Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Sam gets "blunt"

Here's the Rev. Sam's main response to my previous post (from his comment):

Amazing. Now where to begin?

First, a distinction between believing that Jesus was a historical figure and believing, eg, in the resurrection or other miracles. The latter is, obviously, much more open to debate and that _isn't_ what I'm asserting here.

My assertion is that nobody sane doubts that Jesus was an historical figure, ie that there was an itinerant Jewish teacher called Jesus who lived and was crucified in Palestine 2000 years ago. To deny this is good prima facie evidence that non-rational factors are at play in forming a judgement, the same sorts of non-rational factors that Stephen criticises as being parallel to believing in fairies. Denying that Jesus was an historical figure, is, I contend, an equally egregious intellectual error.

So, that's the assertion, and bringing in red herrings like Bert flying around the room is just muddying the water - effective rhetoric but nothing more substantial. Biblical criticism has historically spent a lot of time discriminating between the (supposed) "legendary" bits (= 'flying around the room', miracles generally) and a more robust historical core. Dismissing _all_ of the historical evidence on the basis of a philosophical disagreement about what is humanly possible plays to prejudices nothing more.

Why am I so blunt on this? Well, a bit of autobiography first - I have studied this subject at undergrad and postgrad level - indeed you could say I have a professional interest in it - and I suspect that's something not widely shared amongst this readership. But is this just special pleading from biased sources? (Stephen: "I know lot's of Biblical scholars think there's good evidence for Jesus' historicity. Trouble is, they tend to be true believers! That's I'm not too impressed by arguments from authority in this context.") No, for the simple reason that the formative tutor for me in NT studies was himself an atheist who was quite prepared to see the miracle stories as largely made up. He isn't an exception, there are lots of Biblical scholars and scholars in related disciplines (Ancient Near Eastern history) who share the consensus that Jesus was an historical figure. I repeat - point to someone with expertise in the subject matter who disagrees!

But in a more mind-boggling comment Stephen goes on to say "I wouldn't, and don't, rely on Biblical scholarship either way here" - so how and why is your position fundamentally distinct from that of a Creationist vis-a-vis evolution? Creationists display no regard for the consensus of opinion within the relevantly qualified community, you're displaying no regard for the consensus of opinion in this relevantly qualified community (an opinion, I repeat, shared across Christian, agnostic, atheist etc).

Now that is why I believe that to assert "I just don't know whether the historical figure Jesus existed" is at best disingenuous. It is not the product of a dispassionate search for the truth, and it is not, I believe, a viewpoint that any reasonably informed and neutral observer would ever hold. I repeat - it simply shows, as with creationist argumentation, that common standards of rationality and respect for truth have been left behind.

~~~

STEPHEN RESPONDS TO SAM:

Sam says:

“My assertion is that nobody sane doubts that Jesus was an historical figure, ie that there was an itinerant Jewish teacher called Jesus who lived and was crucified in Palestine 2000 years ago.”

Well I am doubting it. I don't deny there was such a person. I am just not sure there was. I doubt. I guess I must be insane.

Sam challenges me:

“I repeat - point to someone with expertise in the subject matter who disagrees!”

OK, here’s an example:

“Even if there was a historical Jesus lying back of the gospel Christ, he can never be recovered. If there ever was a historical Jesus, there isn't one any more. All attempts to recover him turn out to be just modern remythologizings of Jesus. Every "historical Jesus" is a Christ of faith, of somebody's faith. So the "historical Jesus" of modern scholarship is no less a fiction.”

“It is important to recognize the obvious: The gospel story of Jesus is itself apparently mythic from first to last."

-Robert M. Price, professor of biblical criticism at the Center for Inquiry Institute (Deconstructing Jesus, p. 260)

I guess Professor Price is “insane” too. Indeed, he doesn't just doubt, he denies!

Now I am sure you will say “But Price is a biased atheist!” Well yes, he is an atheist, and perhaps he is biased. I am certainly not taking his word for anything. I am sure you will add, “OK, you’ve got one naysayer, but most Biblical scholars don’t doubt there was an historical Jesus”. And that is true. But I don’t really trust them either, I am afraid. Here are two reasons why:

1. First off, many – I guess a big majority – of Christian Biblical scholars think that there is also evidence in the Bible for the divinity of Jesus. Perhaps not conclusive evidence, but enough to give some support to that claim. Trouble is, other Biblical scholars, Muslims, look at the same texts and say –“No, the evidence is not there.” Instead, they look at the Koran and other documents and conclude there’s pretty good evidence Mohummad is God’s prophet. Christian textual scholars look at those same documents and say, “No there isn’t.” Clearly, then, many of these “expert” scriptural scholars, when religious, are very partisan indeed. That should immediately give us pause for thought.
