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Why History isn’t Scientific (And Why it Can Still Tell Us About the Past)

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Filed under History

Historians

In April last year, Grundy, the author of the Deity Shmeity blog, wrote a post titled "History Isn't My Area". He commented on the release of Bart Ehrman's critique of Mythicism, Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth.  Unlike the majority of actual historians, many prominent atheists find Jesus Mythicism convincing and many of them are unhappy with the generally sceptical and highly renowned Ehrman for criticizing this idea.  Grundy, for his part, stated frankly "I honestly have little knowledge as to whether or not Jesus existed", though he added "I tend to think he did".  That said, he made it clear why the overwhelming consensus of historians and other relevant scholars that the Jesus Myth idea is junk was underwhelming for him:
 

"History sucks. Okay, that’s unfair, but it was never my subject. My confidence of the accuracy of historical events goes down exponentially with the paper trail. The idea that history is written by the victors highlights the biases of the past. Books are burned. Records fade. Who should I trust for an accurate portrayal of events two thousand years ago?"

 
Since history actually is my area, I responded by making some critical comments on this attitude and some points about how history , as an academic discipline, is studied.  Grundy was happy to listen, and even invited me to expand on my points, which I'm doing here.

Atheists and Historical Illiteracy

 
I should begin, however, by pointing out that I am an atheist.  I have been an atheist for my entire adult life, am a paid up member of several atheist and skeptical organizations and have a 21 year online record of posting to discussions as an unbeliever.  I note this because I've found that when I begin to criticize my fellow atheists and their grasp of history or historiography, people tend to assume I must be some kind of theistic apologist (which doesn't follow at all, but this happens all the time anyway).

After 30+ years of observing and taking part in debates about history with many of my fellow atheists I can safely claim that most atheists are historically illiterate.  This is not particular to atheists:  they tend to be about as historically illiterate as most people, since historical illiteracy is pretty much the norm.  But it does mean that when most (not all) atheists comment about history or, worse, try to use history in debates about religion, they are usually doing so with a grasp of the subject that is stunted at about high school level.

This is hardly surprising, given that most people don't study history past high school.  But it means their understanding of any given historical person, subject or event is (like that of most people), based on half-remembered school lessons, perhaps a TV documentary or two and popular culture: mainly novels and movies.

Worse, this also means that most atheists (again, like most people) have a grasp of how history is studied and the techniques of historical analysis and synthesis which is also stunted at high school level - i.e. virtually non-existent.  With a few laudable exceptions, high school history teachers still tend to reduce history to facts and dates, organized into themes or broad topics.  How we can know what happened in the past, with what degree of certitude we can know it, and the techniques used to arrive at these conclusions are rarely more than touched on at this level.  This means that when the average atheist (yet again, like the average person generally) grasps that our knowledge of the past is not as cut and dried and clear as Mr. Wilkins the history teacher led us to understand, they tend to reject the whole thing as highly uncertain at best or subjective waffling at worst.  Or, as Grundy put it, as "crap".

This rejection can be more pronounced in atheists, because many (again, not all) come to their atheism via a study of science.  Science seems very certain compared to history.  You can make hypotheses and test them in science. You can actually prove things.  Scientific propositions are, by definition, falsifiable.  Compared to science, history can seem like so much hand-waving, where anyone can pretty much argue anything they like.

History and Science

 
In fact, history is very much a rigorous academic discipline, with its own rules and methodology much like the hard sciences.  This does not mean it is a science.  It is sometimes referred to as one, especially in Europe, but this is only in the broader sense of the word; as in "a systematic way of ordering and analyzing knowledge".  But before looking at how the historical method works, it might be useful to look at how sciences differ from it.

The hard sciences are founded on the principle of probabilistic induction.  A scientist uses an inductive or "bottom up" approach to work from observing specific particulars ("mice injected with this drug put on less fat") to general propositions ("the drug is reducing their appetite").  These propositions are falsifiable via empirical testing to rule out other explanations of the particulars ("the drug is increasing their metabolism" or "those mice are more stressed by being stuck with syringes") and so can be tested.

This is all possible in the hard sciences because of some well-established laws of cause and effect that form a basis for this kind of induction. If something is affecting the mice in my examples above today, it will affect them in the same way tomorrow, all things being equal.  This allows a scientist to work from induction to make an assessment of probable causation via empirical assessment and do so with a high degree of confidence.  And their assessment can be confirmed by others because the empirical measures are controlled and repeatable.

Unfortunately, none of this works for the study of the past.  Events, large and small, occur and then are gone.  A historian can only assess information about them from traces they may, if we are lucky, leave behind.  But unlike a researcher from the hard sciences, a historian can't run the fall of the Western Roman Empire through a series of controlled lab experiments.  He can't even observe the events, as a zoologist might observe the behavior of a gorilla band, and draw conclusions.  And there aren't well-defined laws and principles at work (apart from in a very broad and subjective sense) that allow him to, say, simulate the effects of the rise of the printing press or decide on the exact course of the downfall of Napoleon the way a theoretical physicist can with the composition of a distant galaxy or the formation of a long dead star.

All this leads some atheists, who reject anything that can't be definitively "proven", who reject the idea of any degree of certainty about the past.  This is an extreme position and it's rarely a consistent one.  As I've noted to some who have claimed this level of historical skepticism, I find it hard to believe they maintain this position when they read the newspaper, even though they should be just as skeptical about being able to know about a car accident yesterday as they are about knowing about a revolution 400 years ago.

The Historical Method

 
Just because history is not a hard science does not mean it can't tell us about the past or can't do so with a degree of certainty.  Early historians like Herodotus established the beginnings of the methods used by modern historical researchers, though historians only began to develop a systematic methodology based on agreed principles from the later eighteenth century onwards, using the techniques of Barthold Niebuhr(1776-1831) and Leopold von Ranke (1795-1886).

The Historical Method is based on three fundamental steps, each of which has its own techniques:

1. Heuristic - This is the identification of relevant material to use as sources of information.  These can range from the obvious, such as a historian of the time's account, who records events he witnessed personally, to the much less obvious, like a medieval manor's account book detailing purchases for the estate.  Everything from archaeological finds to coins to heraldry can be relevant here.  The key word here is "relevant", and there is a high degree of skill in working out which sources of information are pertinent to the subject in question.

2. Criticism - This is the process of appraising the source material in light of the question being answered or subject being examined.  It involves such things as determining the level of "authenticity" of a source (Is it what is seems to be?), its "integrity" (Can its account be trusted?  What are its biases?), its context (What genre is it?  Is it responding or reacting to another source?  Is it using literary tropes that need to be treated with skepticism?)  Material evidence, such as archaeology, architecture, art , coins, etc. needs to be firmly put into context to be understood.  Documentary sources also need careful contextualization - the social conditions of their production, their polemical intent (if any), their reason for production (more important for a political speech than a birth certificate, for example) , their intended audience and the background and biases of their writer (if known) all have to be taken into account.

3. Synthesis and Exposition - This is the formal statement of the findings from steps 1 and 2, which each find support by reference to the relevant evidence.

The main difference between this method and those used in the hard sciences is that the researcher lays all this material, its analysis, and his conclusions out systematically, but the conclusions are a subjective assessment of likelihood rather than an objective statement of probabilistic induction.  This subjectivity is what many trained in the sciences find alien about history and lead them to reject history as insubstantial.

But the key thing to understand here is that the historian is not working toward an absolute statement about what definitely happened in the past, since that is generally impossible except on trivial points (e.g., there is no doubt that Adolf HItler was born on April 20, 1889).  A historian instead works to present what is called "the argument to the best explanation".  In other words, the argument that best accounts for the largest amount of relevant evidence with the least number of suppositions.  This means that the Principle of Parsimony, also known as Occam's Razor, is a key tool in historical analysis; historians always favor the most parsimonious interpretation that takes account of the most available evidence.

Which finally brings us back to the existence of Jesus.  It is far more parsimonious to conclude that Christianity's  figure of "Jesus Christ" evolved out of the ideas of the followers of a historical Jewish preacher, since all of our earliest information tells us that this "Jesus Christ" was a historical Jewish preacher who had been executed circa 30 CE.  People have tried to propose alternative origins for the figure of "Jesus Christ", positing an earlier Jewish sect that believed in a purely celestial figure who became "historicized" into an earthly, historical Jesus later.  But there is no evidence of any such proto-Christian sect and no reason such a sect would exist and then vanish without leaving any trace in the historical record. This is why historians find these "Jesus Myth" hypotheses uncompelling - they are not the most parsimonious way of looking at the evidence and require us to imagine ad hoc, "what if" style suppositions to keep them from collapsing.

Ways Atheists (Sometimes) Get History Wrong

 
Managing this process of systematic historical analysis requires training, practice, and a degree of skill.  Without these, it's very easy to do something that looks a bit like historical analysis and arrive at flawed conclusions.

Take the initial heuristic process, for example.  I've come across many atheists who don't accept that a historical Jesus existed on the grounds that "there are no contemporary references to him and all references to him are later hearsay" or even that "there are no eyewitness accounts of his career".  So they rule out any evidence we do have referring to him on the basis that it is not contemporary and/or from eyewitnesses.  But if we ruled out any reference to an ancient, medieval, or pre-modern person or event on these grounds, we'd effectively have to abandon the study of early history: we don't have contemporary evidence for most people and events in the ancient world, so this would make almost all of our sources invalid, which is clearly absurd.  Given that we have no eyewitness or contemporary sources for far more prominent figures, such as Hannibal, expecting them for a peasant preacher like Jesus is clearly ridiculous.  No historian of the ancient world would regard this as a valid historical heuristic.

Atheists can often make similar, elementary errors in the criticism of sources as well.  There is no shortage of lurid material on the horrors of the Inquisition, with whole books detailing vile tortures and giving accounts of hundreds of thousands of wretched victims being consigned to the flames by the Catholic Church.  In the past, nineteenth century writers took these sources at face value, and until the early twentieth century this was essentially the story of the Inquisition to be found in textbooks, especially in the English-speaking (i.e. substantially Protestant) sphere.

But much of this was based on sources that had severe biases - mainly sixteenth and seventeenth century Protestant polemical material, usually produced in England which, as a political, religious and economic enemy of Spain, was hardly going to produce unbiased accounts of the Spanish church and crown's use of the Inquisition.  Uncritical use of this material gives a warped, enemy's-eye-view of the Inquisition that has been substantially overturned by more careful analysis of the source material and the Inquisition's own records.  The result is that it is now known that in the 160 years of its operation in Spain, the Inquisition resulted in 3,000-5,000 executions, not the hundreds of thousands alleged by uncritical nineteenth century writers like Henry Charles Lea.  Basing an argument on the earlier, uncritical accounts of the Inquisition might suit many atheists' agendas, but it would be bad history nonetheless.

Finally, historical synthesis and exposition requires at least an attempt at a high degree of objectivity.  An analyst of the past may have personal beliefs with the potential to bias their analysis and incline them towards certain conclusions.  Worse, these beliefs could make them begin with assumptions about the past and so make them select only the evidence that supports this a priori idea.  Historians strive to avoid both and examine the evidence on its merits, though polemicists often don't bother with this objective approach.  All too often many atheists can be polemicists when dealing with the past, only crediting information or analysis that fits an argument against religion they are trying to make  while downplaying, dismissing, or ignoring evidence or analysis that does not fit their agenda. Again, this is bad history and rarely serves any function other than preaching to the converted.

For example, until the early twentieth century the history of science was popularly seen as a centuries-long conflict between forward thinking scientific minds trying to advance knowledge and human progress but constantly being persecuted and suppressed by retrograde religious forces determined to retard scientific progress.  Again, in the mid-twentieth century historians of science reassessed this general idea and rejected what is now referred to as the "Conflict Thesis", presenting a far more complex, nuanced and well-founded analysis of the development of science that shows that while there were occasional conflicts, which were rarely as simple as "science versus religion", religion was usually neutral on the rational analysis of the physical world and often actively supportive of it. Overt conflicts, such as the Galileo Affair, were exceptions rather than the rule and, in that case as in many others, more complicated than simply “religion” repressing “science”.

Objectivity, Bias, and Historical Fables

 
We atheists and freethinkers regularly deride believers for their irrational thinking, lack of critical analysis and tendency to cling to ideas out of faith even when confronted by contrary evidence.  Unfortunately, it’s a lot easier to talk about being rational, and criticize others for not being so, than it is to practice what we preach.  Everyone has their biases, and “confirmation bias”  - the tendency to favor information that confirms our prior beliefs - is an innate psychological propensity that is hard to counter even when we are aware of it.  This means that atheists can, in many cases, be as bad as believers in accepting appealing ideas without checking their facts, holding to common misconceptions in the face of contrary evidence, and liking neat, simple stories over messy, complex, and more detailed alternatives that happen to be more solidly supported by the evidence.

The idea that the medieval Church taught the earth was flat, that Columbus bravely defied their primitive Biblical superstition and proved they were wrong by sailing to America, is a great story.  Unfortunately, it’s also historical nonsense – a fable with zero basis in reality.  It’s bad enough that I have had the experience of intelligent and educated atheists repeating this story as an example of the Church holding back progress without bothering to check if it’s true.  What’s worse is that I’ve also experienced atheists who have been shown extensive, clear evidence that the medieval Church taught the earth was round, and that the myth of medieval Flat Earth belief was invented by the novelist Washington Irving in 1828, and they have simply refused to believe that the myth could be wrong.

Neat historical fables such as the ones about Christians burning down the Great Library of Alexandria (they didn’t) or murdering Hypatia because of their hatred of her learning and science (ditto) are appealing parables. Which means some atheists fight tooth and nail to preserve them even when confronted with clear evidence that they are pseudo historical fairy tales.  Fundamentalists aren’t the only ones who can be dogmatic about their myths.

One of the main reasons for studying history is to get a better understanding of why things today are as they are by grasping what has gone before.  But it only works with a good grasp of how we can know about the past, the methods of analysis used, and the relevant material our understanding should be based on.  It also only works if we strive to put aside what we may like to be true along with any preconceptions (since they are often wrong) and look at the material objectively.  Atheists who attempt to use history in their arguments who don’t do these things can not only end up getting things badly wrong, but can also wind up looking as misinformed or even as dogmatic as fundamentalists.  And that’s not a good look.
 
 
Originally posted at Armarium Magnus. Used with permission.
(Image credit: WH Static)

Tim O'Neill

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Tim O'Neill is an atheist blogger who specializes in reviews of books on ancient and medieval history as well as atheism and historiography. He holds a Master of Arts in Medieval Literature from the University of Tasmania and is a subscribing member of the Australian Atheist Foundation and the Australian Skeptics. He is also the author of the History versus The Da Vinci Code website and is currently working on a book with the working title History for Atheists: How Not to Use History in Debates About Religion. He finds the fact that he irritates many theists and atheists in equal measure a sign that he's probably doing some good. Follow his blog at Armarium Magnum.

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  • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Brandon Rimmer

    That was a very helpful article for this non-historian to read. Thank you.

    There does seem to be a connection between science and history. If a report on a past event involves violations of accepted science, it seems as though an historian would have good reason to reject at least the part of the report that does not agree with the science, and to view the rest of the report with some added skepticism.

    • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy Gritter

      That totally depends on their prior opinions on the plausibility of miracles. The concept of "the argument to the best explanation" is a good one. What is the best explanation is going to depend on your world and life view. That is why I can appreciate the work historians do to improve my picture of what happened but not feel the least bit concerned when I don't agree with their conclusions. I already knew my world and life view was different so that was likely.

    • Jim (hillclimber)

      Hi Paul. Have been away for a while but I always enjoyed our exchanges and you are drawing me back in.

      It does seem important, and inevitable at some level, to consider our current scientifically-derived probability models when evaluating the likelihood of a historical event. On the other hand, we are admonished as scientists, and with good reason, not to dismiss contemporaneous experimental data just because it is improbable under our current probability models (i.e. just because it "violates" our current scientific understanding). It seems that one should exercise similar caution when considering whether purported outlying events in history can be dismissed. I don't know how one strikes the right balance - it is hard enough in science, let alone in history. But it does seem to me that a history devoid of truly strange and unfamiliar events might reasonably be suspected of being tainted by the confirmation bias of people who no longer believe that the world can be strange and unfamiliar.

      • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Brandon Rimmer

        The realm of known scientific possibility allows for much that is strange and unfamiliar. Our physical universe is full of wonders awesome and terrible, far exceeding the like of fairies or devils. Besides, history doesn't seem to be the ideal place to further explore the untamed boundaries of our scientific knowledge, if for no other reason than that provided by Tim O'Neill. History isn't science. Caesar crossed the rubicon like no other man before or after, but I believe the rubicon story and not the apotheosis story of Ovid, because I know people who have crossed rivers. I do not know of anyone who has been transformed into a god. Future scientific discovery may cause me to revisit these beliefs.

        But let me ask you, how do you draw the line in history? Presumably you don't believe that the Cyclops existed. But maybe you believe that the Nephilim did? How do you consistently draw the line?

        • Jim (hillclimber)

          I don't imagine that I draw the line consistently - when I said I don't know how to strike the right balance, I meant it! I am definitely no expert on historical methodology. But anyway, since you asked ...

          My way of thinking about it is colored by the presumption that all of history conveys a narrative. That part I just take as axiomatic, because I can make more sense of reality when I look at it through those sunglasses. So, my way of asking myself where to "draw the line", is to ask: "Am I projecting my own biases and desires onto The Narrative, or am I letting The Narrative speak to me?" I take it as a point of faith that I will never know the answer to that question for sure, but that if I do my best to continually refocus myself on that question, everything is going to be alright.

          Aside from my preference for thinking about in narrative terms, I think I basically do what everyone else does: given new data (including historical claims that are new to me), I ask: "Does this fit with everything I understand about The Narrative?" If it does fit, great. If it doesn't, I either revise my understanding of the The Narrative, or I dismiss the data as a lab tech error. Case by case, feeling my way, just like everyone else. After all that, I net out believing (most days) in the historicity of the resurrection, but not believing in historicity of the Cyclops (or the Nephilim).

        • NicholasBeriah Cotta

          History is very important to knowledge in the first place. Even if you love astrophysics, you need to understand the history of it simply to understand the subjects already wrestled with. Our knowledge on any given topic is literally the compendium of history on it.
          Even if you want to argue that all you need is the math to study certain subjects, you will still need funding, institutions, economics, and so on to support that knowledge building, and while there is no hard science behind these things, they still rely on the history of each individual discipline to improve it (or even maintain it) going forward.
          And one more point is that there are many theories that point to your own identity being a simple history of yourself. If you forgot everything you ever did, you would just simply cease to exist!
          The point is that history is not as relevant for maybe the science you partake in, but it's very important to how our society and individuals understand themselves. That we don't have a truly hard science about it does not take away its value, nor does it mean that the knowledge about it is not valuable (or real). I think that's the point of this entire article.

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Brandon Rimmer

            I agree with everything that you have said.

            My only real addition is that, if someone tells a story about an event that violates known physical laws, it is reasonable to disbelieve the story, and maybe to be a bit more skeptical toward the person who told the story. That's it. History is for non-repeatable past events. It's not for coming up with new physics or discovering violations of known physical laws. History would be terrible at that! At the same time, physics is pretty much useless for figuring out why Rome fell.

