Monday, September 1, 2008

Jesus' historicity: an argument for being skeptical

As Rev. Sam (who said earlier that anyone who doubts there was an historical Jesus must be insane) is struggling to follow my argument for being cautious about accepting that any such person as Jesus existed (I'm not sure either way), I'll set it out a bit more formally (the bare bones of it, anyway).

1. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. In the absence of extraordinary evidence there's excellent reason to be skeptical about the claims.

2. There is not extraordinary evidence for any of the divine/miraculous stuff in the NT documents.

3. Therefore (from 1 and 2), there's excellent reason to be skeptical about those extraordinary claims.

4. Where testimony/documents combine both mundane and extraordinary claims, and there's excellent reason to be skeptical about the extraordinary claims, then there's pretty good reason to be skeptical even about the mundane claims, at least until we possess some pretty good independent evidence of their truth (as illustrated by the Bert case*).

5. The NT docs combine extraordinary and mundane claims about Jesus.

6. There's no pretty good independent evidence for even the mundane claims about Jesus (such as that he existed)

7. Therefore (from 3, 4, 5, and 6), there's pretty good reason to be skeptical about whether Jesus existed.

* The Bert case: if my friends say a stranger called Bert visited them last night, I'll rightly take their word for it. But if they say Bert did amazing miracles in their front room before leaving - turning the sofa into a donkey, dying and then coming back to life, etc. - well then their claim that these things happened is now no longer nearly good enough evidence even for the claim that any such person as Bert exists, let alone that he did any of the things they claim.

97 comments:

Sam Norton said...

Blogger seems to have swallowed my earlier comment so sorry if this ends up appearing twice. With a few caveats that aren't all that relevant I'd agree with 1-3. It's proposition 4 and its consequents that I disagree with and find unreasonable (not least on the grounds of anachronism, as mentioned in the other thread).

Steven Carr said...

If Bert was supposed to be killed by aliens, and the first person to write about Bert claims that aliens are very friendly, never kill anybody and are not to be feared, then what should we think about the claim that Bert was killed by aliens.

Romans 13
Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong.

Paul was a follower of somebody allegedy crucified by Pilate although an innocent man.

And Paul wrote that!

And people claim the crucifixion of Jesus by the Roman Empire is an established fact....

When Paul writes stuff like that?

What is going on here?

How can supporters of an historical Jesus be unshaken when they read Paul say that rulers hold no terror for those who do right, when the person Paul worshipped was allegedly flogged , mocked, spat on, beaten and crucified by soldiers of Pilate and Herod?

Stephen Law said...

OK, thanks Sam. Well now you have something specific to address, that's clear, I hope. BTW, you say you disagree with 4 and its consequents, but it has only one consequent - 7. 5 is uncontentious, surely. I guess you will want to challenge 6 though?

dobson said...

Where testimony/documents combine both mundane and extraordinary claims, and there's excellent reason to be skeptical about the extraordinary claims, then there's pretty good reason to be skeptical even about the mundane claims.

Perhaps there would be a way to compare the history / myth of Jesus with other historical / mythological stories of which we know a great deal more: For example L. Ron. Hubbard or Santa Claus.

There almost certainly was an L. Ron. Hubbard - we have a great deal of information (e.g. FBI investigations) to confirm that he did have a mundane existence. It's just the other stuff (claims of supernatural powers & revelations) which require a higher standard of evidence which has not been satisfied.

Santa-claus (on the other hand), still sustains many believers round the world - some of whom can claim actual encounters and physical evidence (gifts left in the night, pies & brandy consumed, stockings filled).

These supporters also have evidence of a 'personal relationship' - in that Claus apparantly possesses intimate knowledge regarding how well the believer has complied with his family or culture's behavioral expectations.

Despite the weight of testimony I'm forced to remain skeptical of Claus' historical existence for the simple reason that there's no coherent account of Claus the man. His ice-fortress does not show up on Google Earth and his purported M.O. is somewhat preposterous!

I'm not saying that he never existed, only that the overwhelming majority of contemporary accounts of his activities are likely to be wholly inaccurate distortions of a more mundane history which has been lost to history... at least to me.

This argument was lost on my nephew, who still insists that Claus exists despite my well-argued protestations - bloody fundamentalists!

:-)

Papilio said...

Regarding proposition 4 I think Sam is wrong to reject it. Let me posit an analogy (possibly goes too far, but bear with it).

The Neapolitan theory of the NT: the document in question consists of verifiable truths (vanilla), patent BS (chocolate) and all the stuff in between that it is up to our predilections to evaluate as true or false or just leave as unclear (strawberry).

Now, were I to write a book, I would aim for it to be vanilla. Everything therein would be true as far as my every effort could ascertain, and I would support contentious elements with references & extra evidence. Sure, there would still be strawberry bits. But no chocolate. The merest whiff of chocolate would of necessity call into question the entirety of the work - the purity of the vanilla.

Now the briefest investigation of the NT reveals obvious inventions and self-contradictions. Miracles abound, to which the rationalist objects strongly. There is then plenty of chocolate. How much vanilla? Little to zero. Nothing at all verifiable, nothing to tie to accepted historical fact; what historical fact is included seems to be added on to grant faux legitimacy. How much strawberry? A big chunk in the middle, adopted as true without evidence or rejected as contaminated as you will.

Our Sam will object that the standards of evidence thus applied are anachronistic. We are left in that case with a 'take it or leave it' situation. I prefer to leave it.

Stephen Law said...

Actually i can think of one exception to 4.

Suppose my friends tell me Bert gave them a drink that tasted odd prior to the miracles. That gives a little more support to the claim Bert was real. Why? Because it straightforwardly explains the miraculous claims, and (most important) in a manner that does not suggest my friends are particularly credulous or deceitful.

If the NT documents contained claims that themselves straightforwardly explained the miraculous claims, and in a manner that did not suggest that the authors were particularly credulous or deceitful, that would lend a little more support to their claim that J existed.

Trouble is there are no such claims, I think.

I think.... need to ponder more.

Anonymous said...

(4) Casts doubt on the quality of the evidence and also the medium.

If the person giving the evidence is a know fantasist we will lend all their testimony lesser weight that that of a witness with a record of reliability.

Secondly since the evidence is not presented in person and has gone through many hands we also have reason to suspect the evidence itself has been altered.

Paul Power said...

"If the NT documents contained claims that themselves straightforwardly explained the miraculous claims, and in a manner that did not suggest that the authors were particularly credulous or deceitful, that would lend a little more support to their claim that J existed."

I don't agree. It's more that the loss of credibility caused by the inclusion of miraculous claims is decreased. A straight-forward narrative without miracles is always more credible than one with miracles.

Paul Power said...

Sorry: by "A straight-forward narrative without miracles is always more credible than one with miracles" I meant

"A straight-forward narrative without miracles is always more credible than the same one with added miracles."

Stephen Law said...

"I don't agree. It's more that the loss of credibility caused by the inclusion of miraculous claims is decreased."

I certainly don't object to that way of putting it, Paul.

Joshua said...

Does it change the equation at all when we decide that we're not talking to eyewitnesses? Let's say that your friends know someone who knows someone who swears he saw Bert flap his arms and fly across the room. In this situation, a new possibility arises: that the story has grown in the telling.

Of course, I suppose that still leaves us with the central problem. Without some evidence other than the stories that are going around, we can't say for certain that Bert even exists.

Stephen Law said...

Joshua - yes it obviously does change the balance of evidence - it becomes even weaker still.

Anonymous said...

Well I for one am far less convinced of the historical Jesus now than at the start of this sequence of threads. Largely by virtue of the fact that it has prompted a little more background reading.