2. Personal experience. I have read books by University-based Biblical scholars that demonstrate an extraordinary level of gullibility. I have also talked to University-based religious folk who have told me, with a straight face, that Josephus provides good evidence for the historicity of Jesus. This leads me to think that much that goes by the name of “biblical scholarship” ain’t exactly rigorous.

You are telling me I must be nuts, or at least significantly biased, if I don’t take Christian Biblical scholars' word for it that there was a historical Jesus.

Hmm. Are you nuts, or significantly biased, for not taking the vast majority of Koranic scholars’ word for it that Mohummad was God’s prophet?

It may be that there is good evidence for the historicity of Jesus. You, being much more expert than I, may be in possession of that evidence. But I have not seen that evidence myself, yet. And I have, it seems to me, pretty good reason not to take the word of either you or “Biblical scholars” generally. So I remain, for the time being, undecided. Does that makes me “insane”?

Don’t think so. Indeed, I have raised what seem to me to be very good general grounds for doubting not just whether Jesus was God and did miracles, but whether he existed at all.

I note that your response to my Bert analogy (of which I am rather proud, actually - I think it's strong) is simply to call it “rhetoric” and “playing to prejudices”. But you don’t actually have any response to it, do you, other than a simple appeal to authority: “But most Biblical scholars say…”? If you do, say what it is...

I don't dismiss historical evidence. Quite the opposite. I want to see it. If you've got it, wheel it out!

What I dismiss are arguments from authority in this context.

P.S. The fact that some of the small minority of atheists who are Biblical scholars believe there was an historical Jesus doesn't cut much ice with me, I'm afraid, given the dominant Christian culture in which they were educated.

39 comments:

anticant said...

This is, to say the least, debatable territory. Sam "goes nuclear" and politely tells us we're nuts, while we see him as wilfully credulous.

I posted my answer to his outburst on the previous thread. I hope he will take up my points when he responds here.

Kosh3 said...

Stephen,

I do think the distinction between whether "there was a man x", and whether "there was a man x bearing supernatural properties y" is one worth making. The evidence may much more easily support the former and not the latter.

Bert works against the latter, not the former. In the Bert scenario the claims of supernatural powers are so incredible as to undermine the idea that there was any such person as Bert at all in the house (perhaps the two were on LSD). In the case of Jesus I don't see that same 'washing out' applying, because I can see a plausible way in which the supernatural stories were simply added.

James Crossley said...

Hello Stephen,

I've tried to play around - in serious-ish kind of way - with some of your arguments here:

http://earliestchristianhistory.blogspot.com/2008/08/doubting-stephen.html

Best wishes,

James (fairly rigorous biblical scholar)

Billy said...

Oh well, if you dont have an argument, just call your opponent insane. That way you can at least pretend your position is the most reasonable. Seems like a protective mechanism. Next he will be holding his breath untill we agree with him

Peter said...

Stephen,

"You are telling me I must be nuts, or at least significantly biased, if I don’t take Christian Biblical scholars' word for it that there was a historical Jesus.

Hmm. Are you nuts, or significantly biased, for not taking the vast majority of Koranic scholars’ word for it that Mohummad was God’s prophet?"

- This really isn't fair. Presumably, Sam believes that Muhammad existed. That Muhammad was God's prophet is not analogous to Jesus *existing*.

Jackie said...

What makes a Jesus? Certainly, there was a Jew named "Jesus" borne around 0 CE in or near Nazareth. Which are the factors that make him The Jesus, rather than just some shmo named "Jesus"? Some possibilities:
- born of a virgin
- son of a carpenter
- carpenter
- teacher
- had followers
- claimed to be son of a god
- crucified
- raised from dead
How are we going to make the distinction?

anticant said...

Oh, sure, there were almost certainly lots of babies named "Jesus" born in Palestine around that time. Didn't I see somewhere recently that Mohamed was the second most popular name for babies born in Britain last year?

