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A Question about the historicity of Jesus

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A Question about the historicity of Jesus
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EngelbertPosts: 290Joined: Thu Mar 28, 2013 3:03 am Gender: Male

Post Re: A Question about the historicity of Jesus

Laurens wrote:2 Peter 1:16 states:

For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty

This seems like a reference to critics saying that Christianity is a 'cleverly devised myth'. Whether these were Jews or not is anyone's guess, but it seems that someone was making this argument.


This seems like a rather ambiguous quote and I'm not sure whether you're arguing that it supports a mythicist position, or that it just evidences the existence of counter Christian arguments at the time of writing. Yes, it could be in reference to what Jews might have been saying about Christianity as you suggest it could. However, there are numerous potential possibilities, all seemingly reasonable:

-Any group, person or people could have been making arguments about myths, who perhaps this line was referring to. It could equally have been that it was referring to nobody, but is simply an idiom, or written for emphasis.
-Myths or stories can take various forms. They are not necessarily explicitly or completely fictional. So they can be entirely fabricated, or they can be based in a decent portion of fact, or anywhere in between. If anyone was making arguments about myths, it is unknown to what degree these arguments were made. For example, perhaps the detractors believed that Jesus had been concocted from thin air, or perhaps they referred to stories about his life being mythological. It is unsurprising that arguments against Christianity would have existed at the time, given the mixture of religious beliefs around. What's unclear from this reference is exactly how far any such arguments would have gone.
-It is unknown from this reference whether any such arguments of mythmaking would have been directed at Christianity specifically. Perhaps he had heard people speaking sceptically of other positions, religions, groups, etc. and wanted to affirm that Christianity was no such position.

In short, there are several variables in play here. Yes, the quote from Peter could reference extant positions of Jesus mythicism, but much more likely is that it’s in reference to one of the other possibilities. If it was in reference to detractors who were accusing Christianity specifically of being fictional, it is not specific about what degree and it does not specifically reference arguments being made about the non-existence of Jesus. Perhaps we can’t rule this out, but at best we can only rule in that it references counter arguments to Christianity, which might have taken any form.
Tue Apr 05, 2016 8:49 pm
LaurensSocial EditorUser avatarPosts: 2935Joined: Sat Mar 20, 2010 11:24 pmLocation: Norwich UK Gender: Male

Post Re: A Question about the historicity of Jesus

Engelbert wrote:
Laurens wrote:2 Peter 1:16 states:

For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty

This seems like a reference to critics saying that Christianity is a 'cleverly devised myth'. Whether these were Jews or not is anyone's guess, but it seems that someone was making this argument.


This seems like a rather ambiguous quote and I'm not sure whether you're arguing that it supports a mythicist position, or that it just evidences the existence of counter Christian arguments at the time of writing. Yes, it could be in reference to what Jews might have been saying about Christianity as you suggest it could. However, there are numerous potential possibilities, all seemingly reasonable:

-Any group, person or people could have been making arguments about myths, who perhaps this line was referring to. It could equally have been that it was referring to nobody, but is simply an idiom, or written for emphasis.
-Myths or stories can take various forms. They are not necessarily explicitly or completely fictional. So they can be entirely fabricated, or they can be based in a decent portion of fact, or anywhere in between. If anyone was making arguments about myths, it is unknown to what degree these arguments were made. For example, perhaps the detractors believed that Jesus had been concocted from thin air, or perhaps they referred to stories about his life being mythological. It is unsurprising that arguments against Christianity would have existed at the time, given the mixture of religious beliefs around. What's unclear from this reference is exactly how far any such arguments would have gone.
-It is unknown from this reference whether any such arguments of mythmaking would have been directed at Christianity specifically. Perhaps he had heard people speaking sceptically of other positions, religions, groups, etc. and wanted to affirm that Christianity was no such position.

In short, there are several variables in play here. Yes, the quote from Peter could reference extant positions of Jesus mythicism, but much more likely is that it’s in reference to one of the other possibilities. If it was in reference to detractors who were accusing Christianity specifically of being fictional, it is not specific about what degree and it does not specifically reference arguments being made about the non-existence of Jesus. Perhaps we can’t rule this out, but at best we can only rule in that it references counter arguments to Christianity, which might have taken any form.


I agree that it is hard to draw any concrete conclusions from the passage, however it is open to the interpretation that I posited.

There are however a number of lines of evidence that I shall outline briefly that I think point towards mythicism over historicism.

- There are no contemporary historical accounts of Jesus' life.
- The early Christian church writings such as the Epistles of Paul and Hebrews mention nothing that indisputably places Jesus in recent earthly history. In fact they can be read as referring to a celestial Jesus who descended to the firmament as was executed by Satan and his minions. See the Ascension of Isaiah for example.
- A suffering Messiah figure called Jesus can be, and was derived from OT scripture by pre-Christian Jews.
- Dying and rising saviour gods with marked similarities to the stories about Jesus were popular in the ancient world. These gods were sometimes euhemerized.
- The Gospels contain so much myth and miracle that they are totally unreliable as history.
- Christians in the Middle Ages systematically censored documents, including things such as biographies of Pontious Pilate, and criticisms of the religion. This raises questions as to why they would unless they didn't mention Jesus and were therefore embarrassing to the church.
- Christians were so desperate for evidence that they actively fabricated it.

This is of course not an exhaustive list, nor is it adequately referenced. I hope you'll forgive me for that because I am stuck for time at the moment. I can highly recommend Richard Carrier's book though, if you're interested. It covers all of the above and more.

The fact of the matter is that even disregarding evidence that I believe weighs heavily towards mythicism, we cannot really say whether there was a historical Jesus. At best we can say 'If there was, we have absolutely nothing reliable that we can say about him'.
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Wed Apr 06, 2016 4:22 pm
EngelbertPosts: 290Joined: Thu Mar 28, 2013 3:03 am Gender: Male

Post Re: A Question about the historicity of Jesus

No problem regarding time, or your references. This is just a few thoughts about a topic in a forum thread - a conversation.

The passage is open to various interpretations, including the one you suggested, yes. However, as I said, I’m not entirely sure whether you were arguing that it evidenced Jesus mythicist positions at the time of writing, or whether it merely evidenced counter Christian arguments at the time of writing. Whilst the latter is not necessarily true, I find it to be entirely plausible, or further, quite probable. However, based on my position and, in fact, some words I heard recently from Bart Ehrman, the idea that the passage from Peter would reference extant mythicist positions, resembling that of Carrier, from the 1st Century is extremely unlikely, or perhaps simply false.

Since I’m not a historian, a theologian, a linguist, a textual critic, a Biblical Scholar, or even a reader of the Bible, my responses would mostly, although not exclusively, come from the various characters and resources that discuss this material around the web. I’ve heard most of the arguments you allude to here and am aware of responses I find persuasive to most.

There are specific arguments about the evidence available from scholars that persuade me of the existence of Jesus, as well as the collective weight of all the evidence. However, there are also arguments that are not so directly related to the Gospels and the text that give me cause for conviction in the historicity of Jesus too, or at least that mythicists might be mistaken.

For example, as I alluded to in my previous post, there seems to be lacking from the majority of Jewish history, any tradition of mythicism. This is not a proof of historicity, but merely asks a provocative question. Jews have had great motive to make mythicist arguments. They’ve had motive throughout history, not just in the 1st Century, as a particularly persecuted group of people, to try and counter the ideas and beliefs of Christianity. Christians and Christian theology have caused Jews and Judaism all manner of problems through the last 2000 years. So, if there was a sniff of a chance to expose the central figure of Christianity as non-existent, it would surely have figured highly on any Jewish scholar’s list of curiosities to explore over the last 2000 years. You would surely imagine that early traditions of Jewish mythicists would be at least evident, if not predominant. You would imagine that modern Jews might also have cause to make arguments of mythicism, but they simply or largely don’t. There are probably some exceptions, but there are no prominent or established Jewish traditions of mythicism. When people have strong motive to argue a point, but still do not, it makes you wonder whether in fact this point is valid. Jews have been terribly persecuted by Christians at times over the last two millennia. Of course, it could be a 2000 year mistake; perhaps there were cover ups; perhaps we do have evidence of early mythcism that we are missing, discounting or have yet to find, but the beliefs of the Jews on this matter do give me some cause to believe in historicity outside of direct investigations of texts.