Thanks Sam!

Stephen Law said...

I have just been flicking through Gary Habermas's "The Historical Jesus". I wonder what he would make of this argument? He would challenge 6 (he is impressed by Josephus, etc.). But would he attack elsewhere too? I guess so. I'd ask him but I cannot figure out how to contact him from his website (www.garyhabermas.com). Anyone know?

Papilio said...

Being connected to Liberty "University" academics probably keep their email address close to their chest.

Author contact details on published materials - peer reviewed journals, maybe? I'll have a quick peek.

anticant said...

In a court of law, eyewitness evidence of even petty crimes would require independent corroboration and be subject to cross-examination.

Should the Christian 'historical' claims be accepted on a much lower standard of proof?

At the end of the day, people believe what they WANT to believe, regardless of the strength of the evidence.

Christians want [need?] to believe in the existence and divinity of Christ. Sceptics say "show us the evidence".

As these threads have shown, the 'evidence' is 99 per cent. emotional conviction.

Papilio said...

There's nothing of his on web of knowledge after 1990, and I lack the credentials to read what there is.

Stephen Law said...

Email sent:

Dear Professor Habermas

I realize you are a busy man, but thought you might be interested in a debate going on on my blog www.stephenlaw.org about the historicity of Jesus.

I am a philosopher, an atheist, and, I acknowledge, no expert at all on the textual and other evidence regarding the life of Jesus. However, I am very interested in this subject.

In a separate discussion, the claim that we can be confident Jesus at least existed came up, and I questioned what the evidence for it was. I don't deny there was such a person. But neither am I yet convinced, given the evidence I have seen.

This comment from provoked some fairly fierce reaction from some Christians, some of whom seem to think I should just accept J's existence on the say of the vast majority of Biblical scholars, and others who say there is as much historical evidence for Jesus as there is for, say, Socrates, whom I certainly accept existed.

If you have the time and inclination, take a look here, where I am discussing, not the evidence, but the meta-question of what would count as good evidence for the historicity of Jesus.

all best wishes

Stephen Law
Senior Lecturer in Philosophy, Heythrop College, University of London

Anonymous said...

Stehen - re GH you could try indirectly through his web site admin person.

Use

http://www.whois-search.com

to get the email.Its protected from web crawlers so I haven't unprotected it to post here.

Stephen Law said...

Thanks anonymous but it's ok I found it. Email sent.

Fergus Gallagher said...

Oh dear, Stephen. You shouldn't have said "J's" - some people get very upset by that sort of thing. Also when one doesn't capitalise "god". A lackofrespectthing, apparently.

Hang on, what's that rain-cloud doing?

Zaaaap!

dobson said...

I've noticed that some folks consider asking about the historicity of Jesus to be offensive - let alone the "meta question". A casual abbreviation is the least of Stephen's worries.

JD

:-)

splittter said...

This may have been addressed before, if so apologies, but, even accepting 4, might we still nontheless believe that a historical Jesus is the best explanation for the gospels having been written? That is deny that Jesus and Bert are analogous in that the 'simplest' explanation is one where the person in question just plain doesn't exist?

Not saying that I personally have such an argument (I'm an athiest and aren't inclined to do the work) ... although intuitively it seems like one might be able to be constructed along those lines.

Stephen Law said...

Just to clarify splitter:

1. I am not saying that in either the Bert or Jesus case the reasonable thing to conclude is that the person in question does not exist. I am just saying, there are now good grounds to be sceptical of the claim that he does.
2. Nor am I denying that the person's existence might not be the simplest explanation for the testimony/documents. It might be (I am not saying it is though!)

The question is, even if it is a bit simpler than other possible explanations (such as that the authors lied about his existence, the authors were duped deceived or in some other way prone to error even about his existence, etc.) does that make it a *reasonable* belief?

No - it may still be pretty unclear which of the many possible explanations is true even if one explanation is a bit simpler than others.

Compare: That the butler did it might be a slightly simpler explanation for the evidence than that one of the several other suspects did it. But that's not nearly enough for us reasonably to conclude the butler did it.

terence said...

If the miracle references in the Gospels detract from their credibility (just as it would from someone giving testimony for example), wouldn't that also apply to the other non-miraculous parts of the Gospels as well -- for example, the teachings of Jesus? Even ssuming for the sake of argument that Jesus may have existed, don't we also need to be skeptical as to whether these were his genuine teachings (they could have been "made up" just as the miracles were)?

So, it seems to me that once you begin being skeptical about the historicity of Jeus, it pretty much calls everything in the Gospels into question. (Unless you take the position that it is a metaphor and the literal truth of these things aren't important).

anticant said...

This whole argument is of course about literalism versus metaphor. I can't for the life of me see why Christians think it's so important to establish the literal factual historical existence of Jesus. How does that enhance the worth of his reputed teachings?

Will Sam & Co please explain?

Belinda Parmar said...

This whole argument is of course about literalism versus metaphor. I can't for the life of me see why Christians think it's so important to establish the literal factual historical existence of Jesus. How does that enhance the worth of his reputed teachings?

I was thinking much the same thing. Why is it that some Christians require their prophet story to be a literal truth.

Surely it would be *even more* miraculous if some kind of deity could get us to uphold his moral code if he had not actually had to muck about with the laws of physics - simply implant the right memes at the relevant time.

Joshua said...

anticant & belinda parmer-
"Why is it that some Christians require their prophet story to be a literal truth. "

Well, for many Christians, the heart & soul of the religion is substitutionary atonement. Yeshua may have been a wise teacher, but the world is full of wise teachers. Not many died in such a way as to bring about the forgiveness of sins.

However, if Yeshua did not die on the cross, then what sacrifice was there to bring about atonement? If the crucifixion is not historical, then what's the point?

That's one aspect of it, at any rate.

dobson said...

However, if Yeshua did not die on the cross, then what sacrifice was there to bring about atonement? If the crucifixion is not historical, then what's the point?

So the teaching is valuable because it's associated with a sacrifice, or is the teaching inherently valuable?

Would Socrates' teaching have been less valuable had he not been forced to take Hemlock?

This seems to me somewhat like what's happening to Heath Ledger's legend today - a performer (or teacher) killed in his prime is valued by society far more than an equally capable performer who grows old and outlives his prime.
=

anticant said...

The utter conceit of the balloon-headed self importance of imagining that humans as a species, or you and me as individuals, matter sufficiently to the Creator of the Universe to be given this complex "salvation" treatment beggars belief!

Papilio said...

"Why is it that some Christians require their prophet story to be a literal truth?"

Because, to take the elephant in the room as an example, without the Fall in Genesis there is no original sin, no need for an atonement, no point to the sacrifice on the X, etc etc; ergo, it either literally happened or it is a lame duck.

Dobson: how about that other Joker, Jack Nicholson? As to Socrates, he was happy to take the hemlock, no? He thought he was bound for immortal conversation with the gods...

anticant said...

What a load of mumbo-jumbo the whole farrago is! I suppose you.ve read Thomas Paine's "Age of Reason"? Still completely convincing after 200 years.

'Supernatural' religion is an emotional spasm.

Psiomniac said...

I'm surprised that people are puzzled by the importance of literal truth. Surely a world in which Jesus rose after the crucifixion, having atoned and thereby having defeated death whilst supplying a gateway for us to do likewise, is different from one in which some older ethical maxims are given a bit of an allegorical candy coating in a new book/religion? I mean, whatever you think about the prospect of total annihilation, the two scenarios are very different aren't they? What am I missing?

Joshua said...

