorship because his grandson said it later on. I find this whole thing a red herring anyway. Do we really think skeptics of Christianity would keel over and accept it if the opening line of Matthew’s Gospel said “The Gospel according to Matthew?” Not a bit. After all, we have letters claiming to be from Paul and that is not accepted as a good enough reason for granting six of them authorship by Paul to them. Of course, Perry could have looked at what E.P. Sanders said about this.

The authors probably wanted to eliminate interest in who wrote the story and to focus the reader on the subject. More important, the claim of an anonymous history was higher than that of a named work. In the ancient world an anonymous book, rather like an encyclopedia article today, implicitly claimed complete knowledge and reliability. It would have reduced the impact of the Gospel of Matthew had the author written ‘this is my version’ instead of ‘this is what Jesus said and did.’  – The Historical Figure of Jesus by E.P. Sanders page 66.

Perry then tells us we have sources written several decades after the fact. First off, his source is Raphael Lataster for this information, which isn’t a big shock. Apparently, sound mythicist argumentation is just quoting other people who agree with your views. Second, again, could he show us some history that’s not like that in the ancient world? The overwhelming majority was written several decades after the fact.

Keep all this in mind about decades and the 100 year rule as it will hurt Perry in the end, but Perry says nothing about the Pauline creed in 1 Cor. 15. What do scholars say about it?

Michael Goulder (Atheist NT Prof. at Birmingham) “…it goes back at least to what Paul was taught when he was converted, a couple of years after the crucifixion.” [“The Baseless Fabric of a Vision,” in Gavin D’Costa, editor, Resurrection Reconsidered (Oxford, 1996), 48.]

Gerd Lüdemann (Atheist Prof of NT at Göttingen): “…the elements in the tradition are to be dated to the first two years after the crucifixion of Jesus…not later than three years… the formation of the appearance traditions mentioned in I Cor.15.3-8 falls into the time between 30 and 33 CE.” [The Resurrection of Jesus, trans. by Bowden (Fortress, 1994), 171-72.]

Robert Funk (Non-Christian scholar, founder of the Jesus Seminar): “…The conviction that Jesus had risen from the dead had already taken root by the time Paul was converted about 33 C.E. On the assumption that Jesus died about 30 C.E., the time for development was thus two or three years at most.” [Roy W. Hoover, and the Jesus Seminar, The Acts of Jesus, 466.]

Perry also says they were written by people who wanted to promote the faith. Yes. Of course. And? This somehow shows they are unreliable? Should we say that Jewish holocaust museums should be viewed with suspicion? Do we not accept the account of a soldier who was at Pearl Harbor when it was attacked because he could have a bias? In the ancient world, everyone had a bias, just like today. History was to be written with passion after all.

He also says the Gospels contradict on events like the Easter story. Of course, many of us have seen these lists of contradictions, but Perry never tells us what they are. Does he throw out the accounts of Polybius and Livy on Hannibal crossing the Alps because those hopelessly contradict? Perry has created a standard that if there is any disagreement, then we throw it out. Unfortunately for him, Mike Licona has recently shown that this kind of disagreement is common even in the writings of Plutarch. For the part about being anonymous, see E.P. Sanders’s quote above. He then tells us that there’s evidence that the Gospels were heavily edited over the years.

There’s also evidence that Philip Perry climbs on top of his car at night and howls at the moon.

Oh, wait? I need to provide actual evidence and not just make a claim? I just figured I would do exactly what Perry has done. Still, let’s look at the claim. What would someone like Bart Ehrman say about it?

If the primary purpose of this discipline is to get back to the original text, we may as well admit either defeat or victory, depending on how one chooses to look at it, because we’re not going to get much closer to the original text than we already are.… At this stage, our work on the original amounts to little more than tinkering. There’s something about historical scholarship that refuses to concede that a major task has been accomplished, but there it is. Novum Testamentum Graecum Editio Critica Maior: An Evaluation: TC: A Journal of Biblical Textual Criticism, 1998, a revision of a paper presented at the Textual Criticism section of the 1997 Society of Biblical Literature in San Francisco. http://rosetta.reltech.org/TC/vol03/Ehrman1998.html

 

In spite of these remarkable [textual] differences, scholars are convinced that we can reconstruct the original words of the New Testament with reasonable (although probably not 100 percent) accuracy. Bart Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings 3rd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 481.

If Perry wants to back his claims that the Gospels are heavily edited, let him. By the way, pointing to Mark 16:9-20 and the pericope of the woman caught in adultery does not show heavily edited. We’ve known about these passages since the time of the early church. If anything, showing that these weren’t in the original manuscripts shows we have a good idea of what was in the original manuscripts.

