Thursday, August 28, 2008

Mad for doubting Jesus' existence

Yes it seems I am a "mad philosopher" Go here.

I have asked the author to post my comment saying my arguments are not being accurately represented and readers should come here to check for themselves. I wonder whether he will allow it through moderation?

POSTSCRIPT - The author - Doug - did, so my thanks to him. Maybe he will comment here. Hope so.

52 comments:

snafu said...

Stephen - to give him some credit, you got your post through, and a reply as well. It is a bit frosty, though!

It seems alot of your antagonists don't really understand what 'doubt' means...

anticant said...

Stephen, I've just posted a comment on Mr Chaplin's blog.

Nick said...

I think that Richard Carrier's Hero Savior analogy is pretty apt here.

Sam, are we to conclude that, other than appeal to authority, your evidence for the existence of Jesus as a historical figure is that given by Doug in the post that Stephen links to?

Papilio said...

It is interesting that the blog owner in question cites his knowledge of things like gluons as evidence that we should accept the words of authority. But experiments can be done to falsify the existence of gluons. Science is self-correcting (there was a time when the Ether was The Word of Authority, but we know now there is no Ether - Authority was wrong. Best guess but wrong. No new evidence, no experiments, are available in the case of Jesus. Authority in this case can not be corrected, only reinforced ("Augustine said blah de blah, Aquinas said yakkity yak, etc, therefore...").

Second point. There are three positions here.
i) Jesus did not exist.
ii) Jesus was a historical figure but there was nothing supernatural about him.
iii) Jesus was the son of God.

For Christians only iii will do, of course, so their arguments as to ii are irrelevant; they have to prove the package. To an atheist it does not much matter whether Jesus existed as a historical figure or not. It doesn't matter whether Socrates existed, either, or Darwin, Einstein, even, because their ideas have outlived their bodies. The ideas have been shown to have merit independently of who thought them up. The Jesus Ideas don't - can't - work that way.

anticant said...

Sam:

A while back, you said: “My assertion is that nobody sane doubts that Jesus was an historical figure.”

Because Stephen and others of us keep on asking for plausible evidence that not just any old Jesus, but the Jesus of the Gospels, actually existed, you impolitely call us “mad”. Not much of an argument, really!

When I pointed out that the existence of a historical personage called Jesus who went around preaching and teaching was quite irrelevant to the truth of core Christian beliefs about the nature, life, death, and resurrection of the Divine Jesus of the Gospels, you got annoyed and said you found me “very frustrating”.

Earlier still, you said “Our hearts are restless until they find rest in the truth.”

What do you mean by “the truth”? Because if the Jesus of the Gospels never actually existed, and did not in fact - as distinct from tradition - do all the miraculous things ascribed to him, including rising from the dead and sitting at the right hand of his Heavenly Father, Christianity obviously isn’t true.

Anonymous said...

Papilio :-

I think there are several variants on (iii) - Arianism and the Muslims view for starters

Sam Norton said...

Anticant: "Because Stephen and others of us keep on asking for plausible evidence that not just any old Jesus, but the Jesus of the Gospels, actually existed..."

Again you are surreptitiously bringing in the theological point and wanting to argue the pros and cons of that, not the bare historical point that there was a person called Jesus etc.

The evidence is in the documents, mostly gathered in the NT (which, of course, didn't happen until much later - they were separate documents to begin with).

"When I pointed out that the existence of a historical personage called Jesus who went around preaching and teaching was quite irrelevant to the truth of core Christian beliefs about the nature, life, death, and resurrection of the Divine Jesus of the Gospels, you got annoyed and said you found me “very frustrating”." - Yes, because I agree with you. I AM NOT ARGUING HERE FOR THE TRUTH OF ALL CHRISTIAN DOCTRINE ABOUT JESUS. I am pointing out that doubting Jesus' existence as some sort of historical personage is unreasonable. I can't understand why you don't see that point. Is there any way in which I can rephrase it to make it clearer?

Sam Norton said...