"So the teaching is valuable because it's associated with a sacrifice, or is the teaching inherently valuable?
"

Huh. Given the number of factions that rushed in to put words into the mouth of Jesus, I'd say that if was his perceived authority that gave the words merit. If it was the words that gave him authority, I don't think you'd see so many different versions of his words in the non-canonical gospels. And I guess it was his death and resurrection that gave him that authority. Sometimes Paul seems to treat the resurrection as God's stamp of approval: "I am God, and I approve this message."

@anticant -
"The utter conceit of the balloon-headed self importance of imagining that humans as a species [...] matter sufficiently to the Creator of the Universe to be given this complex "salvation" treatment beggars belief!"

True enough. If humility is one of the primary Christian virtues, then there's a contradiction here. Though it's probably worth remembering that when this doctrine was created, the universe consisted of one small planet and a few crystal spheres. God paid close attention to us because he didn't have much else to pay attention to.

Belinda Parmar said...

I'm surprised that people are puzzled by the importance of literal truth. Surely a world in which Jesus rose after the crucifixion, having atoned and thereby having defeated death whilst supplying a gateway for us to do likewise, is different from one in which some older ethical maxims are given a bit of an allegorical candy coating in a new book/religion?

How so? The key point is that I've never understood the difference. My Sunday-School teacher claimed that like the Trinity this is simply one of those "Mysteries" in Christianity which we must accept.

Supposing we lived in a Universe in which gods did indeed incarnate on Earth and interact with homo-sapiens. Supposing still that they could suspend the laws of physics when it suited their rhetorical / pedagogical needs and that for the sake of argument that these gods are excessivly mysterious things and by definition unfathomable to reg'lar folk.

Would it have made any practical difference whether this god actually died or simply gave the impression of having died, or even altered the accounts retrospectivly? Does the idea of history even apply to such a being, who could suspend the laws of cause & effect at a whim?

It strikes me that in a universe populated by gods almost anything can happen, in which case any kind of reasoning is futile.

At which point all I can say is that I've not yet seen any evidence that I need to enter the supernaturalist quagmire to explain any of the cultural phenomena associated with Christianity or any other religion.

Psiomniac said...

Joshua

I don't think that there is necessarily a contradiction. After all, even if there are no messiahs in the Andromeda galaxy and even if the whole universe were created for us, we are still rubbish compared to god. And you can argue that god had a particular aesthetic sensibility regarding physical laws and probability such that you need a universe this size to give rise to one intelligent civilisation (on average :-)). After all, size itself does not connote significance.

Psiomniac said...

Belinda Parmar,

I take your point, that in such a world it would appear that all bets are off. But all that you have done is expand the options from one literal truth to an infinite set of possible literal truths which all have some important features in common, like that we survive death in some form if we jump through the right hoops. Now, it is no surprise to me that people care whether some recognisable version of the narrative they know and love is literally true or not. I am gobsmacked if people can't see why.

dobson said...

Take this miracle for example (walking on water):

http://www.agapeindia.com/miracle_01.htm

There were no witnesses apart from some of the deciples. The event (allegedly) took place far out in the middle of a turbulent lake. The account is sufficiently vague as to read like a fairy story.

This boat-trip seems like a literary contrivance of a kind very common in fiction and fantasy - employed when an author wishes to establish the nature of a character.

Walking on water is a classic god-like activity indulged in by gods who have long preceded Jesus - might the author have been trying to allude Jesus' divinity by invoking godlike imagery which his audience would already have found very familiar.

This lack of originality is surely another negative mark - it's almost as if I had claimed to have composed a noisy guitar tune called "purple haze" featuring an all to familiar riff. The fact that purportedly original claims can easily be shown to be derivations of older works would undermine any further claims I might make of authenticity.



:-)

Geoff Arnold said...

[Apologies if this came up on one of the earlier threads about this topic.]

This question is usually restricted to a discussion of whether n=0 or n=1. (Does the character depicted in the Bible correspond to an historical person?) But in view of the facts that:

(1) Jeshu[a] was a fairly common name, and
(2) there were many religious and nationalist leader-wannabees running around Roman Palestine that that time, and
(3) the Gospels (and non-canonical works) include many elements that are hard to reconcile (endorsing violence AND pacifism, honouring family and Jewish law AND encouraging followers to abandon their families, etcetera),

it seems plausible that n>1; that the Gospels represent a mish-mash of half-remembered accounts of the lives and teachings of several minor prophets, together with invented materials intended to "fulfill" various prophecies and reassure the different audiences for each text.

The position that n>1 seems more plausible to me than either of the alternatives. (It's unlikely that the various writers started from scratch, but the differences seem too great to be due to "creative writing. (This is even more true with the various non-canonical books, of course.)

Of course this view provides no support whatsoever for the veracity of the miraculous elements of the stories, so I doubt that Christians will be too happy about it.

Anonymous said...

The "literal truths vs metaphor" issue is surely another instance of the move described before (take the miracles out - look its plausible - well if its plausible the mirtacles are too)

Sam seems to want to play this game with his "its anachronistic" or "supernatural meant some thing else then" lines.

Is there a concise term for this argumentative legerdemain?

dobson said...

I've always liked the idea of a palimpsest Jesus:

A man-god built as a process of constant revision based on previous iterations of the story. That would be a variation of the n > 1 theory, except that the sources of the story need not have lived concurrently or in the same locality.

The gospels, and later the books of Mormon represent successful attempts to "re-boot the franchise" - to borrow a term from hollywood.

:-)

anticant said...

"Is there a concise term for this argumentative legerdemain?

Yes - Sophistry.

Anonymous said...

Belinda Parmar - "It strikes me that in a universe populated by gods almost anything can happen, in which case any kind of reasoning is futile."

Perhaps the older civilizations realised this if only instinctively and kept their Gods more manageable both in terms of power and motivation. They are often kept in check by other Gods or bound by their own oaths in some way.
The idea of "one God does everything" wasn't that common.
Plenty of stories where humans get the better of Gods too.

The modern monotheist struggles with this sort of issue. Variously they try to rein in God by limiting Him to "anything logically possible",
appealing to His character or wisdom - "he wouldn't do stuff like that because it's not His divine nature/purpose" etc.
The whole ensoulment/free will thing seems to be another attempt.
At the same time they try to explain Gods peculiar properties by granting Him more bizarre powers e.g "He exists outside time", Trinitarianism and so on.

Of course there does seem to be group who seem to be using the whole enterprise to justify their own inability or unwillingness to reason by trying to show it to be futile.

Anonymous said...

Joshua - "I'd say that if was his perceived authority that gave the words merit"

Did that authority not come from his having (allegedly) satisfied some conditions for fulfillment of a earlier prophecy.

Anonymous said...

Aticant- Sophistry true enough but nothing more precise?

anticant said...

Casuist? Quibbler?

Sam Norton said...

I came across this joke and thought of you...


An engineer, a physicist and a mathematician were taking a train
across Australia.

Looking out of the window the engineer exlaimed, "Hey, I didn't know there were black sheep in Australia!"

The physicist, who was concerned only to report the experimental
evidence, replied, "Don't generalise like that, all we know is that there is at least one black sheep in Australia."

The mathematician (one of the pure variety) replied, "I'm fed up with you scientists always being so inaccurate. There is a sheep in Australia, black on one side."

splittter said...

Thanks for the reply, Stephen. Thinking about it I realise that I'd actually want to not accept 4. I'm wondering whether the Bert example is strong enough to argue for the general point expressed in 4. Which you explore yourself in your comment about Bert apparently giving people a funny tasting drink.