Perry goes on to say that:

St. Paul is the only one to write about events chronologically. Even then, few facts about Jesus are divulged. Paul’s Epistles rest on the “Heavenly Jesus,” but never mention the living man. For such an important revolutionary and religious figure, there are surprisingly no eyewitness counts. And the writings we do have are biased. Roman historians Josephus and Tacitus do make a few, scant remarks about his life. But that was a century after Jesus’s time. So they may have garnered their information from early Christians. And those threadbare accounts are controversial too, since the manuscripts had been altered over time by Christian scribes whose job it was to preserve them.

As soon as you hear this talk about “Heavenly Jesus” you know where exactly this is coming from. There are a number of things we know about Jesus from Paul, such as His being crucified, having a Passover meal, being descended from David, dying on Passover, being seen after His resurrection, and being born of woman under the law in Galatians 4, which would definitely refer to an earthly existence. Scholars across the board have not taken the heavenly Jesus idea seriously. (By the way Perry, these are real scholars who actually have Ph.Ds and teach at accredited universities and not bloggers.)

Perry also finds it shocking that such an important religious figure wasn’t talked about. Unfortunately, what is really shocking is that Jesus was talked about. Perry is following an anachronism here. It is assuming that because Jesus is all the rage today and everyone talks about Him, that meant everyone was talking about Him in His time. Not at all. As I have in fact argued, in Jesus’s time, He wasn’t worth talking about. He discounts Josephus and Tacitus who wrote a century later. This isn’t accurate anyway. Jesus would have been crucified around 30 A.D. Josephus wrote before the end of the century and Tacitus wrote at the start of the second.

He also claims that their sources are Christian. Unfortunately, this is not demonstrated. Perry can talk all he wants about these accounts being controversial, but this is not according to the scholars of Josephus and Tacitus. The overwhelming majority have no problem with a witness to the historical Jesus being found here.

Next, Perry gives a list of authors who back his thesis supposedly. Let’s look at them.

Reza Aslan in Zealot? Nope. Aslan holds that there is a historical Jesus and that he was a zealot. His claim is wrong, of course, but he is not a mythicist.

Nailed by David Fitzgerald? Fitzgerald has no credentials in the scholarly community. One needs to look at atheist Tim O’Neill taking down Fitzgerald here.

Bart Ehrman with How Jesus Became God? Bart Ehrman has even written the book Did Jesus Exist? taking down the Jesus mythicist movement. He has no patience for these people. Finally of course, we have Richard Carrier with On The Historicity of Jesus. (Carrier to most of scholarship is just someone who happens to have a degree but to most skeptics on the internet, he’s the alpha and omega of scholarship.)

Perry has the quote from Bart Ehrman, but what of it? Ehrman himself doesn’t think that Jesus never existed and if Perry had done just a brief look on Amazon and found Ehrman’s book and read what it’s about, he would have known this. Unfortunately, Perry did not do any real research.

Perry also uses Carrier’s argument of the Rank-Raglan figure to show that Jesus is a mythical figure. Unfortunately, he doesn’t answer the questions like “Why does Carrier use Matthew instead of Mark when Mark is thought to be earlier?” He also doesn’t address the critiques of this position like here and here.

In the first article, I would like to highlight one quote of Ronnblom.

Unfortunately, Carrier subtly changes the criteria to better fit Jesus, and reorders them. Worse still, Carrier does not inform his readers that he has done this. This is amounts to academic dishonesty, since he is clearly misrepresenting his sources

And as McGrath says at the start of his article:

The scale was not designed to determine historicity. Its folklorist users show little or no interest in the attempt to do what historians do, namely peeling back layers of myth in search of underlying history, if there is any. The Rank-Raglan scale does not seem, contrary to Carrier’s claim, to consistently fit figures who were definitely not historical better than ones who certainly were. And so Carrier’s attempt to use the scale to slant his calculations of probability in the direction of the non-historicity of Jesus are at best unpersuasive, and at worst deliberately misleading.

Keep in mind, this is said to be the centerpiece of Carrier’s argument.

It’s also worth pointing out that Carrier has given a talk on the crossing of the Rubicon by Caesar and says that all the great historians of the age mention it. Unfortunately, the great historians of the age wrote much later. What happened to that 100-year rule?

Finally, we conclude with Perry bringing up Joseph Atwill. Unfortunately, the media does us a disservice of calling most anyone a Biblical Scholar. This would be like me calling any blogger who critiques evolution a scientist. Atwill’s crazy theory is that the Romans invented the figure of Jesus to control the Jews. Larry Hurtado has taken his own shot at Atwill. Even Carrier said Atwill’s theory was nonsense, but hey, who cares? He made the claim.

We can hope that someday, BigThink will actually follow its own advice and think. Right now, this growing number so far consists of just a small handful of writers. Next story no doubt will be “A number of scientists are seriously questioning evolution”. I will be told that that is inaccurate I am sure, but when it comes to Jesus, you’re allowed to break the rules.