This argument as to whether or not a nomadic preacher called Jesus was wandering around the Middle East about the time when the gospel stories are supposed to have happened is a sheer red herring.

The issue is, as Jackie says, whether there was ever an actual person called Jesus who was born of a virgin, claimed to have been sent by his "heavenly father", performed miracles, was crucified, and rose from the dead.

Unless Sam, Jamie, and all the other believing Christians can produce solid evidence of a much more credible kind than mere assertion that there was, those of us who don't think so have a better case than Sam for thinking that he and his fellow Christians are insane. After all, they have had 2000 years and haven't come up with much except parrot cries of "believe or be damned".

And btw, James Crossley, I've posted a comment on your blog. You say the debate here is getting "pretty heated", but that's just your perception. Things rarely get "heated" on Stephen's blog. He's an invariably courteous and tolerant - though hard-hitting - blog host.

anticant said...

Talking of Hell and eternal damnation, here's a really nice site replete with biblical references:

http://www.av1611.org/hell.html

Anonymous said...

My sister and I were raised as "cultural Christians," and when my sister converted to Judaism, I asked her what that religion teaches about Jesus. (Just out of simple curiosity.) She gave me loads of reading materials, and MANY of the Jewish historians and Biblical scholars I read then (about a million years ago) doubted the historicity of Jesus.

Posters here have said things like no doubt there were lots of babies named Jesus--but surely I've heard that "Jesus" was a Greek version of the name -- and in Hebrew the name would have been Joshua (in Aramaic Eashoa)?

I agree with most posters here, including Jackie and Anticant, that it is really the-Jesus-of-the-4-"accepted"-Gospels that we have to debate the existence or non-existence of. Even it we take out virgin birth (Matthew's mistranslation), miracles, and resurrection, Stephen's points about the differing details, the true-believer status of the authors, and the third- or fourth-hand nature of the stories should give us serious pause in accepting the stories as history.

I would suggest that there may have been several preachers whose teachings were the seeds of the Jesus story. I'm not that knowledgeable about myth-making, but don't scholars believe that there were combinations of several historical figures, along with mythologizing tall tales, behind the characters of Robin Hood and King Arthur?

anticant said...

BTW, Sam and Jamie -

I’ve had many good friendships with Christians, but I’ve always found their religion pushed us further apart, rather than uniting us - because I could make no sense of what they obviously regarded as an important motivating force giving meaning and purpose to their lives, while I found a meaning and purpose for my life without resorting to ‘supernatural’ aids.

When I was at Cambridge soon after WW2 I was very friendly with a guy who was involved in the evangelical students’ union. He used to take me to services at the evangelical church, where there were often powerful sermons pitched at a high intellectual level as most of the congregation were members of the university. At the end, the preacher would call for those who felt impelled to dedicate themselves to Jesus to come forward, and a few intrepid souls usually did. I never quite knew whether to admire or pity them, but the whole procedure made me feel squirmy inside – it was so theatrical and forced.

In the early 1950s I had a great holiday in Germany and Austria with this friend and his Cambridge roommate. Later, he met a girl at a Billy Graham rally and they got married, at which point I dropped the friendship as I found their outlook so ‘pi’ and complacently smug.

My dearest Christian friend was a wonderful woman who had a heart as big as her body [she never weighed less than 18 stone, and would have been stigmatised as ‘obese’ in these secular-puritanical days]. She did remarkable work with young drug addicts, some of whom she allowed to live rent free in a flat at her Brighton home. She was convinced that she was ‘God-guided’, and that goodness had the edge over evil in this world through the power of prayer. I wish I could have believed she was right, but could never see it myself. However, I recognise that her faith made her happy, and gave her strength to do good things she might otherwise not have done.

So I am not anti-Christians as people - just against believing pious fictions when they are dressed up as "facts".

Steven Carr said...

As always Saint Paul puts things in perspective.

2 Corinthians 11
4For 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.

Christians were preaching about different Jesus's.

If the Jesus's being taught about were different, there is a good chance that not all these Jesus's had existed.

Perhaps the Jesus of the Gospels was one of these fake non-existent Jesus's that Paul claimed was being preached about.

Doubting Thomas Tang said...

Dear Stephen,

Can we discuss about the work of philosopher Thomas Aquinas then although he is a believer?