Whilst I appreciate the recommendation, reading Carrier’s book does not feature very highly on my list of priorities at the moment and for balance, neither does reading anything arguing in favour of the existence of Jesus. The topic is of course interesting, but I can’t really commit the time to sufficiently explore the issue through the available books. From my current understanding, I simply find mythicism to be implausible and deeply improbable.


Laurens wrote: The fact of the matter is that even disregarding evidence that I believe weighs heavily towards mythicism, we cannot really say whether there was a historical Jesus.


I simply disagree that this is a fact. This sounds more like rhetoric. It sounds like something Carrier might say to drill home his point. We can argue an extremely strong case for the historicity of Jesus and one of the strongest arguments for a fact of his life is the Crucifixion. There is virtually no scholarly dissent to the event of the crucifixion, except from Carrier and one or two others. Perhaps you can argue that knowledge or certainty about the events of his life is illusive, but knowledge of his mere existence is obtainable.
Wed Apr 06, 2016 6:38 pm
he_who_is_nobodyBloggerUser avatarPosts: 3149Joined: Tue Feb 24, 2009 1:36 amLocation: Albuquerque, New Mexico Gender: Male

Post Re: A Question about the historicity of Jesus

Engelbert wrote:
Laurens wrote:The fact of the matter is that even disregarding evidence that I believe weighs heavily towards mythicism, we cannot really say whether there was a historical Jesus.


I simply disagree that this is a fact. This sounds more like rhetoric. It sounds like something Carrier might say to drill home his point. We can argue an extremely strong case for the historicity of Jesus and one of the strongest arguments for a fact of his life is the Crucifixion. There is virtually no scholarly dissent to the event of the crucifixion, except from Carrier and one or two others. Perhaps you can argue that knowledge or certainty about the events of his life is illusive, but knowledge of his mere existence is obtainable.


That is completely wrong. There is absolutely nothing attesting to the crucifixion of a man named Yeshua. All we have is Christian traditions and histories writing about what the Christians said they believe. One has an obvious bias and the other is just recording the traditions of those with the bias. That is to say, there is a difference between finding a historical document stating, "a man named Yeshua was crucified and some called him Christ" and "these people say a man named Yeshua was crucified and he was also the Christ." We have the latter, we do not have the former.
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Wed Apr 06, 2016 7:00 pm
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EngelbertPosts: 290Joined: Thu Mar 28, 2013 3:03 am Gender: Male

Post Re: A Question about the historicity of Jesus

he_who_is_nobody wrote:That is completely wrong. There is absolutely nothing attesting to the crucifixion of a man named Yeshua. All we have is Christian traditions and histories writing about what the Christians said they believe. One has an obvious bias and the other is just recording the traditions of those with the bias. That is to say, there is a difference between finding a historical document stating, "a man named Yeshua was crucified and some called him Christ" and "these people say a man named Yeshua was crucified and he was also the Christ." We have the latter, we do not have the former.


How is it completely wrong? I said that there is virtually no scholarly dissent from the idea that Jesus existed. That's quite true. Carrier, Price, Doherty and a handful of others might reject the crucifixion or the life of Christ. But it's like the weighting of scientists who accept anthropomorphic climate change against the weight of those who reject it. There is a great difference in the support for each.

And to say that there is absolutely nothing attesting to the crucifixion of a man named Yeshua is contradicted immediately bv your following statements. We have texts. That is what we have. They are valuable. And they are crucial. They are historical evidence. Yes they contain bias and fantastic elements, which is why they require careful consideration and study from scholars and they have received that for a long time. Secular scholarship affirms the existence of a historical Christ, whether or not he is affirmed by those with interests.
Wed Apr 06, 2016 7:16 pm
LaurensSocial EditorUser avatarPosts: 2935Joined: Sat Mar 20, 2010 11:24 pmLocation: Norwich UK Gender: Male

Post Re: A Question about the historicity of Jesus

Engelbert wrote:
I simply disagree that this is a fact. This sounds more like rhetoric. It sounds like something Carrier might say to drill home his point. We can argue an extremely strong case for the historicity of Jesus and one of the strongest arguments for a fact of his life is the Crucifixion. There is virtually no scholarly dissent to the event of the crucifixion, except from Carrier and one or two others. Perhaps you can argue that knowledge or certainty about the events of his life is illusive, but knowledge of his mere existence is obtainable.


Given that the only source we have for Jesus being crucified are Christian documents that contain highly fictitious elements, I'd say it's a pretty reasonable conclusion.

The Gospels are not contemporary to the events, nor do they even agree with each other about what happened and when. Paul mentions the crucifixion, however he never says it occurred in Jerusalem at the hands of Pilate. Given that he never says it happened in recent history on Earth---it is not inconsistent with the idea that early Christians professed that Jesus was crucified by Satan in a celestial realm.

Of course it is plausible that Jesus was executed by the Romans in Jerusalem by and large as described. But I don't think we can legitimately say that we know this by any stretch of the imagination.

Mark's gospel for example talks of how the Roman's released Barabbas (a name that means Son of the Father) as part of a ritual (that no record ever shows happened) whereby they would allow a mob to vote on which prisoner gets released. The whole thing is a fictional construct in order to mirror the Yom Kippur ritual, whereby 2 goats (or sons of the father in this instance) are part of a ritual where one is driven off and the other is sacrificed to atone for the sins of Israel. The whole thing is a cleverly devised narrative that combines the atonement rituals of Yom Kippur and the passover in order to portray Jesus as the ultimate sacrifice. Of course you could argue that this is just fictive window dressing around a kernel of truth. However I think all the mythic and symbolic elements that are peppered throughout all of the gospels point towards one conclusion: none of it is reliable history.

For that reason I don't think we can legitimately say that we know anything about Jesus, or even that he definitely existed. All we can say is what these faith based, non-contemporary, heavily fictitious narratives say about Jesus. All of which might be made up as it is not corroborated anywhere.
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Wed Apr 06, 2016 7:35 pm
he_who_is_nobodyBloggerUser avatarPosts: 3149Joined: Tue Feb 24, 2009 1:36 amLocation: Albuquerque, New Mexico Gender: Male

Post Re: A Question about the historicity of Jesus

Engelbert wrote:
he_who_is_nobody wrote:That is completely wrong. There is absolutely nothing attesting to the crucifixion of a man named Yeshua. All we have is Christian traditions and histories writing about what the Christians said they believe. One has an obvious bias and the other is just recording the traditions of those with the bias. That is to say, there is a difference between finding a historical document stating, "a man named Yeshua was crucified and some called him Christ" and "these people say a man named Yeshua was crucified and he was also the Christ." We have the latter, we do not have the former.


How is it completely wrong? I said that there is virtually no scholarly dissent from the idea that Jesus existed. That's quite true. Carrier, Price, Doherty and a handful of others might reject the crucifixion or the life of Christ. But it's like the weighting of scientists who accept anthropomorphic climate change against the weight of those who reject it. There is a great difference in the support for each.

And to say that there is absolutely nothing attesting to the crucifixion of a man named Yeshua is contradicted immediately bv your following statements. We have texts. That is what we have. They are valuable. And they are crucial. They are historical evidence. Yes they contain bias and fantastic elements, which is why they require careful consideration and study from scholars and they have received that for a long time. Secular scholarship affirms the existence of a historical Christ, whether or not he is affirmed by those with interests.


Well, the thing I was saying that was completely wrong is that the crucifixion of Jesus is a historical fact, I guess I should have been clearer with that. I to accept that a man named Yeshua is most likely the center for the stories of Jesus, but much like we know his birth story is completely false, I see no reason in thinking that his execution story should be thought of as factual. Again, we have written records of stories from Christians of a man named Yeshua being crucified. That is not the same as a historical document recording a event of a man named Yeshua being crucified.

Essentially, what you are saying is that stories count as evidence for anything. Well, there are tons of stories of a flying saucer crash landing in Roswell, New Mexico. Does the fact that there are several (contradictory) stories add more weight to that claim? This is what we have with the story of Jesus's crucifixion; contradictory stories told by Christians that were later written down by historians or other Christians.