There’s a reason mythicism is rightly seen as nonsense.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Science Education in the Early Roman Empire

What do I think of Richard Carrier’s latest book published by Pitchstone Publishing? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

When I saw Carrier had a new book coming, I decided I had to order it immediately. Carrier is one of the biggest names in atheism today for some reason and I want to be on top of what is being said as a Christian, so I placed my request and waited. The book actually came before the release date, which was a surprise, but I’m not complaining.

To start, some people will be surprised that this book is short. Had it not been for the presidential debates and then getting ready to spend Anime Weekend Atlanta with my wife, I can conceive of someone going through this in a day. The content pages aren’t large in number, they have footnotes, and the font seems larger than normal. This isn’t a complaint by the way, but just a statement of fact.

Reading this also, one in many ways seems to encounter a Carrier that they haven’t seen before. I thought his book on the historicity of Jesus just went for stretch after stretch after stretch and his book on sense and goodness without God had no real referencing to speak of. The style in this is quite different and I would not have known it was a Carrier book unless I had read it on the front because that was so incredibly different, but I understand that this is based on his dissertation so that’s probably what explains it.

I actually think the book is quite informative as well. It’s important to note that science wasn’t taught as much not because it was looked down on per se, but because attitudes like virtue and rhetoric were seen as more important. This is understandable. As Lewis wrote that many people can put up one kind of moral behavior and posit that for morality and think they are more moral than people of the past because of where they excel, ignoring where they are weak, so can it be done with knowledge. For the ancients, it was rhetoric and persuasive ability that mattered. For the medievals, it was the knowledge of God that was on top. For moderns, it’s science. Of course, it’s my persuasion that we can learn from all three.

Carrier does want to compare the time to the Middle Ages, but here you see that he has not really looked at it as much. I look forward to seeing what Hannam and O’Neill will say in response. Let’s look at some such passages in Carrier to see what I mean.

“How many youths studied the enkykios (A basic curriculum consisting of scientific knowledge) and its basic science content in the Middle Ages?  I suspect it is not likely even to be comparable, much less greater. But I must leave that for others to determine.” (p. 85)

“But I suspect very much the same could be said for the Middle Ages.” (p. 89)

“It seems unlikely that these standards for the education of scientists and philosophers continued in the Middle Ages, which oversaw a broad decline of scientific knowledge, and the gradual elimination of even the idea of a philosophy school.” (p. 119)

“Medieval state and public support for education is not likely to compare as well, until the rise of the universities, yet even those were small and few in number for quite some time and thus, at least until the Renaissance, might not have surpassed what had already been available in the Roman Empire.” (p. 136)

Statements like this do show that we need to wait for that information to come out. As I said, I look forward to what Hannam and O’Neill have to say, particularly about Christianity not being responsible for the rise of science. Still, this book is actually an interesting and enjoyable read and I think contains information that is worth further study. We’ll have to see what others have to say about it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Unmasking the Jesus Myth

What do I think of Stephen Bedard’s book on Jesus mythicism? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I want to thank Stephen Bedard for sending me his latest book on this topic. Bedard is one Christian who still wants to give time to Jesus mythicism and addressing it. I do as well, but it is becoming less common mainly because when we meet anyone who is a mythicist, we tend to see them as beyond reasonable discussion. The rules of historiography are changed to allow for this.

Bedard has put together a small book that you could read in a couple of hours on the topic so you can be familiar with it. He has put some of the most important information in there such as stories of the pagan gods that Jesus is said to be a copy of. He also points out that this is not a scholarly debate at all. Instead, it is a debate that is largely taking place on the internet. If you meet someone who says academics in the field don’t even know if Jesus existed, you have met someone who doesn’t know what they’re talking about.

Of course, at this, someone is going to say “Richard Carrier!” Yes. Bedard talks about him as well and Robert Price as lone exceptions to the rule of scholars in the field. Note that these are exceptions. They also do not teach at accredited universities. There’s a reason for that. Mythicism is just not taken seriously.

Still, since Carrier is mentioned, I do wish Bedard had spent more time talking about Carrier’s hypothesis about Jesus being a cosmic being who was supposedly crucified in outer space and that the accounts eventually became historicized. The dying and rising gods idea is still out there and still needs to be addressed, but this is an approach that a lot of people are not familiar with and can lead to some people being caught off guard.

In fact, this is the real ultimate problem with mythicism. It is not that the arguments are so powerful. It’s that they’re so bizarre. Many would have a hard time answering them for the same reason they’d have a hard time answering objections to the idea that we really landed on the moon. Moon landing conspiracy theorists have outlandish claims that a man on the street will not be familiar with and even if you read scholarly literature you will not be familiar with. Mythicists tend to take this strange ideas and run with them thinking they’re gold. When you listen to a mythicist talk, you will often hear unaccepted claim after unaccepted claim in a sort of shotgun approach. (I was there when Craig Evans debated Richard Carrier. I saw Carrier doing just this.)