            I deeply appreciate history, philosophy, art, literature. I think each contributes toward a more complete picture of the real world. But science, and science only, can contribute reliably toward our picture of how the physical world works.

          • NicholasBeriah Cotta

            I think that the Catholic perspective agrees with what you say as well and I think any Catholic would acknowledge that an event that violates physical laws deserves skepticism. The question is: does it deserve complete dismissal? Saying a one time event is improbable does not mean impossible and if you can accept our definition of God as being outside of time and space, you could accept that He could "break" those laws. Matter of fact, Catholic tradition defines "supernatural" more in terms that we can't explain the physical nature of the event rather than "breaks the laws of nature."

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Brandon Rimmer

            The question is: does it deserve complete dismissal?

            I don't think violation of physical laws is possible. But violation of known physical laws is, because we don't have the complete picture. Any new interesting experiment may violate known physical laws, and more fundamental physical principles are discovered. And maybe some historical events violated known physical laws. These can be explained by more fundamental physics. Once the more fundamental physics is known, I'll reconsider the reported historical events in light of the newly discovered science. Therefore:

            Matter of fact, Catholic tradition defines "supernatural" more in terms that we can't explain the physical nature of the event rather than "breaks the laws of nature."

            seems quite reasonable to me. Miracles could be seen as historical events that could not be explained at the time. Lightning was miraculous, but isn't anymore.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            What would it mean for a single event to "violate known physical laws"? Aren't all physical laws ultimately probabilistic?

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Brandon Rimmer

            What would it mean for a single event to "violate known physical laws"?

            George Washington leaping over Mount Everest. Superman carrying Lois Lane into space and bringing her back harmed. Neo stopping bullets in the air by waving his hand.

            Aren't all physical laws ultimately probabilistic?

            Not all of them. Unitarity is not statistical. Not all measurements involve probabilities less than 100% or greater than 0%. That said, any physical law is at best probably right. Nothing in science is certain.

            Let's say that a reported historical event violated a statistical law. Like, someone reports that a glass was shattered in a fight, and then jumped up on the table and reformed. The probability of that can be calculated, and weighed against the probability that the person reporting the event is lying. I did this (in a very inexact way) for the resurrection here: http://boltzmannbraindotorg.wordpress.com/2013/10/30/probability-of-the-resurrection/

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Thanks Paul. Regarding unitarity, is the take-home message that an arbitrary sample path may not necessarily be possible? I confess to being ignorant about unitarity and its implications (I realize it is not your job to teach me, but any additional insight is appreciated).

            In any case, for the sake of fun I will stipulate to (*) your calculation (which is awesome), which suggests that a sample path including the resurrection is not ruled out, but rather has a probability greater than zero. Supposing it is indeed the case that the *expected* waiting time is 10^26 universe durations, I would still be willing to consider whether God just likes to exceed expectations.

            (*) This is a whole separate discussion, but I don't conceive of bodily resurrection in terms of reassembly of the same molecules. Whatever happened at the resurrection, I am willing to believe the testimony that it was so real that one could reach out and touch it. That it was not less real than the earthly experience of Jesus, but more real. Beyond that, I am pretty much agnostic about what it consisted of physically, what it looked like, what it felt like etc. To me it is like an atom bomb that went off, and I can't look right at the blast, but I can see and feel the fallout all around me.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Thanks Paul. Regarding unitarity, is the take-home message that an arbitrary sample path may not necessarily be possible? I confess to being ignorant about unitarity and its implications (I realize it is not your job to teach me, but any additional insight is appreciated).

            In any case, for the sake of fun I will stipulate (*) to your calculation (which is awesome) which suggests that a sample path including the resurrection is not ruled out, but rather has a probability greater than zero. Supposing it is indeed the case that the *expected* waiting time is 10^26 universe durations, I would still be willing to consider whether God just likes to exceed expectations.

            (*) This is a whole separate discussion, but I don't conceive of bodily resurrection in terms of reassembly of the same molecules. Whatever happened at the resurrection, I am willing to believe the testimony that it was so real that one could reach out and touch it. That it was not less real than the experience of the earthly Jesus, but more real. Beyond that, I am pretty much agnostic about what it consisted of physically, what it looked like, what it felt like etc. To me it is like an atom bomb that went off, and I can't look right at the blast, but I can see and feel the fallout all around me.

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Brandon Rimmer

            I like the idea that God would use the available physical principles in order to work miracles, and all miracles are thermodynamic miracles (unlikely but possible given some set initial conditions). Alternatively, if God is very orderly, our description of laws are in reality a description of the work of God, and sometimes God does unusual things. God's activity can be understood in terms of his purpose (in physics, beauty, simplicity), or in terms of efficient causes (knowing what God did, with a perfect mind, would show you what God will necessarily do next). If I were to accept the resurrection, I would accept it in this sort of way, although as you point out, the resurrected body is something radically different from Jesus's dying body. Thanks for the perspective.

            About unitarity, the concept is too technical to express here with appropriate rigor. But loosely, unitarity assures the predictability of quantum systems. If you know your wave-function now, you can find out what it is any time in the past or future. It is related to the conservation of probability (if I have a particle of unknown spin, and it can be either spin up or spin down, the chances of it being spin up plus spin down must equal one into the past and future), and conservation of energy. Mathematically, a unitary operator, U, is an operator with the property that its inverse U-1 exists and its transpose UT exists, and UT = U-1. And It's not like "unitarity holds +/- 10%" or UT = (1 + 0.000001)U-1. The present understanding of quantum mechanics is that UT = U-1 exactly. Now, maybe that's wrong. And unitarity can be tested, and in some cases it could be easily falsified (it hasn't yet). There's also an open question of whether all time-evolution in quantum mechanics is unitary. Maybe measurement breaks unitarity. As far as I know all of these are open questions, but that's uncertainty about whether the rule is true, and not uncertainty within the rule itself. The rule is not statistical.

            I think I probably went into too much detail about unitarity, but hopefully that helps somewhat with the concept. Sean Carroll gives a good talk about the cosmological implications for unitarity (namely, what it means for entropy and the direction of time). I know he's given this talk, but I cannot find it. If someone else here can find the talk, I think it's worth watching. @briangreenadams:disqus?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Alternatively, if God is very orderly, our description of laws are in reality a description of the work of God, and sometimes God does unusual things.

            That's the lens through which I interpret reality. To me, our physical descriptions of reality are like descriptions of a song, and I take it on faith that the song must have an ultimate integrity and logic and beauty. It is some combination of aesthetic judgement and hope that convinces me (and you, I think) that God, if He exists, would not do something so crass as to interrupt his own symphony to make a public service announcement. He would be constrained by His own commitment to logic and order and beauty. What I would expect instead, if God is a good composer who wants to call our attention to particular points in the song, is that He would choose certain movements that, relative to the rest of the song, are highly unexpected. He would change up the meter and throw in a weird off-note or something like that. That doesn't mean that the song falls apart or gets put on hold. The whole song would have a subtle logic and integrity that would subsume the logic that governs the "ordinary" part of the song. That more subtle logic might ultimately be knowable (at the apocalypse, let's say). This is all just my aesthetic hope and expectation of course.

            Thanks for the unitarity explanation. I am not with you yet, but think comprehension might be within my reach, so I will work at it a bit.

  • Steven Dillon

    Thanks for the post, it was a good call to sober up and be honest about how much (or how little) we know about history and how its analysis works. This is beside the main point of your article Tim, but you said "there is no evidence of any such proto-Christian sect and no reason such a sect would exist and then vanish without leaving any trace in the historical record."

    To my knowledge, mythers like Richard Carrier argue that pretty much the entire Pauline Corpus is evidence of such a proto-Christian sect as Paul's Jesus -- it is alleged -- was only known through revelations. Do you think a responsible historian can interpret Paul in such a way? That is, so as to be describing an entirely celestial Jesus?

    • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy Gritter

      It is hard to suggest that after 2000 years that Carrier has noticed such a central teaching in Paul that everyone else missed. Not just that it is consistent with it, an idea for which several counter-examples immediately come to mind, but that it is positive proof of the idea. That he was massively persuasive and yet almost universally misunderstood.

      Then there is the evidence independent of Paul. St Polycarp claimed to have spoken to the apostle John at length about the life of Jesus. St Clement got his formation from St Peter.

      • Steven Dillon

        Well, it's taken historians 2,000 years to come to the conclusion that several Biblical figures probably didn't exist, like Moses, to be fair. I'm not really sure where Carrier would locate the transition to actually believing the euhemerizations. But, I bet it'd be late enough that Polycarp and Clement's testimony would be deemed anachronistic. Either way, I'd be curious to see what he has to say in his next book.

        • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy Gritter

          Saying you don't believe a set of documents are authentic is very different from saying it is strong evidence is in the documents and everyone missed it. That is despite them being some of the most read and most analyzed documents in the word for a long time.

          Where to locate the transitions is often a question these historians waffle on. Any firm answer raises a series of very difficult questions. Ehrman just changed his answer. All of the choices end up being quite implausible. If atheism were true you would expect one story, the true story, to make sense. That is why so many who look at the data become Christians.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            Why would you expect one story to make sense? We're dealing with two thousand year old documents, not contemporary, written by partisan authors. I'm personally not convinced that a single story is even recoverable.

          • Steven Dillon

            The alternatives aren't atheism or Christianity though. You have to make that crucial transition from theism to Christian-theism, and, there just doesn't seem to be any way to squeeze things like the resurrection hypothesis out of 'there is an all-powerful, all-knowing, perfectly good individual' (i.e. theism). And that's assuming one has shown there's a being with all those properties, an extremely tall order. I guess I've found that when you hold the apologist's hand to the fire of theism's barren content, hypotheses like 'God raised Jesus from the dead' turn out to be like all the implausible alternatives submitted by the non-believers.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Personally I think I could almost get from Theism to Christian Theism without the resurrection. It seems right to me that the Theist God would find a way to unite the goodness of the infinite and timeless with the goodness of the finite and historical. I wouldn't have predicted that the union would occur in a human being, because that sounds too good to be true, but if something (not necessarily the resurrection story) inspired me to mix in some very exalted humanism, maybe I would have predicted the human incarnation bit as well. At this point (i.e. now that I've come to apprehend this fusion of Theism and exalted humanism), you could completely disprove the resurrection to me and I would need only minor adjustment to my worldview. I would just conclude that the Second Person of the Trinity was headed our way in the future rather than having had His earthly life in the past.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            And a great many Christians who look at the data become atheists. Neither position is an argument for the truth of the matter. I agree that it's highly unlikely that there's some new evidence in the documents that everyone missed, but that's nothing to do with the truth of the documents themselves.

    • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/ Tim O’Neill

      "Do you think a responsible historian can interpret Paul in such a way?
      That is, so as to be describing an entirely celestial Jesus?"

      In a word - no. But Carrier is a hopelessly biased polemicist and full-time anti-Christian activist and so, as such, his conclusions need to be regared with profound scepticism. All historians have their biases and need to keep them in check. Carrier is spectacularly bad at doing so, which is why he remains an unemployed blogger and a strange, marginal figure.

      To somehow consign the seven genuine Pauline epistles to this imaginary "celestial Jesus" proto-Christianity required by his Jesus myth hypothesis, Carrier has to first get rid of all the references to an earthly historical Jesus in Paul. And this is a tall order, because Paul clearly says Jesus was born as a human, of a human mother and born a Jew (Galatians 4:4), he repeats
      that he had a "human nature" and that he was a human descendant of King
      David (Romans1:3), refers to teachings Jesus made during his
      earthly ministry on divorce (1Cor. 7:10), on preachers (1Cor. 9:14) and
      on the coming apocalypse (1Thess. 4:15) and says he died and was buried
      (1Cor 15:3-4). And he also says he had an earthly, physical brother called
      James who Paul himself had met (Galatians1:19).

      Carrier follows the self-published hobbyist Earl Doherty in presenting convoluted and contrived ways to make things like "born of a woman" somehow mean "not born of a woman at all", but actual scholars (of the unbiased variety) find their contortions pretty ridiculous.

      • Susan

        But Carrier is a hopelessly biased polemicist and full-time anti-Christian activist and so, as such, his conclusions need to be regarded with profound scepticism. All historians have their biases and need to keep them in check. Carrier is spectacularly bad at doing so, which is why he remains an unemployed blogger and a strange, marginal figure.

        So many unsupported accusations and none addressing his arguments.

        I'm not supporting Carrier's arguments but this seems to be a classic case of ad hominem.

        Which is (depending on the circumstances) against the site's rules.

        • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/ Tim O’Neill

          I'm pretty sure that if I was responding to a comment by Richard Carrier and said "You are a poopyhead" that would definitely be "a classic case of ad hominem" and against the site's rules. But pointing out the facts that Carrier is an unemployed blogger and, at best, a marginal figure and stating the opinion that he is also hopelessly biased is not. It's completely relevant to the comment I was responding to.

          As for substantiating that opinion, that would take a long time to do in detail. Suffice it to say that on a number of historical questions that relate to Christianity, Carrier consistently champions fringe positions that are rejected by the vast majority of scholars in relevant fields but which just happen to cast Christianity in the worst possible light. Given that he is a full-time anti-Christian activist who has abandoned any hope of an academic career in favor addressing atheist and sceptic conferences as a kind of evangelist, it's not hard to back up my observations here. Bart Ehrman and Maurice Casey's recent books critiquing the Jesus myth thesis have come to the same conclusion about this blogger and Casey in particular has been much less polite than I have been.

          As for your claim that I don't address his arguments - if you mean the specific one whereby he claims Paul didn't believe Jesus was a human being, I do. I gave you seven references to the Pauline material that are not consistent with that idea. For his other claims, I have addressed those in detail elsewhere. My counters to his arguments have been noted and endorsed by actual professional scholars.

          So, you were saying?

          • Susan

            pointing out the facts that Carrier is an unemployed blogger and, at best, a marginal figure and stating the opinion that he is also hopelessly biased is not.

            Of course it is. It has nothing to do with the arguments. Being unemployed or blogging or being a marginal figure is irrelevant to the actual argument. That's what I meant by classic case.

            As for substantiating that opinion, that would take a long time to do in detail.

            Then, it should be disregarded.

            As for your claim that I don't address his arguments - if you mean the specific one whereby he claims Paul didn't believe Jesus was a human being, I do.

            You'll note that I took no issue with that paragraph. That is useful to the discussion and worth following up on.

            My counters to his arguments have been noted and endorsed by actual professional scholars.

            Don't make me point out another fallacy. I generally try to avoid that sort of thing.

            I am interested in the arguments themselves, as I'm sure are the rest of us.

          • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/ Tim O’Neill

            The comment I responded to asked me if I thought "a responsible historian" could make the claims Carrier makes. I said no and that Carrier, in my opinion, is not a "responsible historian" at all. How is responding to a direct question asking for my opinion with my opinion a problem again? Then, when I note that others who are not exactly slouches on the academic front share and endorse my opinion, I get more school marm scolding about imaginary "fallacies".

            You seem to be trying hard to find something to be prissy about. Is there an actual argument by the biased blogger Carrier you'd like addressed in detail?

          • Susan

            I said no and that Carrier, in my opinion, is not a "responsible historian" at all.

            Which would have sufficed and been perfectly acceptable if you'd explained that, in your personal opinion, Carrier is not a responsible historian. The rest was truly ad hominem.

            Then, when I note that others who are not exactly slouches on the academic front share and endorse my opinion, I get more school marm scolding about imaginary "fallacies".

            Now, I'm a school marm and some scholars agree with you.

            This is not an argument. They are not imaginary fallacies. They are long-established fallacies because they lead away from the substance of an actual argument and don't actually support the argument itself.

            You seem to be trying hard to find something to be prissy about

          • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/ Tim O’Neill

            "The rest was truly ad hominem."

            The rest was entirely relevant to my opinion as to his status as a "responsible historian".

            "Now, I'm a school marm"

            No - at least I don't think so (you may be). It's a simile - a reference to pointlessly prim, prissy, scolding behaviour.

            "and some scholars agree with you."

            Yes. So it's not just me that holds this opinion about Carrier.

            "They are not imaginary fallacies."

            The fallacies aren't imaginary, no. But the idea that I'm guilty of them is in your mind. My observations about Carrier's background were entirely relevant to the point I was making and I then followed them with an example of the kind of flawed argument his bias leads to - evidence of his bias. That's not an example of the ad hominem fallacy by any stretch.

            "You've accused Carrier of being biased and me of being prissy without
            demonstrating that either is true or relevant to the discussion."

            I gave you good reasons for my opinion that he is biased and noted others, both leading scholars, who have come to the same conclusion. And his bias is directly relevant to the question of whether his conclusions are those of a "responsible historian". That was what I was responding to - remember? Your prissiness, on the other hand, is a side issue.

            "I am interested in your argument"

            Really? So how about you drop this silly prissy finger shaking exercise and wild goose chase after phantom "fallacies" and take me up on my offer above. Which argument by Carrier would you like to discuss in detail? I can then show you the silly things his bias leads him into. Let's see if the widespread opinion that he is a biased polemicist still looks like a mere baseless ad hominem when we've finished.

            Over to you.

          • Susan

            The rest was entirely relevant to my opinion as to his status as a "responsible historian.

            It has nothing to do with his responsibility as a historian. It was a series of irrelevant attacks. Even if they were supported, (they weren't), they are irrelevant.

            I gave you good reasons for my opinion that he is biased

            No. You have simply showed that you disagreed with him and that he doesn't fall in line with the mainstream scholarship.

            On behalf of your argument, you've mentioned two unnamed "leading scholars" in the same discussion as you've accused Richard Carrier of being "fringe".

            Your prissiness, on the other hand, is a side issue.

            Possibly. Mr. Stinky Pants. (eye roll). Come on.

            So how about you drop this silly prissy finger shaking exercise and wild goose chase after phantom "fallacies" and take me up on my offer above.

            They are not phantom fallacies. They are fallacies.

            Which argument by Carrier would you like to discuss in detail?

            Any of them. That was my point.

          • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/ Tim O’Neill

            "It has nothing to do with his responsibility as a historian."

            Garbage. His anti-Christian bias is directly relevant.

            "You have simply showed that you disagreed with him and that he doesn't fall in line with the mainstream scholarship."

            So how exactly would I be able to demonstrate his bias to your satisfaction then? You tell me.

            "Any of them."

            Okay. Then let's start with the seven citations from the Pauline corpus that clearly show he believed in a human historical Jesus that I've already give you. So Carrier is wrong. Your move.

          • Susan

            Garbage. His anti-Christian bias is directly relevant.

            Only if you can define what you're talking about, support it with evidence and show how it's influenced his argument. Other than that, it's completely irrelevant and you're better off making your historical case.

            So how exactly would I be able to demonstrate his bias to your satisfaction then? You tell me.

            Do something other than merely assert it. Showing where disagreement can be found in his argument is not the same as demonstrating bias.

            What are your credentials?

            Then let's start with the seven citations from the Pauline corpus that clearly show he believed in a human historical Jesus that I've already give you. So Carrier is wrong. Your move.