Aquinas provides sustained philosophical elaboration and defence of the belief that there exists a God who is simple, omnipotent, omniscient and eternal. Taken as a whole, his writings cover all major topics commonly thought of as belonging to philosophy of religion.

Let's begin by understanding some aspects of his thinking.

The first is his general approach to the topic of human knowledge. Since Aquinas takes God to be non-material, he therefore concludes that all human knowledge of God must be indirect and based on arguments starting from our knowledge of the material things.

The second is Aquinas 'theistic agnosticism' In many of his writings, he insists that we cannot know what God is.Since God is immaterial, we are unable to have the sort of knowledge of God which we seek to have as we develop a scientific understanding of things in the world. As Aquinas often puts it, we cannot know God's 'essence'. When we know how to talk about God, it is not because of any understanding of God, but only because of what we know about his creatures.

Third is Aquinas's understanding of the terms belief and knowledge and corresponding understanding of the terms faith and reason. By reason we can know that God exists and that various propositions of the form 'God is...' are true. But we cannot, he argues, know that such teachings as that of the doctrine of the Trinity or the doctrine of the Incarnation are true. He holds that we can point to things which gives us grounds for accepting them. He holds that we can defend them in the light of arguments brought against them. But we cannot know them to be true. These are the matters of faith.

Aquinas assumes that it is not necessarily improper or unreasonable to believe what one cannot know. But is he right to do so? W.K. Clifford and his "The ethics of belief", Antony Flew and his "The presumption of Atheism" clearly thinks otherwise. As well as many other western philosophers since the seventeenth century.

Yet is it so obvious that it is intrinsically wrong to believe what one cannot defend by argument or by appeal to 'evidence' or 'grounds' According to Alvin Plantinga's 'Religious beliefs as properly basic' the answer is no. Plantinga has provoked much discussion among twentieth century philosophers of religion. According to Kretzmann, Plantinga has done nothing at all to show why we should believe that it is entirely right, rational, reasonable and proper to believe in God without any evidence or argument at all.

Wittgenstein writes in his last notes in 'On Certainty' Lavoisier account that demands for evidence and grounds only make sense in the light of ways of thinking which do not themselves rest on evidence or grounds.

And so D.Z. Phillips and Norman Malcolm argue, religious beliefs, such as belief in God need not and should not be thought of as beliefs resting on evidence or grounds. According to them, the demand for evidence with respect to religious belief is mistaken since it misconstrues the nature of religious belief and fails to grasp that religious belief is something like the world picture ascribed to Lavoisier by Wittgenstein.

Phillips viewed that much philosophical discussion of religious belief has misconstrued in its nature. He insists that philosophy's role in religion is one of conceptual clarification. Instead of asking whether there is evidence for 'God exists', it should be asking what it means to believe in God. And so answers to such a question lie within religious belief. As he puts it 'The role of philosophy is not to justify, but to understand.' This also seems to have been the view to which Wittgenstein came before he died.

I hope the views from these great philosophers have been helpful.

Paul P. Mealing said...

I've always lamented, at least since my teen years, that the historical intellectual world we inherited never separated Jesus the person from Jesus the myth and the myth is all we ended up with.

By comparison, there is a historical account of Siddhartha Gautama and there is the mythical account of Buddha - they are quite distinct, yet one can also see how one arose from the other. Unfortunately this doesn't exist for Jesus.

I thought there was a Roman record of his trial by Pilate. I once saw a documentary called the Son of God by a British foreign correspondent, who had spent considerable time in the Middle East, and who claimed he wasn't religious. He treated it as a piece of investigative journalism and I found his interpretation interesting if not scholarly. Basically, he concluded that Jesus was a revolutionary and provocateur who opposed both the Romans and the oligarchic priests who appeased them.

I would be interested in Karen Armstrong's opinion, who is the best writer on religion I have read.

Regards, Paul.

Steven Carr said...

'Basically, he concluded that Jesus was a revolutionary and provocateur who opposed both the Romans and the oligarchic priests who appeased them.'

Why then does Acts portray the Romans as pretty baffled by who this Jesus was supposed to be and not at all bothered by the fact that people were followers of this 'revolutionary'?

And why would Paul go out of his way to stress that the Romans do not kill innocent people?

anticant said...