Still, Bedard’s book is a good summary of the situation. If you have read extensively on this topic, you won’t really find anything new here, but if you aren’t familiar with it, then Bedard’s book can be a really good place to begin. While it is short, it is indeed filled with important information to help you counter the claims of mythicists.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Once Again, Does Jerry Coyne Have A Clue?

Is mythicism at all viable? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Wednesday, I wrote some on Jerry Coyne, an evolutionary biologist, which means he’s naturally capable of being an authority on the historical Jesus. Today, I’d like to look at more of his *cough* arguments *cough* for their not being a historical Jesus. Naturally, I expect to find the same kind of rank nonsense that I find any time I engage with mythicists. As I have said before, mythicism is a conspiracy theory for atheists.

I have to say that I’m coming down on the “mythicist” side, simply because I don’t see any convincing historical records for a Jesus person. Everything written about him was decades after his death, and, as far as I can see, there is no contemporaneous record of a Jesus-person’s existence (what “records” exist have been debunked as forgeries). Yet there should have been some evidence, especially if Jesus had done what the Bible said. But even if he was simply an apocalyptic preacher, as Ehrman insists, there should have been at least a few contemporaneous records. Based on their complete absence, I am for the time being simply a Jesus agnostic. But I don’t pretend to be a scholar in this area, or even to have read a lot of the relevant literature. I haven’t even read Richard Carrier’s new book promoting the mythicist interpretation, though I will.

So let’s see what we have here. We have a claim such as that contemporary records have been debunked as forgeries. This is quite problematic since first off, let’s suppose he’s talking about the Pauline epistles. Seven of those are accepted universally as Pauline. If he’s talking about the Gospels, then how can they be forgeries since the body of the work doesn’t say who wrote the work itself? If he means Tacitus and Josephus and others, this would be news to the scholarly community. So what is he talking about? We don’t know, but Coyne’s followers who are just as historically illiterate as he is will eat this up.

Coyne also says there should be some record. Well why? Jesus was a guy who would have been born in a low ranking town like Nazareth who never went to battle, never wrote a book, never ran for office, etc. and died by crucifixion, the most shameful way to die. As I have said earlier, by these standards, Jesus is not worth talking about. What amazes me is not how few people mentioned Jesus. What amazes me is that anyone at all did.

Normally, we compare like with like, but let’s compare Jesus with someone else. How about Hannibal? Here’s a guy who was the leader of the greatest enemy Rome had who nearly conquered the empire by trouncing over every argument sent his way. This is a man worth talking about! Everyone would have been talking about him. So what do we have with contemporary records?

Zip. Nadda. Not a thing. In fact, let’s take Coyne’s statement and turn it around.

Everything written about him was decades after his death, and, as far as I can see, there is no contemporaneous record of a Hannibal-person’s existence.

This is exactly the same and yet there is no great debate that Hannibal existed. We could say likewise of other figures like Queen Boudica and Arminius who both greatly resisted the Roman empire. These people weren’t mentioned by contemporaries and were written about decades later, but they were definitely real. Yet this little preacher who never traveled the Roman Empire and died by crucifixion? Everyone should have mentioned Him!

Coyne can talk about how he doesn’t pretend to be a scholar, but of course he is. He’s the one who has written a book about Faith vs. Fact. (Which is simply awful. That’s not just me saying that. Look at what Edward Feser had to say.) Coyne also says he hasn’t read Carrier’s book. Well I can assure him that I have, and I find it also just as lacking but hey, at least I do read the scholarship that disagrees with me.

Because of the paucity of evidence, we can expect this question to keep coming up. And so it’s surfaced once again, in a PuffHo piece by Nigel Barber.

We can see it coming up the same way we see debates on evolution taking place. At least there are more Ph.D.s in the field who question evolution than there are those in the field who question Jesus’s existence, yet Coyne would not for a moment think there is a serious debate as to if evolution is true or not. I’m also not saying evolution is true or not true. I really don’t care. I just know that Coyne is not talking about a debate that is taking place in the academy. It’s only taking place on the internet where sadly most anyone can show up and be taken seriously because they have an opinion.

Barber, who has a Ph.D. in biopsychology and a website at Psychology Today (“The Human Beast”), has also written six books.  And in the Sept. 25 edition (is that the right word?) of PuffHo, he takes up the question of the historicity of Jesus. His piece, “If Jesus never existed, religion may be fiction,” briefly lays out the mythicist case. Of course religion itself is nota fiction, but what Barber means is that Christianity’s empirical support, like that of Scientology or Mormonism, may well rest on a person or events that simply didn’t exist.