There you make an allowance that if the documents contained some straightforward explanation of the miraculous claims the mundane ones might then be trusted.

My wonder is whether it could ever be the case that the mundane claims might be obviously the best explanation for the existence of the evidence? That they contain no straightforward explanation of the miraculous ones, but that it would nontheless be obviously more reasonable to suppose that the evidence would not have existed without the mundane ones being true.

Maybe I'd need to construct an example, which I'll try to think of, but perhaps I'm missing something and this kind of justification isn't available.

Guess it's worth saying that I certainly wouldn't want to use this line to argue that belief in a historical Jesus is reasonable (although maybe you could) ... just interested in the argument.

The Barefoot Bum said...

I have to ask: Why is the existence of an ordinary historical Jesus important from a religious perspective?

It's uncontroversial that an ordinary historical Muhammad existed, but Muhammad's existence has no bearing on the truth or falsity of Islam. In just the same sense, Velikovsky existed, but his existence has no bearing on the truth or falsity of his astronomical claims.

I can only speculate, of course, but I can see only one possible reason why the existence of an historical Jesus would be important in a specifically religious sense: To lower evidentiary standards sufficiently to hold the Bible as adequate evidence of miracle claims.

Anonymous said...

re Sam's Australian Black Sheep

The physicist and mathematician are obviously both insane. Engineers used to have a specific meaning of the word "black" which has become corrupted with time. He was obviously speaking allegorically, praising the divine quality of the sheep. He was obviously impressed enough to mention it to his companions. It was probably tartan.

David said...

BB - I believe this is why historicity is so important to some of them:

But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen:

And if Christ be not risen, then [is] our preaching vain, and your faith [is] also vain.

Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not.

For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised:

And if Christ be not raised, your faith [is] vain; ye are yet in your sins.

(1Cr 15:13-17)

If he wasn't alive, he couldn't have gotten dead.

Anonymous said...

Anticant - A sample of sophistry

Since I have not been able (yet!) to find a established name for this fallacy
I propose to name it the "Sam's Tartan Sheep" fallacy in the hope it may come to stand next to the famous "Texas Sharpshooter" and the "No true Scotsman"n

David said...

Sam, I am glad to see that you have identified the nature of your difference with Stephen on this matter. You occupy different places along the line which stretches from "no good reason to doubt" to "excellent reasons to doubt" mundane claims when those claims are made in the same evidentiary context as extraordinary claims.

Stephen thinks there is "pretty good reason to doubt". You, apparently, think that there is no good reason to doubt. At what point along this line would you class someone as insane, as you did at the start of this discussion?

Or have you since reconsidered?

dobson said...

It's uncontroversial that an ordinary historical Muhammad existed, but Muhammad's existence has no bearing on the truth or falsity of Islam. In just the same sense, Velikovsky existed, but his existence has no bearing on the truth or falsity of his astronomical claims.

The example sounds even better if you substitute the name "L. Ron. Hubbard" or "David Icke".

The question is, why is it that the religious claims of people who almost certainly did exist (or may still be alive today) are taken less seriously than figures who may only by mythological?

Why is it that the claims of Icke and Hubbard are met with laughter, whereas those of Mohamed, Jesus or Moses are regarded with respectful deference, even by those who do not follow the faith?

It seems to me that the undecidability of the historicity of the story is is one of the things that adds value to the credibility of a religious story.

:-)

Paul C said...

I have to ask: Why is the existence of an ordinary historical Jesus important from a religious perspective?

Interestingly, it may be more important that a mundane Jesus existed for Christianity than for any other religious figure for any other religion. The point of the incarnation is that God becomes mundane - if there's no historical Jesus then the entire point is lost before you even begin.

Papilio said...

The claims of Hubbard are not met with by laughter in all quarters, Dobson...

Steven Carr said...

The myth claims are based on the fact that many of the stories about Jesus are totally fictional.

Much as the way that people doubt the existence of the Angel Moroni, who allegedly visited Joseph Smith.

And for people who worshipped somebody who allegedly lived just a few decades before they were writing, many early Christians seem to ignore all these stories that must surely have amazed them.

For example, the author of Hebrews does not use Judas as an example of somebody who betrayed something in return for something of little value.

Why?

Geoff Hudson said...

Steven wrote:"For example, the author of Hebrews does not use Judas as an example of somebody who betrayed something in return for something of little value."

I am baffled by what you mean.

Geoff Hudson said...

Ignoring Jesus and the extraordinary events related about him in the NT (your skeptical argument is superficial), there is a considerable body of remanent language in the NT indicating that there was indeed a first century Jewish prophetic movement. I suggest that the myth of Jesus was built upon what were originally prophetic documents written entirely in a Jewish context. The later cult of Jesus was not created from nothing.

Paul Power said...

geoff:

There have been many posting on this site on this question. Can you kindly read them before dismissing the points made in them out of hand?

MikeN said...

There's been an awful lot of comment here so apologies if I've missed something but it seems that the question as to whether a Jesus that did not perform any miracles really counts as the Jesus described in the NT has not been raised.

If it doesn't (and I don't see how it can) then what does it matter if there was a guy called Jesus, born around that time, who preached, pissed off the Romans and was executed? If he didn't perform any miracles then surely that's enough evidence to show that he's not the Jesus being referred to in the NT, and we need to look further for one that did actually perform some miracles.

anticant said...

Yes, Mike N - I think you have missed something! I have been making this precise point repeatedly on successive threads, and have not yet received any answer [except assertion] from Sam or those who claim that belief in a historic Jesus - though not necessarily the Divine miracle-working God Incarnate of the Gospels - is essential to underpin the Christian faith.

Stephen Law said...

Anyway, let's see some of that evidence, Sam!

Geoff Hudson said...

Paul Power wrote:"There have been many posting on this site on this question. Can you kindly read them before dismissing the points made in them out of hand?"

All old basic obvious stuff showing little technical knowledge of anything biblical or Jewish, hence superfiial. So far, there is little to worry the professional circuit of Christian debators such as Craig, Habermas and Bock, et al here.

Geoff Hudson said...

Milken wrote:"what does it matter if there was a guy called Jesus, born around that time, who preached, pissed off the Romans and was executed?"

It would seem to matter to alot of people across the world. And what we understand as the Christian story has had a massive impact on many individuals and on mankind in general.

I doubt that the prophet did offend the Romans at all. Rather he offended the priests. They would have stoned a false prophet to death, just as later, the high priest Ananus disposed of James, who came to Jerusalem in 60 CE from Rome. The story of the crucifixion in Mark, is a garbled version of a traditional Jewish stoning. The Essenes or prophets were peaceful. They didn't oppose the Romans, but they did oppose the temple cult of animal sacrifice, and thus opposed the priests.

Paul Power said...

geoff wrote:
"All old basic obvious stuff showing little technical knowledge of anything biblical or Jewish, hence superfiial"

That's a good example of non-thought. Even if all this is true it does not address the question. Give us the evidence.

Sam Norton said...

The post is turning into an essay - currently at over 3000 words and headed for 5000. I expect to publish it by the weekend - sorry for the delay.

anticant said...

So, Geoff Hudson, the various doubts raised here by Stephen and others of us about the actual truth of the Christian story are "all old basic obvious stuff showing little technical knowledge of anything biblical or Jewish, hence superfiial."

What "technical knowledge" is required to assess the probability of the Gospel teachings about Jesus?

You say: "what we understand as the Christian story has had a massive impact on many individuals and on mankind in general."

So what? The fact that it has had this massive impact - whether fortunately or otherwise - has no bearing on its actual truth, nor on the credibility of any alleged supporting evidence.