Laurens also gave the best reason why I believe the whole crucifixion story might be made up. For that story to be that contrived in our earliest Gospel shines doubt on the whole story.
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Wed Apr 06, 2016 7:49 pm
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LaurensSocial EditorUser avatarPosts: 2935Joined: Sat Mar 20, 2010 11:24 pmLocation: Norwich UK Gender: Male

Post Re: A Question about the historicity of Jesus

Engelbert wrote:How is it completely wrong? I said that there is virtually no scholarly dissent from the idea that Jesus existed. That's quite true. Carrier, Price, Doherty and a handful of others might reject the crucifixion or the life of Christ. But it's like the weighting of scientists who accept anthropomorphic climate change against the weight of those who reject it. There is a great difference in the support for each.

And to say that there is absolutely nothing attesting to the crucifixion of a man named Yeshua is contradicted immediately bv your following statements. We have texts. That is what we have. They are valuable. And they are crucial. They are historical evidence. Yes they contain bias and fantastic elements, which is why they require careful consideration and study from scholars and they have received that for a long time. Secular scholarship affirms the existence of a historical Christ, whether or not he is affirmed by those with interests.


The difference between climate scientists and bible scholars is the scientists have concrete data and do not rely on extrapolations on top of extrapolations or faulty methods.

Bible scholars look at the gospels and they largely agree that vast swathes of it are story telling but cling to the idea that they can prove that Jesus existed and thus construct fallacious methods for determining this.

Take the criteria of embarassment for example. Scholars will say early Christians would have been embarrassed by Jesus being executed for example because they would have believed that their messiah couldn't be defeated thus it being recorded is evidence that it happened. In actual fact it isn't true that Jews would necessarily have found a dying messiah anathema. Many pre-Christian Jews were linking the suffering servant in Isaiah with Messianic prophecies. Some people did believe that the messiah would suffer and die. Carrier demonstrates this.

Scholars invent sources such as Q then completely speculate about what they contain. Scholars speculate about trace languages in the texts and then extrapolate oral traditions from them. They basically pull stuff out of their arses and call it evidence. Q for example is speculated to exist because of the elements common to both Matthew and Luke that arent in Mark, but really it could have been that Matthew was responding to Luke (that may not be the correct way around). They then develop a whole load of assumptions about this imaginary document.

The methods are not sound even for history. It's all just smoke and mirrors, nothing like the consensus of climate change.

These people go to institutions that began as religious ones and they still hold many of those biases despite becoming more liberalised. Ehrman himself admits that you can kiss goodbye to your career in the field if you don't tow the line. Its a circle jerk of people pulling stuff out of each others arses until there is so much stuff that nobody thinks to question it.

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Fri Apr 08, 2016 9:34 am
EngelbertPosts: 290Joined: Thu Mar 28, 2013 3:03 am Gender: Male

Post Re: A Question about the historicity of Jesus

I've thought about responding in detail to some of these points of textual evidence, but I can't help but think this issue has been repeated many times. I've been a bit pressed for time this week and almost typed some responses, but didn't quite get there this time.

I thought I'd make a couple of points that aren't necessarily related directly to textual arguments, but that come to my mind when thinking about this issue. Firstly though, I'll offer a quick response to your last point.

Laurens wrote:Ehrman himself admits that you can kiss goodbye to your career in the field if you don't tow the line. Its a circle jerk of people pulling stuff out of each others arses until there is so much stuff that nobody thinks to question it.


You are concerned that dissenters from the consensus are excluded from the field. Perhaps, this particular point mentioned by Ehrman (although I suspect it might be a little hyperbolic) exhibits an academic prejudice, but I can't help but think of parallel situations which perhaps you are mindful of from other similar philosophical discussions. For example, shouldn't we "teach the controversy"? There are always going to be dissenters from a particular prevailing paradigm. But when something is so well established and accepted almost universally in a particular field, there are some points worth thinking about. In the field of geology for example, a Creationist might want to argue for his inclusion in academia, yet would geology departments be wise to include an academic who would argue the age of the Earth to be so young, that it succeeds rather than precedes the last Ice Age? Should we criticise biology departments who want to exclude the rejection of evolution, or intelligent design from their syllabuses? These perhaps are extreme examples, but a parallel can be drawn to Ehrman's comments about history. When a consensus is so well established, those who would oppose it might not always be welcomed in a department, because their position might not yet be sufficiently warranted.

We accept that scientists have just cause to defend their academic institutions from including or endorsing improbable beliefs, so perhaps this same courtesy should be afforded to historians who work under the same scholarly and sceptical ideals as any other naturalistic department.

To further explore this point, I'd like to refer to the case of Lynn Margulis. I'm sure that many here are familiar with Lynn Margulis who found acceptance, respect and a place in scientific history for her work on symbiosis. Criticised, viewed with suspicion and even held in contempt for her theories on symbiosis and symbiogenesis, Margulis published her work and defended it tenaciously. Despite initial scepticism and sometimes hostility, her work on symbiosis found increasingly wide acceptance over the years until eventually it became a valuable and respected biological theory. Dawkins said of her, "I greatly admire Lynn Margulis’s sheer courage and stamina in sticking by the endosymbiosis theory, and carrying it through from being an unorthodoxy to an orthodoxy. I’m referring to the theory that the eukaryotic cell is a symbiotic union of primitive prokaryotic cells. This is one of the great achievements of twentieth-century evolutionary biology, and I greatly admire her for it."

As with any consensus in an academic field, the person or persons who can inspire a universal rethink, an evolution, or a paradigm shift are going to make their careers. In fact, the rewards for persuading an entire field to a new and better position provide a strong motive to try. Lynn Margulis is an example of someone who had an unconventional or unpopular theory, that through sheer effort, courageousness and good science persuaded an entire community of academics of the validity of her work. Her story is the perfect example of how to change a consensus and what happens, when fellow academics begin to agree.

So, when we compare the story of Margulis to that of mythicism, we can see that one is, thus far, lacking some aspects of the other. Mythicism today is deemed to be an unorthodox or speculative theory as were the theories of Margulis. Of course, unusual or minority views are still potentially accurate views, but to date, the view of mythicism as correct is not widely spread amongst academics. Again, the potential to disprove the existence of a historical Christ has existed for 2000 years. There is always a motive for academics to disprove an existing paradigm if it's a false paradigm, which means that there has been sufficient motive in place to disprove the historicity of Christ for a long time. Given that anti-historicity has received so little support, a position of mythicism seems a little suspect today. To relate this to Margulis' case, we can see that a consensus can be gradually overturned with endeavour and good arguments. We do not seem to see this happening with relation to current mythicist arguments. There seems to be no progress amongst those who study these documents. To add to this, people have attempted to disprove the existence of Jesus for many decades (prior to modern mythicist arguments) and yet, have remained peripheral in the group of historians and other scholars. So, it seems to me, that the effects of the mythicist theory do not resemble what those of a consensus changing theory should, or the preliminary effects of such a theory.

Of course, the proponents of mythicism could yet persuade everyone of their position. This is possible. It just seems to date that they have not persuaded the experts and as a non-expert myself, I have to look to the experts, at least for some, guidance.

These were just a couple of thoughts, I didn't actually get to some others that I have in mind, but I think I'll stop there for a bit. There are many other points to think about - so many - but for now, these are just another two that come to me. I would expect to see more mind changes amongst secular historians, if the mythicists really do have a strong case. Of course, these mind changes may well happen in the future, but right now, they don't seem to be... and I'm making my judgements based in large part on what I can see right now.
Sun Apr 10, 2016 10:52 pm
LaurensSocial EditorUser avatarPosts: 2935Joined: Sat Mar 20, 2010 11:24 pmLocation: Norwich UK Gender: Male

Post Re: A Question about the historicity of Jesus

I'd say Carrier's peer reviewed book putting forth an argument based on a theorem that demonstrates the veracity of mythicism is a step towards a consensus change. When one of the main arguments used for historicity among scholars and laypeople is "well the scholars all agree, those people are just fringe nutters" you have to be somewhat suspicious. There are a lot of crazy mythicists that is for sure, however Carrier, Price, Doherty et al are not among them.