Ah yes. A Ph.D. in biopsychology and has written six books. Well that means he’s obviously qualified to write on the topic. I suppose then that Coyne would have no problem with N.T. Wright being seen as an authority on evolution. Again, don’t expect Coyne to go with the scholars here. There’s a good reason for that. He’s not really going to find them.

Of course, Barber has a “devastating” argument from Paulkovich. Actually, the argument is about as devastating as Ken Ham would be to Coyne, but oh well. He’s written an article so surely he’s an authority.

Various historical scholars attempted to authenticate Jesus in the historical record, particularly in the work of Jesus-era writers. Michael Paulkovich revived this project as summarized in the current issue of Free Inquiry.

Paulkovich found an astonishing absence of evidence for the existence of Jesus in history. “Historian Flavius Josephus published his Jewish Wars circa 95 CE. He had lived in Japhia, one mile from Nazareth – yet Josephus seems unaware of both Nazareth and Jesus.” He is at pains to discredit interpolations in this work that “made him appear to write of Jesus when he did not.” Most religious historians take a more nuanced view agreeing that Christian scholars added their own pieces much later but maintaining that the historical reference to Jesus was present in the original. Yet, a fudged text is not compelling evidence for anything.

Paulkovich consulted no fewer than 126 historians (including Josephus) who lived in the period and ought to have been aware of Jesus if he had existed and performed the miracles that supposedly drew a great deal of popular attention. Of the 126 writers who should have written about Jesus, not a single one did so (if one accepts Paulkovich’s view that the Jesus references in Josephus are interpolated).

Paulkovich concludes:

“When I consider those 126 writers, all of whom should have heard of Jesus but did not – and Paul and Marcion and Athenagoras and Matthew with a tetralogy of opposing Christs, the silence from Qumram and Nazareth and Bethlehem, conflicting Bible stories, and so many other mysteries and omissions – I must conclude that Christ is a mythical character.”

He also considers striking similarities of Jesus to other God-sons such as Mithra, Sandan, Attis, and Horus. Christianity has its own imitator. Mormonism was heavily influenced by the Bible from which founder Joseph Smith borrowed liberally.

On the surface, this looks convincing to a lot of people, but again, it ignores the relevant factors that this is common for people of the time and that Jesus was not worth talking about. But then, to do a Billy Mays impersonation, but wait, there’s more. Paulkovich has had his own number of critics out there.

Let’s start with a look by Candida Moss and Joel Baden who last I checked are not in the tank for evangelical Christianity. They point out numerous problems with the list. By the way Coyne, if you see this, you should know about this:

Let’s get one thing straight: There is nigh universal consensus among biblical scholars—the authentic ones, anyway—that Jesus was, in fact, a real guy. They argue over the details, of course, as scholars are wont to do, but they’re pretty much all on the same page that Jesus walked the earth (if not the Sea of Galilee) in the 1st century CE.

So as I said, the debate going on is not in the academy any more than young-earth creationism and geocentrism are seriously debated in the academy. Moss and Baden go through the list after saying this and note that some figures lived and wrote before Jesus was even born so big shock that they didn’t mention him. Some were philosophers and writers in other areas like Epictetus and Martial who didn’t write much about current events. Some were doctors who would not likely write about Jesus either.

In fact, some people in the list aren’t even writers, but Paulkovich includes them. When the writers are done showing the weaknesses of the list, they go a step further. They show that by his own argument, Paulkovich doesn’t exist since no historians of our age have ever mentioned him before in their writings. He also hasn’t written anything biographical about himself and apparently doesn’t even have a Twitter. (At least at the time of writing that piece) Maybe we should be skeptical that Paulkovich exists.

There are atheists who have critiqued this and even those sympathetic to mythicism. The linked to article here ends with

As an atheist, I long for a much better class of atheists, atheists writing about history who are not historically illiterate.

There is no doubt Jerry Coyne would be included in that. In fact, the above author wrote an open letter that looks at this even further. Jerry Coyne no doubt avoided any serious investigation and just saw that it argued against Christianity and, well, it must be true! It’s as if atheists on the internet have a flowchart they look at and when they see a claim they ask “Does it argue against Christianity?” If so, it is true. If not, it could be true or false, but if it makes Christianity look good, it’s obviously bogus.

Of course, we doubt that Coyne has done any real research beyond reading something on the internet, but hey, if he wants to lower the intellectual standards of his own followers, let him. If he wants people to accept evolution as true, he’s not doing any favors by accepting something that is seen as crank nonsense by scholars in the field. Those of us who read the scholarly literature can only look at Coyne and think he is someone who is entirely gullible with what he will believe. Of course, that doesn’t mean evolution is false, but it sure means we have to question Coyne’s ability to evaluate evidence.