Doubting Thomas:

What are Aquinas' reasons for holding that "By reason we can know that God exists and that various propositions of the form 'God is...' are true"? Unless he makes a logically coherent case for this, it remains a mere assertion.

If Wittgenstein, Phillips et al. are correct, and "religious beliefs, such as belief in God need not and should not be thought of as beliefs resting on evidence or grounds", it follows that you can believe in anything you like as long as you claim it is "religious" - i.e. "all beliefs are equal but religious beliefs trump others".

This strikes me as piffling nonsense.

"Philosophy's role in religion is one of conceptual clarification. Instead of asking whether there is evidence for 'God exists', it should be asking what it means to believe in God. And so answers to such a question lie within religious belief. As he puts it 'The role of philosophy is not to justify, but to understand.'"

This is just a hifalutin way of saying that religion trumps reason - which is scarcely news.

And. as always, it is the myth that matters, not the reality - which is scarcely news, either. What concerns me about religious people is not the reasonableness of what they believe, but what they DO as a consequence of what they believe. A quick glance around the world scene is enough to convince any sane person [sorry, Sam!] that humanity would be better off with less religion and more reason.

Sam Norton said...

Hi Stephen,

First off, congratulations on finding Robert Price, but your published quotation doesn't seem, to me, to equate to 'denying Jesus' existence'. Sounds like he's making the point that we can't get any non-Christian evidence about Jesus (there is a long-running debate in NT criticism about whether it is possible to distinguish the 'Jesus of History' from the 'Christ of faith' - sounds to me like his comment belongs in that conversation). Is there somewhere that he says explicitly 'I don't believe that there was such a figure as Jesus' and gives an account of the rise of Christianity on that basis? That's what you need.

Second, as Wittgenstein argued rather cogently (sorry, him again) 'doubt needs grounds', and a sane person doesn't doubt certain things. I do not see doubt in this case as reasonable, that is, I don't think there are sufficient grounds for doubting Jesus' bare existence. I see it as equivalent to, eg, creationists dismissing the consensus around evolution, or journalists like Christopher Booker dismissing the consensus around global warming. It may well be that the consensus is wrong (perfectly logically possible), the point is that - where expertise is lacking - it is not a reasonable position to hold (ie a reasonable person will give weight to a scholarly consensus in an area where they don't have their own expertise).

Third, you say "1. First off, many – I guess a big majority – of Christian Biblical scholars think that there is also evidence in the Bible for the divinity of Jesus."

No, this is not just inaccurate it is muddying the water. I don't think that there are many Christian biblical scholars who would argue that there is historical evidence for the divinity of Jesus. I'm sure there are some, but the intellectual paradigm within which such a claim would make sense is essentially a fundamentalist one, and that is foreign to NT criticism as I have experienced it. Most NT scholars that I am aware of are very clear about the division between what can be asserted about Jesus in terms of historically justifiable facts, and what can be asserted about Jesus in terms of his divinity. I find it curious that you keep pushing the argument on to these wider theological questions and don't stick to the question of historical fact.

The point about Muhammed was well answered by Peter above.

You go on, "2. Personal experience. I have read books by University-based Biblical scholars that demonstrate an extraordinary level of gullibility. I have also talked to University-based religious folk who have told me, with a straight face, that Josephus provides good evidence for the historicity of Jesus. This leads me to think that much that goes by the name of “biblical scholarship” ain’t exactly rigorous."

So your argument is: 'some scholarship is weak, therefore all the scholarship is weak'?! I'll come back to the gullibility point below.

You say "You are telling me I must be nuts, or at least significantly biased, if I don’t take Christian Biblical scholars' word for it that there was a historical Jesus."

No, again you are distorting my argument in order to shift the discussion away from historical matters onto the more debatable religious claims. It is not just about CHRISTIAN scholars - it is about the consensus of scholarship, and whether it is reasonable to dismiss that consensus, when that consensus is held by people of many differing beliefs. Take the work of Geza Vermes for example, who is basically a secular Jew and has no axe to grind in asserting Jesus being divine etc - why is his perspective to be dismissed as Christian?

You say: "It may be that there is good evidence for the historicity of Jesus. You, being much more expert than I, may be in possession of that evidence. But I have not seen that evidence myself, yet.... I don't dismiss historical evidence. Quite the opposite. I want to see it. If you've got it, wheel it out!"