Stephen - you keep asking for the evidence, and I'd be quite happy to provide a worked example of what is considered as evidence, but I want to first ask the question: do you consider all of the documents gathered into the New Testament to be invalid as evidence? Because there is very little else. (NB if you _do_ think it invalid, then I would take it as confirmation of your 'unreasonableness'!!)

Fergus Gallagher said...

Wow, Sam. You have finally got it. There is no evidence apart from the Babble.

Why do you not think "The Hobbit" is good evidence for dragons? Why do you not trust Scientology documents?

Geoff Hudson said...

How many clear examples are there of fabricated Pauline interpolations related Jesus? I keep coming across them. How many Pauline interpolations are related to the mission to Gentiles? A key to understanding the earliest 'christianity' is that there was no mission to Gentiles in the original NT. Much of the extant fabrication is related to the retrospective creation of such a mission. The original documents were entirely Jewish and prophetic. The Pauline editors re-wrote the history. No mission to Gentiles implies a considerable effect on the extant Gospels and what the supposed Jesus is supposed to have said and done in relation to Gentiles. I have no doubt that the Gospel of Mark is the nearest to any original history.

The creation of the benign Jesus and his cult together with rabbinnic Judaism must have suited the Flavian rulers who were no doubt glad to see the back of strife between prophets and messianic priests - priests who had more than likely assassinated Agrippa I and Agrippa II (the coin data looks extremely interesting on these two, as do the accounts in the writings attributed to Josephus). This was motivation enough for the fiction of Jesus.

Thus an alternative hypothesis is to consider that there were once some completely Jewish prophetic documents that were converted to their present form by those who created the Jesus cult. The documents show all the signs of creative editing. An alternative prophet is one Judas, later of course turned into the traitor of Jesus. Strangely, Judas had two sons James and Simon. Certainly Judas is the character who is the focus of the writings attributed to Josephus. But of course one is unlikely to hear about alternative hypotheses from most biblical scholars who want to keep the existence of their breadwinner and best-selling brand Jesus.

rob said...

stephen your a wank on a stick

Papilio said...

anon: good point. Forgot about that 'supernatural but not son of god' angle.

Stephen Law said...

Spelling, Rob.

Anonymous said...

sam said-"do you consider all of the documents gathered into the New Testament to be invalid as evidence?"

This sounds like an "Are you still beating your wife?" question- especially when you say a "yes" answer indicates Stephens unreasonableness! If he does answer "yes" we ought at least to hear why he thinks this before judging him.

How much doubt is one allowed in this case before being judged "unreasonable"?
If I think that there is a 90% chance of Jesus being an historic figure am I then 10% unreasonable or do I go in the tumbril with all the other degrees of unreasonable people?

jeremy said...

I've refrained from commenting on this topic so far since I really don't know much about the historical evidence for Jesus-as-person... but if it turns out that there is "very little else" in the way of evidence other than the New Testament, I shall truly be shocked. I'll wait and see.

Steven Carr said...

Sam has never answered the point that Paul complains that different Christians are following different Jesus's.

How many of these Jesus's existed?

Sam simply begs the question to say that the Gospels record the real Jesus, especially in view of Paul's claim that the authorities never harm innocent people.

Steven Carr said...

Of course there existed a Jesus, who preached and was crucified.

Josephus says hundreds of Pharisees were crucified.

Jesus was a common name. Some of them would have been called Jesus and some of those would have preached.

So what is the point of claiming that there was an historical personage called Jesus who preached and was crucified?

It is just bait-and-switch.

Argue for 'some sort of historical personage' and then claim that this shows that Jesus of the Gospels existed.

Bait-and-switch... The old, old story when you ask Christians for evidence.

Rev. Dr. Incitatus said...

An informative list of massianic claimants of that time can be found here.

It is intriguing that Josephus writes relatively expansively about the other claimants (between Judas and The Egyptian), and yet so little (if anything) about Jesus.

anticant said...