Barber goes on to talk about how the origin of Mormonism was a sham promulgated by a con man (an interpretation I accept). Yet even in that case there’s better evidence than we have for Jesus, for the Book of Mormon opens with two statements from eleven witnesses—people who were contemporaries of Joseph Smith—who swore that they saw the golden plates that became the Book of Mormon. Those people are historical figures who can be tracked down, and so the evidence for the existence of the plates is stronger than for the existence of a historical Jesus.

Ah Jerry. You’re so funny. Like I said last time, all you needed to do was talk to some experts on Mormonism about this. I asked Rob Bowman about this on my own podcast. Coyne will not mention facts such as the supposed plates were kept under wraps at Smith’s own home and his own wife wasn’t allowed to look underneath the covers to see them or move them or that Smith would only show the plates to someone if they said they had the “eyes of faith” and even then it’s questionable if they physically saw them. But hey, details. Who needs them?

Barber finishes by describing how credulous people have started sects based on phony gurus and leaders, and, indeed, how an Indian film director decided to create his own religion by pretending he was a guru.  And of course we all know how L. Ron Hubbard started Scientology based on a bunch of science-fiction writings and a phony theology involving Xenu, volcanoes, and thetans. How people can buy that stuff—and there’s a lot of them—is beyond me. But of course you don’t get to learn the theology of Scientology until you’ve spent thousands of dollars, and so are inclined to accept it (bogus as it is) because of the “sunk-costs fallacy.”

The irony here is incredibly thick. Yes. Credulous people have bought into a lot of goofy ideas. They’ve also bought into the goofy idea that Jesus never even existed. Hint. If you’re going to talk about people being credulous for buying into stupid ideas, don’t be endorsing Jesus mythicism on your own blog while admitting you haven’t read the scholarly evidence. Coyne should have no basis now for going after young-earth creationists.

At any rate, if there is no contemporaneous record of Jesus, there should have been, how seriously should we take his historical existence? I am not inclined to accept the Bible as convincing evidence for a historical Jesus.

And if there is no contemporaneous record of Hannibal? Of Queen Boudica? Of Arminius? Be consistent. Many of the lives of Plutarch are considered reliable even centuries later. Richard Carrier mentioned earlier says all the historians of the time mention Caesar crossing the Rubicon, not stating that these historians of the time wrote at least a century later.

Is there anyone in history with so little contemporaneous attestation who is nevertheless seen by millions as having really existed? There is of course Socrates, but of course we have a historical figure, Plato, who attests to his existence. Yet even that is overlain with a patina of mythicism, and I don’t think most scholars would say that Socrates existed with the certainty that Christians (or even atheists like Bart Ehrman) would say that Jesus existed. And there’s no religion based on the historical existence of Socrates. As for Shakespeare, well, we have his signature and a fair amount of contemporaneous evidence that he really did exist; we just don’t know for sure that he wrote those plays (absence of evidence).

Yes. Boudica. Hannibal. Arminius. The list could go on. All Coyne needed to do was just send an email to a professor of ancient history. It would be nice if someone at the University of Chicago where Coyne teaches who teaches ancient history could go and set Coyne straight. He’s not doing any favors to your university right now.

At the end, I do not have any questions about Jesus’s existence. I stand in agreement with the scholars in the field today that he definitely walked. I have a lot of questions about the evidence that Jerry Coyne is a serious thinker in any sense of the word.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

It’s Time To Ponder Whether Jerry Coyne Knows What He’s Talking About

Can a biologist really give us the answers on questions of ancient history? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We’ve had some fun on here before reviewing the “work” of Jerry Coyne and yet, he has provided even more fodder for us. In a recent writing, he has come down on the side of the idea that Jesus never even existed. Of course, if he holds to that, there’s no longer really any basis for his making fun of young-earth creationists (Of which I am not one) for holding a position that goes so much against the scientific consensus. Still, let’s look at what he says:

I’m also surprised at how certain many biblical scholars are that Jesus existed (Bart Ehrman, to give a prominent example).

Why be surprised? Historians who know how to do history look at the data and conclude that the best explanation for what we have is that a historical Jesus once walked this Earth. The debate is not over if He existed, but the debate is over what He did and said in His life. Of course, it’s not a shock to hear Bart Ehrman is the first mentioned. I find that if you ask most atheists, the only scholars they seem to know of in the area of Biblical studies are Bart Ehrman, Robert Price, and Richard Carrier. (The last one is the be all and end all in historical studies to most internet atheists. Carrier has spoken. The case is closed.)