As I mentioned the Bible scholars use faulty methods that no other groups of historians would deem valid. Carrier wrote a whole book on this. The invention of oral traditions for example. Linguists find traces of Aramaic in the gospels. What does this prove? Why that the gospels started as oral traditions probably from the people who knew Jesus, they were then passed down and recorded in the gospels. WRONG. It proves they have traces of Aramaic in them. Not even that really, from what I can tell it proves someone thinks there are Aramaic traces in them. This is the kind of shit Bible scholars think passes as fact. Someone like Ehrman will tell you stuff like "we know the gospels started as oral tradition".

Again with the Q source. Scholars like Ehrman will say Q definitely 100% existed and move from there to speculating about what it contains. However the simpler explanation would be that Matthew and Luke are cross referenced, and that the differences such as Sermon on the Mount vs Sermon on the Plain are just them correcting each other because they disagree with each other's theology. Scholars go from "Matthew and Luke have elements common to each other that are not in Mark" to "there must have been this one document that both of them have", to "Q probably was written at this date and contained so and so". They will then go and tell people that this speculation is fact.

My main point here is that scholarly consensus in Bible studies is untrustworthy. They all assume their conclusion based on the fact that everyone else in their field does, then they set out to read the gospels with that in mind, using very flawed methods to pull "evidence" out. There is no way anyone should be comparing this to the work of scientists, or even historians.

EDIT: I say Matthew and Luke cross referenced. I don't mean that I mean one of them was reading the other.
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Mon Apr 11, 2016 6:57 am
EngelbertPosts: 290Joined: Thu Mar 28, 2013 3:03 am Gender: Male

Post Re: A Question about the historicity of Jesus

You could be right that Carrier is on his way to wider acceptance. I did not discount this as a possibility. However, despite his books, the sea change does not yet seem to be underway. Of course, as you say, we could be seeing the first steps of this and we wont be able to tell until a later date. One clarification that might be of significance here is that when talking of Carrier, I generally am referring to a perspective of mythicism, but a distinction can be made between mythicism and agnosticism in reference to the historicity of Jesus. An agnostic might be ambivalent about the historical Christ, yet still reject the specific case that Carrier puts forward. Non-historicity does not necessarily entail that Carrier's thesis is the correct explanation. Perhaps the Gospels are a huge historical mistake that record genuine beliefs about an Earthly Jesus who simply didn't exist, rather than a belief in a Jesus that only existed in the Heavenly realm.

Laurens wrote:When one of the main arguments used for historicity among scholars and laypeople is "well the scholars all agree, those people are just fringe nutters" you have to be somewhat suspicious.


One argument often referenced here is that of consensus, yes. Although it's not the only argument I would bring to bear in support of historicity and neither would it be with scholars, but it is one of significance. We all rely on our academic institutions to employ the best standards of scrutiny and scholarship with regards to the subjects at hand. We trust these institutions to be rigorous and diligent. My trust is given not only to science departments, but to the historians, the textual critics and the linguists too. One corrective mechanism in academia is the fact that a consensus is not governed by national laws or religious biases, since it transcends national and religious borders. So when a consensus emerges that consists of academics not only locally, but globally and amongst, not only religious, but non religious and even anti religious scholars, it starts to carry some weight. Of course there is room for challenge and I've noted this already.


As I mentioned the Bible scholars use faulty methods that no other groups of historians would deem valid.


It depends what you mean by Bible Scholars. Do you think of Bible Scholars as purely religious people, or do you think of them as a mixture of religious and secular? Significantly, Bible Scholars sometimes or often are also historians. So when you criticise the methods used to understand the Bible, you are also criticising the methods of historians and textual critics that are used in the same way to interpret all other works of history.

Francesca Stavrakopoulou for example, is a British Bible Scholar. She is also an outspoken atheist, a speaker at many humanist events and a historian. She narrated a TV series for the BBC that explored some of her views on the mythology in the Bible (perhaps you saw it). She views the Patriarchs of the Bible to be fictional and deems the scriptures to contain very little historical fact. Yet, despite her position on this, her atheism and her scepticism, she too believes that Jesus existed. She, it would seem, would be the perfect audience for Carrier's thesis. If anyone might be persuaded, then she might be. Yet she's another example of someone who believes in the existence of Jesus, being not only a Bible Scholar, but a historian too.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q46tjUQatgI

Carrier wrote a whole book on this. The invention of oral traditions for example. Linguists find traces of Aramaic in the gospels. What does this prove? Why that the gospels started as oral traditions probably from the people who knew Jesus, they were then passed down and recorded in the gospels. WRONG. It proves they have traces of Aramaic in them. Not even that really, from what I can tell it proves someone thinks there are Aramaic traces in them. This is the kind of shit Bible scholars think passes as fact. Someone like Ehrman will tell you stuff like "we know the gospels started as oral tradition".


These points may be accurate, but they are for Carrier to prove. It sounds quite plausible that if some Aramaic exists in the Gospels, that it's there as a relic of previous recitations of these stories and traditions.

Again with the Q source. Scholars like Ehrman will say Q definitely 100% existed and move from there to speculating about what it contains. However the simpler explanation would be that Matthew and Luke are cross referenced, and that the differences such as Sermon on the Mount vs Sermon on the Plain are just them correcting each other because they disagree with each other's theology. Scholars go from "Matthew and Luke have elements common to each other that are not in Mark" to "there must have been this one document that both of them have", to "Q probably was written at this date and contained so and so". They will then go and tell people that this speculation is fact.


Yes, there is all sorts of controversy in Biblical study. But with or without Q, investigations into the historicity of Jesus can still be fruitful.

My main point here is that scholarly consensus in Bible studies is untrustworthy. They all assume their conclusion based on the fact that everyone else in their field does, then they set out to read the gospels with that in mind, using very flawed methods to pull "evidence" out.


Biblical scholarship is eternally controversial, yes, but still some things can be agreed upon. Pontius Pilate was a real governor for example. Basic facts can be found sometimes. The existence of Jesus is one of these basic facts. Those who accept his existence will not necessarily agree that much more is a certainty and if you think that scholars all assume their conclusions based on the fact that all other scholars do, then you have quite a dim view of scholarship in this field. With sceptics like Ehrman and Stavrakopoulou who are willing to declare the falsity of so many claims found in the Bible, unwilling to declare the non-existence of Jesus, it appears strange to me. Why would they care? Stavrakopoulou speaks out against the historicity of the Bible on so many other matters, so why would she compromise her views for the sake of one more character?

There is no way anyone should be comparing this to the work of scientists, or even historians.


But so many Biblical Scholars are historians and yet they still agree on this matter. The methods used to investigate the Bible are methods of historians. Methods to determine history do not always yield indisputable results, which is why there is so much controversy around the Bible. But sometimes the weight of evidence will support one thesis far more strongly than an alternative which is why the historicity of Jesus is favoured by scholars. History is the attempt to study and model what probably happened in the past, not always what necessarily did happen in the past. It works, as does science, with degrees of certainty and one of the matters that has a higher degree of certainty is the historicity of Jesus.
Mon Apr 11, 2016 3:35 pm
LaurensSocial EditorUser avatarPosts: 2935Joined: Sat Mar 20, 2010 11:24 pmLocation: Norwich UK Gender: Male

Post Re: A Question about the historicity of Jesus

Engelbert wrote:You could be right that Carrier is on his way to wider acceptance. I did not discount this as a possibility. However, despite his books, the sea change does not yet seem to be underway. Of course, as you say, we could be seeing the first steps of this and we wont be able to tell until a later date. One clarification that might be of significance here is that when talking of Carrier, I generally am referring to a perspective of mythicism, but a distinction can be made between mythicism and agnosticism in reference to the historicity of Jesus. An agnostic might be ambivalent about the historical Christ, yet still reject the specific case that Carrier puts forward. Non-historicity does not necessarily entail that Carrier's thesis is the correct explanation. Perhaps the Gospels are a huge historical mistake that record genuine beliefs about an Earthly Jesus who simply didn't exist, rather than a belief in a Jesus that only existed in the Heavenly realm.


That is correct. I would not even go so far as to say Jesus was definitely a myth myself. I think the case is compelling. I would say without doubt though that agnosticism is more reasonable than historicism given the lack of evidence.

One argument often referenced here is that of consensus, yes. Although it's not the only argument I would bring to bear in support of historicity and neither would it be with scholars, but it is one of significance. We all rely on our academic institutions to employ the best standards of scrutiny and scholarship with regards to the subjects at hand. We trust these institutions to be rigorous and diligent. My trust is given not only to science departments, but to the historians, the textual critics and the linguists too. One corrective mechanism in academia is the fact that a consensus is not governed by national laws or religious biases, since it transcends national and religious borders. So when a consensus emerges that consists of academics not only locally, but globally and amongst, not only religious, but non religious and even anti religious scholars, it starts to carry some weight. Of course there is room for challenge and I've noted this already.


I would usually agree in most subjects. However Biblical scholarship tends to rest on assumptions that were made in the past by scholars. Cases are made that build on these and so on. One major assumption is that the Gospels contain useful historical information. Over the years scholars have discarded more and more of them as nonsense, however they still cling to them as being evidence for the historicity of Jesus. They construct methods that supposedly sift through the information and pick out the actual historical facts. These methods however are so tenuous and weak that it becomes clear we need to discard these documents as being of no use. The best we can say about them is that if they contain historical information it is impossible to obtain. Scholars are unwilling to do this. They then take information from the Gospels and pre-suppose stuff from the Epistles using it, which is arse-backwards.

It depends what you mean by Bible Scholars. Do you think of Bible Scholars as purely religious people, or do you think of them as a mixture of religious and secular? Significantly, Bible Scholars sometimes or often are also historians. So when you criticise the methods used to understand the Bible, you are also criticising the methods of historians and textual critics that are used in the same way to interpret all other works of history.


I think of them as a mixture of religious and secular. I don't doubt that some are historians, however that doesn't change the fact that the methodologies that have been constructed for Bible scholarship are by and large faulty. What we have is Paul---the earliest of any Christian writings we have. He literally never mentions Jesus as though he were a recently dead preacher from Judea. This is odd to say the least. We then have the Gospels which are not contemporary, and are heavily mythologised, or some might say completely so. They contain so much symbolism, and parallels to the OT that the story just comes apart when you look at it in those terms. None of the Gospels are independent. Literally nothing else we have indicates that Jesus was a real person. Yet people claim he existed beyond all reasonable doubt.

We have nothing reliable or contemporary. You might be able to look at the Gospels and speculate maybe some of this refers to a real person, but given that the majority of Mark is parable and based off of the Old Testament (and none of the subsequent Gospels are independent) we really cannot say any more than that.

Francesca Stavrakopoulou for example, is a British Bible Scholar. She is also an outspoken atheist, a speaker at many humanist events and a historian. She narrated a TV series for the BBC that explored some of her views on the mythology in the Bible (perhaps you saw it). She views the Patriarchs of the Bible to be fictional and deems the scriptures to contain very little historical fact. Yet, despite her position on this, her atheism and her scepticism, she too believes that Jesus existed. She, it would seem, would be the perfect audience for Carrier's thesis. If anyone might be persuaded, then she might be. Yet she's another example of someone who believes in the existence of Jesus, being not only a Bible Scholar, but a historian too.


What is her evidence for believing in Jesus?

These points may be accurate, but they are for Carrier to prove. It sounds quite plausible that if some Aramaic exists in the Gospels, that it's there as a relic of previous recitations of these stories and traditions.


He goes into this in his book.

Yes, there is all sorts of controversy in Biblical study. But with or without Q investigations into the historicity of Jesus can still be fruitful.


How? From looking at the stories in the Gospels? What else do we have? The forged passages in Josephus? There is literally nothing. Look at some of Carriers points about the Gospels. They are elaborately constructed fiction. Mark's gospel has a convenient tridactic structure with tonnes of symbolism. History doesn't occur in such literary structure with such pertinent symbolism. Stories do.

This is not to say that this all points definitely to mythicism. However, I do not see how you can get beyond agnosticism with the evidence that we have.

Biblical scholarship is eternally controversial, yes, but still some things can be agreed upon. Pontius Pilate was a real governor for example. Basic facts can be found sometimes. The existence of Jesus is one of these basic facts. Those who accept his existence will not necessarily agree that much more is a certainty and if you think that scholars all assume their conclusions based on the fact that all other scholars do, then you have quite a dim view of scholarship in this field. With sceptics like Ehrman and Stavrakopoulou who are willing to declare the falsity of so many claims found in the Bible, unwilling to declare the non-existence of Jesus, it appears strange to me. Why would they care? Stavrakopoulou speaks out against the historicity of the Bible on so many other matters, so why would she compromise her views for the sake of one more character?


We have biographies about Pilate. We have stones etched with his name. We have mentions in contemporary sources. None of this is true of Jesus. We literally have letters from one guy that don't provide any historical info, and 4 story books.

I can't tell you why they don't declare agnosticism or mythicism. Maybe for Ehrman at least because he has a best selling career based off it. Maybe they just accept the flawed methodology that was handed to them and perceive it to be persuasive.

But so many Biblical Scholars are historians and yet they still agree on this matter. The methods used to investigate the Bible are methods of historians. Methods to determine history do not always yield indisputable results, which is why there is so much controversy around the Bible. But sometimes the weight of evidence will support one thesis far more strongly than an alternative which is why the historicity of Jesus is favoured by scholars. History is the attempt to study and model what probably happened in the past, not always what necessarily did happen in the past. It works, as does science, with degrees of certainty and one of the matters that has a higher degree of certainty is the historicity of Jesus.


The weight of the evidence supports agnosticism. I won't tire you with outlining what we have to go on, but I will reiterate that none of what we have is reliable.

Here is what Ehrman himself says about mythicists:

there is not a single mythicist who teaches New Testament or Early Christianity or even Classics at any accredited institution of higher learning in the Western world. And it is no wonder why. These views are so extreme and so unconvincing to 99.99 percent of the real experts that anyone holding them is as likely to get a teaching job in an established department of religion as a six-day creationist is likely to land on in a bona fide department of biology.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bart-d-eh ... 49544.html


[I refer you to his exchange with Carrier for an insight into how dishonest he can be.]

He is basically saying you're not going to get a job in the field if you doubt the consensus. If that is true it explains the consensus entirely, because people like Ehrman vilify and pursue doubters out of the field. This doesn't speak highly of New Testament studies.
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Mon Apr 11, 2016 4:22 pm
EngelbertPosts: 290Joined: Thu Mar 28, 2013 3:03 am Gender: Male

Post Re: A Question about the historicity of Jesus

Laurens wrote:
Here is what Ehrman himself says about mythicists:

there is not a single mythicist who teaches New Testament or Early Christianity or even Classics at any accredited institution of higher learning in the Western world. And it is no wonder why. These views are so extreme and so unconvincing to 99.99 percent of the real experts that anyone holding them is as likely to get a teaching job in an established department of religion as a six-day creationist is likely to land on in a bona fide department of biology.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bart-d-eh ... 49544.html


Well, I kind of responded to this in the post prior to my last, or at least tried to offer some thoughts on it.

[I refer you to his exchange with Carrier for an insight into how dishonest he can be.]

He is basically saying you're not going to get a job in the field if you doubt the consensus. If that is true it explains the consensus entirely, because people like Ehrman vilify and pursue doubters out of the field. This doesn't speak highly of New Testament studies.


Your logic doesn't necessarily follow here. Which came first, the chicken or the egg? (...the egg, I know) Consensuses exist all over the place in academia. Just because one exists, it does not follow that it only exists because people fear for their jobs. You are arguing that in this case, there is a serious problem, but it does not follow that this consensus is necessarily or fully explained because anti-historicists are being discriminated against. It could easily be the case, that the majority who study the subject matter simply agree that the preponderance of evidence lies on the side of Christ's historical existence. That is also an entirely plausible explanation for the consensus. You don't seem to believe that, but at the moment,you surely have to admit that it is possible, even if you don't believe it.

Your point about jobs in academia is also so reminiscent of those creationists and intelligent designers who feel maligned because their advocates struggle to make their way in higher education. Your argument could easily be substituted into a quarrel about creationism in the classroom.

He is basically saying you're not going to get a job in the field if you doubt the consensus. If that is true it explains the consensus entirely, because people like Dawkins vilify and pursue doubters out of the field. This doesn't speak highly of Evolutionary Biology.


It's the same argument that very well educated and persuasive proponents of Intelligent Design might make, in their efforts to have ID included in classrooms. Perhaps one day, ID will become a legitimate theory, but in the meantime it isn't sufficiently supported.

So it isn't necessarily the case that Carrier's theory will always remain on the fringe. Perhaps it will become established at some point. But I don't think that your problem with Ehrman's remark about jobs is necessarily because of institutional discrimination or bad methods. It could be the case that you're right about either or both of these points, or it could easily be the case, that despite every criticism, the experts are genuinely persuaded on the whole, that Jesus was a real figure of history.
Mon Apr 11, 2016 8:48 pm
LaurensSocial EditorUser avatarPosts: 2935Joined: Sat Mar 20, 2010 11:24 pmLocation: Norwich UK Gender: Male

Post Re: A Question about the historicity of Jesus

Engelbert wrote:
Your logic doesn't necessarily follow here. Which came first, the chicken or the egg? (...the egg, I know) Consensuses exist all over the place in academia. Just because one exists, it does not follow that it only exists because people fear for their jobs. You are arguing that in this case, there is a serious problem, but it does not follow that this consensus is necessarily or fully explained because anti-historicists are being discriminated against. It could easily be the case, that the majority who study the subject matter simply agree that the preponderance of evidence lies on the side of Christ's historical existence. That is also an entirely plausible explanation for the consensus. You don't seem to believe that, but at the moment,you surely have to admit that it is possible, even if you don't believe it.


I think the consensus extends back into the past beyond where most people doing the studies were Christians. I don't believe that the preponderance of evidence supports historicism as I have studied the evidence to the best of my abilities. I've read books by Ehrman, I've read Carrier's book. I find the points that Carrier makes significantly more cogent than any I've ever heard a historicist make. I will concede that the evidence doesn't point directly towards myth, however it does point towards agnosticism.

I have repeatedly made points about the consensus and why it is flawed. Yet you just keep asserting it. Sure I might be completely wrong with regards to it, but so far as I can see there is nothing wrong with the following statement:

There is zero contemporary evidence for the historicity of Jesus. The authentic Pauline epistles contain very little that can be used in support of historicism, save for a few highly ambiguous passages, but these are not enough to establish historicism because they are unclear and not corroborated. The Gospels are heavily fictionalized, rife with symbolism, parable, and parallels with the OT. So much contained therein is blatant story telling, mythologising, and outright falsehood that we cannot reasonably draw any indisputable historical information from them. There might be some, but it is impossible to corroborate it with anything independent. None of the Gospels are independent, they all draw from each other. We literally have no other attestation to the existence of Jesus. All we have are forgeries and misunderstandings (a la Josephus) or mentions that are too late to be of any use. In light of this we cannot really say with any certainty that anything we know about Jesus is true. At best we can say that the traditions might be based on a kernel of truth, but it is likely that we will never know this for certain. Therefore agnosticism is the only fully reasonable position.

That is why I think the consensus is flawed and should not be trusted. Because it is reliant on the Gospels which have been shown time and time again to be unreliable. Nothing I have said above is particularly controversial.

Your point about jobs in academia is also so reminiscent of those creationists and intelligent designers who feel maligned because their advocates struggle to make their way in higher education. Your argument could easily be substituted into a quarrel about creationism in the classroom.


Not really, because the merits of evolution are not dependent on the consensus. You take a look at the evidence and it speaks for itself even if everyone around you believes the opposite.

You take Jesus on the other hand. If you really study the evidence, you don't really get anything concrete. Unless you decide that Jesus was real beforehand and then seek to back that conclusion up. If you start by asking how reliable those sources are---which I would argue is the correct method, you don't really get any history from them.


It's the same argument that very well educated and persuasive proponents of Intelligent Design might make, in their efforts to have ID included in classrooms. Perhaps one day, ID will become a legitimate theory, but in the meantime it isn't sufficiently supported.

So it isn't necessarily the case that Carrier's theory will always remain on the fringe. Perhaps it will become established at some point. But I don't think that your problem with Ehrman's remark about jobs is necessarily because of institutional discrimination or bad methods. It could be the case that you're right about either or both of these points, or it could easily be the case, that despite every criticism, the experts are genuinely persuaded on the whole, that Jesus was a real figure of history.


Again the analogy is flawed. Agnosticism with regards to historicity is the most reasonable position given the evidence. I would totally agree with you if there was one piece of evidence, just one, that undoubtedly demonstrates the existence of Jesus. There isn't anything. This is the measure by which we should judge this theory, not the consensus. If there is one single piece of evidence that proved beyond doubt that Jesus existed, we wouldn't be having this discussion, there would be no mythicism. The fact that we have nothing except the unreliable gospels is what we should be focused on.

Literally the first argument people come to is the consensus. I believe it because the experts do. Fair enough if you're not bothered about the discussion, but if you want to get into it you need to start looking beyond that.

Earlier you mentioned Pilate. Here is some indisputable evidence that he existed:

Image

It says:

To the Divine Augusti [this] Tiberieum
...Pontius Pilate
...prefect of Judea
...has dedicated [this]

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pilate_stone

It is literally an inscription commissioned by the man himself. [It's telling that Ehrman lies and says we have about the same level of evidence for Jesus as we do for Pilate]. That is a simple indisputable piece of evidence that proves beyond reasonable doubt that Pilate existed.

We have absolutely nothing comparable for Jesus. If we did this conversation would be impossible. Again we have letters that mention nothing historical about Jesus, and the blatantly fictional Gospels.
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Mon Apr 11, 2016 9:32 pm
EngelbertPosts: 290Joined: Thu Mar 28, 2013 3:03 am Gender: Male

Post Re: A Question about the historicity of Jesus

I have concerned my points with the consensus here, because I believe it's of some significance, but in every post, I have noted that this is not the limit of my argument. You have brought up a great many points and to discuss them all at once would be difficult and lengthy. One point at a time is best, or else too many balls are in the air. This is merely a conversation, not a dissertation.


You can doubt anything if you pour enough scepticism on it. I can doubt the existence of this world, or the reliability of my senses, or the nature of reality as did Descartes. You have offered the inscriptions of Pilate as evidence of his indisputable existence. I could return to you and say that these were not carved to remember the living Pilate, but commemorated a Heavenly Pilate, or were carved to give credence to the mythological stories of the Bible. I could argue that Pilate was merely a figment of the 1st Century Judea's imagination. Any writings containing the name of Pilate were merely recorded side effects of the mythological New Testament traditions that dominated 1st Century religious culture. There is no way to prove that these people were writing about an actual Roman prefect. Sure you might have an inscription, but you don't have a photograph. What does an inscription really say? There are coins depicting Gods. Does that mean that these Gods existed? Given enough scepticism, academic ingenuity and enough endeavour, we could kick up enough dust to call into question almost anything about the ancient past. To make this case about Pilate's non-existence, more work would have to be done and I clearly am not advocating the non-existence of Pilate, but hopefully you can see my point.


I have repeatedly made points about the consensus and why it is flawed. Yet you just keep asserting it. Sure I might be completely wrong with regards to it, but so far as I can see there is nothing wrong with the following statement:


You have made your accusations concerning the consensus yes. I have neither fully rejected, nor accepted your accusations. On the whole, I haven't really contended with them to this point. I have merely asserted the consensus exists, because it does. I am not wrong to do this. I have accepted that your criticisms could be valid at several points during this discussion, although I have not drawn any absolute conclusions and clearly my current alignment is one with Jesus historicists.

There is zero contemporary evidence for the historicity of Jesus. The authentic Pauline epistles contain very little that can be used in support of historicism, save for a few highly ambiguous passages, but these are not enough to establish historicism because they are unclear and not corroborated. The Gospels are heavily fictionalized, rife with symbolism, parable, and parallels with the OT. So much contained therein is blatant story telling, mythologising, and outright falsehood that we cannot reasonably draw any indisputable historical information from them. There might be some, but it is impossible to corroborate it with anything independent. None of the Gospels are independent, they all draw from each other. We literally have no other attestation to the existence of Jesus. All we have are forgeries and misunderstandings (a la Josephus) or mentions that are too late to be of any use. In light of this we cannot really say with any certainty that anything we know about Jesus is true. At best we can say that the traditions might be based on a kernel of truth, but it is likely that we will never know this for certain. Therefore agnosticism is the only fully reasonable position.