Really, Sam: -

One of us is very thick. I’m not sure which. Just because I keep on saying I’m interested in playing chess, but not cricket, you pontificate, like a grumpy schoolmaster telling me to go to the bottom of the class, that “you are surreptitiously bringing in the theological point and wanting to argue the pros and cons of that, not the bare historical point that there was a person called Jesus etc.”, adding: “I am pointing out that doubting Jesus' existence as some sort of historical personage is unreasonable. I can't understand why you don't see that point. Is there any way in which I can rephrase it to make it clearer?”

No, there isn’t. I grasped the point [such as it is] some while ago, and consider it totally irrelevant to the truth of Christianity – and “truth” is what you say you are concerned about.

Nothing “surreptitious” about my indifference to your Aunt Sally of an argument! I merely want you to drop what is a totally irrelevant red herring – a “so what?” topic - and to come up with some credible evidence – apart from the Gospels – for the actual historical existence of the Divine Jesus.

What I want to know is whether you, as an ordained minister of the Anglican Church, believe [in the words of the General Confession] that Jesus Christ was the only Son of God the Father, and was “conceived by the Holy Ghost, Born of the Virgin Mary, Suffered under Pontius Pilate, Was crucified, dead, and buried, He descended into hell; The third day he rose again from the dead, He ascended into heaven, And sitteth on the right had of God the Father Almighty; From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.”

A simple “Yes” or “No” will do. Though, if your answer is “Yes”, it would be nice to know in what way you believe this – concretely and literally, or abstractly and metaphorically?

If you have a wife, are you still beating her?

Anonymous said...

Just to add a little oil (who knows whether to water or flame) I have found
an interesting book preview/preprint available on Googlebooks.

"The Christian Myth" By Burton L. Mack

He argues, I gather, that the early Christian documents (including NT) documents were never intended to be historic but mythic and so the quest for a "real" Jesus is futile.

I offer no comment pro-tem on his academic credentials - its difficult for me to tell with American institutions - but he does seem a prolific author.

Monica said...

I think Steven Carr and anticant are making a good point. What is the minimum amount of the Christian tradition about Jesus that has to be historically accurate for there to have been a historical Jesus?

Let's look at it from another direction. Consider King Arthur. Perhaps there was a 6th century British warlord who gave the Saxons a bit of trouble and became the seed of the Arthur legend. Could we say that there was a historical King Arthur? I'd say no, because there is almost no similarity between the Christian Knight King Arthur of legend and someone who may well have been a Celtic pagan warlord. We would have to say that we found the origin of the myth, but that King Arthur was himself was entirely mythical.

What if we found a 1st century Jesus that had been a wandering prophet, but found that he wasn't born of a virgin, worked no miracles, and had never been crucified. What if he never said the sayings that were attributed to him, but instead was just another apocalyptic preacher? Could we say that there was a historical Jesus? What if he lived 100 years before Herod? What's the cut off point?

Anonymous said...

Of course there is some modern discussion regarding multiple Christs:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_eAo_7EccVo

treats the matter with dignity.

Anonymous said...

Raking over some old, but probably still smoldering, coals -

Sam said "Part of the reason why they were included in the New Testament was because they were perceived as being the most historically reliable."

a) If true thats all well and good but one would have to say that this is in the context of the Byzantine era isn't it. Since then we have found more fragments of papyri and the tools available to scholars have improved.
b) How unbiased were the editors? not exactly independently peer reviewed I'll bet.
c) an alternative is that they were included because they were the most mythically/doctrinally authentic.

N T Wrong said...

As long as nobody doubts that King Arthur is real, I'm still happy.

Timmo said...

Stephen,

You might even consider changing your blog title to "Mad Philosopher"... :-P

MikeN said...

You know you're on the right track when people with no grammar skills start insulting you ;)

Paul P. Mealing said...

I actually don’t care that much whether Jesus really existed or not, but, if the only evidence we have is a fictional account, then I can understand Stephen being sceptical.

However, there is one reason why I think Jesus may have been a real person and that is because he was a very unusual, even unique, character for his time. By this, I don’t mean that he was born from a virgin conception (what an oxymoron) or that he rose from the dead or that he performed miracles with bread and fishes. I mean that he cared about lepers and prostitutes and all the people who were disenfranchised by the Church and the State of his day.