Yet although I am the first to admit that I have no formal training in Jesusology, I think I’ve read enough to know that there is no credible extra-Biblical evidence for Jesus’s existence, and that arguments can be made that Jesus was a purely mythological figure, perhaps derived from earlier such figures, who gradually attained “facthood.” As a scientist, I’ll say that I don’t regard the evidence that Jesus was a real person as particularly strong—certainly not strong enough to draw nearly all biblical scholars to that view. It’s almost as if adopting mythicism brands you as an overly strident atheist, one lacking “respect” for religion. There’s an onus against mythicism that can’t be explained by the strength of evidence against that view.

Jesusology. That’s cute. We can suspect that when Coyne says he’s read enough that means “I read a book by Richard Carrier and his blog posts and that settled it for me.” We would very much like to see him try to make a historical argument some time and see if he can make one that can garner the attention of even liberal and atheistic New Testament scholars. His claim that there is no extra-biblical evidence is in fact, entirely bogus, but we will get to that more as we go through.

Towards the end, you could deal with this simply by replacing the word mythicism with young-earth creationism and religion with science. Coyne should see that his position is seen as ridiculous to scholars for a reason. It is ridiculous. It is a conspiracy theory for atheists.

Probably nobody reading this post thinks that Jesus was the miracle-working son of God, and that pretty much disposes of his importance for Christianity. In the end, I’m most surprised at how much rancor is involved in these arguments, especially by the pro-Jesus side, even when that side readily admits that Jesus was not the son of God. (I can understand, of course, why Christians want to argue that Jesus was a real person.)

Well no. Some people reading this post do hold that Jesus is that, but that’s because many of us regularly read what disagrees with us. Most of us who are making the arguments against mythicism have read many books by the mythicists themselves. Furthermore, to say that if Jesus is not the miracle working Son of God then His importance to Christianity is disposed is quite amusing. Christianity is here regardless and it was there regardless and we should seek to know what role Jesus played in it even if the Biblical one is not accurate.

At this Coyne recommends we read the following article. The writer, Brian Bethune, relies heavily on Bart Ehrman and his latest work on memory, which I have responded to already here. Unfortunately, I find Ehrman’s case incredibly lacking as have scholars in the field. Bethune also too quickly dispatches group memory not realizing how it works, especially when he keeps making analogies of a telephone type game.

The article goes on to say that:

Yet Pilate is in Mark as the agent of Jesus’s crucifixion, from which he spread to the other Gospels, and also in the annals of the Roman historian Tacitus and writings by his Jewish counterpart, Josephus. Those objective, non-Christian references make Pilate as sure a thing as ancient historical evidence has to offer, unless—as has been persuasively argued by numerous scholars, including historian Richard Carrier in his recent On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason For Doubt—both brief passages are interpolations, later forgeries made by zealous Christians.

Yes. Numerous scholars have argued this. Numerous ones like….

Well, there’s Carrier…

And there’s….

Well we’d really like to know!

Now to be sure, most scholars do agree that there is SOME interpolation in Josephus by Christians, but they do not say that the whole is an interpolation. There is a historical core. The second passage mentioning Jesus is even more attested and is not what a Christian would interpolate. A Christian would not write “the so-called Christ.”

As for Tacitus, we’re on even firmer grounds. I do not know of any other scholar who says this is an interpolation. Also, this is not the kind of statement a Christian would interpolate. A Christian would have Jesus spoken of in far more glowing terms than this and would not risk it being considered a mischievous superstition.

But hey, Carrier has spoken. The case is closed.

Now we could talk about the apostle Paul in Bethune’s article. What does he say?

That the Gospels provide only debatable evidence for historians has long obscured the fact that the bulk of the New Testament, its epistles, provide none at all. The seven genuine letters of St. Paul, older than the oldest Gospel and written by the single most important missionary in Christian history, add up to about 20,000 words. The letters mention Jesus, by name or title, over 300 times, but none of them say anything about his life; nothing about his ministry, his trial, his miracles, his sufferings. Paul never uses an example from Jesus’s sayings or deeds to illustrate a point or add gravitas to his advice—and the epistles are all about how to establish, govern and adjudicate disputes within Christianity’s nascent churches. And, despite knowing the apostles Peter, James and John, he never settles a dispute by saying, “Peter, who was there at the time, told me Jesus said this . . . ” Nor, by the evidence of his correspondence, did any faraway Christian ever ask Paul about Jesus’s life. Everything the Apostle claims to know about Jesus comes from his reading of the hidden messages in Old Testament passages and by direct revelation, the latter being the very thing that proves its worth, as he told the Galatians.