Well, what sort of evidence are you looking for? What sort of evidence would you accept AS evidence? The texts themselves are historical documents. Are you saying that they are of no worth because they were produced by Christian communities? (That would imply the desire for a 'neutral' perspective as superior, but such a thing doesn't exist, and is in fact quite a crass error in historical studies). Do you doubt the existence of Socrates simply because the major source we have for his words - Plato - quite clearly has his own perspective? I don't see any reason why we couldn't apply Robert Price's words to Socrates too - "even if there is a historical Socrates lying back of the Platonic Socrates, he can never be recovered..." It seems to me that you are rejecting the common standards of historical enquiry here. Again, strong evidence that you are being unreasonable.

Now, let's get on to Bert :o) because it seems to me that you're not just being unreasonable, you might even be being illogical, specifically, you seem to be making an argument where the conclusion isn't justified by the premises. I'll try and spell that out, so we can clarify your logic. As I understand it your argument is:

P1: there are various historical texts which describe Jesus
P2: these texts explicitly or implicitly refer to miraculous events
P3: miraculous events cannot happen
therefore
P4: these texts have no historical validity.

Now, for the sake of argument, let us assume that P1-P3 are correct. My point here is that you cannot deduce P4 from P1-P3. Specifically I don't see it as legitimate to dismiss the entirety of the historical evidence. Why does the dubiety of _part_ of the material lead you to dismiss the _whole_ of the material? For example, in the first person passages in Acts, written by Luke, when he talks about his journey by ship and the shipwreck on Malta - which has virtually nothing 'miraculous' in it - is this to be dismissed? If so, why? What criteria are you using to dismiss it?

Steven Carr said...

I see Sam can't find any evidence for Jesus of Nazareth.

Christians were preaching different Jesus's according to Paul.

Did all these different Jesus's all exist?

Or did Paul mean that all these different Jesus's were all the same person?



What sense does it mean to say that 'Jesus existed' if the Gospel stories refer to a different Jesus from the one who existed?

It is like claiming Hercules existed....

Steven Carr said...

Luke's shipwreck uses lots of poetic imagery only found otherwise in Homer.

Why then should it be taken as more historical than Homer?

Sam Norton said...

A link: Sam finds a mad philosopher...

Paul Power said...

Sam:

Please present us your evidence that Jesus existed.

typed, not said...

Doubt needs grounds? But you know, that's the sort of thing all cultists say, with their eyes kind of glazed over...

anticant said...

From Doug Chaplin, per Sam's link:

"someone names [sic] Joshua, identified with the town of Nazareth, whom many people regarded as a teacher and exorcist, whose activity was sufficiently threatening to the peace for the Romans to crucify him. That, I think is a reasonable historical minimum that depends on no special pleading."

So what? It has nothing to do with the Divine Jesus of the Gospels - virgin birth, miracles, resurrection, ascension and all that malarkey.

If contemporary NT scholars aren't prepared to vouch one hundred per cent. for the literal existence of the Divine Jesus of the Gospels, what on earth are they rabbiting on about? What then becomes of Christianity?

Time to concede checkmate, Sam.

Anonymous said...

Sam - You said "That would imply the desire for a 'neutral' perspective as superior, but such a thing doesn't exist, and is in fact quite a crass error in historical studies)"!

While I could accept that in one sense there is unlikely to be a "pure" neutral perspective (We all have our views and it would be odd if historic commentators did not), there may be accounts which are not especially coloured as "pro-Christian" or, even better, corroborating evidence from anti-Christian or anti-Jewish sources.
e.g. "The Jews are a lazy folk who would rather listen to one of their travelling preachers than engage in honest toil. Even today the infamous Jesus of Nazareth draws crowds of the indolent ....". That is to say the account maybe biased with respect to the Jews but neutral regarding Jesus' existence and role as a public speaker.

There may also be some evidence which is not of the narrative nature.. e.g. the record books of cruxifictions if such things existed would help much like our modern day court records.


Why would you expect the desire for a neutral account to be "a crass error"?
[ provided that we acknowledge that such neutrality may difficult to obtain.]

Stephen Law said...

BTW I don't say everyone should remain undecided on the historicity of Jesus. It may be you (Sam and others) have access to evidence I have not seen yet. In which case it may be entirely rational for you to believe he existed. I don't deny that, either. But if you've got that evidence, show me.