            Is t

          • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/ Tim O’Neill

            "Showing where disagreement can be found in his argument is not the same as demonstrating bias."

            Okay, so I'll ask you again - HOW do I demonstrate it. If noting that the guy is a full-time anti-Christian activists who just HAPPENS to champion any anti-Christian historical position, no matter how marginal or widely rejected, isn't enough, what is? You didn't answer.

            " I have no idea why you thought it would strengthen your argument to accuse Carrier of bias"

            It was an adjunct to my argument and a relevant one. You couldn't see how it would be relevant for someone to note that William Lane Craig is a fundamentalist Christian before tackling a flaw in his argument for the historicity of the resurrection?

            "What are your credentials?"

            You know what they are - you went and found them during your exchange with your pal "josh" on another thread, remember? But this is not about "credentials", it's about objectivity.

          • Susan

            But this is not about "credentials", it's about objectivity.

            Yep.

          • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/ Tim O’Neill

            "Yep"? Oh good - you've finally grasped how noting his bias is relevant to the question I was asked about: his trustworthiness as an objective historian.

            If I had said in response to that question "He is a woolly-headed, annoying narcissist who bears more than a passing resemblance to the smug dweeb Artie Ziff in 'The Simpsons' so his conclusions need to be regarded with profound scepticism" you'd have yourself an ad hominem fallacy. Because those things, while they may even be true, are irrelevant. But his bias is most certainly not.

            But I'm glad you've finally got it and the ad hominem fallacy wild goose chase has, mercifully, come to an end.

          • Loreen Lee

            An ad hominem is not considered a fallacy if it is made on moral grounds. I believe this is defined as an objection to an argument that is not 'objective' (i.e. lacking a moral 'basis') It is allowed to point out such inadequacies.. Although,I attempt to limit my comments to description, etc. it has been pointed out to me in a comment above. that no one is here is required to 'educate' me, personally.. This has struck home, even though I will maintain that rhetoric, even personal witness can have as much 'value' as logical argument.

            For instance, I couldn't follow the math, etc. in the link given by Paul Rimmer, above, but I did gain an insight.that was relevant to me, but vague. The comparative value of these arguments with my experience with Catholicism is invaluable to me: the nominal distinctions made, information on advances in science such as how 'laws' are now conceived (a little Humean!) I do read to learn and am most grateful to the contributors: . I believe it requires a little bravery, (or perhaps audacity in my case) for a woman to become involved in the debates on this site. The best to you

          • Michael Murray

            I get more school marm scolding about imaginary "fallacies".

            So I follow up with the dig at the posters gender. Nice.

          • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/ Tim O’Neill

            Gender? It was a dig at their behaviour. The last two people I have used that simile on have been male. Gender has zero to do with it.

            Wow - some people here really are desperate to substitute sniveling trivia for substance ...

          • Michael Murray

            Wow - some people here really are desperate to substitute sniveling trivia for substance ...

            Sniveling eh? Actually I'm just amused how your style as a contributor seems so contrary to the house no snark rules.

            http://www.strangenotions.com/commenting/

            Like M Solange O'Brien I've got no dog in this fight. I'm interested to read the arguments for and against historicity of Jesus but not qualified to have much of an opinion.

          • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/ Tim O’Neill

            It would be nice if someone actually began such a discussion instead of all this pathetic trivia. Feel free to begin anytime.

          • Susan

            It would be nice if someone actually began such a discussion instead of all this pathetic trivia.

            If by "instead of all this pathetic trivia", let's get on to the actual argument, then we're all agreed.

          • NicholasBeriah Cotta

            This is so true. I'm thinking of limiting my back-and-forths to a hard number like four and then considering that sub-thread over. There is a certain point at which every point is denied, and then some point behind that is denied - it reminds me of a story I saw on negotiating with Iranians recently that went something like this:
            "We would agree on something, then come back the next day and they would deny ever agreeing to anything the previous day. So we decided to write the points we agreed on down and then we had them sign it. The next day, when they denied what they agreed to, we pulled out the signed documents and they said, "that's not our signature." "
            If the will of your opponent becomes more about winning an argument and not the dialectic method, you might as well just blow spit bubbles instead of use words.

          • severalspeciesof

            May I jump in?
            Nope, not about ad hominem but rather with the idea of Paul writing about and describing Jesus as a human (a human that he even admits to not ever meeting). How does this discredit the idea that Jesus was a myth? I understand that by today's standards of speaking and the writing of ideas, that a reference like that (he was human) would mean that the person espousing that idea would believe he was human, but couldn't it be a method of theological injection to push across an idea? I can flesh this thought out more if needed, but I've got to run off (I don't want to lose my initial thought here)

            Glen

          • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/ Tim O’Neill

            " ... couldn't it be a method of theological injection to push across an idea?"

            I don't understand how this would work with phrases like "born of a woman". This is a Greek rendering of a phrase that we find in both Hebrew and Aramaic as a formal way of saying "a human being". So how exactly does someone use a phrase that means "a human being" about someone who is not "a human being" to "push across an idea"? What "idea"? This doesn't make much sense at all.

            " I can flesh this thought out more if needed"

            Okay. I think that's needed.

          • severalspeciesof

            Thanks for your patience and sorry about the vagueness.

            Saying because Paul said Jesus was ‘born of a woman’ is indicative of his belief that he was human is a
            reasonable stance, it may have been mentioned because it was a way to make sure the story stayed accessible to the Jews of the time. The Jewish faith was not looking for
            a ‘spiritual’ savior, but a real live human leader appointed by god. While Paul’s emphasis was toward inclusion of gentiles (who may or may not have cared that Jesus was human), it would have been important to point out that Jesus was human regardless of whether or not Jesus existed, in order to not alienate the Jews too much.

            In other words, even if Jesus was only a figment in Paul’s mind, adding the idea of the ‘humaness’ of Jesus could have been used to be able to relate better with his fellow Jews. Is this clearer (I hope)?

            Glen

          • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/ Tim O’Neill

            " ... it may have been mentioned because it was a way to make sure the story stayed accessible to the Jews of the time."

            Yes it MAY have. But millions of things are merely possible. I could come up with a dozen merely possible reason Paul could have used this phrase which we know means "a human being" while still believing Jesus was never a human being. But why would we want to do this? What is there in Paul or in any of our evidence that indicates Paul or any early Jesus sect member believed this? There's nothing to indicate that at all.

            On the contrary, all the evidence, from multiple vectors, tells us people believed that Jesus had been a historical human being, and that he had lived quite recently. So why go off trying to find reasons to explain why he might talk about Jesus as a human despite not believing he was a human when Occam's Razor says he talks about Jesus this way because ... that's precisely what he believed?

            Starting with a conclusion that isn't indicated by the evidence and then trying to dream up reasons the evidence doesn't point to that conclusion isn't historical analysis, it's pure nonsense.

          • severalspeciesof

            Thanks...

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            I'm curious (and I have no beer in this fight), why do you object to ad hominem accusations, and then say, "Is there an actual argument by the biased blogger Carrier you'd like addressed in detail?" - which is EXACTLY an ad hominem?
            Just curious.

          • Susan

            "Is there an actual argument by the biased blogger Carrier you'd like addressed in detail?" - which is EXACTLY an ad hominem?
            Just curious.

            I'm curious too and wanted to ask but I didn't want to come across as having a prissy fit.

          • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/ Tim O’Neill

            I actually have no problem with anyone using ad hominem labels if they want, though Americans seem much more uptight about such things compared to those of us in the rest of the English speaking world. Not that "biased blogger" is much more than a descriptor of Carrier - if I wanted to be actually abusive about him I can think of much less mild things that would apply. What I object to, at least a little, are the flaccid accusations of me being guilty of fallacies when I'm not.

            Though the tendency for a certain type of online atheist warrior to resort to wild "fallacy slinging" when they run out of anything of substance to say has become so prevalent that it's becoming a point of parody and ridicule.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            I'm pretty sure that if I was responding to a comment by Richard Carrier and said "You are a poopyhead" that would definitely be "a classic case of ad hominem" and against the site's rules.

            Not to pick a nit, but no, it wouldn't be, because that wouldn't be an ad hominem. It irritates me no end to see people continually misrepresent something so basic.

            This: "Carrier is a hopelessly biased polemicist and full-time anti-Christian activist and so, as such, his conclusions need to be regarded with profound scepticism." is the actual ad hominem contained in your response. Because Carrier is X, we should disregard his arguments.

            You see the difference?

            "Bless me, what do they teach children in school these days."

            Carry on.

          • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/ Tim O’Neill

            I'm not sure what they teach children these days, but I was certainly taught the difference between an "ad hominem" (personal abuse) and the "ad hominem fallacy". You, however, seem to have the two muddled. "Carrier is a poopyhead" is an ad hominem. "Carrier can be ignored because he's a poopyhead" is an example of the "ad hominem fallacy". They are not the same thing.

            And no, noting that Carrier is biased and so his stuff needs to be handled with great care is not an example of the "ad hominem fallacy". His bias is directly relevant to issue. And I go on to give an example of the kind of evidence that he does not account for sufficiently because of it. Saying "Carrier is a wife beater so we should ignore his conclusions" is and example of the "ad hominem fallacy", because his domestic violence is not relevant in any way, so this is substituting an irrelevant personal attack for anything pertinent to the issue at hand. His bias, on the other hand, is directly relevant. Spot the difference.

            If people are going to fling these accusations of fallacies around it helps to get them right.

          • Ignorant Amos

            Where did you show the bias that you are relying so strongly on?

            Would it be the same bias held by the consensus of scholars that the historist frequently use?

          • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/ Tim O’Neill

            "Where did you show the bias that you are relying so strongly on?"

            As I've noted already, Carrier is a full-time anti-Christian and anti-theistic activist. And he just happens to hold a number of positions on questions relating to Christian history that are marginal at best or not highly regarded academically. And which just happen to put Christianity in the worst possible light.

            Does this "show" he is biased? Well, that's difficult to "show" conclusively. But it indicates it pretty strongly.

            "Would it be the same bias held by the consensus of scholars that the historist frequently use?"

            Some of the those who accept the consensus positon on a historical Jesus do so out of a bias toward their faith, certainly. Many don't even bother to consider the question in detail out of the same confirmation bias - this is a strong tendency in all of us. That's why I tend to pay attention to the arguments of scholars who aren't Christians and so are more likely to be objective on the question. Presenting Carrier, an anti-Christian polemicist, as some kind of objective arbiter here is about the same as doing so with William Lane Craig or Josh McDowell. However much these people protest that they are being purely objective, it's hard for anyone with strong ideological commitments to genuinely be so.

            Personally, it doesn't matter to me one way or the other. Neither a historical, human, Jewish, apocalyptic preacher Jesus nor a mythic, non-existent, non-historical one affects my position on the truth of Christianity in the slightlest. I just go with the historical, human, Jewish, apocalyptic preacher Jesus because that fits the evidence better and because the mythic alternative requires too many contrived ad hoc arguments and suppositions piled on suppositions. See the article above about the importance of parsimony in the analysis of historical evidence.

          • Ignorant Amos

            As I've noted already, Carrier is a full-time anti-Christian and anti-theistic activist.</bblock

            And he just happens to hold a number of positions on questions relating to Christian history that are marginal at best or not highly regarded academically. And which just happen to put Christianity in the worst possible light.

            Does this "show" he is biased? Well, that's difficult to "show" conclusively. But it indicates it pretty strongly.

            "Would it be the same bias held by the consensus of scholars that the historist frequently use?"

            Some of the those who accept the consensus positon on a historical Jesus do so out of a bias toward their faith, certainly. Many don't even bother to consider the question in detail out of the same confirmation bias - this is a strong tendency in all of us. That's why I tend to pay attention to the arguments of scholars who aren't Christians and so are more likely to be objective on the question. Presenting Carrier, an anti-Christian polemicist, as some kind of objective arbiter here is about the same as doing so with William Lane Craig or Josh McDowell. However much these people protest that they are being purely objective, it's hard for anyone with strong ideological commitments to genuinely be so.

            Personally, it doesn't matter to me one way or the other. Neither a historical, human, Jewish, apocalyptic preacher Jesus nor a mythic, non-existent, non-historical one affects my position on the truth of Christianity in the slightlest. I just go with the historical, human, Jewish, apocalyptic preacher Jesus because that fits the evidence better and because the mythic alternative requires too many contrived ad hoc arguments and suppositions piled on suppositions. See the article above about the importance of parsimony in the analysis of historical evidence.

          • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/ Tim O’Neill

            Umm, something seems to have gone wrong there. Your reply is not actually a reply to what I said.

  • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Brandon Rimmer

    Also, for an interesting discussion with historian Bart Ehrman on the historical Jesus and his divinity, follow this link: http://www.npr.org/2014/04/07/300246095/if-jesus-never-called-himself-god-how-did-he-become-one

    • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

      And for a book-length refutation of Bart's claims, specifically those from his latest book mentioned in that NPR story, follow this link: http://www.amazon.com/How-God-Became-Jesus-Nature-A-ebook/dp/B00I2P2OVS/?tag=ththve-20

      • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Brandon Rimmer

        Thanks for the link to the book. I'll have to read the two in parallel (whenever I get some free time to read).

  • http://briangreenadams.wordpress.com/ Brian Green Adams

    Great piece and this kind of thing bears repeating. This is why we should defer to the majority view of experts in a given field that is not our own.

    History is not science, but theology is not history. And in my understanding the majority of historians accept the person of Jesus and his crucifixion as historical fact. They do NOT accept his divinity or resurrection as historical fact. This inference is a theological conclusion from historical findings and not a historical conclusion from historical sources.

    While dozens, even the majority of "biblical scholars" may accept Jesus as god etc, we need to be clear on whether they are historians or theologians or a mixture, and are they saying as a professional historian that the application of the historical methods outlined above establish this by historical standards? I am confident that they do not.

    • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

      "Great piece and this kind of thing bears repeating. This is why we should defer to the majority view of experts in a given field that is not our own."

      Like in theology and philosophy, eh? ;)

      "History is not science, but theology is not history. And in my understanding the majority of historians accept the person of Jesus and his crucifixion as historical fact. They do NOT accept his divinity or resurrection as historical fact. This inference is a theological conclusion from historical findings and not a historical conclusion from historical sources."

      This is mostly true, except for the last sentence. You present a false dichotomy between "theological conclusions" and "historical conclusions," which a priori assumes any theological conclusion is ahistorical. This, of course, begs the question since the very topic under consideration is whether Jesus' historical death results in a miraculous resurrection.

      Even more, there's no such thing as a "historical conclusion." There is historical evidence which must be interpreted, as Tim outlined in his original article, and ideally leads to the best conclusion, regardless of whether it involves God.

      When it comes to the death, burial, and postmortem appearances of Jesus, William Lane Craig has admirably demonstrated how the Resurrection hypothesis is the only plausible scenario that adequately explains the full scope of historical evidence. He's produced several academic works on the topic, including many in prestigious journals, but here's a condensed, popular-level version of his case:

      http://www.reasonablefaith.org/the-resurrection-of-jesus

      • Danny Getchell

        One thing Craig does often is to state baldly that "most scholars" or "the majority of New Testament critics" accept the sequential fact claims of the resurrection story.

        I've heard him do this in debates at least a dozen times, and he does it again in the article you have linked.

        Brandon, are you aware of a book or article in which he lists these scholars who purportedly agree with him???

        • ChrisDeStefano

          Hey Danny,
          I think one source he extracts this from is Dr. Gary Habermas who is considered to be a leading scholar on the ressurection. I have heard Habermas say many times that he did a census among the majority of New Testament historians and scholars to see where they stood on questions such as "Did Jesus exist" and "the empty tomb". Based on his census the vast majority, Christian and agnostic/atheist alike agreed with these certain minimal facts.
          Sorry to be completley vaugue here. I am trying to find the exact study he did. I will try and find it and post when I do.

          • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

            Chris is right. In his research and debates, WLC typically references some of Habermas' research, which appear to be the most extensive surveys of New Testament scholarship.

            It's important to note that when WLC says "most scholar" or "the majority of NT critics" accepts the basic fact claims of the Resurrection story (i.e., Jesus' existence, death, honorable burial, post-mortum appearances, etc.) he's know saying that most of them agree the Resurrection hypothesis best *explains* those facts. He's simply beginning his case for the Resurrection by affirming all the agreed-upon *facts* before arguing that the Resurection hypothesis best explains them.

      • http://briangreenadams.wordpress.com/ Brian Green Adams

        I intended to make no such dichotomy. I do not presume that all theological conclusions are ahistorical, but just because they may be well supported by reference to theological methodology does not mean they are supported by historical methodology.

        By "historical conclusion" I simply mean the conclusions reached by way of historical methods to historical standards. These standards are lower for history than for science. I do not know what standards theology applies.

        I am well aware of William Lane Craig's argument, as you are I am sure, of Bart Erhman's rebuttal. Craig is not a philosopher and theologian, not a historian. I think his reasoning is fallacious and I do not think it is representative of what mainstream historians would accept as a reasonable interpretation. While Richard Carrier is more of a historian, I would make the same criticism of him.

        I am currently deferring to Woolsey Professor of Religious Studies at Yale, Dale B. Martin. I have watched all of his lectures in Introduction to New Testament Studies. He goes through what he things is a reasonable interpretation of the historical evidence in this video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d_dOhg-Fpu0

      • M. Solange O’Brien

        Thanks for the link. I had forgotten how weak Craig's actual case was.

        • Danny Getchell

          I'm familiar with Craig only through his many online debates. He gives the impression of having very carefully honed a series of points which he releases in rapid-fire succession (the "Gish Gallop" could equally well be termed the "Craig Cascade") but being unwilling to slow down the pace and carefully work through his opponents' arguments line by line.

          I suppose I shall have to check out a couple of his books in order to criticize more fairly, but if he abuses the "vast majority of serious scholars agree with me" meme, I doubt I'll get as far as the last chapter.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            Primarily because he doesn't work through his opponents' points. His technique is to DISMISS his opponents points without addressing their substance.

          • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

            I find it ironic that you both criticize Craig for "dismissing his opponents' points without addressing their substance"....but then dismiss Craig without addressing the substance of any of his points.

            "Primarily because he doesn't work through his opponents' points."

            Can you provide one example of a substantial point from one of Craig's critics that he hasn't engaged, in depth, either through his debates or published work?

            Is there a specific defeater you have in mind that you would consider devastating to Craig's argument(s), but that he hasn't engaged?

  • http://briangreenadams.wordpress.com/ Brian Green Adams

    I think it also bears repeating that while a minority of historians do conclude that no historical Jesus existed. This is not commonly used as an argument for atheism. I have been watching as many debates on this issue as I can, and I can recall no-one making this argument. At most it might be mentioned that the is some controversy on this issue.

    I have never hear of any prominent atheist or activist take this position. I mean it doesn't take very long to realize that this is a minority historical view. Not to mention that no Jesus existing in the flesh does not rule out Christianity, much less all gods.