My point is that if he didn’t exist but was made up, then the person, or people, who made him up must have had these same qualities and I find that more unlikely then the idea that the stories were based on a real person. As I’ve already commented, I think the fact that the myth has replaced the real person, assuming he existed, is a shame, because I think Jesus as a person is more interesting and more heroic than Jesus as a god.

Regards, Paul.

anticant said...

BTW, Jamie - who seems to have got fed up and has abandoned ship - made the following remarkable remark in his last post:

"If what atheists say is true -- Jesus is not God -- then I'm believing a lie, deluding myself, and being kind to other people for no rational reason."

Does one need a rational reason to be kind? I don't think so - still less that only religious people are, or wish to be, kind.

Henry James once said "Only three things really matter in life. The first is to be kind, the second is to go on being kind, and the third is still to be kind."

Sam Norton said...

Hi Anticant,

If you accept the distinction between the two arguments:
i) that scepticism that there was an historical Jesus of Nazareth is irrational;
ii) that the Christian claims about Jesus of Nazareth are substantiated;

then all that seems to be happening is that you want to argue over the truth of ii) when _these_ threads are about i). I'm happy to discuss ii) in a different thread (and have done), I just find it frustrating - rude, actually - that you are not taking part in the discussion about i). Wouldn't it be polite(!) to let this argument run its course and then start on ii)? Or am I still missing something?

BTW as I have said before on numerous occasions, I am basically orthodox.

PS what Paul Mealing said: "My point is that if he didn’t exist but was made up, then the person, or people, who made him up must have had these same qualities and I find that more unlikely then the idea that the stories were based on a real person" - bingo! That is exactly the sort of reasoning that leads atheist specialists in the discipline to accept the existence of an historical person called Jesus, who has _some_ relationship with the movement calling on his name. It's an Occam's razor point - it is simpler to believe that this movement, however much development and accretion arose over time, began with a particular person called Jesus than to suppose that the varied testimonies were all created out of whole cloth (which, if you pursue it, ends up with some quite bizarre consequences). It's not as if the claim that there was a Jewish teacher called Jesus is prima facie implausible, rather the opposite. (The only thing I'd disagree with Monica about is the crucifixion - without it you don't have this specific Jesus).

Paul Power said...

"it is simpler to believe that this movement, however much development and accretion arose over time, began with a particular person called Jesus than to suppose that the varied testimonies were all created out of whole cloth (which, if you pursue it, ends up with some quite bizarre consequences)"

It's simpler to say we just don't know. BTW, where is this evidence that Jesus existed ? We've been waiting a very long time now.

Steven Carr said...

Sam still can't produce any evidence that 'Jesus of Nazareth' existed ( 'Jesus of Nazareth' was a concept unknown to Paul, and the writers of Hebrews, James, 1 Peter etc)

Steven Carr said...

Sam still hasn't answered the point that Paul said different Christians were preaching different Jesus's.

Did all these different Jesus's exist?

If not, how do we know that the 'Jesus of Nazareth' existed?

Fergus Gallagher said...

Stephen, you criticized Rob for his spelling - but just look at your poor use of the apostrophe in the title of this entry :-)

anticant said...

Sam:

I am not intentionally rude, but the perception of the message resides in the mind of the recipient.

"I know you believe you understand what you think I said, but I'm not sure you realise that what you heard is not what I meant."

I am simply not interested in whether or not there were various preachers called Jesus or Joshua swanning around Galilee at that time - their existence or non-existence has no bearing upon the truth of the Gospels which, surely, is what the credibility of Christianity hangs upon?

Geoff Hudson said...

Steven Carr wrote: "Sam still hasn't answered the point that Paul said different Christians were preaching different Jesus's."

So who is Paul then Steven, if not the character created by the Pauline writer? You are trying to prove that one character is fictional with the apparent words of another fictional character, Paul. He was created to carry out the apparent mission to Gentiles visiting such places as Corinth, preaching Jesus and the Pauline gospel.

If you had bothered to write the the complete verse you just might have realised they are clearly a Pauline expansion of an original simpler text written in a Jewish context. Thus here is the verse:

"For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough." (2 Cor.11:4).

A different Jesus and a different gospel are Pauline expansions. But a different spirit is the concern of the original prophetic writer who proclaimed the Spirit of God. In a Jewish context, spirits were the controlling or animating powers. If you had the Spirit of God you obeyed that spirit and were acceptable to God. If you had an unlean spirit or a spirit of deceit you obeyed that spirit and you were subject to judgement. Your actions depended on what spirit you possessed.

The prophets had not died out by the first century, as is generally assumed. On the contrary, they were active in opposing the priests and the temple cult of animal sacrifice. The original prophetic documents of the New Testament were all about that, nothing to do with the Pauline Jesus and the gospel.

jeremy said...

Fergus,

Actually (and this is becoming a common trend in these parts) Stephen is right... and so are you.

Check here if you're feeling pedantic ;)

Anonymous said...

Paul P. Mealing - Well there were other characters at the time who seemed to be into charity (e.g. Rabbi Hillel). The great leap seems to have been the
extension of this to non-Jews.

Aticant - Re kindness - I think you may have hit on something here - perhaps theists seem to need to feel compelled to charity, much as it is often claimed people who enjoy bondage need to relinquish responsibility. Are they all just moral gimps?

Paul C said...

However, there is one reason why I think Jesus may have been a real person and that is because he was a very unusual, even unique, character for his time.

This popped up on the Metacatholic discussion as well, and I am completely baffled by the claim. Is there any evidence whatsoever that he was a very unusual or unique character for his time?

Anonymous said...

Paul Mealing said: "My point is that if he didn’t exist but was made up, then the person, or people, who made him up must have had these same qualities and I find that more unlikely then the idea that the stories were based on a real person"

By the same token are you going to argue that Conan Doyle must have been an evil genius because he wrote about Prof.Moriarty? I hope not. What seems likely is that the people who made him up (allegedly) much admired those qualities and described how they thought a great human being would behave, even if they had ever met anyone quite like that in real life.

anticant said...

Sam says "I am basically orthodox". That doesn't really get us much further, because every believer is - "My doxy is orthodoxy, your doxy is heterodoxy".

Anyways, I think we are really scraping the barrel with this one, as neither Sam nor his snooty "Metacatholic" pal have produced any convincing independent evidence for the existence of an itinerant preacher bearing any resemblance to the Jesus of the Gospels. And even if they did,it would have no bearing on the historical truth of the Gospel story.

It's all about assertion, innit? Six impossible things before breakfast. Or, as the Iron Duke said, "If you believe that, you'd believe anything".

Geoff Hudson said...

Steven, with regard to Paul, don't you find it pretty amazing that Paul should disappear into oblivion in Rome, at exactly the same time as a real James is executed by the real high priest Ananus in Jerusalem?

And come to think of it, Paul is plucked by his creator from the back and beyond of Tarsus, and most unusually for a Jew, he is not the son of anyone. The creators of the Jesus cult were expert at character fabrication for every occasion to suit their aims, as is evidenced by the mutiplicity of names in the NT.

Anonymous said...

Sam - you said "The only thing I'd disagree with Monica about is the crucifixion - without it you don't have this specific Jesus."

I thought Steven Carr implicitly dealt with that by pointing out that there were probably stacks of Jesus, Joshua's etc. getting punished.
I would reckon that it was quite likely that a wondering preacher would fall foul of the authorities. What is needed is specific crucifixion. A man described as a preacher, with the right name appearing in some decent Roman court records at about the right time would help a lot.

Geoff Hudson said...

Anticant wrote:"neither Sam nor his snooty "Metacatholic" pal have produced any convincing independent evidence for the existence of an itinerant preacher bearing any resemblance to the Jesus of the Gospels."

Why do you think Judas was replaced in Acts 1 (in his place of leadership) after 'falling'?

Stephen Law said...

Hello Fergus - hmm, there are two schools of thought on that Fergus.I quote the encyclopedia.com:

There is widespread inconsistency and uncertainty in the use of the apostrophe when a singular noun already ends in -s. Traditional usage adds the apostrophe s if it is pronounced: the boss's explanation. With names of classical origin, a second s is not usually added, especially when the end sound of a word is /z/ rather than /s/: Xerxes' battle, Socrates' pupils

Anonymous said...

Mind you asking for evidence of a historic Jesus being crucified might be a problem, if this is the bit of the story tacked on by the Gospel writers.

Another line that might fit quite well is that Pilate, wishing to quiet the mob, orders crucifixion - but not to death that way he can really absolve himself of responsibility for the death. Even they agree Pilate really wanted to let Jesus go.

I also don't recall any accounts of Jesus having his legs broken to speed his death as might be expected given that Pilate's inclination was to let him off. Why not unless he might need them?

That would also explain why
people claimed to have seen Jesus afterwards. He probably fled after that and preached no more lest the full sentence be carried out. After all something like that is likely to convince you of your vulnerability is it not.

anticant said...

Just for a bit of light entertainment, see my final exchanges with 'Metacatholic' Doug on his site.

He is evidently a Christian of the "smite the Philistines" rather than the "turn the other cheek" variety!

Makes me sympathise more than ever with the poor little blasted fig tree....

Joshua said...

@anticant -
"He is evidently a Christian of the "smite the Philistines" rather than the "turn the other cheek" variety!"

Meh, he's not so bad. Arguing about the historicity of Jesus seems to really set some biblio-bloggers off. They can spend years debating the probability of Jesus having said this or that, and the possible meanings and doctrinal consequences of it all. Then someone like Stephen comes in and says, "Are you sure there ever was a Jesus to begin with?"

They can get a little snippy.

I think the whole "mad philosopher" thing is an allusion to Bultmann, the radical de-mythologizing biblical scholar. Supposedly Bultmann said that you'd have to be crazy not to believe that Jesus existed. If even Bultmann thinks you're being too skeptical, well ...

Of course, Robert Price considers himself a disciple of Bultmann, and he doubts the historicity of Jesus. He cheerfully admits that Bultmann would consider him insane.

Paul P. Mealing said...

Hello Anonymous,

I've written fiction, so I know something about creating good and bad characters of various shades and qualities.

Looking at this from a writer's perspective, if you are going to create a character who is a god,then why make him a mortal in the first place? I find that more unlikely then turning a real character into a 'god'.

I'm not trying to decide this issue - I'm just giving it a different perspective. I actually acknowledge Stephen's right to doubt.

Regards, Paul.

anticant said...

Joshua:

I was referring to his "Goodbye. And good riddance."

Scarcely the courteous response one expects fromn a beneficed Anglican clergyman in Droitwich or anywhere else.

But then, I've found in debating with Christians down the years - and I'm thinking now especially of that paragon of "Christian truth" Mary Whitehouse and her allies, with whom I had once had a big public dust-up over blatant lies they told about me professionally - that they will stoop to the most atrocious mudslinging and outright fibs if their own veracity is ever questioned.

Joshua said...

@anticant-
""Goodbye. And good riddance.""

Interesting. I saw that when I stuck my nose in to defend Robert Price - that is in fact what he wrote. But now he looks to have changed it: "Goodbye. If you ever drop by again, try being more polite and you may get a better welcome."

Seems like even he realizes he was being too abrupt. An apology would have been more honest, however.

anticant said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
anticant said...

I certainly shan't be dropping by there again! I too have a life [just about].

His new version is still obnoxiously hoity-toity. Am I expected to say something tugging my forelock and waiting anxiously to see whether it meets with his reverence's approval?

I don't need the Rev. Chaplin's patronage, nor his approval. I rarely get angry with other bloggers, but I do take exception to ad hominem personal rudeness.

Out of considerations of courtesy I have deleted my previous post, as my closing remarks descended to his level, which I have no wish to do.