Stephen Law said...

Gosh I really have upset a lot of people by simply questioning whether Jesus is a historical figure!

Remember, I don't say he wasn't a historical figure (some of you seem to have missed this: even Sam suggests that I "deny" - I don't). I just have my doubts whether he was. It may be those doubts can be allayed by the empirical evidence.

If Sam has the evidence, let's see it.

I am simply refusing to accept the say so of "biblical scholars", the majority of whom are Christian. As anaon above said "MANY of the Jewish historians and Biblical scholars I read then (about a million years ago) doubted the historicity of Jesus".

By the way Peter, you say:

Hmm. Are you nuts, or significantly biased, for not taking the vast majority of Koranic scholars’ word for it that Mohummad was God’s prophet?"

- This really isn't fair. Presumably, Sam believes that Muhammad existed. That Muhammad was God's prophet is not analogous to Jesus *existing*.

My reply: Peter you miss my point about Koranic scholars - the point is, very many religious textual scholars are highly partisan. (Sam himself refuses to take their word for many things.) They are - it's just a fact. That's just one of the several reasons I have for not accepting their say so on this matter.

Sam Norton said...

Anticant: "If contemporary NT scholars aren't prepared to vouch one hundred per cent. for the literal existence of the Divine Jesus of the Gospels, what on earth are they rabbiting on about? What then becomes of Christianity? Time to concede checkmate, Sam."

Sam: Nonsense. You are continuing to confuse the matter at hand - whether there can be such confidence in the existence of the historical person Jesus of Nazareth that doubting his existence is unreasonable - with the wider point about whether that historical person can legitimately bear the weight of theological interpretation which the church has laid upon him. Two distinct questions.

anticant said...

Sam:

Surely only the second question is relevant to the credibility of Christianity, and you persistently refuse to address it.

virtually said...

Sam: I am simply refusing to accept the say so of "biblical scholars", the majority of whom are Christian.

...and of course, the majority of academic scientists are atheists. Furthermore the atheists are denser at the top of that hierarchy. And of course, the most successful Biblical scholars are Christians. Perhaps that last fact alone is grounds for doubt?

rashly said...

...oops, that quote was by Stephen not Sam (I got confused because both names begin with "S" :-)

with my virtual mouth I said...

...mind you, would it be nice to hear Sam say such a thing? I bet anticant thinks so! But then, wouldn't it be nice to hear Stephen say the same about science?

Sam Norton said...

Stephen, you keep asking for the evidence, but the various Scriptural texts (and some non-canonical texts) are themselves forms of evidence. The issue is that you seem to be discounting them _in_toto_ as material from which historical information can be drawn. It is this _in_toto_ which I think is manifestly unreasonable.

The 'crass error' is the notion that there can be a "neutral perspective" (especially if it is conceived of as being something like a post-Enlightenment perspective) existing in ancient texts. You seem to agree that such a thing isn't possible, so that's fine.

By the way, what do your 'doubts' amount to? When you say "I don't say he wasn't a historical figure (some of you seem to have missed this: even Sam suggests that I "deny" - I don't). I just have my doubts whether he was..." what are you achieving or expressing with this doubt? Everyone is entitled to an opinion and it seems so very reasonable, uncommitted and detached - but can't the same thing be said about, eg, the theory of evolution? Or global warming? "I don't deny it, but I have my doubts"

You then say "I am simply refusing to accept the say so of "biblical scholars", the majority of whom are Christian." I think you need to say a little bit more about why being a Christian as such renders your judgement invalid. Is this another variant of the Bert example? These people disagree with me therefore they must be wrong...

Sam Norton said...

Anticant I do not keep refusing to address it, I'm simply trying to keep this conversation on track. I find your continual desire to change the topic being debated very frustrating.

Stephen Law said...

I have expanded one of my above comments as a full post - let's move there...

Paul said...

I research and treat people classifed as insane or delusional and I have to say Sam and many other contributers, atheists included (e.g., The God 'Delusion'), are all guilty of using these terms and others (e.g., 'mad', 'nuts' etc) rather wilfully and without really knowing what they mean or entail.

Irrational, misguided, foolish, plain wrong, misinformed, or biased maybe - but 'mad'? Shaky ground indeed.

Steven Carr said...