  • Danny Getchell

    Tim,

    If the Catholic Church of today (including apologists here) were to unequivocally declare that punishment (civil or clerical) for any public expression of religious views is wrong, I'd be more than happy to take the Inquisition (or the Albigensian Crusade, which to me is far more egregious) off the table for keeps.

    It's the hemming and hawing I've received when asking for a rejection of, for example, Aquinas' views on the death penalty for heresy, that gives me the most pause.

    • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Brandon Rimmer

      Brandon ultimately came out very strongly against the death penalty for heretics. After he did this, I don't remember seeing anyone else hemming or hawing (although maybe I missed it; there have been a lot of comments!). I would consider this one of the most positive results of the dialogue here.

      • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

        At the very beginning of that exchange, I clearly stated that, by today's standards, Aquinas' position was morally indefensible. But moral culpability depends on context, and since some commenters were attempting to use Aquinas' position to smear his character, I thought it necessary to explain *why* he believed what he did, namely because, unlike today, heresy presented a real threat to the common good. Because the Church and throne were so united, heresy was not just religious disagreement, but akin to treason. As history since proved (cf. the Reformation) heresy often leads to political and social unrest. Therefore, Aquinas reasoned, while everyone is free to believe what they want individually, when they start promoting heretical views that threaten the social order, the common good should be our foremost concern.

        • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Brandon Rimmer

          But the good thing is that you ultimately came out saying that, not just by today's standards, but by objective moral standards, Aquinas was wrong about killing heretics. At least, that's what I hope you said, because it would be sad for me to discover that one of the most positive outcomes of dialogue here is an outcome I imagined.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            That's certainly not what Brandon seems to be saying here; here he seems to be saying that Aquinas' position was justified and moral at the time.
            Brandon, am I misunderstanding you?

          • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

            "Brandon, am I misunderstanding you?"

            Yes, you are. What I clearly said initially, and in this combox, is that killing heretics is immoral but that one's *culpability* for that act can be mitigated, depending on the context.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            That's not clear: killing heretics is immoral, but one isn't guilty of immorality depending on the circumstances? Sounds like moral relativism to me.

          • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

            "That's not clear: killing heretics is immoral, but one isn't guilty of immorality depending on the circumstances?"

            Yes.

            "Sounds like moral relativism to me."

            No.

            I'm afraid you're confused about moral relativism. Moral relativists hold that certain acts (e.g., murder, rape, torture, etc.) are moral in some circumstances, but immoral in other circumstances. Moral objectivists hold that those same acts (e.g., murder, rape, torture, etc.) are always immoral, in all circumstances, at all times, for all people. Both I and Aquinas (and almost all classical theists) subscribe to the latter.

            Several times now I've distinguished between the morality of an act and one's culpability for it (i.e., one's responsibility). You can perform an immoral act such as murder but, depending on the context, have little to no culpability. For example, if you performed murder under duress, if you were coerced into performing murder, or if you were raised in a culture that unanimously supported murder and you had no way to know better. All of those are examples of how someone could perform an objectively evil act with little to no culpability.

            Therefore, to say "killing heretics is immoral, but one isn't guilty of immorality depending on the circumstances" is to acknowledge both moral objectivity and culpability.

          • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

            "At least, that's what I hope you said, because it would be sad for me to discover that one of the most positive outcomes of dialogue here is an outcome I imagined."

            It somewhat concerns me that you think "one of the most positive outcomes of dialogue" here at Strange Notions is my apparent change of thought regarding Thomas Aquinas' reaction to heretics. (Considering, especially, that my view hasn't substantially changed.)

            That doesn't jive with the many other positive outcomes I've seen here...

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Brandon Rimmer

            I think that the most positive outcome of any healthy dialogue is when people change their minds. It means that the dialogue is working. Other positive outcomes in this dialogue:

            My evolution of thought on the problem of evil.
            The abandonment by some of the Kalam cosmological argument.
            My near complete change of mind about the historical relationship between Christianity and science.

            There are more specific examples I could offer, from both Christians and non-Christians who participate in these forums, but I don't want to speak for them. Also, it's reasonable that different people would find different purpose in this forum. Some may see it as a vehicle for conversion.

            It might be a good thing, maybe not yet, maybe a year or so down the road, to open up comments for ways this forum has changed people's minds. On both sides.

        • Danny Getchell

          I can easily envision a society in which Christianity itself is a "heretical view" which "threatens the social order". In fact, I can point to a couple of real world examples: Saudi Arabia for one, North Korea for another.

          Shall we introduce the goose to the gander and agree that those societies are entitled to repress Christianity on behalf of what they see as the "common good"?

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            And certainly it's the way that Christianity itself was regarded during the first centuries of its existence; after all, Christians, like Jews, were atheists (to the Romans).

          • http://www.credobiblestudy.com/ Irenaeus of New York

            Our government will put you death for the common good (i.e. Rosenbergs/captial crimes). When in the service I could have been put to death if I fell asleep on watch (common good). I can spend the rest of my life behind bars(worse than death to me) merely for tax evasion (common good). The list goes on and on.

            This generation does not claim the high ground compared to Aquinas with regard to "common good". Aquinas argument was applied to heretics undermining the state. The state was indivisibly tied to religion. To overthrow religion you had to overthrow the state. Aquinas easily foresaw the carnage that would be wrought because of such activity. When this happened during the Reformation, several million died as a result. Due to this history, the Vatican encouraged Christian countries to remove religious affiliations from their constitutions. And most all did.

          • David Nickol

            As a result of this history, the Vatican encouraged Christian countries to remove religious affiliations from their constitutions.

            When did the Vatican do this? How was it done? Is there a document you can refer to?

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            See my previous post.
            Martin Luther's Theses, 1519
            Wars of Religion, 16th centuryn (generally)
            Vatican II, 1960s.
            Pretty tenuous.

          • http://www.credobiblestudy.com/ Irenaeus of New York

            [---
            When did the Vatican do this? How was it done? Is there a document you can refer to?
            ---]
            As an implementation of VII. They worked with governments to reshape church state relations. The most important documents are probably Dignitatis Humanae, and Gaudium et spes.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            I don't see any indication that the Vatican "worked" with secular states to remove the entanglement if church with state; the documents express a pious wish for those states, but where do you see the Vatican actually working to remove itself, for example, from a position of influence?

          • David Nickol

            As an implementation of VII.

            Exactly how much credit are we supposed to give the Church for reversing course (to the extent that it did) after nearly two millennia?

            Here are two of the errors condemned in 1864 by Pope Pius IX in the Syllabus of Errors:

            77. In the present day it is no longer expedient that the Catholic religion should be held as the only religion of the State, to the exclusion of all other forms of worship. -- Allocution "Nemo vestrum," July 26, 1855.

            78. Hence it has been wisely decided by law, in some Catholic countries, that persons coming to reside therein shall enjoy the public exercise of their own peculiar worship. -- Allocution "Acerbissimum," Sept. 27, 1852.

            On the one hand, 1864 seems like a long time ago, but on the other hand, a view that prevailed until 1864 was the Church's view for 93% of its existence, and a change in policy that took place in 1965 changed something that was the prevailing view for 97.5% of life of the Church. If we are going to take the post-Vatican II Church as representative of Catholicism, we're going to erase a huge amount of history.

            Here's another error that was condemned in 1864:

            15. Every man is free to embrace and profess that religion which, guided by the light of reason, he shall consider true. -- Allocution "Maxima quidem," June 9, 1862; Damnatio "Multiplices inter," June 10, 1851.

          • http://www.credobiblestudy.com/ Irenaeus of New York

            I am aware of the Syllabus. And you are right, that the ideas on Church/State expressed in VII were a minority view for much of its history from Constantine, 4th century onward (not quite 93% as you claim, but admittedly large).

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            The Vatican didn't bother to do that until Dignitatis Humanae, during Vatican II. That's a pretty long time to claim some connection with events of the Reformation.

          • http://www.credobiblestudy.com/ Irenaeus of New York

            [---
            The Vatican didn't bother to do that until Dignitatis Humanae, during Vatican II. That's a pretty long time to claim some connection with events of the Reformation.
            ---]
            Yes, you are correct. The council brought dogmatic force to the ideas, but the ideas long preceded the council.

            I was not intending to connect the Reformation itself, but rather the underlying problem of church state relations exhibited there. A problem which has come to the surface time and time again throughout the history of the Church.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            Is there any actual documentation of the church encouraging a separation prior to Vatican II? I'm not aware of any.

          • https://twitter.com/liberteh Sean Alderman

            Shall we introduce the goose to the gander and agree that those societies are entitled to repress Christianity on behalf of what they see as the "common good"?

            To do so would have to assert that such government examples do anything for the "common" good at all, much less even have a reasonable definition of "good".

            China has forcefully aborted the 330,000,000 children and forcefully sterilized nearly 200,000,000 men and women under the 1 child policy over the last 40 years. Although I imagine many here would suggest the only oppressive feature in it is the fact that its forced. If it was individually chosen, then it would be good, right?

            I also oppose the death penalty here in the US/Ohio as well. I call the Governor's office on behalf of each inmate scheduled for execution, because we truly have no reasonable need to impose the death sentence. That said, there are places (and have been times) where the rule of law, the ability to detain criminals, and the ability to protect the people is not so well maintained. Don't you agree?

        • Loreen Lee

          Quote: But moral culpability depends on context,

          If only this distinction was made by the priests I have been involved with in confession. (I do appreciate the human vs. divine forgiveness distinction. as in The Word made Flesh Confession can be recognized as an objective, even divine means of resolution) Perhaps I can therefore distinguish between the 'evidence' I find that Jesus does not 'judge' or condemn, but that his followers, after his ascent into heaven, do make condemning remarks about male prostitution, etc. Thanks for further distinctions between the theological and historical everyone..

        • David Nickol

          But moral culpability depends on context . . . .

          This applies not just to Thomas Aquinas, but to everyone who has ever lived. Also, as I understand Catholic thought, it gets no one off the hook who should have known better. One might argue that Aquinas was a product of his time and could not have thought otherwise. But one might argue that if anyone at the time ought to have known better, it was Thomas Aquinas. Would you argue that anyone who goes along with anything because, given the age in which that person lives, a good case could be made for it?

          Assuming the Catholic viewpoint (as best I understand it), it can't be said that Aquinas was or was not morally culpable for justifying the killing of heretics or the mistreatment of Jews. Because Aquinas was canonized, Catholics can assume he is in heaven. But that doesn't mean he didn't spend a long, long time in purgatory for some of the ideas he justified or endorsed. Only God (again, according to the Catholic viewpoint as I understand it) is capable of deciding what Aquinas should have figured out for himself, even if it meant breaking with near-universally accepted moral reasoning of his times.

    • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

      "If the Catholic Church of today (including apologists here) were to unequivocally declare that punishment (civil or clerical) for any public expression of religious views is wrong, I'd be more than happy to take the Inquisition (or the Albigensian Crusade, which to me is far more egregious) off the table for keeps."

      Thanks for the comment, Danny! It's not clear to me how those two issues are related. How does the belief of contemporary apologists about religious liberty concern the objective defensibility of the Inquisition or Crusades? It seems like your bartering with veracity instead of examining each topic independently and, to the extent possible, objectively.

      Nevertheless, I'd like to address the first issue by way of clarification. You insinuate that "any public expression of religious views" should be free of civil or clerical punishment. But if that's the case--and correct me if I'm wrong--then would you agree that extremist Muslim terrorists, whose religious views compel them to murder, or aggressive missionaries, whose faith inspires violent proselytization, should escape punishment or legal restriction?

      • Danny Getchell

        Until they carry their views to the point of actual or attempted harm to others, yes.

        • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

          So you don't think the government should suppress extremist Muslims from publicly expressing their intention to murder people?

          • Danny Getchell

            The distinction between preaching a different doctrine, preaching hatred, and direct incitement to violence might get blurred sometimes. Can I try a 16th century example?

            "The doctrine of purgatory and the sale of indulgences is a dangerous and corrupt one, and I encourage all to reject it" - deserving only of competition in the arena of ideas.

            "The doctrine of purgatory and the sale of indulgences is a dangerous and corrupt one, and I encourage all to reject it, and furthermore to sack the cathedral and hang the bishop" - a clear incitement to violence and I would agree prosecutable.

            Now would St. Thomas, had he lived three centuries later, recognize the difference??

      • Danny Getchell

        It's not clear to me how those two issues are related

        Ah, perhaps I wasn't clear. My intent was to reply to Tim's (correct) statements about the Inquisition's victim count by noting that the numbers aren't important. If the Church's official doctrine allowed for the burning of heretics and they did in fact do so, whether it was a million, or ten thousand, or fifty is an issue only of degree.

        • Guest

          The Church's official doctrine was that heresy disobeyed natural law, and that if the state made it a crime punishable by death, they were in their rights to do so. The Church didn't actually execute anyone themselves.

          • severalspeciesof

            That the church didn't do the actual dirty work doesn't give it a free pass. By not objecting to the punishment of death, it's a tacit admission of approval (was there a public admonition by the church against the punishment by death, at the time?).

            Glen

  • Loreen Lee

    Procedure: 1. Heuristic 2. Criticism 3. Synthesis and Exposition. This would be a concrete exemplification, I believe, of Hegel's Dialectical process he presents in his Logic: i.e. 1. Thesis 2. Anti-thesis 3. Synthesis.

    Possibly this is the dynamic form that is contrasted with mathematical form. Although I don't know where to look for chapter and verse, the process examined in his book outlines how it would apply to everything from the most original/primitive? manifestations of mind (being, nothingness, becoming) through a mathematical model of quanta to the unfolding of an Absolute Spirit. I have only reviewed the headings, in order to grasp the structure.

    Kant's antinomies may also provide a basic structure for exploring opposites, such as contrasts between empirical realities and transcendental ideas. Just a thought.

    • Loreen Lee

      I have been reading on-line information available regarding Kant's concept of 'schema or schemata'. This experience made the reasons for my interest in such problems as that of demarcation, the introspection which was unfortunately not resolved in the suggestion it had to do with cognitive dissonance, and even my comments above, more conscious to me. It also explains my interest in structures generally.
      May I recommend that you Google 'Immanuel Kant - schemata', if only to read up on the Wikipedia article that is available. I'm sure that as scientists you will 'get much more' from the article than is possible within my merely personal interest in the problems of integrating our understanding of philosophy and science, as well as that of naturalism and religion. Thank you.

  • tz1

    Both the Roman emperors and Jesus claimed godship. The historical records of the former lack the miraculous. The latter said even if you didn't believe the words, believe the miracles. Tacitus is dryer than John.

    • M. Solange O’Brien

      I don't agree. Tacitus is way more exciting. And there are records of miracles attributed to the roman emperors.

    • M. Solange O’Brien

      And as Bart Ehrman points out in his new book, it's not at all clear that Christ DID claim to be god.

      • Loreen Lee

        Horray! I have come across this idea myself. He is always placing the greatness of the Father before himself. This drew from me the thesis that the elevation of the shepherd as teacher and healer, (and miracle worked) developed in Theological intensity. after what could be considered merely 'historical' events came to a conclusion.. But if you read the Gospel of John, it will give you a very different perspective. (Dear monitors: a heresy from a questioning Catholic, granted!!!!)

      • http://www.credobiblestudy.com/ Irenaeus of New York

        [---
        And as Bart Ehrman points out in his new book, it's not at all clear that Christ DID claim to be god.
        ---]
        There are many factual problems in the videos I watched with Erhman. So many glaring ones that I wondered if they were intentional.

        In short, Jesus claimed many times to be the "Son of God". The son of duck is a duck. The Son of God is God.

        Mt. 26:63-64;Mk. 14:61-62;Lk. 22:70;Jn. 10:30 - Jesus claims to be the Son of God.

        Jn. 20:28 - St. Thomas addresses Jesus as "My Lord and my God!".

        Ex. 3:14 - In the Old Testament, God reveals His name as "I AM who AM".

        Jn. 8:24,58 - In the New Testament, Jesus says of Himself, "Before Abraham was, I AM".

        Mt. 2:2,11;8:2;14:33;28:9;28:17;Lk. 24:52;Jn. 9:38 – Jesus allows Jews to worship Him. Only God can be worshipped.

        Mt. 9:2;Mk. 2:5;Lk. 5:20;7:48 – Jesus forgives sins. Only God can forgive sins.

        Mt. 4:7;Lk. 4:12 – Jesus tells Satan, "you shall not tempt the Lord your God" in reference to Himself.

        Mt. 12:8;Mk. 2:28;Lk. 6:5 - Jesus says that He is "Lord of the Sabbath." He is the Lawgiver. He is God.

        • M. Solange O’Brien

          No. As Ehrman explains, "son of god" in the actual context of the period doesn't really mean, "hi, I'm god." Try reading his book.

          • http://www.credobiblestudy.com/ Irenaeus of New York

            I would be happy to. What is its name? It would be nice to see someone present the claims as a column.

          • Michael Murray

            I assume this one

            http://www.amazon.com/How-Jesus-Became-God-Exaltation-ebook/dp/B00DB39V2Q/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1397270136&sr=1-1&keywords=bart+ehrman

            It includes this quote:

            One of the enduring findings of modern scholarship on the New Testament and early Christianity over the past two centuries is that the followers of Jesus, during his life, understood him to be human through and through, not God.

          • http://www.credobiblestudy.com/ Irenaeus of New York

            Oh boy, the title itself already has it backwards. Jesus did not become God. God became Jesus.

            Thanks, I will check to see if my library has it.

            [---
            the followers of Jesus, during his life, understood him to be human through and through, not God.
            ---]
            Jn. 20:28 - St. Thomas addresses Jesus as "My Lord and my God!"

          • Michael Murray

            I'll let you sort out the title with him. Published March 25. I don't know how fast you library is. It's around $15 (depending what kind of dollars you use) on Kindle. He gives reasons for disregarding John on the question of what does history tells us the followers of Jesus though of his divinity during his existence.

          • http://www.credobiblestudy.com/ Irenaeus of New York

            [---
            He gives reasons for disregarding John
            ---]

            In order to come up with a title that, one would have to ignore the gospel evidence, epistles, and the church fathers of the 1st-3rd centuries.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee by Bart D. Ehrman http://www.amazon.com/dp/0061778184/ref=cm_sw_r_udp_awd_ig3stb0DH3CZ8

        • David Nickol

          In short, Jesus claimed many times to be the "Son of God". The son of a duck is a duck. The Son of God is God.

          I have just finished reading the entry for Son of God in McKenzie's Dictionary of the Bible, and based on that, I would say the statement above is not just vastly oversimplified, but false. Here is the last paragraph of the entry:

          In the NT "Son of God" is a soteriological rather than a metaphysical title. The unique relation of Jesus the Son of God with the Father enables Him to mediate between the Father and mankind and gives His saving acts and His intercession a unique efficacy. Were He not the Son, it is inconceivable that men should receive the adoption which he confers, which is a far more intimate union with God than the OT adoption of Israel. Were He not the Son, the Father could not have for Him the love that makes His offering of Himself so acceptable. There are, of course, metaphysical implications in the title, and these implications are the source of the great theological discussions of the 3rd-5th centuries AD; but the NT itself is not explicitly conscious of these metaphysical implications and therefore does not answer explicitly the metaphysical questions which can be asked.