Carrier’s book on the case for Christ as a mythical construct rather than an actual human being is something of a breakthrough on the mythicist front. He gives credit to earlier writers, especially Canadian Earl Doherty, but Carrier’s rigorously argued discussion—made all the more compelling for the way it bends over backwards to give the historicist case an even chance—is the first peer-reviewed historical work on mythicism. He’s relatively restrained in his summation of the absences in Paul’s letters. “That’s all simply bizarre. And bizarre means unexpected, which means infrequent, which means improbable.” Historicists have no real response to it. Ehrman simply says, “It’s hard to know what to make of Paul’s non-interest; perhaps he just doesn’t care about Jesus before his resurrection.” Other historians extend that lack-of-curiosity explanation to early Christians in general, which is not only contrary to the usual pattern of human nature, but seems to condemn the Gospels as fiction: if Christians couldn’t have cared less about the details of Jesus’s life and ministry, they wouldn’t have preserved them, and the evangelists would have been forced to make up everything.

No. Historicists do have a response to it. The response is there was no need to mention these events. What benefit would they do? If you’re writing about how to handle meat offered to idols, how does it help to know that Jesus worked miracles? In a high-context society, the background knowledge was assumed and communication was meant to fill in the details that weren’t known. In fact, myself and some of my friends have made a whole joke of this kind of claim with the idea that if Paul believed in the virgin birth, surely he would have mentioned it. Well no. I have only heard a few sermons that taught about the virgin birth and I am convinced the preachers I heard all believed in it. Their not mentioning it does no mean they don’t affirm it. To show the humor of this, we regularly interjected in random conversations (And still do) that we affirm the virgin birth. (Which by the way, I do affirm.)

In fact, one aspect that is amusing is this whole article is meant to show us that memory is not reliable and what is one point they have in there? They have Ehrman’s memory of what happened when he was in school talking to a professor. This is supposed to be accepted at face value even though by Ehrman’s criteria, it should be rife with suspicion. The author himself accepts it and then goes on to tell us that memory can’t be trusted.

Coyne goes on to say that

What that further means is that over the four or five decades spanning the reported date of Jesus’s death and the first written scriptural account of his deeds (the Gospel of Mark) the Story of Jesus could involve not just severe distortion, but even fabrication.

Certainly it could have, but that does not mean that it did. Both sides have a burden to prove, but let’s suppose it did. Are we to think that within the timeframe when there could be eyewitnesses and people who knew eyewitnesses that the entire story would be overturned immediately and people would suddenly hold to a historical Jesus even though there was no memory of him anywhere by anyone? This was all tied in to a particular place and time with particular people. It is one thing to say a legend rises up quickly. It is another to say the legend totally supplants the real historical truth that quickly.

Bethune then argues that the one “solid” fact buttressing Jesus’s existence—his execution under Pontius Pilate, a historical figure—is likely based on post-Biblical fabrication, since many early Christians didn’t accept Pilate as executioner or even that Jesus died around the time of his reign. As Bethune notes, “Snap that slender reed and the scaffolding that supports the Jesus of history—the man who preached the Sermon on the Mount and is an inspiration to millions who do not accept the divine Christ—is wobbling badly.”

Many early Christians? Who were these many early Christians? It would be nice if we knew that. Unfortunately, we don’t. If he wants to say Paul never explicitly mentions that, well why should he? Silence does not equal ignorance. If all we had was the writing of Tacitus on this, we would in fact have enough to believe a man named Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate.

Bethune draws heavily from the work of Richard Carrier, a prominent mythicist. I’ve read quite a bit of that and find it heavy weather, but in the end agree with Carrier that mythicism appears to be rejected by Biblical scholars for mere psychological reasons. Christianity is a bedrock of Western society, so even if we doubt the divinity of Jesus, can’t we just make everyone happy by agreeing that the New Testament is based on a real person? What do we have to lose?

Because when you don’t have an argument against your opponent, psychoanalysis works well. Scholars have pored over every word of the New Testament with great detail and yet we’re supposed to believe they just gave in on this one to Christians? Seriously? There’s a reason Carrier and other mythicists are not taken seriously in scholarship. It’s because their case is weak.

But I’m not willing to do that—not until there’s harder evidence. And I’m still puzzled why Bart Ehrman, who goes even farther in demolishing the mythology of Jesus in his new book, remains obdurate about the fact that such a man existed. Remember that eleven historical Americans signed statements at the beginning of the Book of Mormon testifying that they either saw the Angel Moroni point out the golden plates that became the Book, or saw the plates themselves. Yet nearly all of us reject that signed, dated, eyewitness testimony as total fabrication. Why are we so unwilling to take a similar stand about Jesus?

Oooh look. Mormonism! Okay. Once again Coyne, many of us know about this story. In fact, what I did was I talked with someone who seriously has investigated Mormonism on this question. Maybe you should have done the same. There’s more to good research than doing what you did, just citing Wikipedia. Last I saw, good scientists are supposed to ask questions.

In the end, I once again conclude that there’s a reason mythicism is laughed at. We can give thanks that people like Jerry Coyne are doing all they can to lower the intellectual standards of atheists everywhere.

In Christ,
Nick Peters