Sam thinks that anonymous documents written for an unknown purpose are history.

The earliest Gospel is written by an anonymous person who made no claims to be writing history.

Meanwhile, people who were there, like Paul, seem to have no idea that this Jesus had ever done anything, other than institute a cultic meal - the very sort of cultic ritual that mythical founders were supposed to do. (Romulus and Remus founded Rome, for example).



And things like the letter of James hold up entirely different people as models to be followed, rather than the person that Christians worshipped.

And the Romans appear to have not a clue that followers of a 'revolutionary' were still at large, claiming that this rebel had escaped death.

If the Romans had thought of Jesus as a recently crucified rebel, they would have slaughtered people who claimed this rebel was still alive and directing their operations. (The Romans would obviously have taken claims of Jesus being alive as evidence that Pliate had bungled the crucifixion)

anticant said...

Paul:

As a qualified and sometime practising counsellor/therapist, I agree that it's beguilingly easy - and misleading - to stigmatise those who disagree with you as "mad", "delusional", etc.

I agree with Thomas Szasz that "mental illness" is merely a cultural label designed to stigmatize those who refuse to fit into the prevailing majority view.

However, if people persist in maintaining beliefs or opinions which fly in the face of the available evidence [or lack of it], I think one is justified in referring to them as "delusional". We are, after all, speaking in the vernacular, and calling somebody "mad" or "bonkers" because they are determinedly unreasonable is OK by me.

James Crossley said...

Anticant: yes I did say things were pretty heated and I think my perception was right but I wasn't talking so much about Stephen, more about the comment which presumably you'll agree have got pretty heated. Stephen seems perfectly civil to me. I guess this is more confusion over what I meant by the blog debate because I was including the comments. Presumably you'd agree with that...?

I've also answered you on my blog.

Best wishes,

James

Sam Norton said...

Anticant - I too am a fan of Thomas Szasz. Glad to find something we can agree on :o)

Eliyahu said...

Stephen,
You are correct in questioning the reality of "Jesus". Historians affirm the existance of a Jewish man by the name of יהשוע Yehoshua. He was of the Pharisee sect of the Jews of the time about CE30. He evidently had a large following and kept the Torah, which is the written instruction given at Mt Sinai, along with the case law decisions made by the Jewish courts. He would not have been friendly with Jewish Temple rulers as they were not of the lineage that were allowed by the Torah to officate in the Temple. The Temple rulers at this time purchased there office from the Roman rulers. By the way, Palestine was not the name of this part of the world until after 135 when the second Jewish war was ended and the Jews were expelled from Jerusalem. But the man, Yehoshua fulfilled prophecies that makes him the only candidate for the Jewish mashiach. He was certified to be of the lineage of King David, he was slain according to the prophesy of Daniel, he was healing the breaches in Torah, which is to say he was fighting the wars of HaSheim the creator of the universe. But he was a threat to the Temple rulers status quo so he was delivered to the Romans as a usurper of Roman rule. And then he was executed. He was dead as confirmed by his Roman guards but according to witnesses after was not stone dead. He evidently revived and for forty days survived finally succumbing to his previous wounds. His followers, the Netzarim, were Torah observant Jews indistinguishable from other observant Jews. So how does the real man become the symbol of Christianity. Paul, who the followers of Yehoshua considered a heretic and had cast out of their meetings, was histories master identity thief. He was able with the help of other Hellenist Jews and non-Jews to syncretize with bits and pieces of Judaism and many other beliefs of the time the precursor to Christianity. The historical facts are that there was a Jewish man that was the Jewish messiah according to the Jewish Torah, prophets, and writings. He however did not bring immediate sovereignty to Israel. The Jews were so sectarian that when war with Rome broke out the nation in Israel self-destructed and was destroyed for close to two-thousand years. Jesus is not real so what does that make Christianity?. But as the creator of the Universe is concerned not only for the Jewish people but for all mankind the truth of Mashiach is being found by historians. The Torah of the Jews is the only hope for Jews and for the nations. A good starting point is Oxford historian James Parks, "The Conflict of the Church and the Synagogue." You may have seen the Talpiot Tomb reports lately which in all probability is that of the man Yehoshua ben David. There is credible proof that he existed. There is none that Jesus did. Much of this information is available at www.netzarim.co.il
the only authenic followers of the historically provable man.