          • http://www.credobiblestudy.com/ Irenaeus of New York

            [---
            but the NT itself is not explicitly conscious of these metaphysical implications....and therefore does not answer explicitly the metaphysical questions
            ---]

            Right. The NT was "implicitly" conscious. And it "implicitly" aswers the metaphysical questions.

            The title "Son of God" carried real implications about His Divinity that the apostles obviously considered because they wrote about His Divinity, and the disciples of the disciples wrote about it. In the minds of the Evangelists Jesus Christ was the Messiah because He was the "Son of God", and not the "Son of God" simply because He was the Messiah. As the OT clearly spells out, the Messiah would be "God with Us". The theological discussions mentioned in the 200's-400's existed because heretics began to question the nature of Christ. The heresy may have been new, but the knowledge that Christ was also God was not.

        • Loreen Lee

          Then why is it written in the New Testament, that Jesus says to the apostles: Who's sins that you have forgiven, they are forgiven, who's sins you retain, they are retained. (I know this is reconciliation (to the church?) but it's confusing.

          • http://www.credobiblestudy.com/ Irenaeus of New York

            It is because the apostles were the first priests/bishops who were given the power(as a conduit from Christ) to retain or loose sins of the penitents.

          • Loreen Lee

            But it still is a reconciliation rather than a certain forgiveness, and then we can always be like Lot's wife, and turn back and sin again.

            P.S. I tested the relation of sense to different objects (in my mind/memory), and found there was a great variation in the number and kinds of senses that were so related. So what you said about fulfillment, I now understand within this context, (fulfillment: whether as happiness, wholeness/holiness, or beatitude). Kant defines at least six kinds of beauty, for instance, from beauty based on pleasure, to a 'sense'? of moral beauty. Very interesting. Thanks for your comments.
            (P.S. Fortunately, I've never been denied reconciliation! Wouldn't want to imagine what that would be like, although I find it within human relationships all the time.!!!!)

      • Reason

        What of the claim to forgive sins? "Now unless the speaker is God, this is really so preposterous as to be comic. We can all understand how a man forgives offences against himself. You tread on my toe and I forgive you, you steal my money and I forgive you. But what should we make of a man, himself unrobbed and untrodden on, who announced that he forgave you for treading on other men’s toes and stealing other men’s money? Asinine fatuity is the kindest description we should give of his conduct. Yet this is what Jesus did. He told people that their sins were forgiven, and never waited to consult all the other people whom their sins had undoubtedly injured. He unhesitatingly behaved as if He was the party chiefly concerned; the person chiefly offended in all offences. This makes sense only if He really was the God whose laws are broken and whose love is wounded in every sin. In the mouth of any speaker who is not God, these words would imply what I can only regard as a silliness and conceit unrivalled by any other character in history." -- C.S. Lewis

        • M. Solange O’Brien

          Your sins are forgiven you isn't exactly the same as I forgive you your sins. I think that's the heart of where Ehrman is going. I haven't gotten my copy of the book yet (Amazon doesn't deliver to the mid-Pacific ocean). :-)

          • http://www.credobiblestudy.com/ Irenaeus of New York

            [---
            Your sins are forgiven you isn't exactly the same as I forgive you your sins.
            ---]
            Perhaps, but not in this case, the most plausible is the traditional understanding.

            "Son, thy sins are forgiven thee. And there were some of the scribes sitting there, and thinking in their hearts: Why doth this man speak thus? he blasphemeth. Who can forgive sins, but God only? Which Jesus presently knowing in his spirit, that they so thought within themselves, saith to them: Why think you these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the sick of the palsy: Thy sins are forgiven thee; or to say: Arise, take up thy bed, and walk?"

            After being called a blasphemer for equating Himself with God, Jesus feels the need to explain what He did was much easier than the miracles He was working wherein He was praised.

    • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/ Tim O’Neill

      You seem to have missed the bit in Tacitus where he describes the miracles of Vespasian, including healing a blind man in a story that sounds remarkably like one about Jesus. Then there is Caesar's ascension into heaven after his death and Augustus' miraculous conception. These are all to be found in the historical records of the Roman emperors (Tacitus, Suetonius, Dio etc)

    • Loreen Lee

      The distinction is that in the case of Jesus, The Word was made Flesh, and in the case of the Roman emperors it was a 'movement' from man to god, (which could be thought of as arrogance even). I have become aware of many beliefs within both the Roman and Jewish culture which provide me with an explanation of how the interpretation of Jesus 'developed', from the pre-existence of beliefs in resurrection, (not sure whether human or divine) to the development of philosophical ideas of the Logos. That there were such a variety of heresies merely demonstrates how difficult it was to sort out, even at the time, the distinction between the Theological and the Historical.

      As a disagreement, Jesus makes a statement in gospel text (my memory) of how 'grieved?' he is that people can only understand the 'miracles' and not his 'Word'. I believe we are speaking of the same text, which demonstrates how differently the meaning of words can be interpreted. However, I also questioned my understanding, when I read something that suggested to me that Jesus wanted the people to be followers, rather than be granted immediate forgiveness, as for a particular individual.who did seem to understand. But on thinking this over, it makes sense, in that the world was not 'about to end', that he preached that the crucifixion and resurrection were necessary, that his salvation was universal, and that the 'time had not come'.

  • http://www.2catholicmen.blogspot.com/ Ben @ 2CM

    Interesting stuff...
    “It is quite often forgotten that the full truth of history eludes documentary
    verification just as much as the truth of being escapes the experimental
    approach. So it must be said that historical science in the narrowest sense of
    the term not only reveals, but also conceals history.”
    - Professor Joseph Ratzinger from his book "Introduction to Christianity".

    • M. Solange O’Brien

      "The quarrels of popes and kings, with wars or pestilences, in every page; the men all so good for nothing, and hardly any women at all—it is very tiresome: and yet I often think it odd that it should be so dull, for a great deal of it must be invention. The speeches that are put into the heroes' mouths, their thoughts and designs—the chief of all this must be invention, and invention is what delights me in other books."

      Jane Austen

      • http://www.2catholicmen.blogspot.com/ Ben @ 2CM

        Non-Heuristic.

    • Loreen Lee

      Although, in Continental philosophy I disagree with many developments such as the preference for emphasis on desire rather than will, I have read many texts that point to the relation between revelation and concealment, even within a natural context. I have always found in life that a main purpose of developing increased understanding is the development of the ability to discern what within every philosophy and even every 'human context' should be adopted. Interpretation is vital in determining what apples and oranges etc. to pick from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. And as the biblical text demonstrates, sometimes it is best not to 'eat' them.

    • Loreen Lee

      I have found an inconsistency in my comments, (an objective bias perhaps) regarding the difference in the way I have presented justification for Nietzsche's Will to Power and my critique of such philosophical explorations of concepts such as desire, prostitution, etc. etc. within Continental Philosophy. True, it is not always the case that the distinction between analysis and whether a recommendation to adopt the thought explored is made, as in the case of Nietzsche. Indeed, it is not always clear what the intention of the author is, and whether the writings might indeed be based on an 'objective bias'.

      As I am past the age where I can sit down and read philosophy texts, I am merely attempting to consolidate and become more conscious of what my beliefs actually are. Flaubert: I write in order to understand my beliefs. Perhaps indeed, I have learned enough from life experience to compensate for my inability to explore, with the Continental Philosophers, the 'dark side' of human experience.

  • Tony Hoffman

    With all due respect, I think that what many defenders of the historical Jesus miss is that the mythicist position only boils down to the modest claim that an actual man named Jesus need not have existed for Christianity to have proceeded exactly as it has.

    The fact that the time was one rich with many individuals preaching a messianic, eschatological message, that there are no relics relating to the individual (no tomb veneration, etc.) that we'd expect, that evangelists and other inheritors of a movement find it useful to exaggerate or invent their ties to a mythologized past, along with the case of Hannibal you mention (not to mention Socrates, and mythological figures and avatars like Hercules and Dionysius, et al.), all muddy the waters where cult-like movements need not have a historical personage at their base.

    And that is the valid point that the mythicists make. Yeah, I'm sure some of them go beyond that, but I don't think you've made the case where being indifferent, or even leaning toward skepticism, concerning the need for an individual Jesus likely having been the cause of the Christian religion can be dismissed as untenable. I think it's a plausible explanation, one that makes little difference, but certainly not ahistorical.

    • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/ Tim O’Neill

      "the mythicist position only boils down to the modest claim that an
      actual man named Jesus need not have existed for Christianity to have
      proceeded exactly as it has."

      Unfortunately because the Mythicists can't produce evidence of the mythic proto-Christianity that their thesis requires, even this modest claim fails.

      "cult-like movements need not have a historical personage at their base"

      But they often do. And when they do, they leave behind the kind of traces we find for this Jesus. But we don't have any evidence for the mythic proto-Christianity the Mythicist idea requires. So historians (as opposed to polemticists and ranters) go where the evidence DOES point, not where it doesn't.

      "that is the valid point that the mythicists make."

      Valid, but evidentially flawed. And so unconvincing to pretty much everyone who doesn't have an emotional stake in the question.

      • Tony Hoffman

        TO: "Unfortunately because the Mythicists can't produce evidence of the mythic proto-Christianity that their thesis requires, even this modest claim fails."

        Not sure I follow you here. The evidence for the mythic proto-Christianity would be, well, the formative milieu (approximately 1st Century, really) before Christianity. It sounds to me that you're saying that we need to find evidence for a proto-King Arthur, or a proto-Robin Hood, or a proto Mithras, etc., in order to consider a mythic origin as an explanation for these legends, etc. But I assume I'm just misunderstanding you.

        TO: "Valid, but evidentially flawed. And so unconvincing to pretty much everyone who doesn't have an emotional stake in the question."

        Well, I don't think I have an emotional stake in the question -- I think that there was probably a man named Jesus who had followers and died, for instance. But I also think that his actual existence -- as we often say about a Socrates -- matters very little, and that is because what makes this man historically significant isn't what he did while he was alive, but what the generations of his followers afterwards came to believe about him. And there are so many layers of supernatural and mythical piled on those beliefs about this man, and so many elements borrowed from the prevailing milieu, that I think dismissing mythicism as a kind of ahistorical leap risks wiping these more nuanced issues under the table.

        • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/ Tim O’Neill

          "But I assume I'm just
          misunderstanding you."

          I think you are. The " the formative milieu (approximately 1st Century, really) before Christianity" actually isn't sufficient on its own to account for a mythic Jesus that gets "ehumerised" into a historical one. To begin with, we'd need evidence of a strand of Second Temple Jewish thought that not only saw the Messiah as a celestial being (because that existed in the Judaism of the time), but only saw him as that and never expected this being to manifest himself in human form. We have no such evidence. We'd also need to find evidence of a strand of Second Temple Jewish thought that expected a messiah who would (somehow) suffer and die in a salvific sacrifice (while somehow doing this in a purely celestial realm, because he isn't a human). We don't find that either.

          More importantly, the Mythicists themselves claim that there was a proto-Christian sect or sects that believed in a purely mythic/celestial Jesus and that the historical Jesus sect that became Christianity evolved out of it. So it's not me positing this imagined sect, it's them. When it comes to explaining why there is no evidence to suggest any such sect, they have to fall back on conspiracy theories.

          It needs to be asked why, for example, we have extensive anti-"heretical" apologetics which detail variant forms of early Christianity, many of them small and some of them long since vanished, only to condemn and refute them but which makes no mention of this celestial Jesus variant. Surely a sect that not only claimed to be the original Christianity but which would be making a legitimate claim to be such should feature prominently in this literature. Yet we get not a whisper. Or why, given that according to some Mythicists this alternative Christianity existed in parallel with its historicist offspring and rival well into the second or even third century, do none of the opponents of Christianity make use of it in their arguments? Surely pointing to a variant that said Jesus never existed at all would be a killer argument in the hands of a Celsus or a Trypho. But again, nothing. This makes zero sense.

          "But I also think that his actual existence -- as we often say about a Socrates -- matters very little"

          Fine. I happen to find history interesting for its own sake. I also consider the origins of a religion that shaped western culture, for better or for worse, a fairly important historical question. As is the question of who the man who is worshipped as a god by billions actually was. And then there is my interest in how ideology drives certain fringe historical theories. If these questions don't interest you then that's your business, but they interest me greatly.

          "I think dismissing mythicism as a kind of ahistorical leap risks wiping these more nuanced issues under the table."

          I think exposing Mythicism to sustained critical scrutiny actually does exactly the opposite.

          • Tony Hoffman

            TO: "To begin with, we'd need evidence of a strand of Second Temple Jewish thought that not only saw the Messiah as a celestial being (because that existed in the Judaism of the time), but only saw him as that and never expected this being to manifest himself in human form."

            I don't know if I agree with this requirement. I think it would be sufficient to observe that proselytizers often embellish historical antecedents as a means of legitimizing their authority, and that it's permissible to speculate that Christianity becomes the branch you describe. I think this should be weighed against the evidence for a historical figure, mind you, but I think that the existence of this behavior would be sufficient to consider the possibility of a mythical Jesus developing in this way. (Btw, I consider a Jesus who would be surprised to find out what his followers believed about him a hundred years later to be a mythical Jesus, but maybe you would consider this same Jesus to be historical.)

            TO: "More importantly, the Mythicists themselves claim that there was a proto-Christian sect or sects that believed in a purely mythic/celestial Jesus and that the historical Jesus sect that became Christianity evolved out of it. So it's not me positing this imagined sect, it's them. When it comes to explaining why there is no evidence to suggest any such sect, they have to fall back on conspiracy theories."

            I did not know about the claim for a pre-existing sect. This is different than what I understand as necessary for a mythical Jesus, so what you say above makes sense to me regarding our disagreement.

            TO: "Fine. I happen to find history interesting for its own sake. I also consider the origins of a religion that shaped western culture, for better or for worse, a fairly important historical question."

            I agree entirely. I just think you may be conflating the excesses of some irresponsible mythers with regard to the legitimate question of how much mythologizing (exaggerating, inventing, borrowing from other traditions, etc.) are responsible for the origins of Christianity. No doubt you would attribute some of this (exaggeration, invention, borrowing from other traditions) to the stories told about Jesus in the Gospels and the NT, so I think it's worth considering deeply how this interplay with "real" historical events and later expansion on these events occurred. Part of this, it seems to me, would be the question of what is necessary to explain everything in the Jesus story, and I am not completely convinced that a historical Jesus is even necessary. After all, if we're going to add a birth story, supernatural events, characters and places, etc. into a story, how important is the historical existence of a person who may or may not recognize what his subsequent followers came to believe about him?

            I think the question becomes, When later generations start to aggrandize and attribute to a person legendary events and achievements, at what point do we determine that the legendary character we're talking about is no longer the mundane one who actually existed? If Paul et al. who followed Jesus built Christianity on top of a real itinerant preacher, about whom we actually know very little except for what are probably some of his teachings, how much of a historical person can we even say exists?

          • Loreen Lee

            I always find it interesting when reading 'gospel' how the source of the information given could be explained by the narrator. No doubt the Virgin could have told John about the birth, etc. but how do you explain knowledge of what Jesus said in private to persons like the women at the well, when there is no logical or historical explanation as to how that information was gained?

          • Tony Hoffman

            Right, and of course, for centuries scholars have looked at ways to distill down to the historical Jesus, eliminating these embellishments -- Thomas Jefferson removed all the supernatural stories from the Gospels in an attempt to get at the real Jesus, and I believe that alongside or as part of Q it is supposed that there existed an account of Jesus's sayings or teachings, etc, that probably informed all of the Gospels. But I believe that Acts and what is considered authentic from Paul are considered earlier, and I agree that these give us better reasons to believe that a historical Jesus did exist.

            Still, I think it's worth considering that what we know of Jesus may be too scanty to be worth considering historical. I also suppose that some people, and not just Christians, don't really like the idea that broader events and later opportunists can be, from a historical perspective, more important than the individual that served as a placeholder for broader concepts. Think about the historical record for Hamlet or King Lear, compared to the literature developed around them, etc.

            And that is, I suppose, why I remain sympathetic to the mythicists; I think that by raising the topic, they draw attention to the fact that Christianity was probably manufactured, and probably only could have been manufactured, long after a man named Jesus had faded from the memories of those who would have known him.

          • Loreen Lee

            In my attempt to 'understand Jesus', I have also found reference to certain teachings that he is said to have communicated to the Apostles, but which do not appear in the gospels themselves, possibly for the reason that the general public could not understand them. Although it is held in Buddhist philosophy, for instance, that the seer only gives a person what he is capable of receiving, also, the tradition of developing internal spiritual growth is generally, (I feel) less pronounced within the Western tradition. May I suggest that there is more evidence of the intention to control and that power relations also enter into the dynamic.
            That is one of the reasons why I interpret, for instance Nietzsche's writings on the will to power, for instance, and what may be considered a negative response to or rejection of Schopenhauer's philosophy generally, as well as his rejection of the 'sheep mentality', as reasonable critique, although some of the consequences and ways in which his philosophy has been interpreted, is 'unfortunate'. "Human all too human" is a comment made by Nietzsche that strikes to the heart of the matter. That is one of the reasons I feel it is important to attempt to understand the person, and not just his/her writings and/or the logical arguments.. Even in this dialogue.

          • http://www.credobiblestudy.com/ Irenaeus of New York

            [---
            ...but how do you explain knowledge of what Jesus said in private to persons like the women at the well
            ---]
            The women at the well went back to the village and related the events.... how else would she convince people to come out of the city and meet Him.

            The woman therefore left her water pot, and went her way into the city, and saith to the men there: Come, and see a man who has told me all things whatsoever I have done. Is not he the Christ? They went therefore out of the city, and came unto him.

          • Loreen Lee

            Thank you Irenaeus. There are other cases as well however, but I shall attempt to resolve them as per your example, one at a time as I run across them again. .
            I am also interested in the reason why so many actions of Jesus are conveyed in the gospels, such as the miracles, but that I also believe it would have been profitable (for myself I feel at least) to have been told was said in those teachings, which are often referred to but not disclosed.

            I am however, beginning to understand how the gospels are interpreted each Sunday. I do understand that the actions are significant for a comprehension of His message, and that the gospels seem to be interpreted almost as more of a dramatic text (i.e. the interaction is essential) rather than a mere narrative. In the first case perhaps the symbolism to the Theological (although this topic is beyond my ken) is best achieved this way. In the second case, perhaps this is done with the purpose of showing the nature, (or character, or holiness/wholeness) of Jesus, (whether human or Divine?) Thanks for the lesson in exegesis/hermeneutics!!!!!

          • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/ Tim O’Neill

            I wrote a long reply to this yesterday, which the hopeless Discus comment interface swallowed whole. I'll see if I can reconstruct it:

            " I think it would be sufficient to observe that proselytizers often
            embellish historical antecedents as a means of legitimizing their
            authority, and that it's permissible to speculate that Christianity
            becomes the branch you describe."