Paul Power said...

I can't wait for Sam's evidence, all 3000-5000 words of it.

It must have been like this when they brought back the Crown of Thorns to Paris from the Crusades...

Geoff Hudson said...

Anticant, if you want to take on the professional Christian debators such as W L Craig, D Bock or G Habermas, N T Wright you will have to learn alot more than I've seen here.

Paul Power said...

geoff:

obviously none of this rubs off or you'd be able to put an argument together

MikeN said...

Way to take a quote out of context Geoff!

anticant said...

I'm not interested in doing that, Geoff. What I would like to see is some coherent arguments from you, Sam, and other Christians posting here in defence of your position [whatever it is].

If you think these high-powered theologians are so profound and convincing, can't you at least summarise their arguments for us?

What bothers me are the CONSEQUENCES of religious belief -Osama bin Laden & Co on the one hand, Sarah Palin and her ilk in the White House on the other. Ugh.......

Geoff Hudson said...

The consequences of religious belief bother me too. I have experienced the damage of such belief in myself and my family, some of whom still believe. The psychological damage can be immense, especially when God gives other folk outside the family strange messages that they pass on to the vulnerable family members who believe - the messages start: "God has told me to tell you..."

It is my present understanding that there was a first century Jewish prophetic movement. That movement was weaning Jews (in particlar priests) away from the cult of animal sacrifice. The process was already under way in the synagogue worship across the Jewish diaspora.

A popular misconception is that the prophets had died-out. There was a prophet among prophets, but his name wasn't Jesus, it was Judas. Judas was no Messiah, or saviour who died on a cross. He is the central character in the extant writings attributed to Josephus. I believe he was also the principal prophet in what were the original prophetic documents of the New Testament.

Kyle S said...

Sorry for joining this debate a bit late, but I actually wish to challenge 1.

"1. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. In the absence of extraordinary evidence there's excellent reason to be skeptical about the claims."

It seems to me that there are two ways to interpret 'extraordinary claims'. One is X:'a claim that is unlikely' and the other is Y:'a claim that you have reason to believe is false'.

If you opt for X then 1 is false. Take for example that a die is rolled and shows the number six, that is unlikely. However, if a person reports to you that they have just rolled a six in the next room, it is not unreasonable to believe that person. Maybe you think that rolling a six on a six-sided die is not unlikely enough.

Imagine that someone rolls a 1 million sided die in the next room, and then comes to tell you what was rolled. Whatever they say will be unlikely, however, in the absence of any other evidence, it is surely reasonable to believe that what they have reported really happened, even though that event is unlikely.

If you go for definition Y, then it seems that your argument is circular, or at least that you have some other evidence that you're not telling us about.

Perhaps you have an alternative definition of 'extraordinary claim' but I think this needs unpacking.

Joshua said...

"Take for example that a die is rolled and shows the number six, that is unlikely."

I don't think this analogy works. It strikes me that something is only likely or unlikely when compared to the other possibilities. A rolled six is no more or less likely than any of the other five numbers.

I think the only way that this analogy works is if your rolling a d4.

Psiomniac said...

kyle s

No I don't think you have interpreted your analogy correctly. If I go and roll a million sided die in another room at time t and I come and tell you at t+1 that I rolled a 6, that isn't an unlikely claim at t+1. This is because the probability of it being a 6 is either 1 if the claim is true or 0 if it is false. So when I say it, either I'm lying or it isn't unlikely at all.

Compare this with the situation that I tell you I'm going to roll a 6 before I go into the room, then I go in and roll the million sided die and come back and tell you that it was indeed a 6. Can you see the difference? This is now an extraordinary claim.

Psiomniac said...

The same is true if I roll 238767 and come and tell you later. If I didn't tell you beforehand that this would be my result, then this isn't an extraordinary claim.

This has a more intuitive appeal because although it is no more likely than 6 on a million sided die, 6 has a prior cultural significance for us. So if I said 6 you might have more grounds to suppose I was lying. But that's a detail.

Kyle S said...

"If I go and roll a million sided die in another room at time t and I come and tell you at t+1 that I rolled a 6, that isn't an unlikely claim at t+1. This is because the probability of it being a 6 is either 1 if the claim is true or 0 if it is false. So when I say it, either I'm lying or it isn't unlikely at all."

Likewise, since the events recorded in the NT happened in the past they have a probability of 1 if true, and 0 if false.

Psiomniac and Josh I think your comments point out how X:'a claim that is unlikely' is a bad definition of Extraordinary Claims. I think Y:'a claim that you have reason to believe is false' is a better definition but unless Stephen points out what this reason is his argument is circular because to say that the claims of the new testament are extraordinary is to assume that you have reason to doubt them.

Maybe you could say that an extraordinary claim is one that describes an event like no other. (I'm not sure that makes things any clearer).

But then why does the evidence need to be extraordinary (i.e. evidence that is like no other). A visit by aliens may be consider extraordinary, but why can't the evidence be ordinary, like arranging for me to have afternoon tea with one of the aliens.

I don't think that Stephen's first premise is very clear.

Psiomniac said...

Likewise, since the events recorded in the NT happened in the past they have a probability of 1 if true, and 0 if false.
The difference with the analogy is that if I make the claim before I roll the die the probability isn't 1 or 0 it is 1 in a million. So when I come back, I'm telling you that my 1 in a million claim was true. That's an extraordinary claim. When I come and tell you, the probability that it has happened is still 1 or 0 but unless you go into the room you can't know which.

Similarly the claims of the NT are a priori unlikely and even though they happened in the past we can't go back and look, which would be analogous to going in the room.

Joshua said...

"Psiomniac and Josh I think your comments point out how X:'a claim that is unlikely' is a bad definition of Extraordinary Claims."

No, that's not what I'm saying. I just think that the analogy your using doesn't work. It's like William Lane Craig's lottery analogy in that respect. Let's modify it a little.

If you toss a die and it rolls a six, no one should be surprised. Each number is as likely at every other, and you placed no particular significance on what you rolled. The chances of you getting a number when you roll a die are 1 in 1. Sure things are very ordinary

Now, if you're looking for a number in particular, then things are different. If your friend pulls out a die and says that he's going to roll a six, and then does so, now things are getting unlikely. Assuming a normal die, there was only a 1 in 6 chance of that happening. You might start to get suspicious.

Say your friend pulls out a 1 million sided die, says that he's going to roll a six, and does so. Now you'll probably start getting really suspicious. The chances of rolling a six on a 1 million sided die are one in a million.

This would be an extraordinary event, something that happens - literally - only one time in a million. Outside to ordinary, certainly, which is all the word means. And you would probably go looking for other, more ordinary, possibilities. Which is more probable, that your friend correctly predicted the roll on a 1 million sided die, or that your friend is using a loaded die?

If your friend was in the other room, there are even more possibilities. You didn't see the roll, so your friend could be lying. He could be joking. He could have hallucinated the result, or be remembering a dream. He could still have a loaded die.

This is what we mean by extraordinary claims requiring extraordinary evidence. Predictions like the above happen, but extremely rarely. But people lie, cheat and hallucinate every day. You've got to provide sufficient evidence to make that extraordinary claim more likely than all these other possibilities. In this case I'd probably have to examine the die and see a video of the roll before I could accept that my friend had correctly predicted the result.

Stephen Law said...

Hi Kyle S.

"Extraordinary claims": self evident I would have thought. The claims that Bert exists and drank coffee are mundane. They pretty much fit in with what we otherwise expect. That he turned the sofa into a donkey is extraordinary because this just does not fit in with what we know of how the world works, or how it appears to work on a day to day basis. It stands out like a sore thumb.

Or do you, Kyle S, think we really don't need better evidence for the claim that Bert drank coffee than we do for the claim he turned the sofa into a zebra?!

If you do think we need better evidence, then, hey, you clearly agree with some form of "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence".

So on what understanding of "extraordinary evidence" do you think it comes out as true?

Seems to me you're just raising a smokescreen here...

Sam Norton said...

My essay is now posted here. I doubt anyone here will be convinced, but it was an enjoyable revision for me!

Steven Carr said...

How can the mythicist/historicist position be evaluated when historicists simply refuse to engage in debate?


Is it because historicists just cannot find any answers and so are reduced to silence when asked to explain what the Bible says?

All the letter of James says about Jesus is that they are followers of him.

And there is the amazing passage

Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job's perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.

For an example of patience in the face of suffering, this early Christian takes the example of JOB.

And not Jesus!

How the hell can the example of Jesus patience in the face of suffering not have leaped from the pen of the person who worshipped Jesus?

How can he not single out his Lord and Saviour as an example to be followed, rather than refer his fellow believers in Jesus to the 'prophets' who spoke in the name of the Lord?


The answer is obvious.


There was no Jesus who set an example of patience in the face of suffering.

James could not remind his fellow Christians of the example of Jesus.

Because there WAS no example of Jesus to use as an example.

So the author of James uses Job as the example for his Jesus-worshippers to follow.


Romans 13
Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong.

Paul was a follower of somebody allegedy crucified by Pilate although an innocent man.

And Paul wrote that!

And people claim the crucifixion of Jesus by the Roman Empire is an established fact....

When Paul writes stuff like that?

What is going on here?

How can supporters of an historical Jesus be unshaken when they read Paul say that rulers hold no terror for those who do right, when the person Paul worshipped was allegedly flogged , mocked, spat on, beaten and crucified by soldiers of Pilate and Herod?
Romans 13
Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong.

Paul was a follower of somebody allegedy crucified by Pilate although an innocent man.

And Paul wrote that!

And people claim the crucifixion of Jesus by the Roman Empire is an established fact....

When Paul writes stuff like that?

What is going on here?

How can supporters of an historical Jesus be unshaken when they read Paul say that rulers hold no terror for those who do right, when the person Paul worshipped was allegedly flogged , mocked, spat on, beaten and crucified by soldiers of Pilate and Herod?

Why are these and other questions never answered by historicists?

Steven Carr said...

Meanwhile, mythicists have very plausible answers for Sam's question.

The baptism of Jesus by John was not at all an awkward fact for the anonymous author of Mark who has no birth stories, where Jesus was revealed to be something special long before the announcement of his baptism.

So Mark's story is a perfectly self-contained piece of fiction with no contradictions between the idea that Jesus had to be baptised and that Jesus was marked out from birth.

Later Christians, who had no independent knowledge of Jesus life, other than Mark, their own imagination and the Old Testament had to do the best they could with Mark's story.

Do you see how mythicists answer historicist points while historicists are reduced to silence?

Jayman said...

I apologize ahead of time if I do not have time to respond to responses to this comment. I merely hope this comment can provide some food for thought.

Stephen Law:

1) What is "extraordinary evidence"? Joshua notes that correctly predicting what number you will roll when rolling a million-sided die would be an extraordinary event. Yet he would accept that occurred after examining the die and seeing a video. That sounds like ordinary evidence to me.

In my opinion, it seems better to accept the theory that best explains all the evidence in the most parsimonious fashion. If that theory happens to include the extraordinary, so be it. Of course we can have different degrees of certitude and change our mind in light of new evidence.

2) Testimony needs to be judged on its merits. The more we can confirm a person's testimony the more reason we have to trust that person's testimony regarding matters we cannot independently confirm. Likewise, the more we can disprove a person's testimony the more reason we have to distrust that person's testimony regarding matters we cannot independently confirm. Of course neutrality or admitting ignorance is an option.

Steven Carr:

1) You state, based on Romans 13, that Paul believed the authorities "never kill[ed] anybody and are not to be feared". Though Romans 13 is a difficult passage, we can safely reject your interpretation since it is not congruent with Paul's writings elsewhere. For example, in 2 Corinthians 11:26 Paul says he is constantly on the move because he is danger from the Gentiles (among others). In verses 32-33 he relates his escape from Damascus and the governor under King Aretas. Clearly he did not think the government could do no wrong and thus there is no difficulty in thinking that Paul believed Jesus was crucified by Pontius Pilate.

2) You argue that James could not have known of the suffering of Jesus because he cited the example of Job's patience instead of Jesus' patience. This conclusion cannot be drawn from the premise. Plenty of modern-day Christians do the same thing and yet no logical person would conclude that they are ignorant of Jesus' passion. Moreover, it can be argued that Job showed more patience through his tribulations than Christ did through the passion.

Anticant:

1) Christians argue for the historicity of the Gospel story because that's what they believe the truth of the matter is. If a person is at all interested in the truth you should not be surprised if he argues for it. One could accept the ethical teachings of Jesus without thinking he was an historical figure. However, Christianity is more than ethical teachings.

2) Christians do not take God's love of mankind to be an example of mankind's importance, but as an example of God's boundless love. Contrary to what Joshua says, there is no contradiction between humbleness and this belief. Rather, God's love is all the more impressive due to our humble situation.

All:

Here are some reasons I find the existence of an historical Jesus of Nazareth to be beyond reasonable doubt:

1) Almost all the New Testament documents were written within living memory of the events they describe. This means the tradition contained therein could be controlled by the eyewitnesses and the authors were in a good position to know the facts. Paul notes traditions handed down to him (e.g., 1 Corinthians 11:23; 15:3) and met James, the brother of Jesus, face to face (Galatians 2). Luke 1:1-4 notes the eyewitnesses. John purports to be written by an eyewitness to Jesus' death by crucifixion, the empty tomb, and resurrection appearances (John 19:35). Papias states Aristion and John the Elder were alive at some point during his life and he inquired as to what they were saying (Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. 3.39.3-4). This information is in line with ancient historiography and modern studies on oral cultures.

2) Early Christians preserved stories that scandalized themselves. Christianity was (and is) a religion that seeks converts. It is inconceivable that early Christians, if they were making up fictional stories, would create stories that hindered their missionary activity. Yet we know that the preaching of a crucified Christ was a hindrance to missionary work (e.g., 1 Corinthians 1:23). A theory that posits the first Christians preserved historical truth can explain this data persuasively while other theories cannot (the crucifixion is not the only scandalizing story).

3) Certain stories about Jesus do not reflect first-century Jewish or Christian practice. For example, Mark 2:18-22 notes that Jesus' disciples did not fast while he was with them. First-century Jews fasted and so did Christians. One who subscribes to the theory that the evangelists preserved history can explain this story as an actual event in the life of Jesus. One who thinks the evangelists were writing fiction have to explain why they made up a story about Jesus that had no direct relevance to their practice.

This evidence is by no means exhaustive but merely some of the broad reasons I am compelled to believe in an historical Jesus. This does not mean the NT writers never made a mistake, but it's clear they weren't just making up stories that fit their fancy.

Steven Carr said...

JAYMAN
1) You state, based on Romans 13, that Paul believed the authorities "never kill[ed] anybody and are not to be feared". Though Romans 13 is a difficult passage, we can safely reject your interpretation since it is not congruent with Paul's writings elsewhere. For example, in 2 Corinthians 11:26 Paul says he is constantly on the move because he is danger from the Gentiles (among others). In verses 32-33 he relates his escape from Damascus and the governor under King Aretas.