That is why I think the consensus is flawed and should not be trusted. Because it is reliant on the Gospels which have been shown time and time again to be unreliable. Nothing I have said above is particularly controversial.


I accept that this is your position, but would not agree with some aspects of your statement. I would see some aspects as controversial. The Pauline epistles do contain key references that place Jesus on Earth. eg. Galatians 4:4, Romans 1:3,1 Corinthians 15:3-4. These are significant authentic references among others. The references to an Earthly Jesus are not all highly ambiguous. You say that we have no other attestation to the existence of Jesus, but this is not true, because there are non-canonical texts and the records from Josephus and Tacitus. Josephus is suspected to have been edited, but is not irrelevant, since it's believed to contain a reference to Jesus regardless of the redaction. I would disagree with your summation and conclusions to your statement here. Of course, I accept that you're an agnostic, but I am not one about this matter myself, nor do I think that agnosticism is the best position to take here ... or else I'd be one I suppose.

I don't believe that the preponderance of evidence supports historicism as I have studied the evidence to the best of my abilities.


Here is a key point. Of course we can only do our best in these matters. Perhaps I'm way off, or perhaps you haven't quite got it right. What we have to bear in mind though, is that we are not the experts (I think. I know I'm not. I'm guessing that you don't have a PHD in a subject relevant to the historicity of Christ, or currently work in the field.) There are so many experts needed to fully explore these matters. Scholars of ancient languages and cultures are needed, historians, archaeologists, textual critics, Bible Scholars and philosophers are amongst the professionals who need to cast their eye over these texts. Carrier's arguments may not be fully compatible with one or more discoveries from any of these fields and we wouldn't be best placed to discern which or why, since we're laymen. Something that seems entirely persuasive to us might ring alarm bells to a linguist because of our misinterpretation of ambiguous ancient language, or simply because of our lack of knowledge. And the same might apply to a scholar from any other discipline in relation to arguments about this matter.

So, yes Carrier could be at the beginning of an evolution in thought on the historical Jesus, or he could be a persuasive writer who is persuading many of a view that isn't quite warranted yet. As a layman, I have to give some respect to authorities in the field and they are overwhelmingly telling me that Jesus existed. If I turn to encyclopaedias such as Britannica or Wikipedia, I'm told that Christ was a historical figure. If I speak to experts in the field, they will tell me the same. When I've reviewed the available evidence for Jesus, it appears persuasive to me that there was a historical Jesus and it certainly isn't beyond the realms of possibility.

There are lots of elements to this discussion and I haven't dismissed all aspects of it, I have merely referred to only a couple (including the consensus) in some of my posts, since it becomes difficult to follow numerous different points all at once.
Mon Apr 11, 2016 10:59 pm
EngelbertPosts: 290Joined: Thu Mar 28, 2013 3:03 am Gender: Male

Post Re: A Question about the historicity of Jesus

Laurens wrote:I can't tell you why they don't declare agnosticism or mythicism. Maybe for Ehrman at least because he has a best selling career based off it. Maybe they just accept the flawed methodology that was handed to them and perceive it to be persuasive.




With regards to Francesca Stavrakopoulou, who I mentioned earlier and you comment on above, I thought I'd post a few links. You may well have heard of her, listened to her, or even seen her talk live for all I know, but these are some interesting videos, which aside from this discussion, I suspect would interest you if you haven't already seen them. I thought they were very interesting myself.

In addition however and in relation to this topic, I think perhaps it is worth questioning why a sceptic of her nature might still accept the existence of Jesus when she is happy to reject so much else about these ancient traditions. It's worth contemplating whether her methodology is flawed, when it leads to such persuasive and different results in relation to these other key figures and stories of the Bible. She does not appear as a sloppy, careless, contributor, but as a rigorous and principled historian and sceptic. Of course you are free to challenge and find fault with her ideas. There's no guarantee that she has it all correct, but the mere dismissal of her methodology for discerning the historicity of Jesus and thus part of the methodology she would employ elsewhere as a historian, as likely flawed seems a little cavalier based on the surrounding context.

I searched for these videos on youtube, but they seem to have been removed. I think that perhaps the quality would have been better on youtube, but nevertheless they can be watched here on dailymotion.

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x2kvw8m

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x2kwlx ... den_school

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x2kx9z ... ist_school
Tue Apr 12, 2016 3:37 am
LaurensSocial EditorUser avatarPosts: 2935Joined: Sat Mar 20, 2010 11:24 pmLocation: Norwich UK Gender: Male

Post Re: A Question about the historicity of Jesus

Born of a Woman

God sent his Son, born of a woman

- Gal 4:4


I don't see how this is an unambiguous proof of history. If it said 'born of Mary in Bethlehem' then yes, but you can hardly say 'born of a woman' is unambiguous. It might be, but I don't think it is clear cut.

Paul uses the word genemenos (from ginomai), meaning 'to happen, become'. Paul never uses that word of a human birth, despite using it hundreds of times (typically to mean 'being' or 'becoming'); rather, his preferred word for being born is gennao.

- On The Historicity of Jesus page 576


The passage in which Jesus's mother is mentioned is this in context:

And if you belong to Christ, then you are [like him] Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise. My point is this: heirs, as long as they are minors, are no better than slaves, though they are the owners of all the property; but they remain under guardians and trustees until the date set by the father. So with us; while we were minors, we were enslaved to the elemental spirits of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.

Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to beings that by nature are not gods. Now, however, that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and beggarly elemental spirits? How can you want to be enslaved to them again? You are observing special days, and months, and seasons, and years. I am afraid that my work for you may have been wasted.

Friends, I beg you, become as I am, for I also have become as you are. You have done me no wrong. You know that it was because of a physical infirmity that I first announced the gospel to you; though my condition put you to the test, you did not scorn or despise me, but welcomed me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus. What has become of the goodwill you felt? For I testify that, had it been possible, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me. Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth? They make much of you, but for no good purpose; they want to exclude you, so that you may make much of them. It is good to be made much of for a good purpose at all times, and not only when I am present with you. My little children, for whom I am again in the pain of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, I wish I were present with you now and could change my tone, for I am perplexed about you.

Tell me, you who desire to be subject to the law, will you not listen to the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and the other by a free woman. One, the child of the slave, was born according to the flesh; the other, the child of the free woman, was born through the promise. Now this is an allegory: these women are two covenants. One woman, in fact, is Hagar, from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the other woman corresponds to the Jerusalem above; she is free, and she is our mother. For it is written,

“Rejoice, you childless one, you who bear no children,
burst into song and shout, you who endure no birth pangs;
for the children of the desolate woman are more numerous
than the children of the one who is married.”

Now you, my friends, are children of the promise, like Isaac. But just as at that time the child who was born according to the flesh persecuted the child who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now also. But what does the scripture say? “Drive out the slave and her child; for the child of the slave will not share the inheritance with the child of the free woman.” So then, friends, we are children, not of the slave but of the free woman.


On which Carrier writes:

It's clear that Paul is speaking from beginning to end about being born to allegorical women, not literal ones. The theme throughout is that Christians are heirs of 'the promise' (to Abraham), and as such have been born to the allegorical Sarah, the free woman, which is the 'Jerusalem above', meaning the heavenly city of God. Jesus was momentarily born to the allegorical Hagar, the slave woman, which is Torah law (the old testament), which holds sway in the earthly Jerusalem, so that he could kill off that law with his own death, making it possible for us to be born of the free woman at last. That is what Paul means when he says Jesus was made 'under the law' and 'from a woman'; he means Hagar, representing the old law; but we now (like Jesus now) have a new mother: God's heavenly kingdom.

That this chapter constitutes a single continuous argument is clear from the fact that it begins speaking about the same themes it ends with: our previous slavery to the Torah law, our being children of the promise made to Abraham (and thus born from Abraham, allegorically), and our being 'heirs' of that original promise (and so no longer enslaved to the OT law). This is how Paul starts the chapter and ends it, and everything in between leads logically from one to the other.

OHJ page 578-579


Essentially Paul uses 'woman' here to mean that Jesus was born under the old covenant, the Torah law. Of course he might have meant Mary, but given the context the allegorical explanation seems equally likely.

Even so, could gods, angels and heavenly beings be born of a woman? Also why would he say it if he is being literal. If I were to introduce you to one of my friends, I wouldn't say 'this is Englebert who was born of a woman'. If I am talking about a human personage it goes without saying, unless I am using an allegory about people being born under different metaphorical women. In conclusion the passage is not a clear reference to historicity given the allegorical nature of it. Out of context the passage appears sort of convincing, but an understanding of the context raises doubts.

Born of the Sperm of David

I shall first refer you to the initial quote regarding the word used by Paul. He refers to Jesus having be 'made of' the sperm of David. Notably he uses the same word for Adam as being made by God in 1 Cor 15:37. Adam was clearly not born, but manufactured directly by God. He also uses the same word to refer to our future resurrection body, which is not born of parents, but manufactured by God. This verse references a prophecy that states the messiah would spring forth from the root of Jesse (David's father) this is mentioned in Romans 15:12 and most likely refers to this verse in Isaiah:

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.

- Isaiah 11:1


The verse could simply be saying that God manufactured Christ from the seed of David that he had stored in order to fulfil his promise to establish his eternal throne (2 Samuel 7:12-14) . As the prophecy required the Messiah to be Davidic it is not unreasonable to expect that a theology about a celestial Christ would incorporate such an explanation in order to be consistent with prophecy. Indeed given subsequent history we know God didn't fulfil his promise for an eternal throne of David's lineage on earth, so they would have to come up with some explanation that involved a 'cosmic sperm bank' as Carrier puts it.

Paul doesn't mention Jesus's father, or his lineage. He mentions that Jesus was made of the sperm of David, in the same words he uses to refer to the manufacture of Adam's body, or our heavenly future forms. Paul's preferred word for being born is 'gennao', here he uses 'genomenos'---which he never uses to describe human birth. In essence the verse is ambiguous at best and doesn't necessitate a historical Jesus because a celestial Messiah, in order to be consistent with Jewish prophecy would require a manufacture out of Davidic seed.

Reference to Crucifixion and Resurrection

This passage does not mention the crucifixion as occurring in recent history in Jerusalem at the hands of the Romans. In fact it is not inconsistent with the notion that Christ was crucified by Satan in the firmament---which is the idea put forth by Carrier. Given that it is not inconsistent with mythicism the passage doesn't prove anything one way or the other.

Josephus

I've gone into Josephus in other posts. Essentially I see no great reason to assume anything other than the passage is a wholesale insertion into the text. Given the context in which it is found, the fact that the following paragraph does not follow from it whatsoever (yet follows perfectly when the passage is deleted), the fact that early Church figures decline to quote it when it would serve them perfectly all point to it being a forgery in it's entirety. Scholars who try to "remove the interpolations" from the passage are clasping at straws. Given the evidence there is no reason whatsoever to assume that a less propagandised version ever existed in the original text.

The passage that says "The brother of Jesus (who was called Christ), the name for whom was James, and some others' is also likely an interpolation---with the phrase 'who was called the Christ' inserted at a later date by a scribe. The passage talks about Jesus son of Damneus whose brother James was executed by Ananus---who was later punished for the the offence. The passage then goes on to say how Jesus son of Damneus replaced Ananus as the high priest. The passage does not reflect the Jesus of the Gospels at all, nor does it reflect the supposed death of James as described in any sources. Jesus's father was not Damneus, nor was his brother executed by Ananus thus causing Jesus to replace Ananus. The likelihood is that it is talking about two totally different people and a scribe later added 'who was called the Christ' as a marginal note which then became a replacement for the original which read 'Jesus son of Damneus'.

Tacitus

Carrier states the following:

If we instead assume the passage has not been tampered with, then where would Tacitus have learned of this [that Christ had been executed by Pilate]? Not likely from government records. His report contains no distinctive information that one would expect from such a source, and Tacitus would not have wasted countless hours of his life hunting through obscure archives just to verify a single embarrassing anecdote the Christians themselves were already admitting to. Moreover, it is very unlikely any such records would have survived in Rome for Tacitus to consult, the capitol's libraries having burned to the ground at least twice in the interim, once under Nero, and again under Titus.

It is also unlikely Tacitus learned of this from earlier historians of Nero (such as Pliny the Elder), since had they written about Christians we would probably know of this, from their histories having been preserved (precisely because they mentioned Christ) or quoted (by Christians or their critics). Likewise, that Christains appear to have had no knowledge of the Neronian persecution having any connection whatever with the burning of Rome further entails no earlier historian is likely to have made such a connection either (as otherwise such pervasive ignorance even by the Christians themselves is nearly inexplicable). If Tacitus really made such a connection, he was apparently the first, and possibly by mistake (conflating some other persecution of Christians, or even a Christian legend about a persecution that never really happened, with the burning of Rome; for as we shall see, Suetonius had no knowledge of such a connection, either).

But we know Tacitus asked Pliny for information to include in his historical books. Thus the fact that Pliny discovered what Christians preached in 110 CE, right when Tacitus was governing an adjoining province and writing his histories, and just a few years before Tacitus completed his Annals before 117 CE, suggests the most likely chain of information was Christians telling Pliny about the Gospels, then Pliny telling Tacitus, and Tacitus then reporting (what would be to him) the most embarrassing details in his Annals. That would explain why his information matches what was already reported in the Gospels by that time and gives no further detail. At the very least, this cannot be ruled out. Accordingly, we cannot verify that the information in Tacitus comes from any source independent of the Gospels. And non-independent evidence carries zero weight.

OHJ page 344-345


Essentially there is a case to be made that Tacitus is an interpolation, but even if this is not the case we have no reason to assume that he got his information from anywhere other than the Gospels.
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Tue Apr 12, 2016 4:55 pm
thenexttodiePosts: 593Joined: Fri Mar 13, 2015 7:59 pm Gender: Male

Post Re: A Question about the historicity of Jesus

he_who_is_nobody wrote:
I have to say that what you have presented appears like a very weak rebuttal to Jesus's title. I could buy that, but I was hoping there would be a better rebuttal for such an obvious problem from the mythosist's prospective. It also does not address why his name is Yeshua and not Emanuel. As I said, one would think if one were to create a Jewish messiah, than the name of the created messiah would be Emanuel. One would think if one was trying to hit as many prothetic nails on the head, getting the name of the messiah correct seems like a big one to hit.


It was also said that his name would be called "Wonderful" and "Son of the Highest". Just as Eve was also called "Women". Emanual was not Jesus's name, but that's what he was.
Thu Jun 16, 2016 5:49 pm
Bango SkankUser avatarPosts: 116Joined: Sun Jun 22, 2014 4:15 amLocation: Finland Gender: Male

Post Re: A Question about the historicity of Jesus

thenexttodie wrote:
he_who_is_nobody wrote:
I have to say that what you have presented appears like a very weak rebuttal to Jesus's title. I could buy that, but I was hoping there would be a better rebuttal for such an obvious problem from the mythosist's prospective. It also does not address why his name is Yeshua and not Emanuel. As I said, one would think if one were to create a Jewish messiah, than the name of the created messiah would be Emanuel. One would think if one was trying to hit as many prothetic nails on the head, getting the name of the messiah correct seems like a big one to hit.


It was also said that his name would be called "Wonderful" and "Son of the Highest". Just as Eve was also called "Women". Emanual was not Jesus's name, but that's what he was.


Many hebrew names (all of them?) have secondary meanings.
"There are those to whom knowledge is a shield, and those to whom it is a weapon. Neither view is balanced, but one is less unwise."
Mon Jun 20, 2016 1:39 pm
thenexttodiePosts: 593Joined: Fri Mar 13, 2015 7:59 pm Gender: Male

Post Re: A Question about the historicity of Jesus

Bango Skank wrote:
Many hebrew names (all of them?) have secondary meanings.


Yeah, that's kind of my point.
Mon Jun 20, 2016 6:47 pm
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