            Your problem here is, as I noted, the lack of any relevant "historical antecedents" for it to embellish. There were varieties of Messianic expectation in this period, but all of them involved the Messiah being a human being intervening in history. He may have had a celestial pre-existence or even a prior historical manifestation, but the whole idea was that he was going to be a historical human. So it's not an 'embellishment" of these expectations for there to be (somehow) a non-historical Messiah that (somehow) got forgotten and then became seen as a historical Messiah. It's actually contrary to all of the relevant historical antecedents. And there's the problem.

            "I think
            this should be weighed against the evidence for a historical figure"

            Yes, it should. And this is where the principle of parsimony comes into play, as I detail in my article above. Historical analysis is about trying to determine the argument to the best explanation - the one that accounts for the most evidence with the least number of ad hoc suppositions. The idea that the stories about Jesus have a historical Jesus who lived in the early first century as their basis does this. After all, all the evidence we have about him tell us that this was the case. And we have no evidence at all that indicates some kind of "mythic Jesus" alternative, such as a remnant of a Jesus sect which believed in a purely mythic Jesus. Attempts at explaining the later stories of a historical Jesus by reference to an earlier, mythic Jesus proto-sect that these stories evolved out of are based on pure supposition - there is no evidence for such a thing, it's mere wishful thinking as a way of propping up the mythic Jesus idea.

            "I did not know about the claim for a pre-existing sect."

            It's required by the Mythicist hypothesis. Some who try to reject the idea of historical Jesus just nitpick at the evidence for him and then stop. When challenged to come up with a more parsimonious explanation for how the stories about Jesus arose in the form that we have, they usually fall silent or dodge the challenge.

            Smarter Mythicists, however, understand historical analysis well enough to realise that they are required to meet this challenge. And it's here that the wheels really fall off the Mythicist bandwagon, because there is simply no evidence for any mythic Jesus proto-sect. So they are reduced to building fantasy castles of suppositions and wishful thinking, propped up with excuses for a total lack of evidence with some conspiracy theories thrown in for good measure.

            "I think it's worth considering deeply how this interplay with "real"
            historical events and later expansion on these events occurred."

            So do I. So we use the techniques I detail in my article above and use the principle of parsimony to arrive at the argument to the best explanation. And we get to a historical Jesus living in the early first century AD. The alternatives are based on suppositions and a priori wishful thinking and don't stand up to Occam's Razor.

          • Tony Hoffman

            Thank you for (re)writing your response; I hate it when that happens to me.

            TO: "Your problem here is, as I noted, the lack of any relevant "historical antecedents" for it to embellish. There were varieties of Messianic expectation in this period, but all of them involved the Messiah being a human being intervening in history. He may have had a celestial pre-existence or even a prior historical manifestation, but the whole idea was that he was going to be a historical human. So it's not an 'embellishment" of these expectations for there to be (somehow) a non-historical Messiah that (somehow) got forgotten and then became seen as a historical Messiah. It's actually contrary to all of the relevant historical antecedents. And there's the problem."

            I think maybe you're misunderstanding me, and maybe that's because I'm defending something that may not be considered mythicism.

            I'm suggesting that the Jesus movement was novel (didn't have an antecedent), in that it first proposed that a supposedly failed messianic leader was indeed the messiah, but a different kind of messiah than was expected (failed, and dead -- messiahs' probably don't fail much more than that). So, Paul (et al.) developed a hybrid theology that transformed the prediction of a messiah from the expected one (alive and conquering), into a novel one (dead, celestial, influenced by Platonism, etc.). Someone had to develop this notion for the firs time, and I'm just suggesting that Christians were those ones.

            And what may have made this work, in fact what it required, was a dead man who wouldn't disagree with this new theology. The progression, the process, was something like this: 1) Failed messiah(s) die and leave fragmented, disappointed followers, 2) a second wave of theologians "makes sense" of this environment by proposing a new kind of religious movement, one that incorporates an already dead messiah, Jewish traditions, and eastern-influenced religions. All of these, I believe, are pre-existing antecedents, and Christian leaders (like Paul) strung them together to create a new religion.

            So, the version of "mythicism" I am proposing allows for a "real" Jesus, but one that did not really invent Christianity as we know it -- the kind that holds to a dead messiah, and looks for a second coming. This is, I think, parsimonious, and does incorporate all the data and antecedents (knowns around the period). It does not require the whole invention of a man who didn't exist, but it does require the re-invention/re-casting of a man who probably preached a different theological message. I consider this transformation by the creators of Christianity (post Jesus death) to be a version of mythicism, because it assumes that Paul et al. created Christianity as we know it, and that Jesus was not intrinsic to the theology of Christianity. Does that still seem ahistorical to you?

          • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/ Tim O’Neill

            "I think maybe you're misunderstanding me, and maybe that's because I'm defending something that may not be considered mythicism."

            I did misunderstand you and that's because what you're describing isn't Mythicism at all. In fact, it's effectively what all mainstream non-Christian (and some liberal Christian) scholars think happened. And what I think happened as well. Except it is unlikely that Paul was the one who came up with this - he got it from the first followers. His main innovation seems to have been around where gentiles fit into this new Messianic idea.

          • Tony Hoffman

            Sorry for being confusing. I think maybe this is part of the problem -- that the term "a historical Jesus" connotes that the Jesus and events of the Bible are considered historical facts, and that as a reaction to this (too) many people like myself think that the embellishments, etc. are correctly classified as "mythical." I don't think I've been aware enough of this problem regarding the terms surrounding NT study, and certainly not careful enough.

            Of course, I'm not too broken up over my casual use of the terms -- after having legions of apologists drone on about all the "historical facts" surrounding the resurrection, that people who agree with my assessment are "mythic fringers" who are scoffed at by serious historians, etc., I can only accept so much of the blame for this.

          • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/ Tim O’Neill

            "the term "a historical Jesus" connotes that the Jesus and events of the Bible are considered historical facts"

            The term is never used that way in the scholarship - quite the opposite. The term "historical Jesus" is always used in direct contrast to "the Jesus of faith" or "the Jesus of the gospels". The "historical Jesus" means the human preacher, minus any assumptions about miracles or supernatural claims.

          • Tony Hoffman

            I understand this, but I think that "the historical Jesus" could easily encompass a number of other implausible, non-supernatural "facts" about Jesus that borrow from what I would call "mythic" elements. For instance, there is nothing supernatural about Jesus being born in Bethlehem, but this is almost certainly a strained embellishment in service of theological (supernatural?) requirements for a Messiah. Throw in an encounter with John the Baptist, some donkey riding, etc., and I think it's forgivable to ask at what point these non-supernatural embellishments, in service of mythical prototypes or antecedents or prophesies, are considered historical or mythical. It seems to me that they're kind of both.

          • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/ Tim O’Neill

            It's still muddling terms to use "mythic" when what you actually mean is "non-historical" - they don't mean the same thing. What we do with those elements is examine them using the techniques to try to determine how likely or unlikely it is they are historical. Sometimes we simply can't. But taking the examples you mention: the Bethlehem stories are unlikely to be historical and ditto for the donkey ride into Jerusalem. Whereas the John the Baptist encounters are very likely to have a historical basis.

          • Tony Hoffman

            Tony Hoffman: "Whereas the John the Baptist encounters are very likely to have a historical basis."

            I'm poking around and catching back up on this thread, and I have to say that there appear to be perfectly reasonable mythical antecedents to the John the Baptist story -- from Zoroaster to Psalms, Genesis, and Isaiah. And, assuming that the John the Baptist sect had a large enough following to encourage Christian co-opting, the the John the Baptist encounter seems very plausible as a mythical and practical embellishment of the Gospel writers.

            And furthermore, when you write that "the Bethlehem stories are unlikely to be historical and ditto for the donkey ride into Jerusalem," I think you would allow that not only are they likely not historical, but they also have clear mythical antecedents.

            So I remain curious if you remain steadfast in your assertion that the mythicist position is devoid of evidence -- because the more I look around, the more mythical antecedents I see in the Gospel stories.

          • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/ Tim O’Neill

            "So I remain curious if you remain steadfast in your assertion that the mythicist position is devoid of evidence -- because the more I look around, the more mythical antecedents I see in the Gospel stories."

            Because it's easy to find supposed "mythical antecedents" for pretty much anything if you "look around" long enough. That is not good enough evidence that something is a myth. I can find "mythical antecedents" for many of the stories about Augustus as well. Augustus remains a historical person despite this. Your methodology is too weak.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            Really? What mythical antecedents exist for Augustus.

          • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/ Tim O’Neill

            Look at his conception - his mother was visited by the god Apollo in the form of a snake. Myth! According to your methodology, we should therefore doubt he ever existed. See the problem?

          • Tony Hoffman

            My methodology is too look at all the data concerning Jesus, and to see what most parsimoniously explains all that data. I am not advocating, nor do I think I am adopting, a non-historical approach, and I think that your requirement that we find something like a proto-sect of Christianity that believed in a celestial Jesus is wrong on at least two fronts: one, given the acknowledged paucity of evidence that we have, and the later destruction of texts and traditions that were seen as threatening to Catholic orthodoxy, it is not surprising that evidence for a mythical Jesus sect would be spare or non-existent; and two, I think that we do have evidence for something like a celestial Jesus -- not only can we interpret much of Paul as regarding a celestial Jesus, but I understand the Gnostics as representing what you say did not exist -- a sect of Christians who seemed to regard Jesus as a celestial being who one could come to know through reflection, meditation, visions, etc.

            Of course we can find mythical antecedents for some stories about Augustus. But we also have loads of other mundane evidence regarding Augustus -- coins, monuments, histories, etc. Why would Jesus leave none of these things behind -- no evidence for tomb veneration, no early iconography or other designation of sacred sites in a milieu in which he is reputed to have created quite a stir, etc. This lack of evidence is what invites speculation about mythic origins, and I am becoming more and more confused about why anyone would deem consideration of a mythic explanation as unparsimonious, ahistorical, etc.

            What exactly is weak about any of this? What seems weak to me is to ridicule or deem futile an attempt to better explain historical events just because it seems to threaten certain assumptions we make about events in the distant past.

          • Ignorant Amos

            I am not advocating, nor do I think I am adopting, a non-historical approach, and I think that your requirement that we find something like a proto-sect of Christianity that believed in a celestial Jesus is wrong on at least two fronts:

            Ignatius writing his letters early in the second century must have been aware of such Christian sects....why else warn his readers to disregard such ideas and affirm the concept of an historical Jesus if it was so obvious and taken for granted?

            Stop your ears, therefore, when any one speaks to you at variance with Jesus Christ, who was descended from David, and was also of Mary; who was truly born, and ate and drank. He was truly persecuted under Pontius Pilate; He was truly crucified, and [truly] died, in the sight of beings in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth. He was also truly raised from the dead, His Father quickening Him, even as after the same manner His Father will so raise up us who believe in Him by Christ Jesus, apart from whom we do not possess the true life.

            Ignatius' epistle to the Trallians.

            I mean why?

          • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/ Tim O’Neill

            "My methodology is too look at all the data concerning Jesus, and to see what most parsimoniously explains all that data."

            I was referring specifically to your "method" of finding a supposed mythic parallel to a story about Jesus and then concluding that Jesus must be a myth. This doesn't work for two reasons: (i) as my Augustus example shows, people sometimes tell mythic stories about historical figures and (ii) sometimes history parallels myths. There are plenty of mythic stories about sons who avenge a murdered father and take the rightful throne, but that doesn't mean Augustus and Caesar are myths.

            "I think that your requirement that we find something like a proto-sect of Christianity that believed in a celestial Jesus is wrong ... given the acknowledged paucity of evidence that we have, and the later destruction of texts and traditions that were seen as threatening to Catholic orthodoxy, it is not surprising that evidence for a mythical Jesus sect would be spare or non-existent"

            Actually, it is surprising given that we have a whole corpus of Christian literature countering the arguments of a wide range of variant forms of early Christianity, but not a squeak in any of it that so much as hints at the variant required by the Jesus Myth proponents. So why did Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Irenaeus et al tell us about all these other variants but totally neglect the "celestial Jesus" one? Please explain.

            " I think that we do have evidence for something like a celestial Jesus -- not only can we interpret much of Paul as regarding a celestial Jesus, but I understand the Gnostics as representing what you say did not exist"

            You can "interpret" Paul that way only after having chopped out all the clear references to a human, earthly and historical Jesus. Which is a very odd way of "interpreting" something. And you don't seem to have a good grasp of the Gnostics either. Yes, they believed in a celestial Jesus, but no they did not believe in a non-historical one. They agreed that Jesus had existed on earth in historical time. If there was a group that would have latched onto any idea that there had been no historical Jesus at all it's them, but they don't.

            By the way, the Gnostics are another example of why your point above about Christians censoring all references to this supposed celestial Jesus proto-Christianity. Even if we had no Gnostic texts at all, we would know quite a bit about the Gnostics from the apologetic literature answering them. So why did they supposedly censor everything about the celestial Jesus Christians but forget to do the same for the Gnostics? Or why did they answer the arguments of the Gnostics but not those of the supposed celestial Jesus Christians? This makes no sense.

            So both your objections fail.

            "Of course we can find mythical antecedents for some stories about Augustus. But we also have loads of other mundane evidence regarding Augustus -- coins, monuments, histories, etc."

            Which is precisely why I used him as an example to show your "mythic parallels in stories = the person was a myth" argument is nonsense.

            "Why would Jesus leave none of these things behind"

            You expect a peasant preacher to leave behind the same level of evidence in the historical record as the ruler of the known world? Seriously? Jesus left behind exactly the kind of traces in the record that we find for other analogous Jewish preachers, prophets and Messianic claimants of the time. Which is exactly what we'd expect.

            "no evidence for tomb veneration, no early iconography or other designation of sacred sites in a milieu in which he is reputed to have created quite a stir, etc."

            You're assuming the "tomb" that appears in the later gospel accounts was historical and Jesus wasn't simply dumped in a mass grave after he died. Ehrman's chapter on this question in his latest book shows that this is a dubious assumption. And the fact that his followers were expecting the world to end very soon and for him to return tells us why they weren't interested in revering "sacred sites", which didn't have much of a tradition in Second Temple Judaism anyway.

            " I am becoming more and more confused about why anyone would deem consideration of a mythic explanation as unpar simonious, ahistorical, etc."

            Because to maintain the idea of a mythic origin you have to make excuses for the total lack of any evidence of a mythic/celestial Jesus proto-Christianity when we would expect that evidence and then have to cut out chunks of the evidence we do have (Paul's references to a historical/human Jesus, the Josephan references, the Tacitean reference). That is the very definition of non-parsimonius. It simply doesn't work without a high level of evidence trimming, conspiracist excuse making and contrivance.

          • Tony Hoffman

            TO: "I was referring specifically to your "method" of finding a
            supposed mythic parallel to a story about Jesus and then concluding that Jesus must be a myth."

            That's quite a misrepresentation of what I've written so far.

            TO: "This doesn't work for two reasons: (i) as my Augustus example shows, people sometimes tell mythic stories about
            historical figures and (ii) sometimes history parallels myths. There are plenty of mythic stories about sons who avenge a murdered father and take the rightful throne, but that doesn't mean Augustus and Caesar are myths."

            And I haven't said Augustus and Caesar are myths. But I am pointing out that when a vast preponderance of stories that we have about a person has mythological antecedents, one can begin to question to what extent a historical person is a
            vital force in the narration of those same stories.

            TO: "...we have a whole corpus of Christian literature countering the arguments of a wide range of variant forms of early Christianity, but not a squeak in any of it that so much as hints at the variant required by the Jesus Myth proponents. So why did Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Irenaeus et al tell us about all these other variants but totally neglect the "celestial Jesus" one? Please explain."

            Seriously? Because (I believe) everyone you mention is very late in the game of a historical Jesus even mattering, and because you seem to be unaware that no one you mention need be "in on" the fact that there need be no historical Jesus at the heart of Christianity for Christianity to have evolved exactly as it has.

            Paul wrote that he experienced the resurrected Jesus. Did he experience the historical Jesus, or the mythical one? Do you see why this question renders your insistence on a historical Jesus as the source of his vision to be completely irrelevant?

            I don't for a second (as you seem to think from your question about Justin Martyr, etc.) think that any significant sect of Christians came (within a generation or two) to believe in a Jesus that was not once a real man who walked on earth. But I don't believe that it takes much imagination to suppose
            that Christianity could have simply taken form from the assorted mish-mash of mythical, religious thoughts that then "back dated" a real man into pre-existing religious strains that ran through the culture.

            Why do you think that a historical Jesus need exist for Christianity to have formed? Do you think a historical Zeus existed? Do you think there was a historical Dionysius?

            TO: "You can "interpret" Paul that way only after having chopped out all the clear references to a human, earthly and historical Jesus."

            All of them? I think they are very few. Can you cite 2 or 3 "clear references to a human, earthly, and historical Jesus" in Paul?

            TO: "Which is precisely why I used him as an example to show your "mythic parallels in stories = the person was a myth" argument is nonsense."

            Yeah, this is the same misrepresentation of what I've been saying. I don't know why you feel compelled to straw man mythicism in this way. You do not do your criticism any favors by straw manning your opponent's argument.

            TO: "You expect a peasant preacher to leave behind the same level of evidence in the historical record as the ruler of the known world? Seriously?"

            I was making a distinction between the ample mundane evidence we have for Augustus in addition to the stories with mythical antecedents, and the total absence of mundane evidence we have for Jesus. Just because we cannot expect the same mundane evidence for Jesus does not excuse the fact that we have none. Do we have more confidence in a historical Augustus than a historical Jesus? Yes. Why? Because we have mundane evidence for Augustus, not just mythical stories.

            But I also think you minimize what we could expect from a historical Jesus, one who was credited for starting Christianity from the time of his death. I would suspect that he would likely leave behind burial inscriptions, site venerations, and iconography dated to within the 1st Century of his ministry.
            Are you aware of these things (because I am not)? I think that a historical Jesus would engender these things in the place where he supposedly ministered, and a mythical Jesus (a character with mythical antecedents who it was later
            believed once walked the earth) would not. I think a mythical Jesus, one whose followers came to believe that he was a real man, would only come to believe this more than a generation after he supposedly walked the earth, and only then would they begin to leave evidence for this belief. This seems consistent with much of what we have.

            TO: "You're assuming the "tomb" that appears in the later gospel accounts was historical and Jesus wasn't simply dumped in a mass grave after he died."

            Of course, I agree that the tomb is an obvious later addition. But I also think that the later addition of the tomb can be seen as a kind of transition from a mythical to an embodied Jesus -- few things, I think, bolster the notion of the transition from a mythical to a historical Jesus than the late addition of the tomb. The fact that Paul doesn't mention a tomb, and the fact that the Gospels do, indicates to me there is a discernible movement from a celestial, spiritual, gnostic Jesus to one who came to be viewed as real and historical.

            TO:
            "Because to maintain the idea of a mythic origin you have to make excuses for the total lack of any evidence of a mythic/celestial Jesus proto-Christianity when we would expect that evidence and then have to cut out chunks of the evidence we do have (Paul's references to a historical/human Jesus, the Josephan references, the Tacitean reference). "

            I don't think that Paul makes much, if any, reference to a human Jesus. Josephus and Tacitus make reference to Christians who follow Jesus, but we might as well be talking about followers of Attis for all they provide us in terms of
            validating a historical Jesus. I expect these references from an apologist defending the historical Jesus, not from a historian.