Clearly he did not think the government could do no wrong and thus there is no difficulty in thinking that Paul believed Jesus was crucified by Pontius Pilate.

CARR
Congratulations.

You have found what is called a 'contradiction' in the Bible.

Was Paul just lying when he said that the authorities held no terror for innocent people?

JAYMAN
For example, Mark 2:18-22 notes that Jesus' disciples did not fast while he was with them. First-century Jews fasted and so did Christians.

CARR
Another contradiction!

Christians fasted, yet Jesus told his disciples not to fast.

I think even the most ignorant fundamentalist would have no trouble explaining that there is no contradiction between Christians fasting while Jesus was not with them and Christians not fasting while with them.

I'm sure the anonymous author of Mark would not have felt any tension between writing stories of disciples not fasting, even though Christians fasted.

Is this really the best historicists can do?

Making up contradictions when there are none?

JAYMAN

Early Christians preserved stories that scandalized themselves

CARR
We now know that it really is true that the child Jesus killed people.

What Christian would make up stories of Jesus killing people, and so scandalzing their own religion?

Is this really the best historicists can do?

Steven Carr said...

JAYMN
Luke 1:1-4 notes the eyewitnesses. John purports to be written by an eyewitness to Jesus' death by crucifixion, the empty tomb, and resurrection appearances (John 19:35).

CARR
Luke never names any of them.

As for John 19, if you read an anonymous addition to the Book of Mormon, claiming that this anonymous person testified that Joseph Smith really had seen the Golden Plates, how quick would you be to shout 'This is evidence!'

John 19:35 names nobody and has no evidential value at all.

This is all just pathetic. At least the Book of Mormon has named witnesses, none of whom recanted their stories of seeing the Golden Plates (as far as I know)

Religions are based on fraud and lies.

Get over it...

Steven Carr said...

JAYMAN
This does not mean the NT writers never made a mistake, but it's clear they weren't just making up stories that fit their fancy.

CARR
So Jesus took off into the sky , disappeared into a cloud, and ended up in heaven?

All witnessed?

The writers were not making up stories as they already had stories they could adapt to become stories about Jesus Miracles and the Book of Mormon

Steven Carr said...

JAYMAN
Papias states Aristion and John the Elder were alive at some point during his life and he inquired as to what they were saying

CARR
Might be so, but when did Aristion and John the *Elder* claim to have met Jesus?

JAYMAN
Paul notes traditions handed down to him (e.g., 1 Corinthians 11:23..

CARR
Always, always, always check what Christians say. Never assume they are telling the truth.

1 Corinthians 11:23.. For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you...

Paul got this *from the Lord*, not from any disciples.

It was a revelation...

Always, always, always check what Christians say.

And 1 Corinthians 15 makes clear that Jesus 'appeared' to people after his death.

Jesus also 'appears' on pieces of toast.

Jayman said...

Steven Carr:

1) You asked: "Was Paul just lying when he said that the authorities held no terror for innocent people?" I find the question wrong-headed because certain assumptions seem to lie behind it. First, it assumes that Paul is speaking about each and every government. Yet it is possible that Paul is merely speaking about the government encountered by the Christians in Rome. Second, it assumes that Paul is speaking in absolute terms as opposed to speaking generally. Yet it is possible that Paul is giving general guidelines that he knows may need to be done away with in different or extreme circumstances. These two assumptions need to be demonstrated before we can even raise the issue of contradictions or lying.

2) I did not claim there is a contradiction in Mark 2:18-22 nor did I claim there was any tension in Mark's mind. Mark 2:20 states that Jesus' disciples will fast after he has left them so clearly there can be neither a contradiction nor tension in Mark's mind. I stated that Jesus' example in Mark 2:18-22 reflects neither Jewish nor Christian practice and thus is hard to explain as a story that a Christian would have made up. You provided no explanation to the actual content of that part of my post. If this story is fictional, why was it created?

Also, the fact that you could so badly misinterpret the words of a 21st-century, English-speaking American (the words "contradiction" and "tension" appear nowhere in that section of my post) should give you pause in claiming you have accurately interpreted the words of Paul, a first-century, Greek-speaking Jew, in Romans 13 or that you know a person is lying.

3) You merely asserted, not demonstrated, that the author of the Infancy Gospel of Thomas was scandalized by the story of the boy Jesus killing another boy. On the other hand, I cited 1 Corinthians 1:23 to demonstrate that Christ crucified was an impediment to Christian missionary activity. Why would Paul create a story that thwarted his missionary goals?

3) It is true that Luke 1:1-4 does not name eyewitnesses. My point was that a number of early Christians show signs of following historiographic practice. Such a practice would seem unnecessary for followers of a non-historical Christ.

4) The author of John clearly identifies himself as the disciple whom Jesus loved. His name is given as John the Elder in 2 and 3 John, which is the very name of the long-lived disciple known to Papias. The author shows knowledge of pre-70 Jerusalem (e.g., the pool of Bethesda mentioned in chapter 5). It would seem at least neutrality on this issue is more rational than the complete dismissal you provide (unless you are hiding evidence that rules out an eyewitness).

5) The link on "Miracles and the Book of Mormon" was unconvincing. Similar events do happen multiple times throughout history. It is not surprising that a miracle-worker fits the mold of a miracle-worker. People can tell historical stories with clear and deliberate allusions to earlier pieces of literature.

6) You asked: "Might be so, but when did Aristion and John the *Elder* claim to have met Jesus?" You're question can be taken more than one way. Feel free to clarify if my answer does not address the question you intended. Papias is aware that Aristion and John the Elder were still teaching at the end of the first century. He is also aware that most of the disciples of Jesus had died by that time. His chronology fits with chronology found in the Gospels.

7) You're far too quick to accuse others of lying Steven. 1 Corinthians 11:23 uses standard Jewish terminology for receiving and handing over sacred tradition. The words "received from the Lord" merely show Paul's conviction that this tradition goes back to Jesus. We have no evidence that Paul or any other early Christian ever claimed to have acquired historical information ("the night he was betrayed") from revelation.

8) 1 Corinthians 15 also uses the Jewish terminology for passing down traditions. If Paul is speaking of some spiritual resurrection it is quite strange that the eyewitnesses were limited to a specific time period. Of course we know Paul, like all Jews who believed in a resurrection, believed in a physical resurrection (e.g., Romans 8:11). What about later in 1 Corinthians 15? Paul is distinguishing between our current bodies and the glorified resurrected body.

Steven Carr said...

'received from the Lord' means it was handed down by people who knew the Lord.

Pathetic. I suppose I just bought my Koran from Muhammad, as it goes back to Muhammad....


The Gospel of John never names any John, but 2 and 3 John do, so they were all written by the same person.

Pathetic.

Nobody would have been scandalized by stories of the infant Jesus killing people.

Pathetic.

Historicist arguments are pathetic.

'The link on "Miracles and the Book of Mormon" was unconvincing.'

Documented evidence of plagiarism won't convince True Believers, who won't believe even the evidence of their own eyes.

To them, 2 stories of somebody raising the dead child of a widow that was met at the gate of a city by a prophet means there were 2 miracles, no matter how much one story uses the vocabulary, phrasing and plot of the other.

Truly utterly pathetic.

Steven Carr said...

''1 Corinthians 11:23 uses standard Jewish terminology for receiving and handing over sacred tradition'

No it doesn't.

Is there a factory somewhere making up this rubbish?

'Paradidomi' just means handed over.

According to the Gospels, Judas 'paradidomi' Jesus.

'paralambano' just means 'receive'. There is nothing special about the word.

Paul says in Galatians 1:12 that he 'paralamano' the Gospel NOT from men, but from a revelation from Jesus.

And he uses exactly the same word in 1 Corinthians 11:23 to say he 'paralambano' from the Lord.

And Jayman claims this means he got it from men.

Pathetic.

How can you discuss things rationally with such brain-washed people?

It is like talking to Holocaust-deniers who carefully explain that 'ausrotten' just means that the Jews were to be transported out of Germany....

Jayman said...

Hello, Mr. Carr.

Regarding 1 Corinthians 1:23, I did not claim that parelabon solely refers to the transmission of sacred tradition. Clearly context is important in determining whether it is tradition being transmitted or whether something else is meant (such as the Judas example). In Thayer's Lexicon, one of its definitions is "to receive something transmitted". The transmission of tradition is evident in Mark 7:4; 1 Corinthians 15:1, 3; Philippians 4:9; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; 4:1; and 2 Thessalonians 3:6. Interpretations of 1 Corinthians 11:23 that do not resort to appeals to revelation can be found in the NIV Study Bible (p. 1751), the NRSV Study Bible from the Society of Biblical Literature (p. 2155), and the New Jerome Biblical Commentary (p. 809), among others.

Galatians 1:12 does not seem to support your contention either. In the Anchor Bible commentary on Galatians, J. Louis Martyn translates the passage as follows: "For I did not receive it from another human being, nor was I taught it; it came to me by God's apocalyptic revelation of Jesus Christ." The sentence ends with a prepositional phrase and not with a clause having its own verb. Paul meant to carry over one of the previous verbs ("receive" or "taught") or he assumes the simple "came." But the Greek phrasing is not identical to 1 Corinthians 1:23.

Moreover, Martyn makes the following note on verse 12b (p. 143):

==================================
In stating the negative part of this argument, Paul employs a technical expression. The words

to receive (tradition) from someone
paralambano (paradosin) para tinos,

while attested in Greek writings (e.g., Plato Philebus 16c), constitute a literal rendering of the first half of a firmly set Hebrew formula:

to receive (tradition) from someone and
to hand (it) on to someone else
qibbel min . . . umasar le . . .

One notes, for example, the role of this formula in m. Abot 1.1:

Moses received the law from Sinai, and he handed it down to Joshua, and Joshua to the elders [the Judges], and the elders to the prophets [Samuel to Malachi], and the prophets handed it down to the men of the Great Assembly [the sages of Ezra's time].

Of course the Galatians will not have known that Mishnaic tractate; but, especially given Paul's supplementary clause, "nor was I taught," they will have sensed that he has selected the key expression of the traditioning process in order to say with maximum emphasis:

I did not receive the gospel in the line of tradition!
==================================

Moving on to the authorship of the Gospel of John, you attacked a straw man argument, not my argument. I'll break it down more (though still briefly):

(A) The many similarities between the Gospel of John and the Johannine Epistles are most simply explained by the theory that they were all written by the same individual.

(B) 2 and 3 John explicitly state they were written by John the Elder.

(C) The fourth Gospel has always been attributed to a John. The simplest explanation for this fact is that a John actually wrote it.

(D) Points A-C all point to the conclusion that the fourth Gospel was written by John the Elder.

You can change my mind, Steven, but you'll have to address my actual argument with more than the word "pathetic." You'll have to provide a theory that explains the above points in a more parsimonious fashion than above.

Continuing on, I also did not say "Nobody would have been scandalized by stories of the infant Jesus killing people." I questioned whether the author of the Infancy Gospel of Thomas was scandalized by this story. When employing the criterion of embarrassment it is important to show that the author is scandalized by an account because that suggests he probably did not make up the story. If the author was not scandalized by the story then it is possible he made it up, even if it scandalized many other people. This is why I am looking for a citation demonstrating embarrassment on the part of the author of the Infancy Gospel of Thomas. I have only an introductory familiarity with this Gospel, but nothing in its contents indicate embarrassment to me. Jesus also appears to eventually heal everyone he curses, which may explain why the author shows no embarrassment.

Your final straw man argument is: "To them, 2 stories of somebody raising the dead child of a widow that was met at the gate of a city by a prophet means there were 2 miracles, no matter how much one story uses the vocabulary, phrasing and plot of the other." My actual argument was that similarities between two stories does not mean one of the stories is fictional. I gave three reasons for that belief and you addressed none of them.

For even more clarity, here is why your first example, the similarities between the feeding of the multitude by Elisha and Jesus, unconvincing:

1) Both stories have the same plot. This provides no indication as to whether the second story is factual or fictional. If the Gospel accounts of Jesus' feeding the multitude are true then we would expect the plots of the two stories to be the same. If Jesus' feeding of the multitude was a fictional story created off of Elisha's feeding of the multitude then we would also expect the plots of the two stories to be the same.

2) Both feed a multitude with a few loaves of bread, specifically barley bread, and a little other food. Any story about a miraculous feeding of this nature would have to start with a small amount of food. The Anchor Bible Dictionary entry on "Bread" states that barley was the preferred source of bread in Mesopotamia and that, in the lands around the Mediterranean, bread was "the staple food which provided most of the proteins and carbohydrates for humans for centuries and even millenia" (vol. 1, p. 777). There's nothing noteworthy about both stories mentioning barley bread.

3) Both delegate the task of feeding. This would be the expected behavior of anyone feeding a multitude (including in a non-miraculous fashion).

4) In both accounts there is a complaint that the quantity of food is too small. The very complaint anyone would offer if they were asked to do the impossible.

5) In both accounts everyone is fed and there is a surplus of bread left over. It wouldn't be a miracle story if they went home hungry. The surplus drives home the point that a miracle did occur and the people were not left hungry.

I'll also address the similarities between the two stories dealing with a widow's son being raised from the dead since you allude to it specifically in your post:

1) Plenty of sons of widows died so it is not particularly noteworthy that two stories about someone being raised from the dead share this point in common.

2) You are correct that both accounts share the phrase "he gave him to his mother" but this does not tell us whether Luke is creating a fictional story or not. Use of similar phrases could just as easily be used in historical narratives to prompt the reader to make a connection between Elijah and Jesus.

3) Both Elijah and Jesus meet the widow near a gate, but the circumstances are different. Elijah is commanded to go to Zarephath and meets the widow as she is gathering sticks at the town gate (1 Kings 17:10). At this point the widow's son is alive. At "some time later" the son dies and Elijah raises him by laying on top of him three times (1 Kings 17:17). Jesus meets the widow as he was approaching the town gate and she is carrying her dead son out of the city (Luke 7:12). Jesus raises the son with a mere command (Luke 7:14). There are more differences between the meetings than similarities.

Steven Carr said...

Jayman's very attempt to explain why miracle stories in the OT and Jesus miracle stories are so similar, merely fortify the fact that these are as much literary creations as the Book of Mormon.

Sam Norton said...

Hi Stephen, if you ever get around to resuming this element of the conversation, you might find this of interest. He's much more of an expert than me.

James F. McGrath said...

I don't see that the miraculous element found in many ancient sources generally leads historians to conclude that individuals mentioned in them did not exist. There are miracle stories that are connected with Alexander the Great, Marcus Aurelius, the Maccabees, and the Jewish war against Rome. It might seem, given the tendency of miracles to be attributed to historical figures and connected with historical events, one could reverse your argument and state that the increasing number and extent of miracles attributed to Jesus in the New Testament and post-canonical literature is precisely what we'd expect to find in the case of a historical figure in this time and place in history.