            TO: "That is the very definition of non-parsimonius. It simply doesn't work without a high level of evidence trimming, conspiracist excuse making and contrivance."

            Yeah, you are being too quick to dismiss. There are problems with the historical Jesus, too -- you can only accept him by ignoring all the mythical embellishments (and what's left after that?), dismissing the obvious evolution of Christian theology, dismissing the lack of independent attestation, ignoring the motives of the proselytizers, and wishing that all we have is somehow more than it is.

            But most disturbingly for me is your insistence in the last sentence I quoted above, and in your tone throughout this post and comments, that mythicists must rely on "conspiracist excuse making." A mythicist consideration for
            the origins of Christianity does not require a conspiracy -- this is the kind of charge I hear from apologists who seem to think that Christianity need be either the truth or a lie. It need not be either -- it could be a false belief, one that occurred naturally, organically, and without intent. Sometimes, people just come to believe shit, for reasons that are hard or impossible to trace. Mythicism, at least as I see it, is a nod to the fact that very early Christianity may have emerged from a stew so obscure and chaotic that it's virtually impossible to ever come to a consensus on its probable origins.

          • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/ Tim O’Neill

            "I haven't said Augustus and Caesar are myths."

            And anyone can see that I didn't say you had. Stupid responses like that show me that I'm pretty much wasting my time with you and that this is descending into yet another sucking black hole of bad Myther arguments. It's also well off topic for the original article. I've been over this stuff with Myther true believers too many times to not find doing so again boring and pointless. You don't accept a historical Jesus? Terrific - enjoy. I'm not actually interested enough in what you think to try to convince you otherwise, particularly given that I don't think any evidence that we could reasonably expect for a peasant preacher of this kind would convince you anyway.

          • Tony Hoffman

            Yeah, I'll leave the increasing stridency of your responses here for future readers to determine who has adopted the "true believer" position regarding the merits of the historical versus mythical Jesus.

            Cheers.

          • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/ Tim O’Neill

            *chuckle* Ummm, "stridency"? You guys really do have active and over-sensitive imaginations. My tone has not risen above "increasingly weary and bored". If I felt anything that would lead me to "stridency" I'd actually be bothered to tackle your cluster of bad arguments and contorted non sequiturs above.

            But while we're leaving those future readers to ponder things, I'll leave them with this detailed summary of the flaws in the Myther position. They can then decide which position represents the most logical and unforced interpretation of the evidence and which is a contrived tangle of suppositions, excuses, conspiracy theories and weird excisions of inconvenient but pertinent evidence.

            Have a nice day.

          • Tony Hoffman

            Now that's funny -- I just posted my mention that your link above was what I had been looking for all along. As I said just a moment ago, that link would have saved you a lot of time the first time around, I think.

          • Tony Hoffman

            Hey, I just want to say that I came back to this thread at lunch and followed the link to your site and read your post (on your blog) from January on the topic of the Historical Jesus, along with a lot of the comments.

            I have to say that the article on your blog covers pretty much all of the questions I had been asking here -- I think if you had just referenced it early in the discussion it would have saved a lot of your time.

            I suppose that you come across a fair amount of dilettantes and recalcitrant conspiracists on this topic, and that explains your exasperation with my line of inquiry. I would only suggest to you that not every person who considers trying to understand the mythicist explanation need be a wingnut or incapable of honest dialogue on the topic -- I actually think the mythicism could be a great way to introduce more people to a deeper study of this period, and also bring up the topic of historicity (meta history), etc.

            Anyway, I appreciate all the work you've done to bring this to a broader audience (like me), and just wanted to point out that I thought the article on your blog was very helpful to me for better understanding your take on this issue.

            Cheers.

          • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/ Tim O’Neill

            I thought I did introduce it at the appropriate point. But I appreciate your sentiments. No hard feelings I hope.

          • Tony Hoffman

            Yeah, well, there's also a chance that you did and I missed it. But, fifth time's the charm and all that.

          • Ignorant Amos

            Tim, a wasn't gonna bother, but you are making a number of faux pas.

            Your parsimonious approach is based on a number of false assumptions. Not least of which is that of the preconceived notion of an historical Jesus from the context of the gospels. Read Christian scripture that is post Pauline and are pre Markian to realise that there is no reference to a person of Jesus with an earthly life on Earth with a biography.

            The first point on your list that Paul mentions Jesus as being "born of a women" is refuted by critical biblical scholar and Christian, J.C. O'Neill in The Recovery of Paul’s Letter to the Galatians (1972). He contends it to be dubious and likely an interpolation.

            I leave the problem of your assertion that the NT books being independent witnesses to your scholarly expertise...they are not, and in any case, how old is the earliest witness?

          • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/ Tim O’Neill

            "Your parsimonious approach is based on a number of false assumptions. Not least of which is that of the preconceived notion of an historical Jesus from the context of the gospels."

            That isn't an "assumption", it's a conclusion. All the evidence talks about Jesus as a recent historical figure in a definite historical context and includes references to people who knew him personally, especially Peter and James. By contrast, there is zero tradition of an alternative story whereby he was a purely celestial and non-historical being. This is why the "Jesus never existed" brigade have always been fighting an uphill battle and losing it consistently.

            "Read Christian scripture that is post Pauline and are pre Markian"

            Pardon? Exactly what works would I be reading that is "post-Pauline and Pre Markian (sic)"?

            "The first point on your list that Paul mentions Jesus as being "born of a women" is refuted by critical biblical scholar and Christian, J.C. O'Neill in The Recovery of Paul’s Letter to the Galatians (1972). He contends it to be dubious and likely an interpolation."

            There are whole books on possible interpolations in Paul, with few key Pauline texts that haven't been questioned by someone at some point or another. I've read my namesake on Galatians 4:4 and am not convinced. Few are, actually. But I love the way multiple scholars are blithely dismissed by Jesus Mythers when they say things Mythers don't like, but the second a scholar says anything a Myther can use to rescue one of their weak points, suddenly that scholar's argument is elevated to authoritative status.

            "I leave the problem of your assertion that the NT books being independent witnesses to your scholarly expertise...they are not"

            I'm glad you're leaving that supposed "assertion" of mine, because I never made any such assertion. I have no idea what the hell you're talking about.

          • Ignorant Amos

            That isn't an "assumption", it's a conclusion. All the evidence talks about Jesus as a recent historical figure in a definite historical context and includes references to people who knew him personally, especially Peter and James.

            Who said who knew Jesus personally? What is all this unassailable evidence you allude too?

            By contrast, there is zero tradition of an alternative story whereby he was a purely celestial and non-historical being.

            Over 100,000 words in 22 books by a dozen or more authors and not a reference to a Jesus of Nazareth, or any place else for that matter. No earthily deeds, no geographical references for no miracles...no virgin birth, earthly baptism, no eachings that would support Paul's message, even though said teachings appear in the later gospels. No earthly missionary mentioned. Strange or what? Considering some of those books are as late as the early second century.

            This is why the "Jesus never existed" brigade have always been fighting an uphill battle and losing it consistently.

            I have yet to see a decent attempt at a take down of the better mythicists hypothesis. Erhman made a pathetic attempt at it, but all he managed to do was make himself look silly in the process.

            Pardon? Exactly what works would I be reading that is "post-Pauline and Pre Markian (sic)"?

            Apologies, I meant anything written prior to the earliest gospel...Thomas if you like, but includig Paul's work, authentic or otherwise.

            There are whole books on possible interpolations in Paul, with few key Pauline texts that haven't been questioned by someone at some point or another. I've read my namesake on Galatians 4:4 and am not convinced.

            Of course you are not, but you cannot call O'Neill an anti Christian polemicist with an ahistorical Jesus agenda can you? You can disagree with his scholarship for sure, but not his entitlement to do it, that is my point.

            Few are, actually.

            Few what are? Isn't that the popularity fallacy?

            But I love the way multiple scholars are blithely dismissed by Jesus Mythers when they say things Mythers don't like, but the second a scholar says anything a Myther can use to rescue one of their weak points, suddenly that scholar's argument is elevated to authoritative status.

            Kettle, pot, black, much? Historists love to talk, but I've yet to see any substance. Argue the points being put forward, not the man.I'm waiting to be convinced. Carrier is also agnostic by the way.

            You know as recently as the 70's historians consensus was of an historical Moses, not so much these days

            I'm glad you're leaving that supposed "assertion" of mine, because I never made any such assertion. I have no idea what the hell you're talking about.

            I was refering to your comments...

            No evidence? Really? We have these gospel thingies that describe a Jesus doing precisely what I say, so there is at least some evidence right there.

            Non contemporary hearsay accounts filled with lies, contradiction and dare I say, interpolation. And you know they are not independent of each other, the earliest complete copies being how near to the autographs?

            Then we have Paul saying he met this Jesus' brother.

            Is that what Paul said, or is that an interpretation, with the gospels being used for context?

            Then we have Josephus referring to the death of the same brother.

            Is that who Josephus is refer in too in that piece? There are alternative explanations. Isn't it the least bit strange to you, that Josephus, being aware of an anointed one, took no great pains to write anything more about such a messiah. If it meant nothing of any importance, why mention it at all?

            Then we have Tacitus tracing the origin of the Christian sect to this same executed preacher.

            I'd be well interested to see some citation on that one.

          • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/ Tim O’Neill

            "Over 100,000 words in 22 books by a dozen or more authors and not a reference to a Jesus of Nazareth"

            Er, yup. Look when I see tired Myther arguments like that one I realise that I'm wasting my time. I could ask how many of those "22 books by a dozen or more authors" mention any other Jewish preachers and why, if they don't, we'd expect them to mention this one. But that would be expecting a sensible answer.

            I'm not interested in yet another endless rehashing of Myther arguments, because I've been there dozens of times. You aren't convinced by the evidence that convinces the experts? Great - remain unconvinced. I'm not interested enough in what you think to bother trying to teach you why the Myther arguments are nonsense to objective analysts. I might bother if I felt you were open to having your mind changed, but I'm not getting that impression.

          • Michael Murray

            Tony you might be interested in Bart Ehrman's latest book which covers much of this material

            http://www.amazon.com/How-Jesus-Became-God-Exaltation-ebook/dp/B00DB39V2Q/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1397430619&sr=8-1&keywords=ehrman

  • Tom Rafferty

    Neil Godfrey has summed up the type of evidence for an historical Jesus:

    "Historians have no primary evidence for Jesus. they only have secondary evidence. Worse, the secondary evidence for the details of Jesus’ life is anonymous and unprovenanced. We can only make educated guesses about when and where it was written, and why and for whom. Worst of all, we have no reliable external or independent controls or corroboration that any of its narrative is indeed historical."

    "Literary evidence for Socrates: contemporaneous, independent, authors known by name, eyewitness accounts."

    "Literary evidence for Jesus: Late, hearsay evidence, unknown provenance, anonymous authorship, layered with dogma and supernatural material, interdependent yet simultaneously contradictory".

    http://vridar.wordpress.com/2010/09/21/games-historical-jesus-scholars-play/ 210

    http://vridar.wordpress.com/2011/02/10/when-all-you-have-is-a-story- what-can-you-say-about-history/#comment-14758

    There simply is not enough evidence for me to accept the claim there was an historical Jesus.

    • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/ Tim O’Neill

      "There simply is not enough evidence for me to accept the claim there was an historical Jesus."

      Neil Godfrey often has trouble comparing like to like. Try this - compare the evidence for Jesus to that for any other analogous Jewish preacher, prophet or Messianic claimant of that time. See if there is (a) more or (b) less.

      • Tom Rafferty

        I don;t see how that will change my mind. There may have been an historical person behind the myth, however, there is not enough evidence for me to accept the claim.

        • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/ Tim O’Neill

          But the point I was making was about what "enough" evidence would look like. Given that we are talking about a peasant preacher, we can't expect very much evidence at all, as the analogous examples show. But your problem now lies in applying your standard of evidence consistently. We have very little evidence for most people in the ancient world. Pick a name at random from any work by any ancient historian and in 90% of cases you'll find we have about as much evidence for that person as we have for Jesus, or often even less. So does it really make sense to not accept that that 90% of the people referred to in ancient sources didn't exist? That seems completely absurd.

          • Tom Rafferty

            Smokescreen. You are not addressing the points that I made through the summary by Godfrey.

            Lets do this. Please answer the following before we continue with any more back and forth. Thanks.

            What is more PROBABLE, and why?

            a) 2000 years ago, god sent his son to save us from the Original Sin of the first two humans, even though science shows that humanity did not begin from one couple but from a group[1] and that human behavior is not unlike that of other social animals.[2] This savior supposedly performed miracles, died and was resurrected. However,
            there is no independent, contemporaneous verification from sources outside of the New Testament for any of this story.[3] In addition, the New Testament was written by unknown people several decades after the time that these events would have occurred.[4]

            b) Christianity began like several other myths circulating before and at the
            same time in the Middle East[5], and had the subsequent fortune of benefiting from a variety of circumstances to
            evolve into a major presence in society. Also consider that, throughout recorded history and during this period of time, there were many other cultures in the world practicing animal and human sacrifice to appease a god, or gods.[6] Also consider that there have been many humans who were considered gods.[7] Also consider that any claim of a supernatural realm able to effect us must overcome its extreme improbability.[8]
            - - - - -

            [1] http://rafonda.com/origin_of_humans.html

            [2] http://phys.org/news6250.html

            [3] http://infidels.org/library/modern/scott_oser/hojfaq.html

            [4] http://exposingreligionblog.tumblr.com/post/18587309741

            [5] http://www.pantheon.org/areas/mythology/middle_east/

            [6] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_sacrifice

            [7] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_people_who_have_been_considered_deities

            [8] http://www.disclose.tv/action/viewvideo/153863/Sean_Carroll_Refutes_Supernatural_Beliefs/

          • Reason

            "Then comes the real shock. Among these Jews there suddenly turns up a man who goes about talking as if He was God. He claims to forgive sins. He says He has always existed. He says He is coming to judge the world at the end of time. Now let us get this clear. Among Pantheists, like the Indians, anyone might say that he was a part of God, or one with God: there would be nothing very odd about it. But this man, since He was a Jew, could not mean that kind of God. God, in their language, meant the Being outside the world Who had made it and was infinitely different from anything else. And when you have grasped that, you will see that what this man said was, quite simply, the most shocking thing that has ever been uttered by human lips.

            One part of the claim tends to slip past us unnoticed because we have heard it so often that we no longer see what it amounts to. I mean the claim to forgive sins: any sins. Now unless the speaker is God, this is really so preposterous as to be comic. We can all understand how a man forgives offences against himself. You tread on my toe and I forgive you, you steal my money and I forgive you. But what should we make of a man, himself unrobbed and untrodden on, who announced that he forgave you for treading on other men’s toes and stealing other men’s money? Asinine fatuity is the kindest description we should give of his conduct. Yet this is what Jesus did. He told people that their sins were forgiven, and never waited to consult all the other people whom their sins had undoubtedly injured. He unhesitatingly behaved as if He was the party chiefly concerned; the person chiefly offended in all offences. This makes sense only if He really was the God whose laws are broken and whose love is wounded in every sin. In the mouth of any speaker who is not God, these words would imply what I can only regard as a silliness and conceit unrivalled by any other character in history.

            Yet (and this is the strange, significant thing) even His enemies, when they read the Gospels, do not usually get the impression of silliness and conceit. Still less do unprejudiced readers. Christ says that He is ‘humble and meek’ and we believe Him; not noticing that, if He were merely a man, humility and meekness are the very last characteristics we could attribute to some of His sayings.

            I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to." - C.S. Lewis

          • Tom Rafferty

            You forgot the 4th "L": Legend. To quote C S Lewis to a skeptic is not wise.

          • Reason

            "I am bound to say that Lewis is more honest here. Absent a direct line to the Almighty and a conviction that the last days are upon us, how is it “moral”...to claim a monopoly on access to heaven, or to threaten waverers with everlasting fire, let alone to condemn fig trees and persuade devils to infest the bodies of pigs? Such a person if not divine would be a sorcerer and a ­fanatic" - Christopher Hitchens

          • Reason

            "It is far more parsimonious to conclude that Christianity's figure of "Jesus Christ" evolved out of the ideas of the followers of a historical Jewish preacher, since all of our earliest information tells us that this "Jesus Christ" was a historical Jewish preacher who had been executed circa 30 CE." -- Tim O'Neill

          • Tom Rafferty

            All of the historical evidence outside of the NT only talk about the "Christians" and add no information in support of an historical person named Jesus. You may think "it's far more parsimonious" but not this skeptic.

          • Reason

            Apparently the historical evidence outside of the NT says that Jesus Christ was a historical jewish preacher who had been executed circa 30 AD.

            You make an argument that, surprisingly, is positive of the RCC's view of itself (And in fact runs along the same lines of reasoning they have used for centuries). Which, of course, I find most intriguing.

          • Tom Rafferty

            Show me one extra-biblical source that mentions something other that the group called Christians who worshiped a man called Jesus, etc.

          • Reason

            Your statement is worded rather murkily. Are you asking for another group that worshipped Jesus?

          • Tom Rafferty

            Sorry for being unclear. I am asking for an extra-biblical source that, in talking about the Christians, verifies that there WAS an historical Jesus. The ones I have seen only talk about the group called Christians.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            There aren't any. The external sources talk about Christians and what they believe - but nobody except for a tiny handful of Jews and Romans even noticed his existence.

          • Tom Rafferty

            I am not even going to concede that point. I haven't seen any writing from Jewish or Roman sources verifying that there, indeed, was an historical Jesus, only writings about the Christians AND WHAT THEY CLAIMED.

          • Reason

            "Virtually all modern scholars of antiquity agree that Jesus existed, and most biblical scholars and classical historians see the theories of his non-existence as effectively refuted"
            In a 2011 review of the state of modern scholarship, Bart Ehrman (a secular agnostic) wrote: "He certainly existed, as virtually every competent scholar of antiquity, Christian or non-Christian, agrees" B. Ehrman, 2011 Forged : writing in the name of GodISBN 978-0-06-207863-6. page 285
            ^ Jump up to:a b Michael Grant (a classicist) states that "In recent years, 'no serious scholar has ventured to postulate the non historicity of Jesus' or at any rate very few, and they have not succeeded in disposing of the much stronger, indeed very abundant, evidence to the contrary." in Jesus by Michael Grant 2004 ISBN 1898799881 page 200
            ^ Jump up to:a b Richard A. Burridge states: "There are those who argue that Jesus is a figment of the Church’s imagination, that there never was a Jesus at all. I have to say that I do not know any respectable critical scholar who says that any more." in Jesus Now and Thenby Richard A. Burridge and Graham Gould (Apr 1, 2004) ISBN 0802809774 page 34
            Robert E. Van Voorst Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence Eerdmans Publishing, 2000. ISBN 0-8028-4368-9 page 16 states: "biblical scholars and classical historians regard theories of non-existence of Jesus as effectively refuted"
            Jump up^ James D. G. Dunn "Paul's understanding of the death of Jesus" in Sacrifice and Redemption edited by S. W. Sykes (Dec 3, 2007) Cambridge University Press ISBN 052104460X pages 35-36 states that the theories of non-existence of Jesus are "a thoroughly dead thesis"
            ^ Jump up to:a b The Gospels and Jesus by Graham Stanton, 1989 ISBN 0192132415 Oxford University Press, page 145 states : "Today nearly all historians, whether Christians or not, accept that Jesus existed".
            Jump up to Richard A. Burridge states: "There are those who argue that Jesus is a figment of the Church’s imagination, that there never was a Jesus at all. I have to say that I do not know any respectable critical scholar who says that any more." in Jesus Now and Thenby Richard A. Burridge and Graham Gould (Apr 1, 2004) ISBN 0802809774 page 34

          • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/ Tim O’Neill

            "What is more PROBABLE, and why?"

            Why are those the only two possible options? How about this third one?:

            (c) A Jewish apocalyptic preacher gained a small following in Galilee and then took his preaching of the coming end times to Jerusalem where he was executed by the Romans. Trying to make sense of his death in the light of their belief that he was the promised Anointed One of God, his followers came to believe he as in some sense risen from the dead and had ascended to heaven and would soon return with the coming apocalypse. The Jewish sect that arose out of this belief gained gentile converts and eventually came to see this preacher as a manifestation of the divine and, eventually, as an incarnation of God himself. Modern Christianity arose out of this belief.

            That fits the evidence better than both your (a) and (b). Try that for size. You'll find it's actually accepted by leading non-Christian scholars in the field, as opposed to wannabe hobbyists like Godfrey.

          • Tom Rafferty

            Yes, your c} IS a plausible explanation. However, there is no evidence for such. To say it is more plausible than my b) cannot be demonstrated to my satisfaction. Also, you are still using ad hominems against a minority opinion that is a least as plausible as what mainstrean theologians and historians have proposed. Considering, as you have mentioned in this post, that history is not up to the standards of science and that the majority of historians studying the Jesus question have been Christians, I am Just not convinced there was an historical Jesus. The mythicists, IMHO, make at least as good of an hypothesis. Without evidence, I am unable to make the leap of accepting the claim. Yes, again, there very well could have been an historical Jesus. However, IMHO, the trueof the claim is lost forever in history. I close with the statement that I am NOT saying "There was no historical Jesus", only that there is insufficient evidence to accept the claim. Have a good evening.

          • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/ Tim O’Neill

            "However, there is no evidence for such."

            No evidence? Really? We have these gospel thingies that describe a Jesus doing precisely what I say, so there is at least some evidence right there. Then we have Paul saying he met this Jesus' brother. Then we have Josephus referring to the death of the same brother. Then we have Tacitus tracing the origin of the Christian sect to this same executed preacher. That's quite a bit more evidence than the "none" that you claim.

            "you are still using ad hominems against a minority opinion that is a
            least as plausible as what mainstrean theologians and historians have
            proposed."

            I'm noting a fact - it's a fringe position that the vast majority of scholars totally reject. Sorry if this fact is uncomfortable for you, but noting is not an ad hominem (a concept that some here seem weirdly obsessed with)

            " I close with the statement that I am NOT saying "There was no
            historical Jesus", only that there is insufficient evidence to accept
            the claim."

            We have slightly more evidence for him than we have for most other analogous Jewish preachers, prophets and messianic claimants. Or most other people of his class in the ancient world. As seems typical, you seem to have set the bar artificially high for Jesus because of an ideological bias.

          • Tom Rafferty

            No bias, just unwilling to accept a claim without sufficient evidence, no matter who is making the claim. I am done. You may have any last word, if you wish.

          • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/ Tim O’Neill

            You keep waving around the term "sufficient evidence". But when asked to detail what evidence would be "sufficient" here, you ran away. This tells us something about whether your position is based on reason or emotion.

          • Tom Rafferty

            If I need $5.00 to "purchase" (accept) an "item" (claim) and you tell me that I only have $.25 (virtually no evidence) and you have $.50 (your "evidence"), what is the real difference?

            You consistently attack the messengers of mythicism regarding the question of the "historical Jesus", but offer nothing to counter the statements from them. Let me be crystal clear here. Virtually all real historians demand "Primary" evidence to support a claim. Christian apologists claim that the scriptures are such. Not really. "Primary" evidence to the "real" historians involves evidence from the place and time under investigation. Christianity has none. It has writings from decades after a supposed event written by unknown people and without any contemporaneous writings in support of such. Richard Carrier has presented a cogent argument in support of the type of writings in the NT being consistent with fictiion and all you have done is attack the messenger. That, my friend, IS an ad hominem.

            These ARE the facts. You have nothing to counter these statements and you know it.

          • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/ Tim O’Neill

            "If I need $5.00 to "purchase" (accept) an "item" (claim) and you tell me that I only have $.25 (virtually no evidence) and you have $.50 (your "evidence"), what is the real difference?"

            I'd happily give you $5.00 to buy a better analogy.

            "You consistently attack the messengers of mythicism regarding the question of the "historical Jesus", but offer nothing to counter the statements from them."

            That's not the focus of the article above. But if you want my detailed counter to their thesis you can find it here: "Did Jesus Exist? The Jesus Myth Theory, Again."

            " "Primary" evidence to the "real" historians involves evidence from the place and time under investigation."

            Garbage.

            "Richard Carrier has presented a cogent argument in support of the type of writings in the NT being consistent with fictiion and all you have done is attack the messenger.'

            See above.

            "You have nothing to counter these statements and you know it."

            See above. More garbage. Go away.

          • Tom Rafferty

            Produce the evidence of Christianity from PRIMARY evidence then we may have a cogent, intelligent, and respectful conversation. Just why did you post this stuff? Not rhetorical. I understand. You will continue to throw out an homs and not address THE issue I am presenting. Where's the beef? Good bye. I just hope that some folks reading this will see the smokescreen here and at least have some doubts.

          • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/ Tim O’Neill

            "produce the evidence of Christianity from PRIMARY evidence"

            Of Christianity? Please make up your mind about what you want evidence of. And if it's "primary evidence" (by your erroneous definition - you seem to mean contemporary evidence) for Jesus, how about you produce the same for Athronges, or Theudas, or the Samaritan prophet or any other early first century Jewish preacher, prophet or Messianic claimant. When you fail, explain to us why we should expect contemporary evidence for Jesus when we have none for any analogous figure of the time. Or for most people in the ancient world.

            This one of the reasons why Mythicism is not taken seriously.

          • Tom Rafferty

            Just laughable. YOU are the one making the claim that there was an historical Jesus and all I am saying is there is no primary evidence for such. Your defense is that, "neither do we have such for other ancient figures." Just talk about weak.

            Ironically, your post is about the weakness of history verses science. Then you try to support history as being as valuable as science in determining the truth. You can't have it both ways.

            Bottom line: There may have been an historical Jesus but history is too murky for an open-minded person to accept the claim that he was real. Since you are an atheist, just why are you spending so much time and effort on this hypothesis? Even if there was a real Jesus, so what? The story is BS.

          • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/ Tim O’Neill

            "Just talk about weak."

            We don't have what you are calling "primary evidence" for most people in the ancient world. So by your ludicrous criteria, most of the ancient world was uninhabited, which is patently absurd. It's not "weak" to demonstrate that your criteria make no sense.

            "your post is about the weakness of history verses science"

            Wrong, it's about how history and science are not the same thing.

            "There may have been an historical Jesus but history is too murky for an open-minded person to accept the claim that he was real."

            Garbage. That he was real is the best explanation of the evidence we have.

            "Since you are an atheist, just why are you spending so much time and effort on this hypothesis? "

            Because I am interested in history. If you aren't, feel free to ignore the whole topic.

            "Even if there was a real Jesus, so what? The story is BS."

            Most reasonable people can see why the origin of a faith with over 2 billion adherents would be of some historical interest even if that is beyond you.

  • Kevin Aldrich

    I thought this was a very educational post explaining how historians do their work. I really wish schools would teach students how to *do* history, not just learn it (and I don't understand why they don't--it would be so much more interesting).

    I also really appreciate Tim O'Neill commenting so extensively here. This is SN at its best.

    I hope we can get some more posts along these lines. It is very helpful to think about how scientists, vs. historians, vs. theologians, vs. sociologists, etc., do their work at arriving at the kinds of truth they pursue.

  • Loreen Lee

    From today's Gospel April 11th Jn 10-31-12
    Jesus answered them,
    “Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, ‘You are gods”‘?
    If it calls them gods to whom the word of God came,
    and Scripture cannot be set aside,
    can you say that the one
    whom the Father has consecrated and sent into the world
    blasphemes because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’?

    I note that there is both 'god' and "Gods', and the capitalization of Son.. But whatever interpretation is made on this it is the clearest statement I have yet come across on the distinction between Divinity/Theological understanding and the Historical or human aspect of Jesus. It is common today to recognize a 'divinity' (small 'd') within us all. I believe that is also congruent with Catholic teachings. My 'understanding!'.

  • Ignorant Amos

    Neat historical fables such as the ones about Christians burning down the Great Library of Alexandria (they didn’t) or murdering Hypatia because of their hatred of her learning and science (ditto) are appealing parables.

    So who burned it, who murdered Hypatia, and why?

    Can you cite sources?

    You see, there doesn't appear to be a consensus. Certainly, some source's are claiming the Christians could have contributed and thus culpable.

    http://www.ancient.eu.com/article/207/

  • Tony Hoffman

    A great defense of the mythicist position has been going on here:

    http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2014/05/an-update-on-richard-carriers-book-on.html#more

    I am pasting a long comment by Greg G, whose comments make what I think is an excellent defense of mythicism, and point out many problems with the standard criticism of mythicism.

    Pasted from the comment thread:

    It has been assumed that Jesus was a historical figure for the better part of two millenia. Many doubt that claim because of the lack of actual evidence in favor of Jesus' existence. I think a compelling case can be made that Jesus is an invented character.

    About everything we think we know about Jesus could be traced to Mark and Paul. Matthew, Luke, and John seem to have taken information from Mark. Mark even borrowed from Paul.
    New Testament Narrative as Old Testament Midrash by Robert M. Price compiles the work of several scholars, most of whom are not mythicists, who have traced Mark's sources to the literature of the day. Nearly every deed Mark ascribes to Jesus had been done by a character in the Old Testament, other Jewish writing, Greek literature, or Christian literature. Combined, there isn't much left for oral tradition to say that Mark is based on an actual Jesus.

    Some of the gaps not covered by Price are the parables of Jesus in Mark. Mark's Use of the Gospel of Thomas by Stevan Davies argues that Mark used the Gospel of Thomas for those sayings. I will add that Mark using Thomas for the unaccounted for verses makes more sense than the idea that the author of the Gospel of Thomas would just happen to concentrate on the few passages that we don't have a source for Mark to have used.
    So GThomas might be the best argument for a historical Jesus but we can see that several of the Thomas sayings attributed to Jesus are strikingly similar to arguments Paul used. If those arguments had come from Jesus, Paul's argument would have been stronger if he had quoted Jesus as his source. Instead, it looks like the sayings were collected from other sources and attributed to Jesus.

    There were probably itinerant preachers named Jesus who got crucified during Pilate's governorship but the gospel Jesus must correspond to early epistle Jesus. Epistle Jesus isn't mentioned as a teacher or preacher. The epistles don't even have anecdotes about Jesus.

    Paul talks about Jesus once for every three verses.But everything he tells us about Jesus can be found in the Old Testament from prophecies about the Messiah or from out-of-context verses interpreted as long hidden mysteries. There doesn't appear to be anything that could have come from oral tradition and Paul seems to be very proud of that fact. He doesn't seem to think his knowledge is inferior to other apostles which would be impossible if he knew they had personally known Jesus.

    Here's everything I can find that Paul says about Jesus in the seven epistles that are accepted as from him:

    Everything he says either comes from a vision or is hearsay, handed down from the apostles.

    Paul swears up and down that this is not the case. In Galatians 1:11-12 and Galatians 1:15-16, Paul says that he did not receive his knowledge about Jesus from any human sources (specifically stating that he did not get it from the apostles) but it came from God through revelation. In Romans 16:25-26, he says the revelation of the mystery comes from the prophetic writings, and in 1 Corinthians 2:9, he quotes Isaiah 64:4, "What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.”

    Paul speaks of Jesus hundreds of times but seldom tells us anything about him. Below is everything he tells us.

    Past
    Descended from David > Romans 1:3, Romans 15:12 > 2 Samuel 7:12, Isaiah 11:10

    Made of woman, > Galatians 4:4 > Isaiah 7:14, Isaiah 49:5

    Made under the law > Galatians 4:4, Galatians 3:10-12* > Deuteronomy 27:26, Habakkuk 2:4, Leviticus 18:5

    Did not please himself > Romans 15:3* > Psalm 69:9

    Became a servant of the circumcised > Romans 15:8 > Isaiah 53:11

    For the Gentiles > Romans 15:9-12* > Psalm 18:49, 2 Samuel 22:50, Deuteronomy 32:43, Psalm 117:1, Isaiah 11:10

    Was betrayed > 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 > Psalm 41:9

    Took loaf of bread and wine > 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 > Psalm 41:9, Exodus 24:8, Leviticus 17:11, Isaiah 53:12 ("wine" = "blood of grapes" allusions in Genesis 49:11, Deuteronomy 32:14, Isaiah 49:26, Zechariah 9:15)

    Was crucified for sins > 1 Corinthians 2:2, 1 Corinthians 15:3, Galatians 2:20, Galatians 3:13* > Isaiah 53:12, Deuteronomy 21:23

    Was buried > 1 Corinthians 15:4 > Isaiah 53:9

    Was raised > Romans 1:4, Romans 8:34, 1 Corinthians 15:4 > Hosea 6:2, Psalm 16:10, Psalm 41:10

    Present
    Sits next to God > Romans 8:34 > Psalm 110:1, Psalm 110:5

    Intercedes > Romans 8:34 > Isaiah 53:12

    Future
    Will come > 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17, 1 Corinthians 15:51-54*, Philippians 3:20-21 > Isaiah 26:19-21, Daniel 7:11, Daniel 7:13; Daniel 12:2, Isaiah 25:8
    (* indicates that passage contains a direct quote from the Old Testament)

    So, Paul tells us he got his knowledge about Jesus from the scripture and every "fact" he tells us about Jesus can be found in scripture, sometimes in context but usually out of context as if it was a long, hidden mystery. Even a justification for looking for the mysteries can be found in Isaiah 48:3.

    3 The former things I declared long ago,
    they went out from my mouth and I made them known;
    then suddenly I did them and they came to pass.

    In 2 Corinthians 11:5-6, Paul says he is not inferior to the super-apostles in knowledge. If anyone thought other apostles had known Jesus, that statement would be absurd.
    In Galatians 1:18, Paul says he visited Cephas in Jerusalem for fifteen days, again, fourteen years later in Jerusalem, in Galatians 2:9, and met up with him in Antioch another time, in Galatians 2:11. He would certainly have known what Cephas and the others knew about Jesus.
    In 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, Paul uses the same word for his "appeared to" (optanomai) that he did for every other "appeared to" as if their revelations were no different than his own.
    Paul spent much time with Cephas and seems to think Cephas was the first person to have Jesus revealed to him in a way similar to his own revelation - through the scriptures. Apparently Cephas was not an illiterate fisherman and Jesus was constructed from the literature.
    As far as the gospels go, the others are dependent on Mark and Robert M. Price has collected the works of several scholars that have traced the sources Mark used. Individually, they make very reasonable cases but combined, they eliminate every deed as something a real person did as everything was previously done by somebody else in fiction. See New Testament Narrative as Old Testament Midrash.

    Jesus’ resurrection can easily be explained by legendary embellishment, religious experience, and writers who wanted to tell a beautiful story or to use Jesus to make their point.

    It could be that a sect of early first century Jews found a way to justify why the Messiah had taken so long - because he had already saved everybody by being crucified a long time ago - and that he was coming during their generation - because the mysteries were being revealed to them. Then after Jerusalem was destroyed, Mark wrote an allegory explaining the destruction in terms of a failed religion that only stirred it up again.
    Here are some possible sources Paul used for the Philippians Hymn:
    5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
    1 Corinthians 11:1
    Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.
    6 who, though he was in the form of God,
    Isaiah 52:14
    Just as there were many who were astonished at him
    —so marred was his appearance, beyond human semblance,
    and his form beyond that of mortals—
    did not regard equality with God
    Isaiah 9:6
    For a child has been born for us,
    a son given to us;
    authority rests upon his shoulders;
    and he is named
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
    as something to be exploited,
    Isaiah 53:7
    He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
    yet he did not open his mouth;
    like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
    and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
    so he did not open his mouth.
    7 but emptied himself,
    Isaiah 53:12b
    because he poured out himself to death,
    taking the form of a slave,
    Isaiah 52:13a
    "See, my servant shall prosper"
    being born in human likeness.
    Isaiah 49:5
    and now the Lord says,
    who formed me in the womb to be his servant,

    And being found in human form,
    Isaiah 53:2
    For he grew up before him like a young plant,
    and like a root out of dry ground;
    he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
    nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.

    8 he humbled himself
    Isaiah 53:3
    He was despised and rejected by others;
    a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity;
    and as one from whom others hide their faces
    he was despised, and we held him of no account.
    and became obedient to the point of death—
    Isaiah 53:10
    Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him with pain.
    When you make his life an offering for sin,
    he shall see his offspring, and shall prolong his days;
    through him the will of the Lord shall prosper.
    even death on a cross.
    Deuteronomy 21:23 (per Galatians 3:13)
    23 his corpse must not remain all night upon the tree;
    you shall bury him that same day, for anyone hung on a
    tree is under God’s curse. You must not defile the land
    that the Lord your God is giving you for possession.

    9 Therefore God also highly exalted him
    Isaiah 53:12a
    Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great,
    and he shall divide the spoil with the strong;
    and gave him the name
    Isaiah 54:5a
    For your Maker is your husband,
    the Lord of hosts is his name;

    that is above every name,
    Isaiah 54:5b
    the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer,
    the God of the whole earth he is called.
    10 so that at the name of Jesus
    Isaiah 49:22
    Thus says the Lord God:
    I will soon lift up my hand to the nations,
    and raise my signal to the peoples;
    and they shall bring your sons in their bosom,
    and your daughters shall be carried on their shoulders.
    every knee should bend,
    Isaiah 49:23
    Kings shall be your foster fathers,
    and their queens your nursing mothers.
    With their faces to the ground they shall bow down to you,
    and lick the dust of your feet.
    Then you will know that I am the Lord;
    those who wait for me shall not be put to shame.
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
    Isaiah 24:21-22
    21 On that day the Lord will punish
    the host of heaven in heaven,
    and on earth the kings of the earth.
    22 They will be gathered together
    like prisoners in a pit;
    they will be shut up in a prison,
    and after many days they will be punished.

    11 and every tongue should confess
    Isaiah 49:26b
    Then all flesh shall know
    that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    Isaiah 49:26c
    that I am the Lord your Savior,
    to the glory of God the Father.
    Isaiah 49:26d
    and your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob.