Carrier finally responds to Ehrman on the historicity of Jesus

We’ve all been waiting for Richard Carrier, an expert on history and a Biblical scholar, to respond to Bart Ehrman’s new book.  Well, Carrier has—in an article called “Ehrman on Jesus: a failure of facts and logic” published on his website.  And he doesn’t pull any punches from the outset:

Having completed and fully annotated Ehrman’s new book Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth (Harper 2012), I can officially say it is filled with factual errors, logical fallacies, and badly worded arguments. Moreover, it completely fails at its one explicit task: to effectively critique the arguments for Jesus being a mythical person. Lousy with errors and failing even at the one useful thing it could have done, this is not a book I can recommend.

As you may know from the publicity and from Ehrman’s HuffPo precis, his book claims that there was indeed one historical person around whom the Jesus myth coalesced, though Ehrman rejects claims that this Jesus was the son of God, a miracle worker, or in any way divine.  But he vigorously attacks “mythicists”—those who think that there was no one historical person on which Christianity is based—and goes after new atheists as well, whom he compares to fundamentalists in their dogmatism. (Carrier is a mythicist.)  In general, Carrier faults the book not just for poor and selective scholarship, but for poor writing:

Carrier criticizes Ehrman’s book on several grounds:

  • The book is filled with factual errors.   Here’s one of several cited by Carrier:
The “No Records” Debacle: Ehrman declares (again with that same suicidally hyperbolic certitude) that “we simply don’t have birth notices, trial records, death certificates—or other kinds of records that one has today” (p. 29). Although his conclusion is correct (we should not expect to have any such records for Jesus or early Christianity), his premise is false. In fact, I cannot believe he said this. How can he not know that we have thousands of these kinds of records? Yes, predominately from the sands of Egypt, but even in some cases beyond. I have literally held some of these documents in my very hands. More importantly, we also have such documents quoted or cited in books whose texts have survived. For instance, Suetonius references birth records for Caligula, and in fact his discussion of the sources on this subject is an example I have used of precisely the kind of historical research that is conspicuously lacking in any Christian literature before the third century (see Not the Impossible Faith, pp. 182-87) . . . That Ehrman would not know this is shocking and suggests he has very little experience in ancient history as a field and virtually none in papyrology (beyond its application to biblical manuscripts). Worse, he didn’t even think to check whether we had any of these kinds of documents, before confidently declaring we didn’t.
It’s a long piece, with many accusations of sloppy scholarship, including accusations that Erhman errs about the letters of Pliny the younger, the position of Pontius Pilate, about whether the Egyptian god Osiris was said to be resurrected, whether religions earlier than Christianity had baptism, and so on.
The factual errors apparently extend to Carrier’s own qualifications: Ehrman says Carrier’s doctorate was in classics, while it was actually in ancient history
Ehrman can’t have learned my degree is in classics from any reliable source. He can only have invented this detail. I am left to wonder if this was a deliberate attempt to diminish my qualifications by misrepresentation. Or if he is really so massively incompetent it never even occurred to him to check my CV, which is on my very public website (he also has my email address, and we have corresponded, so he could even have just asked).
Well, this may seem trivial, but to Carrier it bespeaks a sloppiness of scholarship on Ehrman’s part, documented by all the assertions that precede it.
  • Carrier claims that his own level of scholarship is superior to Ehrman’s:
 And on that score I would ask that Ehrman’s Did Jesus Exist? be compared with my latest on the same subject, Proving History. Just compare the extent and content of our endnotes alone, much less the way we argue, the difference in our attention to method and its logical soundness, the diverse range of scholarship we cite. Even my book Not the Impossible Faith is superior on all these measures, and it was a deliberately colloquial book designed to be entertaining. Both undoubtedly have occasional errors (as all scholarly work does)–but I doubt anything even remotely like what I have documented above (in degree, quantity, and cruciality).
I haven’t made this comparison, nor read all the books, so I can’t adjudicate this, but I’d submit that this is a minor criticism, and seems more like wounded ego.  The matter should, as Carrier did earlier in the piece, be adjudicated on the facts alone, and their reliability as “facts.”
  • Ehrman’s historical methodology is flawed. Carrier dismisses Ehrman’s reliance on the “methodology of criteria” (whatever that is), which Carrier claims he refuted in his book Proving History.  He concentrates instead on two others:
I could call out many examples of his use of ordinary fallacies and self-contradictions, too, but I will have to leave those for perhaps a later blog (if I even care to bother).[JAC he gives one example.] . . .
And this one seems to be the crux of the matter: Ehrman’s constant assertion that there are dozens of sources earlier than the Gospels that independently attest to the historicity of Jesus:
As bad as those kinds of self contradictions and fallacies are (and there are more than just that one), far worse is how Ehrman moves from the possibility of hypothetical sources to the conclusion of having proved historicity. He argues that because Mark, Matthew, Luke, John, Thomas (yes, Thomas) and various other documents all have material the others don’t, that therefore we “have” a zillion earlier sources, which he sometimes calls by their traditionally assigned letters like M, L, and Q (he is irrationally dismissive of Mark Goodacre’s refutation of Q, and claims no one is convinced by it but cites not a single rebuttal; I myself find Goodacre’s case persuasive, well enough at least to leave us in complete doubt of the matter). We don’t in fact have those sources, we aren’t even sure they exist, and even if we were, we have no way of knowing what they said.

I’m not an expert here, but if Ehrman doesn’t have those sources in hand, then he’ll have trouble convincing us not only that they exist, but that they say what Ehrman says they do. You’ll want to read Carrier’s take on these sources, as to me that bears heavily on Ehrman’s credibility. I am not equipped to judge matters like this, but I have to say that if Ehrman invokes independent evidence for Jesus that isn’t convincing, then I’d find his conclusions questionable.

  • Ehrman cites ancient stories and biographies as if they were true, though many have proved to be outright fiction.
Ehrman appears to be blithely unaware of the routinely fabricatory nature of ancient biography, as documented throughout the literature on the subject (which is cataloged under his despised category of “classics,” a section of the library Ehrman seems never to visit), which demonstrates that things an author said or wrote (even fictionally) were often converted into stories about them . . . [Carrier then gives some examples]. . .
. . . The significance of this is that it demonstrates Ehrman’s naivity when it comes to interpreting ancient literature and source materials and tradition formation. He is evidently not a competent classicist. And yet understanding how the Gospels likely came together requires being a competent classicist. . .
If things a person said were routinely transformed into stories about them (for example, Euripides occasionally made remarks about women in his plays that were transformed into a story about his troubled marriage–a completely fabricated story, that nevertheless became a standard element of his biography), doesn’t this change substantially how we view the possible tradition history behind the stories in the “biographies” of Jesus?
Carrier’s conclusion is strong:
It is for all the reasons documented in this article (which are again just a sample of many other errors of like kind, from false claims, to illogical arguments, to self-contradictions, to misrepresentations of his opponents, to errors of omission), especially this book’s complete failure to interact with even a single complete theory of mythicism (which alone renders the book useless, even were it free of error), that I have no choice but to condemn this thing as being nothing more than a sad murder of electrons and trees.
I have been a bit baffled about why this matter evokes such strong feelings, especially among atheists. Since we all admit that there’s no evidence that Jesus was the son of God, did miracles, was resurrected or born of a virgin, and died for our sins, does it really matter so much if he’s based on a historical person? Why does this evoke such strong feelings, and such acrimonious arguments, from atheists?

Perhaps some of our concern comes from this:  if we can show that there’s no historical Jesus, then the myth of Christianity tumbles down. That is, it’s no so much about convincing ourselves about the non-historicity of Jesus as convincing Christians.  And it is the Christians who have the hard work ahead of them, for even if Jesus was demonstrated to be a historical person, they still must adduce independent evidence for all his divinity attested in scripture.  And that’s why Ehrman is so important to the faithful—and perhaps why he seems to have gone soft on them)—for they think that showing there was a historical person somehow justifies all the mythology of Christianity.  It doesn’t, and we know that.

But Christians don’t.

In other words, Ehrman’s book is important to Americans only insofar as it can be taken to support the tenets of Christianity.  Since it doesn’t, even by Ehrman’s admission, I’m a bit baffled at the attention it gets. I conclude that all the kerfuffle rests on this: Christians conflate the existence of a historical Jesus with the existence of a divine Jesus.

And, of course, there are important questions about how one adjudicates ancient history.

277 Comments

  1. Posted April 20, 2012 at 6:53 am | Permalink

    I have to agree with you. I am completely nonplussed as to why nonbelievers get so uptight about this. There are so many more interesting things to argue and learn about.

    • Dan L.
      Posted April 20, 2012 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

      “I am completely nonplussed as to why nonbelievers get so uptight about [whether or not there's a historical Jesus]. There are so many more interesting things to argue and learn about.”

      You can put literally anything in the square brackets and it will be true for someone somewhere. This includes things that nonbelievers often do worry about like, “the fact that atheists simply cannot be moral,” “the fact that there definitely is a God,” “the fact that the moon is made of green cheese.” These are all untrue things that nonbelievers get uptight about. Whether or not there are more interesting things to get uptight about is a matter of opinion.

      Because I can’t resist, here’s two more items for the square brackets:
      “the fact that free will definitely exists”
      “the fact that gnu atheists cause theists to reject science”
      Why do nonbelievers get so uptight about these things? There’s much more interesting things to argue about, amirite?

    • nazani14
      Posted April 21, 2012 at 8:38 am | Permalink

      Athiests care because we generally care about history and arriving at something as close to fact as possible, whether the subject is Jesus or pottery. If there was “a” Jesus, instead of a chimera composed of mythic figures, various preachers and rebels named Yeshua, it changes the nature of the debate with Christians.

      Personally, I find the fact that Ehrman mentioned a scholar in his book without getting his degree correct reprehensible. I’m sure I am not alone in finding a degree in “Classics” less authoritative than a degree in Ancient History, when the topic of discussion is history, not odes.

    • Reginald Selkirk
      Posted April 21, 2012 at 10:45 am | Permalink

      I care about truth; is that so hard to understand?

  2. FTFKDad
    Posted April 20, 2012 at 6:54 am | Permalink

    John Loftus has a saying that may answer perhaps part of your last point, something along the lines of “Christians must be shown their religion is impossible before they will believe it is improbable”.

    • Posted April 20, 2012 at 7:04 am | Permalink

      [Like]

      I’m fairly agnostic on the issue… perhaps inclining to a histori-mythicist synthesis — a lot of Pauline mythicism later (nacre) glommed onto one (or more) apocalyptic preacher(s) (irritant). The Ned Ludd parallel is a good one, I think.

      But an entirely mythicist outcome would be the more, um, interesting one for mainstream Christianity to deal with.

      /@

  3. Posted April 20, 2012 at 6:56 am | Permalink

    I think Carrier’s criticism of Ehrmans’s endnotes might be a valid one. If their endnotes are generally where they cite others’ scholarship, this speaks to Carrier’s point that Ehrman too often makes the undergraduate error of relying on a single source to justify a claim.

    Now how will Ehrman respond? I’m sure we’ll find out first hand how McGrath will…

    /@

  4. JamesM
    Posted April 20, 2012 at 7:03 am | Permalink

    It doesn’t matter to me whether Jesus is proved to have been a real person or proved to be an entirely fictional character (yeah, yeah only mathematics deals in proofs), but it is important to me to know whether or not some one is lieing or pushing falshoods out of ignorance in trying to convince me one way or the other.

    • Posted April 20, 2012 at 7:11 am | Permalink

      Yes! It seems to matter a lot to Ehrman that his readers think there was a historical Jesus.

      /@

  5. Newish Gnu
    Posted April 20, 2012 at 7:10 am | Permalink

    JAC: “… if we can show that there’s no historical Jesus, then the myth of Christianity tumbles down.”

    I wish I shared your optimism.

    Evidence showing that Adam and Eve were mythical (hence, no Fall, no need for redemption, etc) seems not to have fazed the believers at all. Their anti-reality shields are still at full strength.

    • Posted April 20, 2012 at 7:16 am | Permalink

      I think there’s less of a metaphoric cushion around Jesus.

      “He died for our sins” requires Him to have lived first…

      /@

      • Griff
        Posted April 20, 2012 at 7:19 am | Permalink

        They don’t seem that bothered that it was only a temporary death though.

        • Posted April 20, 2012 at 7:24 am | Permalink

          :-D

          It must’ve stung a bit, though… 

          /@

          • Posted April 20, 2012 at 9:01 am | Permalink

            This is a grave issue. I’m confident that rational people will find victory.

        • rlwemm
          Posted April 22, 2012 at 5:06 am | Permalink

          Not really. The divine part couldn’t die, by definition. That leaves only the human part. That would mean that the human part was sacrificed, not the god part, which just sounds like divine sadism.
          To add to the confusion, there are the supposed words of Jesus, the man, while dying “My god, why have you abandoned me?”
          It all adds to the history of cruelty from the Yahweh god that is documented in the Old Testament texts.

      • Schenck
        Posted April 20, 2012 at 7:39 am | Permalink

        If there was no historical jesus, then the earliest christians wouldn’t’ve had a problem with a non-real, mythical, jesus. So why would modern christians have a problem?

        Heck, the cult spread at it’s fastest when people were closest to it knowing if it was a myth. They could say, ‘who ever met this guy, or the apostles, or even the apostolic fathers’ and they could get some actual answers, from the individuals themselves at some points too! So mythicism shouldn’t actually make any difference.

        • Posted April 20, 2012 at 7:48 am | Permalink

          Hmm… possibly, if the earliest Christians knew He was just a myth.

          Paul might have (if He was). If we had only the Pauline epistles to go on, the case for a historical Jesus would be even more tenuous.

          But the Gospel authors certainly seemed fixated on establishing His “reality”. (Jesus as George Kaplan!)

          /@

          • Mike B
            Posted April 20, 2012 at 8:15 am | Permalink

            Not only the gospel writers but the early xtain fathers, too. They failed.

            PS there’s much more evidence for George Kaplan than for Jesus.

          • Posted April 21, 2012 at 10:30 am | Permalink

            Don’t be so sure. Earl Doherty and others (as I understand them) make the case that this sort of what we’d call pseudo-historical reworking of old material was common. Anecdotally as well, at least 4 people I know who had Jewish education also found the NT incredibly obviously to be midrash and wondered how there could be Christians. (For what it is worth, I believe two were raised Reform, one Conservative and one Orthodox.)

    • Posted April 20, 2012 at 9:07 am | Permalink

      I interpreted that to mean xianity would crumble in concept.

      Would a lot of folks turn their ignor-o-matics up to 11 and keep on keepin’ on, faithwise? You betcha.

    • Posted April 21, 2012 at 12:22 am | Permalink

      The issue with Adam & Eve vs. Evolution actually is important to Christians. The more fundamentalist ones are in denial about evolution, and are holding out for the historicity of the fruit-picking pair of nudists who screwed everything up and made Jesus required, just like Paul says in Romans. You will find conservative Christian preachers explaining why evolution is incompatible with Christianity using pretty much the exact same language that Jerry and PZ use when criticizing accomodationists. The preachers don’t realize, of course, how much their Bible has been falsified and how they are actually proving the new atheists’ point for them.

      The liberal Christian theologians who know the score about evolution have been tying themselves in knots trying to come up with intelligent-sounding excuses for why we still have original sin to contend with, why we have souls and our ancestors didn’t, and why God would use such a non-biblical wasteful, pain-inflicting, messy way of going about creating living stuff, to name just some of the issues. I’ve wandered my way through far too many pages of Haught, Enns, and Lemareoux at this point, and can tell you that it comes off looking like desperate postmodernist word salad.

      So, yes, evolution has indeed been making an impact. But the means of denial are varied and flexible, and mutations of the Christian meme are managing to survive in this hostile environment. Evolution in action!

      • rlwemm
        Posted April 22, 2012 at 5:21 am | Permalink

        The whole idea of the sadistic sacrifice of an innocent living thing to propitiate a god who is supposed to have created both perfectly, is ridiculous as well as cruel.

        Who in their right unindoctrinated mind would want to spend any time up close and personal with such a god? Spending eternity with such a psychopath would be hell.

    • Postal Dave
      Posted April 27, 2012 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

      What are some good reads on mythical Adam & Eve?

  6. Sigmund
    Posted April 20, 2012 at 7:11 am | Permalink

    I’ve seen a couple of evangelicals comment on Ehrmans latest book in approving terms – but not for the reason that they agree with his conclusions.
    They seemed to think that he was completely wrong about Jesus being simply an apocalyptic preacher. They were, however, delighted that he was attacking the mythicists.
    The whole thing reminded me of the way religious apologists treat accomodationists. They don’t agree with the central tenets of the accomodationists beliefs but they are sure glad that they have someone else on their side, flinging poo at the new atheists.

  7. mordacious1
    Posted April 20, 2012 at 7:12 am | Permalink

    This is what turned me to atheism at a very young age, the lack of proof. Whenever I questioned catholic teachers or priests about why, for example, that there were no records of Jesus, they’d always respond with the same answer. God wants you to come to him on faith alone, he only wants people with great faith. Faith equals love. If he provided proof of his existence, then everyone would believe and he’d attract those without faith, therefore without love. What utter nonsense.

    As far as Ehrman’s book goes, I’m disappointed in him. I’ve read most of his other works and enjoyed them. Now he seems to have written something that is totally self-serving. He’ll sell a lot of books to christians and keep the controversy alive so he can remain relevant and be able to write more books on the topic. But now I’ll question everything he writes, his credibility is diminished with this book.

    • Your Name's not Bruce?
      Posted April 20, 2012 at 8:04 am | Permalink

      According to the book, Adam, Eve and Cain conversed with (or were at least spoken to by) this god. According to the book, Moses had personal encounters with this god. They would have had no need of faith; they had evidence. Jesus (being this god according to trinitarian doctrine) also needed no faith. So what gives? Providing a bit of evidence is somehow going to hurt us, or this god? If this god really wants us to know it, I would think a little evidence would be in order. A many times copied, added to, subtracted from and fabricated calling card called the bible is not evidence of the existence of the original caller and a poor substitute for showing up at all.

      • Posted April 21, 2012 at 10:32 am | Permalink

        Also, what happened to the lesson of doubting Thomas? Aren’t us of these days owed a demo like his?

        Yes, the story says it is better to have been one of the ones who believed anyway. But *Thomas gets the demo in spite of that*.

        • Posted April 21, 2012 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

          Er, not quite.

          The lesson of Doubting Thomas is that, when a zombie tells you to fondle his intestines through his gaping chest wound, you damned well better do so.

          Of course, everybody with a clue knows that that lesson will get you zombified yourself, which in no small part is why Christianity is so evil.

          The proper thing to do when confronted by a zombie is a shovel to the head, or a double-tap with a shotgun (again to the head), or run it over with an SUV decked with a cattle catcher, or some other variation on that theme.

          Cheers,

          b&

          • darrelle
            Posted April 22, 2012 at 9:17 am | Permalink

            Thank you for that. I am literally laughing out loud.

    • raven
      Posted April 20, 2012 at 8:24 am | Permalink

      If he provided proof of his existence, then everyone would believe and he’d attract those without faith, therefore without love. What utter nonsense.

      If the god’s existed, they would be considered as real and obvious as trees, rocks, and water.

      Faith doesn’t equal love. It equals belief in the invisible and most likely nonexistent.

    • Hempenstein
      Posted April 20, 2012 at 10:30 am | Permalink

      Whenever I questioned catholic teachers or priests about why, for example, that there were no records of Jesus, they’d always respond with the same answer. God wants you to come to him on faith alone, he only wants people with great faith.

      But now, besides that, they’ll point to Ehrman’s book over on their shelves and say, “Also, look at that book over there – a careful study had been done that concludes that Jesus did exist.” The nuance that it’s a completely non-magical Jesus will never be mentioned, and 99% of those questioning won’t read it.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted April 21, 2012 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

      If he provided proof of his existence, then everyone would believe and he’d attract those without faith, therefore without love.

      Ah, I had forgotten about that argument. It was very popular and influential among the lutherans and similar cults here. It certainly influenced me at the time, because I had never heard of circular arguments as fallacious. (It is only real love if the zombie fella exists, else it is love in idols.)

    • rlwemm
      Posted April 22, 2012 at 5:23 am | Permalink

      I share this sadness.

  8. darrelle
    Posted April 20, 2012 at 7:22 am | Permalink

    It seems to be a pretty human thing to do, to get caught up in staking out a position on an issue that is rationally not relevant to your main position. I think this happens usually because there is a perceived tactical benefit for doing so.

    Another good example, besides this one, is how many people who defend/advocate gay rights stubbornly, and often vehemently, argue that a person has no choice in being gay, that they are born that way. While this may be a good tactic, and I am not sure it is, it seems to me to be completely beside the point. The main position is that people should all have the same rights regardless of sexual orientation. Whether sexual orientation is a choice or not is simply not relevant.

    • darrelle
      Posted April 20, 2012 at 7:27 am | Permalink

      Oops. Guess I should have stated that my comment is a response to the following observation by Jerry.

      Since we all admit that there’s no evidence that Jesus was the son of God, did miracles, was resurrected or born of a virgin, and died for our sins, does it really matter so much if he’s based on a historical person? Why does this evoke such strong feelings, and such acrimonious arguments, from atheists?

    • Dan L.
      Posted April 20, 2012 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

      Whether sexual orientation is a choice or not is simply not relevant.

      Actually it is. The case for denying rights to gay folks is that homosexuality is not just a choice but an immoral choice that should be discouraged by society at large. One of the easiest ways to demonstrate that it’s not an immoral choice is to demonstrate that it’s not a choice at all.

      And if it’s not a choice at all then it cannot be immoral. At that point, any gay person can say, perhaps tongue-in-cheek, “I’m no more than God made me.”

      It seems to be a pretty human thing to do, to get caught up in staking out a position on an issue that is rationally not relevant to your main position.

      There seems to be a misunderstanding here. There are two different premises:
      a) Jesus was not divine
      b) Jesus is a myth
      You’re assuming that no atheist anywhere should worry about whether (b) is true, only about whether (a) is true. Why? Is there any particular reason why no atheist anywhere should care about the truth of (b)?

      • darrelle
        Posted April 20, 2012 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

        The case for denying rights to gay folks is that homosexuality is not just a choice but an immoral choice that should be discouraged by society at large.

        Yes, I do understand that. And I understand that in many cases, perhaps most though not very likely all, people that exhibit homosexual behavior are genetically and or environmentally predisposed to do so. I also understand that sexuality is a spectrum and that it is quite likely that some people who exhibit homosexual behavior choose to do so (as much as people can choose to do anything). So it is likely that the “no choice” argument is not entirely accurate, in the context that it is usually used. So what is the best tactic? Use the “no choice” argument and maybe end up leaving some people out in the cold, or argue that choice doesn’t matter and directly expose the bigotry? Like I said, and meant, I am not sure. I am undecided. But emotionally, in the world I would like to live in whether you have a choice or not about your sexual orientation would not matter in the slightest. People who brought up the idea would be thought of as mentally ill.

        Your response does seem to indicate that a large factor in your choosing to use the “no choice” argument is that it is a good tactic. I don’t think that advocating a certain argument mainly for tactical reasons is necessarily bad or wrong. It could be great, could be awful, depends on lots of variables, not the least of which is, is the argument accurate (No, I am not trying to imply anything with that last sentence.)

        You’re assuming that no atheist anywhere should worry about whether (b) is true, only about whether (a) is true.

        I fully accept that the fault may be mine, due to poor communication skills, but I did not, would not, will not assume any such thing.

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted April 21, 2012 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

          I don’t think the question is if all people exhibiting what could be judged as homosexual behavior is actually homosexual. Seeing how social mammals behaves, then likely we are all homosexuals.

          I think the question is if some individuals are effectively exclusively homosexuals. It seems they are, and it seems they observably and by self-reporting can do no else.

          The “choice” claim is likely misdirected, first because so many thinks they have no choice, second because so many behave as they have no choice. The simplest prediction is that they have no choice. (For whatever reason, not particularly relevant to the social problem of people not accepting common and non-harmful behavior.)

      • Dave Ricks
        Posted April 21, 2012 at 9:50 am | Permalink

        I support darrelle’s original point — “The main position is that people should all have the same rights regardless of sexual orientation. Whether sexual orientation is a choice or not is simply not relevant.”

        Some LGBT supporters hope science could identify genetic predispositions for LGBT sexuality (orientation and behavior), thinking what Dan wrote — “if it’s not a choice at all then it cannot be immoral.” But suppose science could identify genetic predispositions to criminality (desires and behavior). Then someone could quote Dan again — “if it’s not a choice at all then it cannot be immoral.” What went wrong in this paragraph is that this popular argument for LGBT rights uses the “is/ought” fallacy in moral reasoning.

        I agree with this fact Dan wrote — “The case for denying rights to gay folks is that homosexuality is not just a choice but an immoral choice that should be discouraged by society at large.” We agree, that is the case made against LGBT rights. My disagreement with Dan is how to review that case. Dan would question the basis of “choice” while I would question the basis of “immoral”.

        Independent of whether gods exist or not, I can observe things people do, and I can say that revealed religion as a method to know what a god wants is bogus. Scriptures are word salads, and I observe people interpreting scriptures to mean whatever they want them to mean. Instead we can use secular reasoning. We can weigh the pros (of benefits like happiness) against any cons (of any harm caused by LGBT sexuality per se).

        Can anyone identify any harm (to individuals or society) caused by LGBT sexuality (per se) that requires a genetic argument for a right to such harm? (*pause*) I don’t think so. So why does anyone support LGBT rights with the genetic argument, and the “is/ought” fallacy? Because they implicitly assume the “morality” of revealed religion is too strong culturally for direct attack.

        But the United States already did this, in the Constitution, to base rights and laws on secular reasoning instead of revealed religion. We should recognize our secular rights as a previously solved problem and build on our history. As one point of reference, I can recommend Susan Jacoby’s book Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism.

    • rlwemm
      Posted April 22, 2012 at 5:29 am | Permalink

      It matters if you are an evangelical Christian who believes that homosexuality is evil and the people who practice it have deliberately chosen to do evil. The fact that it is largely innate (either genetic or the result of abnormal womb environment) seriously undermines this position because it involves their god in punishing something he created to be that way or that the “devil” damaged in order to annoy him. It would be equivalent to claiming that spina bifida were the fault of the victim.

      • Dave Ricks
        Posted April 22, 2012 at 11:30 am | Permalink

        You’re thinking (in your comment) that evangelical Christians think like you think (in your acceptance of science). But you and evangelicals are thinking backwards relative to each other.

        The evangelical Christians I know already have rationalizations in place to deny evolution by natural selection. And their strongest motivation to build those rationalizations is they see evangelical Christianity as “moral” versus evolution being amoral or immoral.

        So they would hear news of science finding a “gay gene” as a story coming from the same group (scientists) that tries to teach their kids the “evil” story of evolution. If anything, the story of a “gay gene” would confirm they were correct to reject the teaching of evolution.

  9. Stephen P
    Posted April 20, 2012 at 7:25 am | Permalink

    I have been a bit baffled about why this matter evokes such strong feelings, especially among atheists.

    In my case it’s a result of the nauseatingly condescending tone that has been repeatedly used against myself and others each time the question is posed as to what the evidence for the historical Jesus actually is. There are lots of people out there (including atheists) who like to imply that even asking the question places one in the camp of the moon-landing deniers and chemtrail enthusiasts. But about all they ever have to offer is the argument from authority – or when pressed, the Tacitus/Josephus passages – and after a while it begins to grate.

    This doesn’t mean to say that I think the mythicist case is proven, but it does seem a lot more solid than the historicist side.

    • Ray Moscow
      Posted April 20, 2012 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

      If Ehrman had not opened this recent phase of the debate with contemptuous sneers, I think the reviews of his book wouldn’t be so negative. But if you sneer at your peers, don’t be surprised if they return the favour.
      If you’re going to be arrogant, at least make sure you’re right first.

  10. TJR
    Posted April 20, 2012 at 7:28 am | Permalink

    I’d always taken Ehrman’s work as simply *using* the hypothesis of there being a historical jesus (whatever that means), as against claiming that the hypothesis was true. As in, let’s assume there was a jesus and see where it takes us. Seems I was wrong.

  11. Justicar
    Posted April 20, 2012 at 7:30 am | Permalink

    “In other words, Ehrman’s book is important to Americans only insofar as it can be taken to support the tenets of Christianity. Since it doesn’t, even by Ehrman’s admission, I’m a bit baffled at the attention it gets.”

    There is a direct line between a book like this and William Lane Craig being able to argue that ‘atheists accept Jesus existed’, many ‘atheists know Jesus exists, but just deny . . .’. It does take a great deal of imagination to see how easily such a book can be pressed into the service of a debate to make it seem like an atheist who does not think Jesus existed is part of the fringe of a fringe group.

    • Justicar
      Posted April 20, 2012 at 7:35 am | Permalink

      Err, it does *not* take a great deal of imagination . . .

    • Posted April 20, 2012 at 8:16 am | Permalink

      That’s an excellent point. If you, like Ehrman, believe that Jesus was everything that the Gospels proclaim Jesus was except for the supernatural bits, and that the Gospels were inherently reliable witnesses to the Jesus incident, one can’t but wonder why you’re being so selective about your trust in the Gospels — especially considering that the whole point of the Gospels is the supernatural stuff and the non-supernatural stuff is an unimportant sideshow.

      I’m at a loss to think of how anybody can claim the Gospels to be as trustworthy as Ehrman does without also concluding that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Light, and none shall come to the Father but through Him. Or, if you don’t how you can expect anybody on any side of the matter to take you seriously.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Pete Cockerell
        Posted April 20, 2012 at 11:30 am | Permalink

        “If you, like Ehrman, believe that Jesus was everything that the Gospels proclaim Jesus was except for the supernatural bits”

        Except that’s not Ehrman’s view. Throughout the book he mentions Gospel stories that, while not supernatural, are clearly invented out of expedience, e.g. to fulfill a prophecy. Examples are Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, riding into Jerusalem on two(!) donkeys, creating havoc at and shutting down the Temple. He clearly also doesn’t believe much in the way of the non-apocalyptic sayings that were attributed to Jesus in the later Gospels.

        Probably better to argue against Ehrman’s views without actually inventing what those views are.

        • Posted April 20, 2012 at 11:53 am | Permalink

          Sure, he has gripes with some of the side stories. But who would seriously think that somebody would be riding a pair of donkeys in the first place?

          But you’re worng about the havoc at the Temple; he’s convinced it happened, but just not at the scale depicted in the Gospels.

          Indeed, had you read the whole book, you’d have come across gems such as the section titled, “The Death of Jesus,” starting on page 327, that basically affirms the entire passion story, except he tones down or discards the supernatural (but not necessarily all the incredible) bits.

          Hell, he even goes to the point of spouting typical seminarian propaganda to explain away the Gospel contradictions. “Still, it may simply be that Pilate interrogated [Jesus] Briefly, asking him what he had to say to the charge [that Jesus claimed to be the King of the Jews]. Jesus could hardly deny that he was the king of the Jews. He thought he was. So he either refused to answer the charge or answered it in the affirmative. [Emphasis added.]” That last is how Christians like to explain away how in the one Gospel account of the trial Jesus stood stoically mute while in the other he waxed eloquent.

          Really, the book is nothing more than third-rate Christian apologetics. Yes, yes — Ehrman claims he doesn’t believe. Except that he then goes on to profess belief in the Gospel stories and declare them to be honest, true, reliable eyewitness accounts of the life and times of Jesus (except for when they’re not).

          The dude’s quite confused, to put it charitably.

          b&

  12. Jer
    Posted April 20, 2012 at 7:55 am | Permalink

    Since we all admit that there’s no evidence that Jesus was the son of God, did miracles, was resurrected or born of a virgin, and died for our sins, does it really matter so much if he’s based on a historical person? Why does this evoke such strong feelings, and such acrimonious arguments, from atheists?

    I actually find it interesting as a point of history. Isn’t the study of human history important in and of itself? Being able to trace the history of Christianity back to a single founder figure who was crucified by the Romans is completely different from tracing the history of Christianity back to a Greco-Jewish syncretic movement arising out of the Hellenistic era. Or even tracing it back to a purely Jewish movement with roots in the Babylonian exile. This historical question is just interesting as a point of history – and the fact that Christian believers can dig their hooks into the study of history and mess with its study disturbs me as much as their ability to dig their hooks into the study of biology and mess with it. (Possibly moreso, because the pressure here comes at the highest levels of academia, whereas at least the religious have kept their hooks out of the university Biology departments).

    The study of human cultural history is important, and shouldn’t be cluttered up by religion masquerading as academic study.

    • darrelle
      Posted April 20, 2012 at 10:51 am | Permalink

      I may be wrong of course, but I don’t think Jerry means to say that the question of the historicity of Jesus is not an interesting and worthwhile question in and of itself. My interpretation is that he means that in the particular case of countering the claims of supernatural events in the bible, in the context of arguing that xianity is complete crap, the historicity of Jesus is not important.

  13. Greg G
    Posted April 20, 2012 at 7:56 am | Permalink

    I’ve got 30 pages left to finish Did Jesus Exist. A detail that I noticed that I haven’t seen discussed is that BDE cites Paul’s knowledge about Jesus as support for actual existance, specifically that Jesus was descended from David. BDE cites Galatians “James, brother of the Lord” as an indication that it was known that Jesus had brothers. He supports this with the Josephus quote “James, the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ”.

    These facts seem contradictory to me. Josephus is telling us that James was the High Priest. If you read further down the scroll, Josephus tells us that the High Priests were only selected from the line of Aaron. Since David is not descended from Aaron, the only solution is that James and Jesus were brothers on through their mother.

    BDE also argues that Jesus really did come from Nazareth and the archaelology shows that nobody from that area had wealth. It seems unlikely to me that James could have become literate enough from those beginnings to be a High Priest.

    • Posted April 20, 2012 at 8:07 am | Permalink

      Carrier discusses that, inter alia, here.

      /@

    • Nicolas Perrault
      Posted April 20, 2012 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

      If a document has been convincingly shown to be replete with contradictions, falsehoods, exaggerations, false prophecies and forgeries then its content cannot be used as proof of anything. Many biblical scholars cannot accept this obvious statement. To admit it would quite simply put them out of business.

      • Posted April 20, 2012 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

        To be fair, it can be used as evidence of its own content.

        For the example in point, the Gospels clearly aren’t reliable evidence about anything that actually happened. We do know, however, that Christians for the past couple millennia have believed them to be true. We can therefore examine the Gospels to understand Christian beliefs.

        When we do so, we discover that Christian beliefs parallel those of other Classical Pagan religions — and this should not at all be surprising, as it was a major thesis of Justin Martyr’s writings in the second century.

        And we have, therefore, by extension, learned that Christianity shares a great deal in common with Classical Paganism. We learned this by critically examining a whole series of documents that most convincingly have been shown to be replete with contradictions, falsehoods, false prophecies, and forgeries.

        That said conclusion is neither in accord with the declarations of historicists like Ehrman or lays easy with modern Christians is irrelevant to the truth of the conclusion.

        Cheers,

        b&

        • Nicolas Perrault
          Posted April 20, 2012 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

          Of course, I agree.

  14. Tyro
    Posted April 20, 2012 at 8:00 am | Permalink

    It matters to me because it gives me a big case of SIWOTI syndrome, combined with the righteous indignation that get evokes when the historicists sling lies and slanders. If that sounds petty, that’s more or less the same explanation for why religion in general (and free will) evoke some passions in me.

    I should note that here and on other sites I only see people questioning the motives (and sanity) of mythicists. No matter how worked up historicists get, no matter how many insults they spew, people always seem to blame the mythicists. It’s the gnu syndrome all over again.

  15. rhetoric
    Posted April 20, 2012 at 8:04 am | Permalink

    tl;dr version:

    No Adam and Eve > no original sin > no Jesus > no god.

    ___
    What we really need is a book about how Christians are able to detect, with 100% certainty, which parts of the bible are metaphor and which are literal.

    • raven
      Posted April 20, 2012 at 8:28 am | Permalink

      That has been known for millennia.

      They used to just fight wars or use other methods of violence.

      You might have noticed that burning a few people alive on top of a stack of firewood has settled quite a few theological disputes.

      These days they can’t do this very often. People got sick and tired of all the bloodshed and took away their armies and heavy weapons.

    • Justicar
      Posted April 20, 2012 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

      They already have a book that tells them how, silly. It’s the Bible. Gifts of the Holy Ghost in 1 Corinthians (12 IIRC?): the discernment of spirits. If you pray just right, god’ll bless you with the ability to distinguish one thing from another.

      (I haven’t read a bible since I was teenager; apologies for clumsy citation work).

  16. Bruce Gorton
    Posted April 20, 2012 at 8:04 am | Permalink

    I think it is important.

    From the obvious standpoint – it tells us something about the world Jesus was supposed to inhabit, how a society with really terrible communication levels (Compared to today) maintained its knowledge of history, and how quickly historic knowledge can be corrupted in the right circumstances.

  17. Posted April 20, 2012 at 8:04 am | Permalink

    The thing is, this is very like when biologists argue the fine points of evolutionary theory. I am sure there are lots of professional historians in both camps who find the arguments of either one of these scholars persuasive. Those of us looking at it from the outside are making a much bigger deal of it than we should. It is all speculation. There is not enough evidence to prove the issue either way, and unless something is discovered at some point to tip the balance it will never be proved.

    There is nothing to see here, move on.

    • Dan L.
      Posted April 20, 2012 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

      There is nothing to see here, move on.

      Or you can read the arguments on both sides and come to your own conclusion. Because learning and thinking are their own rewards. Even if there’s no “proof” at the end of it.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted April 21, 2012 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

      There is not enough evidence to prove the issue either way,

      Except that *this* is the very question under consideration. So those who are interested will stay with it.

  18. Posted April 20, 2012 at 8:04 am | Permalink

    I have been a bit baffled about why this matter evokes such strong feelings, especially among atheists.

    Because truth matters.

    Christian Apologists for ages have been spouting the Big Lie that Jesus is the best-evidenced historical figure there is. The evidence is quite the opposite; Gaius Julius Caesar, who lived and died just a few decades before Christians would have us believe that YHWH got it on with Mary, deserves that title — and the comparison between the two couldn’t possibly be more stark. Indeed, early Christians like Justin Martyr were obsessed with the ways in which Jesus was indistinguishable from the Pagan demigods, and the Pagans dismissed the Christians as gullible lunatic nutjob cultists. Jesus shares much more in common with John Frum than Dwight Eisenhower.

    As Richard Carrier so forcefully demonstrated with this amazing essay, Ehrman is a liar. Worse, he’s perpetuating the Christian Apologist Big Lie about Jesus’s historicity, albeit with a wink and a nudge that he’s only the second-best-evidenced historical figure and that his life, though exactly as the Gospels detail, wasn’t supernatural.

    And, lastly, even if Ehrman’s thesis were perfectly exactly true, it’s still absurd to claim that a mere mortal, not born of a virgin, who didn’t turn water into wine, who didn’t raise the dead, who didn’t triumphantly enter Jerusalem to gloriously preach to the masses, who didn’t himself raise from the dead to have his intestines fondled before spectacularly teleporting into the sky…that this hypothetical non-Jesus Jesus is somehow the “real” Jesus. It’s as silly as claiming that a certain ornithologist is the “real” 007 because his name is, “James Bond,” and Ian Fleming liked his name. Claiming that Ehrman’s fantasy of a mortal named, “Jesus.” has anything to do with Jesus Christ is itself a lie.

    Cheers,

    b&

    • Tyro
      Posted April 20, 2012 at 8:11 am | Permalink

      Because truth matters.

      This.

      • Posted April 20, 2012 at 9:03 am | Permalink

        Exactly. The claims of divinity are so absurd as to not warrant any argument. At least the historical evidence is worthy of a discussion based on data and rationality.

    • Scott near Berkeley
      Posted April 20, 2012 at 9:14 am | Permalink

      To ignore what is true, and say “It is of no concern” is just as wrong as being the cause of a fender bender and driving away, rationalizing, “People get dents all the time. That was nothing.”

      To ignore any aspect, or to rationalize ‘not caring’ about the truth, leads to acceptance of the judgment that, “Since this might be true, all other aspects are possibly valid.”

      I might add, Jesus is part of the story of Mohammed’s Flight to Damascus, and then to Heaven.

    • Justicar
      Posted April 20, 2012 at 9:46 am | Permalink

      Indeed. Truth matters. But on this issue, it’s a bit more pressing than the mere academic point of whether or not one putative historical figure is actually historical or mythical: people are willing to murder other people who fail to be convinced as to the truth of the claim.

    • ROO BOOKAROO
      Posted April 20, 2012 at 11:04 am | Permalink

      That is the point. Questioning the divinity of Jesus Christ was the major point of the Enlightenment of the 18th century. Which was done by stripping the character of all his supernatural features.
      But Paul went preaching, and the Gospels were written ONLY to express the supernatural character of Jesus. Signs and wonders were essential. Miracles were part of the mental universe of people in antiquity, and without those miracles, Jesus was not even worth mentioning. He would have been inexistant.
      Walter Cassels did a thorough job with “Supernatural Religion: An Inquiry into the Reality of Divine Revelation” in 1874.
      Once the miracles and the supernatural were stripped, what was the residue? The famous “historical” Jesus.
      In truth, this residue cannot be narrowly defined, and the famous “quest” has produced many answers that are not yet finalized. Going from Christ to “historical” Jesus has never reached a final point.
      Ben Goren puts his finger on the issue: what relationship can this residue, the “real” non-Christ, however defined have with Jesus Christ, the miracle-worker? The real Christ is the one depicted by Paul and the Gospels. Any residue, a non-Christ Jesus, becomes a hypothesis, a figment of the scholars’ imagination. There can never be a guarantee that this residue corresponds to a historical existence. Albert Schweitzer reached this conclusion with his famous book “The Quest for the Historical Jesus”. There was no final image or biography for the historical Jesus. He is unattainable.
      Giving a firm solution to the search requires a new act of faith. The image reached of a real man is so tentative, hypothetical, and shadowy that it is legitimate to argue it’s unreal, and imaginary.
      That is what Bruno Bauer did in 1840, becoming the first modern Jesus “mythicist”.

      • Posted April 21, 2012 at 10:39 am | Permalink

        This is important – a lot of people forget (myself included, and I even attended lectures on 19th century philosophy years ago which alluded to it) that there were mythicists in the 19th century that grew out of the new literary criticism in German speaking countries.

    • joe piecuch
      Posted April 21, 2012 at 7:51 am | Permalink

      “…the Big Lie that Jesus is the best-evidenced historical figure there is…”

      will you please refer me to where ehrman contends this?

      “Because truth matters.”

      then why do you so strenuously argue against this very point in your concluding paragraph?

      • Reginald Selkirk
        Posted April 21, 2012 at 11:24 am | Permalink

        I already attempted this response once, and it appears to have been eaten by the Internet.
        So I’ll repeat it without including a link. The relevant interview should be easy to search for.

        “…the Big Lie that Jesus is the best-evidenced historical figure there is…”
        will you please refer me to where ehrman contends this?

        1) This was attributed to “Christian apologists,” not to Ehrman, so your response is coming out of nowhere.

        2) Ehrman has said similarly stupid things.
        On YouTube you can find an audio interview named “Bart Ehrman vs. Atheist The Infidel Guy Part 1.wmv”, length 10:26.

        (02:05): Ehrman plays the Julius Caesar card.
        Followed by comparisons of Jesus Mythicism to holocaust denial (02:44) and denial of Abraham Lincoln (02:48).
        (04:21) “We have more evidence for Jesus than we have for almost anybody from his time period.”

        • joe piecuch
          Posted April 21, 2012 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

          “This was attributed to “Christian apologists,” not to Ehrman, so your response is coming out of nowhere.”

          the statement is one of ben goren’s tropes, dragged out in one paraphrase or another and indignantly denounced, in every discussion, direct or tangential, of prof ehrman in which he has participated on this site. i refer you to ‘ehrman’s folly’, in which it is cited, in quote marks, (“best-evidenced figure in all of history.”) and not otherwise attributed, as an example. the difference between “…Jesus is the best-evidenced historical figure there is…” and “We have more evidence for Jesus than we have for almost anybody from his time period.” is hardly a subtle one.

          • Posted April 21, 2012 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

            the difference between “…Jesus is the best-evidenced historical figure there is…” and “We have more evidence for Jesus than we have for almost anybody from his time period.” is hardly a subtle one.

            Bullshit.

            For each of the Twelve Caesars, we have massive amounts of physical and literary evidence. For Pontus Pilate, we have an inscription he himself ordered carved in stone For hundreds, probably thousands of other individuals we have contemporary physical evidence along with libraries full of documentary evidence — much of it in the form of original papyri and scrolls.

            For Jesus?

            The absolute best evidence we have are Mediaeval copies-of-copies-of-copies of laughable provenance of the letters of Paul, letters known to be rife with forgeries and alterations, the originals of which are of a completely unknown date established through theological supposition, and which are the account of a man who proudly never physically met Jesus and who established his bona fides by equating his purely non-physical encounter with Jesus with the equally purely non-physical encounters everybody else had with Jesus.

            Then, we’ve got some obvious forgeries into the works of an historian who wasn’t even born until after the reign of Pilate, some Pagans dismissing the Christians as lunatic nutjob cultists, and a bunch of idiotic and wildly contradicting Christian propaganda.

            Ehrman’s lie that “we have more evidence for Jesus than we have for almost anybody from his time period” is nothing but unabashed Christian apologetic propaganda.

            No, I don’t give a damn that he says out of the other side of his mouth that he’s not a Christian. He’s walking like one, he’s quacking like one, and he’s shitting like one. That’s good enough for me.

            Cheers,

            b&

            • joe piecuch
              Posted April 21, 2012 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

              tell you what: the population of the earth in the year zero in generally estimated at between 200 and 300 million. how about i take the low end.

              “For hundreds, probably thousands of other individuals we have contemporary physical evidence…”

              how many thousands? i’ll spot you 100. that’s probably fifty times more names than you could come up with, but i’ll let you have it for the sake of argument. one hundred thousand is 5 hundredths of 1 percent of 200 million…1 part in 2000. that’s a vanishingly small percentage. there is evidence for the existence of a human jesus around whom the bible myths are constructed, regardless of whether you think it is good evidence, and that is more evidence than there is for the existence of at least 99.95% of the people of his time, even on the very generous terms i’ve given you. ehrman’s claim is a statement of fact. why don’t you try thinking about what you’re saying?

              • Posted April 21, 2012 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

                BWAHAHAHAHAHAH!

                You’re so pathetically desperate to pretend that Jesus is real that you’re willing to reduce him not merely below the level of third-rate nutjob “The End Is Nigh!” street preacher, but all the way to infants of slaves who died in their cribs?

                Damn, you’re pathetic.

                Go play with your superhero toys elsewhere, will you? You’re annoying us grown-ups.

                b&

              • whyevolutionistrue
                Posted April 21, 2012 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

                Can we please stop with the invective? I don’t like it when my readers insult each other.

                Thanks,
                Mgmt.

              • Posted April 21, 2012 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

                Sorry. It’s just…well…he…you see….

                <sigh />

                Sorry….

                b&

  19. esseff916
    Posted April 20, 2012 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    As a medievalist versed in codicology, textual criticism, etc. I can very easily see why Carrier is upset. History may not be “science” but to those of us steeped in the methodology of pre-print periods, we do tend to resist overselling the veracity of any source. In my field, I might find relationships amongst sources, but I’d hold back from positing a “Q” because for every source that survives there could be dozens that didn’t.

    I also wouldn’t accept any biography as true without official documentation such as contracts, financial records, baptism records etc. (which exist in limited numbers for my period) I wouldn’t even accept any biography of *today* as 100% true. We have to bear in mind that people make shit up, and the people of 1,000 years ago and 2,000 years ago were pretty much the same as people of today.

    Consider these other historical questions: Did King Arthur exist? Did Washington really cut down a cherry tree? Did Lincoln really walk five miles to return a penny to a customer? Did Elvis really fake his own death so he could walk amongst us as a regular person? Did Sarah Palin really claim that her daughter’s baby was her own?

    As an atheist, I also agree with Carrier because I care whether or not something is true. I have read Ehrman’s other books so I find this review distressing, but I do expect someone to fact check everything for a book, even the category of someone’s Ph.D. Historians in academia hold themselves to that standard even when writing for the popular press.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted April 21, 2012 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

      Since astronomy is a science despite relying on historical observations, I don’t see why history, or at least archeology, can’t be historical.

      Of course, it would be reduced to population questions. Not the existence of “King Arthur” but the existence of arthurian type myths.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted April 21, 2012 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

      “can’t be historical” – can’t be science.

  20. Kent
    Posted April 20, 2012 at 8:45 am | Permalink

    Jerry – You have by far the best scientific blog today (sorry PZ). You maintain high standards of scholarship and your posts are a model for honest scientific critical analysis. Thank you.

    Kent

  21. FastLane
    Posted April 20, 2012 at 8:49 am | Permalink

    Wait, can’t we just point to all the various sophistimicated theologidiots that keep telling us it doesn’t really matter?

    I can’t keep my apologetics straight.

  22. gbjames
    Posted April 20, 2012 at 8:55 am | Permalink

    I’ve always thought that Christians (and others) could learn quite a bit about this topic by studying a modern analog: John Frum (due back any day now!)

    • Scott near Berkeley
      Posted April 20, 2012 at 9:16 am | Permalink

      He left me stuff last time!! Honest, here it is! Proof!

    • Reginald Selkirk
      Posted April 21, 2012 at 11:28 am | Permalink

      Ned Ludd.
      Paul Bunyan.

  23. Posted April 20, 2012 at 9:04 am | Permalink

    I think many non-believers are wrapped up in this discussion largely because we tend to be critical thinkers and we like to critically think and debate topics.

    Heck, I have regular debates over child-rearing advice, “natural” food bias, and a whole host of academic topics (some of which I post to my blog). I (and perhaps most critical thinkers) simply like to criticize poor reasoning and evidence and applaud solid work.

    I haven’t read either book yet but have read Ehrman’s prior works and heard him speak about it on the radio. What I gather from these debates is that there is no clear evidence either way. Despite Carrier’s objections, which seem to be valid, Ehrman’s methods do seem credible and I’d be interested in seeing them in more detail.

    I do find it somewhat ironic that much of the tracing of hypothesized documents that we don’t have in hand come from methods used in biological evolution. (For example, Coyne’s statement that, “if Ehrman doesn’t have those sources in hand, then he’ll have trouble convincing us not only that they exist, but that they say what Ehrman says they do”.)

    One could say the same about the existence of creatures that we don’t have in hand, especially we don’t have in fossil. But we do have a means to know they existed. We can trace DNA modifications to find common ancestors and split offs, even without having those ancestors in hand.

    Using similar methods, you can trace memetic copying of books. For example, mutations in words and ideas in common stories can aid in detailing which documents came from the same evolutionary branch versus another, and trace back to a common origin. We do have thousands of early copies of religious documents with hundreds of thousands of variations to provide statistical modeling of their “tree of life”.

    This doesn’t make Ehrman right. But, as a critical thinker, I can’t rule out that we might have good evidence for documents that we might not have in hand. As scientists we’re surrounded by inferential methods that prove such decrees wrong, from biology to physics to cosmology.

    • Posted April 20, 2012 at 9:18 am | Permalink

      The difference is that we have overwhelming evidence to indicate that DNA replication is remarkably faithful, and that errors in replication leave behind telltale signatures that are easy to identify. Literature, on the other hand, is well known to be highly malleable, and it’s nigh on impossible to determine what the previous generation actually said — let alone the reasons why said previous generation (if it even existed) was authored.

      No joke, Ehrman uses a handful of words in Aramaic in the Gospels as ironclad evidence that there were firsthand witnesses to Jesus’s life. Here we have a zombie snuff pr0n fantasy written in Greek with a couple words in the native dialect thrown in for some color, and Ehrman wants us to believe that not only is that evidence of multiple generations of hearsay, but that all of them are reliable.

      Hell, we not only don’t know the intentions of the authors of the Gospels, we don’t even know who they were or when or where they wrote the works. Not only that — all we’ve even got of the Gospels themselves are Mediaeval copies-of-copies-of-copies of the Gospels; the originals are long since lost to the ravages of time. And the copies we have have quite poor provenances, to boot.

      Clearly, the man never played, “Telephone,” as a child. And is so gullible that he should never be permitted unsupervised access to a used car lot or a Bernie Madoff prospectus.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • ROO BOOKAROO
        Posted April 20, 2012 at 11:40 am | Permalink

        My feeling is that Ehrman bit more than he could chew.
        He became aware of current mythicism as the result of his blog readers, who started asking questions. He came soon to realize that the debate “Jesus: Myth of History” had become a new instant vogue, with all major religion authors publishing books, articles, videos, films.
        And he didn’t want to be left out.
        His problem was that he was confronting an issue he had never studied in depth, by contrast with writers who’ve devoted all their lives to the debate.
        In addition, he had the especially bad luck to be confronted to an expert of Greco-Roman history like Richard Carrier, who has also devoted all his life to the subject.
        So Ehrman took a fantastic risk, mostly out of self-confidence and sheer ignorance of the difficulties of producing real scholarship in such a complex field dotted with landmines in every direction.
        There’s no way Ehrman could have tackled the subject of this book starting from scratch without a long preparation, at least 5 to 10 years. That’s the amount of time that major mythicists have devoted to their own preparation: G.A. Wells, Earl Doherty, Robert Price. Bruno Bauer had devoted 40 years to the question.
        Confidently believing that this could be done as a rush job, be it an e-book or a hardcover, was sheer naivety.
        His method became finessing tough issues with statements like “I don’t know of any scholar who does not think that…” or inventing imaginary written sources and oral traditions. Carrier couldn’t let him get away with such superficial, casual, even amateurish stuff.
        Ehrman would have been more prudent to stick to what he’s been doing best, textual criticism of the NT, take a step back, give himself a couple of years for further in-depth preparation before embarking on a venture in terra incognita. Knowing that Carrier is soon due with his own book on the subject, it might have been wiser to wait until its publication.
        The extra books sales expected from coming to market as soon as possible did not justify the risk to his reputation.
        I feel sorry for Ehrman, because of his demonstrated professionalism in his estabished domain, and because of the vicious backfire he had to endure as the price of his unjustified hyperconfidence. This is perhaps another case of academic hubris that was not left unpunished.

    • Posted April 20, 2012 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

      I don’t think an apt analogy can be drawn between the hot, human psychological mess that is memetics and the mindless, reliable cause-and-effect that is genetics.

      Firm conclusions, when dealing with the former, would be nigh on impossible to come by.

    • Badger3k
      Posted April 20, 2012 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

      I’ve read most of his books, and this one is pathetic. I used my iPad/iBooks notes feature a lot, and find his other works of much higher quality. I didn’t expect the level of assertion without evidence that Ehrman uses in his latest work. I know the apocalyptic prophet is his own pet idea, and I knew he’d push it, but I didn’t expect the poor quality of, well, everything. He did make some interesting points about Paul I hadn’t heard and considered before, but overall…if it was a DVD I’d say “rent, not buy”.

    • Marella
      Posted April 21, 2012 at 12:17 am | Permalink

      Despite Carrier’s objections, which seem to be valid, Ehrman’s methods do seem credible

      As a ‘critical thinker’ I would have thought you would have realised that this is a contradiction in terms. Either Carrier’s objections are valid and Ehrman’s methods are NOT credible or Carrier’s objections are invalid and Ehrman’s methods are acceptible, you can’t have it both ways because Carrier most specifically states that Ehrman’s methods are fallacious and lead to nonsense.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted April 21, 2012 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

      I don’t know whether “memetic copying” has been tested as a method and survived the test. Or if it uses “statistical modeling” – how could it, these are unique texts and not sets of fossil species?

      But I note that phylogenies use parsimony to select sets for further testing, and that is what Carrier describes by way of reference to Goodacre’s “refutation of Q”. Maybe Carrier is overreaching in the description, but what little I have had time to peruse Goodacre, he is using parsimony to pare down the author tree of a much copied and amended set of texts.

      Contrast that to Carrier’s unintentionally humorous description on how Ehrman multiply sources without abandon. Ehrman is nuts on this, anyway you parse it.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted April 21, 2012 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

        Oops – ‘any way’.

  24. Posted April 20, 2012 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    To us all ideologies and magical belief systems are simply about getting power over others. If an ideology is successfully sold to others, the sellers get power to direct behavior, it appears.

    A “survival of the fittest” sales ideas seems to occur. Specific magical claims and statements have lasted because they are the most effective sales “promises”/lies.

    Pretty pedestrian. Just marketing and sales 101

  25. Nom de Plume
    Posted April 20, 2012 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    I have been a bit baffled about why this matter evokes such strong feelings, especially among atheists.

    I have felt the same way for decades, dating back to when there used to be a classified ad in every issue of Rolling Stone that read “Proof that Jesus never existed!” (and for all I know it’s still there). My reaction was always, “So?”.

    I agree with the other commenters who say that, either way, it’s not going to affect Christians and their beliefs one iota. If Jesus were proven non-historical, they would just say “He was a metaphor”, same as they do for the other bits of the Bible that have proven inconvenient.

    • Reginald Selkirk
      Posted April 21, 2012 at 11:44 am | Permalink

      This gives me a great idea. My next poorly researched book is going to be: “Jesus never existed – and we have his bones to prove it!”

  26. David
    Posted April 20, 2012 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    Rumor has it that Ehrman didn’t even bother to read the authors he criticized in his book but rather farmed out the reading to his grad students. This might account for the poor scholarship. Listen to Robert Price’s The Bible Geek podcast of 12 April at around 3:40 in.

    • Posted April 20, 2012 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

      Ehrman has strenuously denied this.

      • Lowen Gartner
        Posted April 20, 2012 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

        It would be better for him if he admitted it.

        I too expected better from him. “God’s Problem” is amazing work.

      • Reginald Selkirk
        Posted April 21, 2012 at 11:46 am | Permalink

        Discussed by Chris Hallquite here.

        I thought it was hilarious that in Ehrman’s first response/denial, he obviously had not listened to Price’s podcast.

        • Reginald Selkirk
          Posted April 21, 2012 at 11:47 am | Permalink

          Chris Hallquist. My typing has gone all to shite.

  27. procrastin8or
    Posted April 20, 2012 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    Even if Carrier’s qualifications are in Classics, so what? They use the same methodology, the same evidences (documentary and physical), the same analyses. That would be like claiming that a person with a PhD in virology is not qualified to say anything about evolutionary biology.

  28. Lowen Gartner
    Posted April 20, 2012 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    “Since we all admit that there’s no evidence that Jesus was the son of God, did miracles, was resurrected or born of a virgin, and die for our sins, does it really matter so much if he’s based on a historical person or not.”

    It is easy to focus on the mainstream of the Abrahamic faiths and loose sight of the fastest growing “religion” in this country — the “love and light” new age group — the more thoughtful of which are panentheists and reincarnationists (often based on hermetic traditions).

    This group also rallies around a literal Jesus as a penultimate reincarnation of the soul of the greatest teachers of all time (Christ consciousness). They may not believe in the virgin birth and resurrection, but all the other miracles are fair game.

    This group may not be as dangerous as those in the Abrahamic traditions, in that they don’t raise their children with fear and hatred…but they are rabidly anti-scientific, eschewing traditional medicine for faith healing, homeopathy, herbal cures and more.

    Thus, Erhman’s findings are perfect to confirm their woo-based beliefs — the literal existence of a holy man,the reincarnation of the “Christ consciousness”, who of course worked miracles and gave us the most important teachings of all time.

  29. paul fauvet
    Posted April 20, 2012 at 9:46 am | Permalink

    I doubt that there is any way of solving this dispute. It seems to me perfectly reasonable to believe that there was a radical Jewish preacher called Jesus (a common enough Jewish name) who annoyed the Romans and was crucified.

    Indeed, this seems the most parsimonious explanation for the existence of the Gospels (those inside the Bible, and those that didn’t make it).

    That doesn’t mean we have to accept all that the Gospels say about Jesus, any more than we have to accept claims made about Mohammed or the Buddha.

    Indeed, much of the Gospel story is easily falsifiable. For example, Roman governors were not weak-kneed liberals who washed their hands and handed over alleged criminals to the local clergy. The two nativity stories (in Matthew and Luke) contradict each other, and are clearly later additions to the myth. There was no Roman census requiring pregnant women to travel long distances etc.

    But, in the absence of adequate Roman or Jewish sources on the life and death of Jesus, it’s impossible to prove that he was a historical figure.

    It’s also impossible to prove that he didn’t exist, and that the Gospellers, or their sources, were writing myth with no trace of historicity.

    Since we all agree that there was no such thing as the resurrection, or the virgin birth, or casting demons into a herd of pigs, I don’t think we should lose too much sleep over the history vs myth issue.

    • Posted April 20, 2012 at 10:46 am | Permalink

      The problem with your theory is threefold.

      First, there is no credible positive evidence to support the existence of a mere mortal Jesus at the foundation of Christianity. Ehrman’s most egregious scholarly sin was when he fabricated contemporary eyewitnesses out of a few Aramaic phrases in the Gospels and used them as the best evidence there is to support his theories. Sadly, he’s right: that sort of thing really is the best positive evidence there is for the historicist position.

      Second, it directly contradicts all the positive evidence we do have on the origins of Christianity. Second century Christians such as Justin Martyr passionately spilled much ink over the parallels between Christianity and the extant Pagan religions of the time; Romans of the time dismissed Christians as lunatic nutjob cultists; and we even have a colorful and detailed account from Lucian of how Peregrinus aka Proteus fraudulently scammed the Christians into incorporating Pagan myths wholesale into Christianity.

      Last, and most important, it makes as much sense to accept the “Jesus” you propose as the “real” Jesus as it does to accept a certain ornithologist as the “real” 007 because his name was, “James Bond,” and because Ian Fleming liked that name. If your “Jesus” contributed nothing but a name (a name that, incidentally, was quite common and literally translates as “YHWH’s personal salvation”), who’re you kidding in thinking that he’s the “real” Jesus?

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Badger3k
        Posted April 20, 2012 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

        Now, Ben, surely you know that after Jesus died, everyone stopped speaking Aramaic, so there was no way anyone could have said those phrases unless they were alive when Jesus was. In fact, I think Jesus was one of the few people who actually spoke Aramaic, so it really narrows the field down to him and a couple of others. So it had to be Jesus.

        It’s all so clear. Now, what do I do between “get the underpants” and “profit”?

      • joe piecuch
        Posted April 20, 2012 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

        you are much given to trotting out justin martyr and lucian’s account of peregrinus to support your positions, but how, exactly, does either of them constitute evidence against the existence of a wholly human jesus?

        • Posted April 20, 2012 at 11:35 pm | Permalink

          Shifting of the burden of truth, old chap.
          As well as “begging the question”.

          • joe piecuch
            Posted April 21, 2012 at 7:56 am | Permalink

            i’m not sure i get your point, so if you’d elucidate, i would appreciate it.

            • Posted April 21, 2012 at 11:04 am | Permalink

              The point is that a historical Jesus is the positive claim, and historicists have a lot more work to do before that claim can reasonably be confirmed. Historicists have the burden.

              • joe piecuch
                Posted April 21, 2012 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

                are you the same person as michael kingsford gray?

                the question was addressed to ben goren, who reflexively cites those two figures as evidence for his argument against an historical jesus. i asked him to explain the relevance, because, as outlined below, i fail to see how an absurd story that develops around a figure decades or centuries after the fact disproves the existence of the person.

            • Posted April 21, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

              “…an absurd story that develops around a figure decades or centuries after the fact disproves the existence of the person.

              And that’s the question begging. I think Ben’s point is that the stories <i

              • Posted April 21, 2012 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

                Blergh. Touchscreen issues. Then read the other comments below. Then made my full reply.

                Oh, and no, I am not the same person as Mr. Gray.

            • Posted April 21, 2012 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

              I’ll do all my replying here.

              “…an absurd story that develops around a figure decades or centuries after the fact disproves the existence of the person.

              That’s question begging. You’re assuming the stories built up after the fact, and aren’t variants of much older ones. I think Ben’s point is that the stories already existed. They didn’t necessarily build up around a real figure in the Middle East 2000 years ago.

              It doesn’t make any sense to me to look at all the variants of essentially the same character, the evolution of which spans centuries, and say “ok, sometime in the middle of this process there must’ve been a real guy on whom this character is based.”

        • Posted April 21, 2012 at 8:28 am | Permalink

          If this Jesus character is demonstrably based on other, already existent characters from other, already existent fairy tales, why should we conclude that he was somehow also based on a real person? It’s superfluous, in addition to being unlikely.

          • joe piecuch
            Posted April 21, 2012 at 8:44 am | Permalink

            how does comparing a 2d century christian view of jesus to other myths and legends disprove the existence of an historical jesus character? it does no such thing; it gives one grounds for doubt about the veracity of the 2d century view, but it does not disprove the existence of the figure at ground zero. johnny appleseed? john henry? saint ronald reagan?

            • Posted April 21, 2012 at 11:12 am | Permalink

              I don’t think your examples are analogous. Those are known real people, and the mythic stories that have built up around them are not based on other, older myths.

              If we didn’t know Johnny Appleseed was a real person, and there were other, older stories which obviously served as source material, I’d say it would be silly to posit that JA was a real person.

              Do people posit that there probably is a historical Dionysus, or a historical Osiris?

              • joe piecuch
                Posted April 21, 2012 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

                “… the mythic stories that have built up around them are not based on other, older myths…”

                i think that’s called begging the question. there’s a difference between a story wholly based on myth, and a story with a basis in fact that incorporates older myth. mythicists may have demonstrated the likelihood of the latter, but they have not proven the former.

                there’s no proof that john henry was a real person.

              • gbjames
                Posted April 21, 2012 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

                Arguing about whether Jesus or John Henry was a real person is, in the absences of other specifics, a major wheel-spinning exercise. I can find evidence for the existence of these guys simply by searching on Facebook. Dozens of guys named Jesus appear. And lots of John Henry’s, too. But, you may object… “those aren’t the Jesus or John Henry’s we’re talking about”. Well, no. Because we’re talking about the ones who did those amazing and miraculous feats. So, what does it mean to be asking about whether Jesus “really” existed if you drop out all of the bogus claims of wizardry; if you drop off the bogus claims of cutting down trees with a giant blue ox? It becomes a silly pass time, IMO. Yeah, it is plausible that there was a guy once who went all messianic in his preaching. Big deal.

        • Posted April 21, 2012 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

          I see others have already done an excellent job of schooling you on the matter, but I figure I might as well chime in, myself.

          Justin Martyr was quite explicit and thorough in his comparisons between Jesus and Pagan demigods. Here’s a sample of his own equations from his First Apology:

          Annunciation / Magnificat: Ganymede
          Born of a virgin: Perseus
          Word made flesh: Mercury
          Water into wine: Bacchus
          Healed the sick: Æsculapius
          Temptation and tribulation: Hercules
          Last Supper / Eucharist: Mithras
          Death, Resurrection, and Ascension: Æsculapius, Bacchus, Hercules, the sons of Leda and Dioscuri, Perseus, Bellerophon, and Ariadne.

          That, if I am not mistraken, is pretty much the entirety of Jesus’s biography, or close enough as makes no difference.

          And, do please remember: this is not me quoting some random Internet crank who read a passage in the Bible and a Wikipedia page and noticed a couple similarities; this is Justin Martyr, the oldest surviving Christian apologist writing in the first half of the second century. He’s writing this long before the canonization of the New Testament, and even before some of it had been written. Indeed, once you drop the nonsense that the Gospels are eyewitness accounts, it becomes likely that Martyr is writing before or at least contemporaneously with the (anonymous) Gospel authors.

          So, it seems overwhelmingly clear that Jesus’s life shared striking parallels with at least a dozen well-known, popular, and ancient Pagan demigods. No matter your position on historicity, these parallels demand explanation.

          If you’re like me, you simply accept the obvious conclusion: that Jesus was made up as a patchwork of all those older gods and goddesses, exactly the same way that it’s superbly well documented that Serapis was quite publicly made up as an amalgamation of Osiris / Dionysus and Apis. That’s how new religions came into being then — and today, as well. Witness Santaria and Voodoo that blend Catholicism with African tribalism, or Moronism that blends Protestantism with Egyptian paganism and tobacco store indians for local color.

          And that’s a pretty smart conclusion to come to, because the only other alternative is that Jesus really did have a biography indistinguishable from that of a Pagan demigod…in which case you’re left with a pair of conspiracy theories. The first is Martyrs, namely that the parallels were because time-travelling demons knew Jesus was coming and so planted all the Pagan stories so that honest people would dismiss news of Jesus as just another just-so story. The second is Ehrman’s, that Jesus wasn’t really Jesus but some nobody who bore absolutely no semblance to him aside from the name…and, oh-by-the-way, was also exactly like the Jesus in the Gospels with the same biography but none of the supernatural stuff happened.

          And the story of Peregrinus is just a wonderfully entertaining elucidation of how the myth got built — sausage-making in action, if you will. It’s the means and the motive, while Martyr establishes the facts of the case.

          You’re obviously wedded to the conspiracy nutjob crank theory that Jesus was real and I’m one of those time-travelling demons trying to convince you he was just another faery tale, and you equally obviously like Ehrman’s “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!” sermonizing. Good for you.

          Me? I’d much rather not live in that kind of a fantasy world, thankyouverymuch.

          Cheers,

          b&

          • joe piecuch
            Posted April 21, 2012 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

            you’ve said nothing that conclusively demonstrates to me that the theory to which you subscribe is more likely than the possibility that there was a human jesus around whom the bible myths accumulated. it is possible for people of intelligence to in good conscience look at ambiguous materials and come to different conclusions. a conspiracy theory makes more sense to you; a scenario based on the sorts of psychology and behavior one observes on a daily basis makes more sense to me. perhaps your arguments would be more convincing if you did not so often resort to putting words in the mouths of those with whom you dispute.

            i have no agenda with regard to this matter; with respect to my view of the world, it is largely irrelevant whether there was a ‘jesus’. it is, however, for me a matter of historical interest, and as well because origins, evolution, ambiguity and psychology fascinate me. it’s certainly possible that it’s all just made up; it seems unlikely to me, but i could be persuaded. i simply have not been. i mentioned in the first post here on ehrman’s book that it was less than convincing in places, but taken as a whole, what he has to say makes more sense to me.

            it puzzles me that people feel obliged to pipe in to say that they’re not interested…ok, well, have a nice day! but i am, especially if someone without an ax to grind has something informed, pertinent and reasoned to offer. being so married to your point of view that you can’t allow that another point of view contains possibilities isn’t doing yourself any favors.

            • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
              Posted April 21, 2012 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

              you’ve said nothing that conclusively demonstrates to me that the theory to which you subscribe is more likely than the possibility that there was a human jesus around whom the bible myths accumulated.

              There are three well observed reasons for estimating likelihoods, all of which are or should be well known:

              1) Religious texts are myths. Why would you expect historicity of their portrayals?

              2) As I mentioned above, every religious founding figure is known to be without any historical evidence whatsoever, like the Jesus figure first portrayed generations after and as places far away.

              Why would you expect any of them in particular to deviate from the norm?

              3) The founding figure myths accrued over many lifetimes. Hence the accumulation of myths were largely independent of the actual existence of them. Why would this be taken as an increased likelihood for existence as opposed to direct evidence that they don’t have to exist?

              • joe piecuch
                Posted April 21, 2012 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

                “There are three well observed reasons for estimating likelihoods, all of which are or should be well known:”

                yeah? what’s your source or authority for those? i don’t accept them as stated.

                “1) Religious texts are myths. Why would you expect historicity of their portrayals?”

                i suggest that the absolutism of the statement makes it inoperative. the largely mythical nature of a text does not mean it cannot by definition contain statements of fact.

                “2) As I mentioned above, every religious founding figure is known to be without any historical evidence whatsoever…”

                that statement is on its face incorrect. l. ron hubbard, joseph smith and bahaullah are certainly historical figures. apparently i missed the news that muhammed and confucius have no historical foundation. i think it is generally agreed that siddhartha gautama has some historical basis.

                “3) The founding figure myths accrued over many lifetimes. Hence the accumulation of myths were largely independent of the actual existence of them.”

                i’ll happily concede as much.

                “Why would this be taken as an increased likelihood for existence as opposed to direct evidence that they don’t have to exist?”

                i’m not quite sure i understand the latter half of the question, but i don’t take the MYTHS to demonstrate an increased likelihood of existence. the new testament myths are, in my opinion, more likely, based on their historical existence, to have had their origin in a historical figure than to have been invented from scratch.

            • Posted April 23, 2012 at 10:54 am | Permalink

              you’ve said nothing that conclusively demonstrates to me that the theory to which you subscribe is more likely than the possibility that there was a human jesus around whom the bible myths accumulated.

              Let’s try the comparison, once again.

              I’ve cited multiple early sources who, in the simple and obviously-inteded plain meanings of the words, made clear that they thought that Christianity was every bit as much of a scam as any other religion, that Christians were every bit as much deluded fools as those who drink the Koolaid today, and that every single biographical fact we “know” about Jesus was unquestionably stolen from the popular Pagan gods of the time.

              You and Ehrman, on the other hand, are attempting to read between the lines of some really bad zombie snuff pr0n fantasies that the Christians hand out as religious propaganda to see if you can divine some sort of real truth behind it all (because, of course, these are super trustworthy people we’re dealing with). You construct your own fantasy that doesn’t even vaguely resemble the according-to-you trustworthy source you’re starting with, and trying to convince us that, if we squint at all the sources I’ve been pointing out, ignore the plain text, and just trust everybody, then your fantasy isn’t totally outside of the realm of possibility…and, again, because Christians wouldn’t at all have any reason to lie or be deluded about their religious fantasies, we must therefore give you the benefit of the doubt that you know more about the nature and origins of their fantasies than they do themselves.

              If your requisite criteria for what it takes to be persuaded is that you can imagine a fantasy world in which Ehrman’s interpretation of a couple words of Aramaic quoted for color in a Greek zombie snuff pr0n fantasy are a reliable and extensive first-person biographical account, then I ain’t got nothin’ for you.

              Cheers,

              b&

              • joe piecuch
                Posted April 23, 2012 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

                you read lucian mocking peregrinus and construe it as proof that there was no historical figure upon whom were based the myths of christianity. but my reading, in a couple of different translations, makes it plain to me that he takes as a fact the existence of a man crucified in palestine after originating the cult of christianity. by your standards, that would not constitute evidence for the existence of an historical jesus; but i am at a loss to understand how you can possibly interpret it as evidence AGAINST the existence of a human jesus. but leave all that aside; the sources you reference shed light on the evolution of christian mythology, but how do they argue against the existence of a human jesus? they do not.

              • Posted April 23, 2012 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

                you read lucian mocking peregrinus

                Erm…you sure we’re reading the same text? Because it’s the Christians whom Lucian mocks, not Peregrinus.

                but my reading, in a couple of different translations, makes it plain to me that he takes as a fact the existence of a man crucified in palestine after originating the cult of christianity.

                Care to offer up the actual quote from Lucian that says that one Jesus of Nazareth was a mortal human who was crucified in Palestine after founding the cult?

                b&

              • Lowen Gartner
                Posted April 23, 2012 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

                Are folks aware of Doherty’s systematic response (in progress)to Erhman?

                It is done much more dispassionately than Carrier, and with much more information.

                His latest entry discuss Lucian quote in some depth.

                http://vridar.wordpress.com/earl-dohertys-response-to-bart-ehrmans-did-jesus-exist/

              • Posted April 23, 2012 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

                Sorry, Lowen, but I don’t seem to be seeing anything on that page or those linked from it where Doherty discusses Lucian…?

                b&

              • Lowen Gartner
                Posted April 23, 2012 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

                Sorry Ben, you are right. I thought it was in the Roman Trio – I am also rereading Doherty’s “Jesus, Neither God nor Man…”, where he discusses Lucian in a chapter “Jesus Among Pagan and Jew” starting on page 503. I must have conflated the two. Perhaps Doherty will address it in the blog in a subsequent post?

              • joe piecuch
                Posted April 23, 2012 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

                ‘laughing at the old man’s driveling idiocy’ reads as mockery to me. there’s plenty more; did you only read the parts that serve your purpose?

                Care to offer up the actual quote from Lucian that says that one Jesus of Nazareth was a mortal human who was crucified in Palestine after founding the cult?

                i did not characterise it as such, but of course that’s your usual approach. the relevant quotes would be:

                “…he learned the wondrous lore of the Christians, by associating with their priests and scribes in Palestine. And—how else could it be?—in a trice he made them all look like children, for he was prophet, cult-leader, head of the synagogue, and everything, all by himself. He interpreted and explained some of their books and even composed many, and they revered him as a god, made use of him as a lawgiver, and set him down as a protector, next after that other, to be sure, whom they still worship, the man who was crucified in Palestine because he introduced this new cult into the world.”

                and

                “The poor wretches have convinced themselves, first and foremost, that they are going to be immortal and live for all time, in consequence of which they despise death and even willingly give themselves into custody; most of them. Furthermore, their first lawgiver persuaded them that they are all brothers of one another after they have transgressed once, for all by denying the Greek gods and by worshipping that crucified sophist himself and living under his laws.”

              • Posted April 23, 2012 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

                Very good.

                You found the passage where Lucian used the word, “man” to refer to Christ.

                Not Jesus, mind you, but Christ.

                And this proves…what, exactly?

                John Frum was a man. You’ll find him referred to as such in the literature. Same for Clark Kent, Luke Skywalker, and James Bond. Or for Orpheus, Perseus, and Hercules, for that matter.

                Further, considering that Lucian wasn’t even born until a century after Jesus was supposed to have been baptized, it should be perfectly clear that Lucian wasn’t vouching for the correctness of Christian theology, merely repeating their beliefs on the matter.

                But, you know what? Those passages directly equate Jesus with the Pagan gods, especially in the way he was worshipped. And they make clear that the Christians were gullible idiots who’d believe anything you told them — clearly not reliable sources of information on anything, let alone their beliefs.

                The real kicker, of course, is that those passages also make clear that Proteus himself composed many of the Christian books. Ever stop to wonder just how much of the New Testament Proteus anonymously authored?

                You do know, don’t you, that most of the New Testament, including all of the Gospels, are anonymous?

                Just how much of the canonical evidence that you and Ehrman are relying upon to “prove” the historicity of a non-Jesus Jesus not-the-Christ Christ of non-existent Nazareth do you think was composed not only by Proteus, but by the other sharks in those waters?

                Lots of chum in those waters, chum.

                b&

              • joe piecuch
                Posted April 23, 2012 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

                lucian on peregrinus is YOUR citation; it’s the document YOU parade about at least once or twice every time this discussion takes place. you refer to it in support of your conviction and thereby grant it authority for your argument. your reading of those two quotes is absurd and directly contradicts what they plainly say; your backpedaling and dissembling is wholly in keeping with your usual incoherence.

                “…the passage where Lucian used the word, “man” to refer to Christ. Not Jesus, mind you, but Christ. And this proves…what, exactly?”

                please tell me who is he referring to, if not the man jesus. it proves only that lucian, to whom you repeatedly refer as authoritative, takes as a fact the existence of a man crucified in palestine after originating the cult of christianity.

              • Posted April 23, 2012 at 7:52 pm | Permalink

                Joe, if you don’t even know the difference beween Jesus the man and Christ the Son / Word / Savior, you aren’t even as qualified to engage in this discussion as a ten-year-old going to Confirmation classes.

                I’m sorry you’ve wasted so much of my time. I’ll try to not let it happen again.

                b&

              • joe piecuch
                Posted April 23, 2012 at 9:17 pm | Permalink

                lucian refers in that document neither to jesus nor christ, but to ‘the crucified sophist’ and ‘the man who was crucified in Palestine because he introduced this new cult into the world.’ yup…’the man who was crucified’, which is what i’ve been saying all along. you didn’t read lucian carefully enough to notice the protracted and blatant mockery of peregrinus, so maybe you didn’t feel comfortable answering the question, but, seriously, to whom is he referring?

              • joe piecuch
                Posted April 23, 2012 at 9:49 pm | Permalink

                or maybe it’s just that you realised that declining to respond to inconvenient facts is less embarrassing than completely losing your shit over them, in which case i say, ‘good call!’. i just hope the poor lizards don’t suffer for it.

              • Posted April 24, 2012 at 4:40 am | Permalink

                Mr. Piecuch:
                I hear your plight, and somewhat understand your frustration.
                Are you able to point me to the earliest extant[1] sources to which you refer regarding Lucius/Peregrinus please?
                I shall do my damnedest to translate them as honestly and as an unbiased manner as far as possible for you.
                For free. (Limited Offer. No Reign-cheques.)

                But in order for me to do so, I request that along with the original Latin facsimile, you provide the actual date of the document(s), as well as the dating method, as such is absolutely vital in textual criticism.
                (No good analyzing 20th generation hand-written copies for nuances of the original source document, even assuming that such a beast even existed)

                Not much to ask of you, considering!
                Who could say fairer than that?

                ______________________
                [1] Extant: Existing. An original document that is not a copy, but dated to its origin. The Dead Sea Scrolls are a marvelous example of same, but the Gospels are most certainly NOT an example.

              • joe piecuch
                Posted April 24, 2012 at 8:27 am | Permalink

                i’ll refer you and your offer to mr. goren; as he is fond of citing the document, but seems not be overly familiar with it, it may behoove him to avail himself of your facilities. my interest in it extends only as far as noting mr. goren’s proclivity for employing it to shoot himself in the foot.

    • Blood
      Posted April 21, 2012 at 9:46 am | Permalink

      “It seems to me perfectly reasonable to believe that there was a radical Jewish preacher called Jesus (a common enough Jewish name) who annoyed the Romans and was crucified.”

      It is reasonable, just not in the context of the gospel mythos. The gospel writers were gentiles on a theological mission to prove that Jewish monotheism had been superseded by gentile monotheism. The gospels were written as symbolic theology to accomplish this goal, and they succeeded far beyond their wildest imaginations. This is attributable to their literary skills, not their historical methods.

      • ROO BOOKAROO
        Posted April 21, 2012 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

        Blood:
        The success of the gospels beyond their wildest imagination is also attributable to the organization of Christian churches imitating the system of synagogues spread all over the Roman Empire, and the lucky break represented by the endorsement and annexation of the network of Christian Churches by the two Emperors Constantine and Theodosius. Without their intervention, Christians would have disappeared in the dustbin of history, and we would be watching TV today instead of commenting on this blog.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted April 21, 2012 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

      It seems to me perfectly reasonable to believe that there was a radical Jewish preacher

      Except that all other religious founding figures, from egyptian, mayan et cetera to Confucius, Buddha, Mohammad et cetera are known to be non-historical. So it doesn’t seem very reasonable.

      It’s also impossible to prove that he didn’t exist,

      Okay, now we are leaving empiricism and use of certainty to enter the usual weird world of theology and its obligatory raising of unwarranted doubt. It is the ‘historicists’ that have the burden of evidence for empirical existence.

      I don’t think we should lose too much sleep over the history vs myth issue.

      Doesn’t answer the article though: “I conclude that all the kerfuffle rests on this: Christians conflate the existence of a historical Jesus with the existence of a divine Jesus.

      And, of course, there are important questions about how one adjudicates ancient history.”

      • Erp
        Posted April 22, 2012 at 8:44 am | Permalink

        Except that all other religious founding figures, from egyptian, mayan et cetera to Confucius, Buddha, Mohammad et cetera are known to be non-historical.

        First there is no evidence that Confucius, Buddha, and Mohammad are non-historical (there may be limited evidence that they did exist but that is another matter). If you ignore the miracle stories about them (and only Buddha has a large collection of those), it seems reasonable that they could have existed (there mere existence does not contradict other known historical facts [in contrast the Book of Mormon figures do contradict known historical facts by their very claim to existence and the only claim for existence is a book of very dubious provenance]).

        Second you ignore founders of religions like Joseph Smith or Bahá’u’lláh or Mirza Ghulam Ahmad who are more recent and therefore for whom we have firmer historical evidence.

  30. Posted April 20, 2012 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    Speaking from the historicist side, I’d say it matters because it’s _embarassing_ to hear my “skeptical” friends endorsing theories about Jesus that are as well-supported by the evidence as 9/11 conspiracy theories.

    Carrier is the FIRST qualified scholar that I know of to come down on the mythicist side. And his books haven’t even come out yet (the 2nd one, anyway). So anyone supporting the mythicist view before now has been relying on fringe writers with no standing in the field and few or no peer-reviewed publications. Or else on their own opinions. And that puts them in the same class as, yes, birthers, climate deniers, and creationists.

    • Tyro
      Posted April 20, 2012 at 10:13 am | Permalink

      I think that presumes that the consensus was motivated by evidence and there’s a process of sceptical, critical review in place. I think there’s good reason to believe that this is not the case. When the field of bible study shows that it is thick with dogma, questioning the conclusions is absolutely not comparable to questioning the results of actual scientific disciplines.

    • Posted April 20, 2012 at 10:57 am | Permalink

      Writing from the mythicist side, I’d say it’s the historicists such as Ehrman who share the scholarly work in common with Truthers.

      Can you point to a single credible document that supports your position? That the best the historicists have to offer to support their position dates from long after the fact and is full of mythical fantasies does not speak well of the theory.

      In contrast, it hardly seems conspiratorial at all to agree with the thesis first put forward — in great detail, no less — by none other than Justin Martyr: namely, that Christianity is indistinguishable from its contemporary religions. And that includes the stories told about its central demigod superhero. Or to agree with the Roman sources (that the historicists often cite) that the Christians were a bunch of lunatic nutjobs, same as we’d today describe the Raelians or the Scientologists. Or to think that Lucian’s entertaining account of how Proteus scammed the Christians into adopting Pagan fantasies as their own seems entirely plausible.

      Or even, for that matter, to note that everybody who thinks they know who and / or what Jesus “really” was inevitably puts forth a theory that has Jesus being some pretty impressive figure, far more noteworthy than the countless people who got noted, and who yet never got noted.

      Cheers,

      b&

    • MV
      Posted April 20, 2012 at 11:01 am | Permalink

      And I might be more impressed by the historicist side if they would base their arguments on the facts rather than ad hominem and poisoning the well attacks on their opponents.

      The problem is that there is virtually no information that proves the existence of a historical Jesus. And the bar has been lowered so far (a Jewish preacher named Jesus that was killed) that it is rather difficult to disprove. And the same source material used to prove a historical Jesus is also used by creationists in peer reviewed journals. Yes, they do publish peer review papers, as do climate deniers. For instance, note the April 7th post on this website about a paper in Neurological Science on Moses and stuttering. So, if we follow your logic, that puts historicists in the same class as birthers, climate deniers, and creationists.

      • Posted April 20, 2012 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

        Most historists use the alarmingly unscientific technique of beginning with a firm assumption, and cherry-picking data that sort-of fits, confabulating data to support their conclusion, libeling the mythicist scholars, and finally resort to outright provable lies when all else fails.
        They *have* to do the above, because they have no case to make on the existing evidence.
        They have a ‘faith-based’ position as a starting point.

        That sounds so close to the methods employed by kooky-konspiracy knuts.

    • Lowen Gartner
      Posted April 20, 2012 at 11:03 am | Permalink

      If you think that Carrier is a qualified scholar – then you might wonder of his opinion of the other writers in the mythicist field – he particularly praises Price (who he believes to be a scholarly colleague) and Doherty. He even says so in the blog entry that triggered this discussion:

      “But even his treatment of the “good” mythicists (which comprises maybe half the book) is weak to the point of useless. This would be (principally) myself, Robert Price, Earl Doherty, G.A. Wells, Thomas Thompson, and (perhaps) Frank Zindler.”

    • ROO BOOKAROO
      Posted April 20, 2012 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

      Obviously you’ve never heard of Charles-Francois Dupuis, Bruno Bauer, Thomas Paine, Edwin Johnson, James Frazer, John MacKinnon Robertson, Arthur Drews, Rudolf Bultmann, Paul-Louis Couchoud, Joseph Wheless, L. Gordon Rylands, John Marco Allegro, Joachim Kahl, George Albert Wells, Hermann Detering, Gerd Lüdemann, Israel Finkelstein, etc…
      To claim they are fringe scholars simply demonstrate that, like Ehrman, you need a few years of real studying before making public pronouncements out of sheer ignorance.

      • Posted April 23, 2012 at 11:26 am | Permalink

        Most of those you mention are either not New Testament scholars (e.g. Finkelstein), not mythicists (e.g. Luedemann), or not either. Or else they are long outdated. (Thomas Paine? Seriously?)

        The exception (that proves the rule) seems to be Detering. However, I can find no books or articles in which he lays out a case for a mythical origin of Christianity.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted April 21, 2012 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

      You use a strawman skeptic to try to oust actual skeptic. It is generally accepted that modern skepticism is based on accepting empirical science. Hence skeptics can’t accept biblical scholars without examining their claims no more than they can accept astrologists.

      And by examination, biblical scholars are _exactly_ like astrologists. They describe magical phenomena as if they exist (astrologists: ftl interactions, biblical scholars: god interactions). And they portray fictional evidence as if it exist (astrologists: twelve fictional sectors that can no longer be found, biblical scholars; fictional historical evidence known to be fabricated or simply non-existent).

      So from where we sit, biblical scholars, and now you, are the astrologists, “birthers, climate deniers, and creationists”. There is no science in your position, and what little empirical evidence is supports the skeptics.

  31. Ken Pidcock
    Posted April 20, 2012 at 10:01 am | Permalink

    And it is the Christians who have the hard work ahead of them, for even if Jesus was demonstrated to be a historical person, they still must adduce independent evidence for all his divinity attested in scripture.

    They must do no such thing. In fact, they mustn’t. That wouldn’t be faith. Evidence of things not seen and such.

  32. Christopher
    Posted April 20, 2012 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    I think that, insofar as scholars like Carrier and Ehrman, they get worked up about historicity because of scholarship itself. Carrier has stated he doesn’t care if Jesus does exist, and his work shows that he seems to be concerned with the scholarship itself, not the conclusion.

  33. Posted April 20, 2012 at 10:39 am | Permalink

    , I’m a bit baffled at the attention it gets. I conclude that all the kerfuffle rests on this: Christians conflate the existence of a historical Jesus with the existence of a divine Jesus.
    I would think the target would be more liberal-ish Christians who already reject some of the supernatural bits but are the Jesus is a good moral teacher whose teachings I follow (even though he wasn’t that good and even though they really don’t follow it).

    A historical Jesus would be important to them – even though Ehrman’s other books significantly damage some of the moral teachings that are attributed to Jesus.

  34. Hal
    Posted April 20, 2012 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    There’s another reason why this matters to some of us. I was a convinced Catholic for the first 62 years of my life. There is a need to not only leave “not one stone upon a stone” of the edifice of belief, but also to hammer into dust any larger fragments of the edifice of belief that we can spot among the wreckage. My children, who shed their beliefs at a much earlier age, feel no such compulsion. The topic is not remotely interesting to them, while I read whatever I can get my hands on concerning the next steps in the demolition.

  35. Thanny
    Posted April 20, 2012 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

    As I see it, the lack of a historical Jesus is important to atheists because it short-circuits the bullshit.

    Consider, by analogy, the Miracle of the Sun at Fatima, where 50,000 people witnessed the sun changing colors and zigzagging across the sky. Rational explanations abound, often centering on the effects of staring at the sun, but sound like special pleading. Or the parting of the Red Sea. The claims about unusual tides, winds, or whatever all sound hideously contrived.

    The truth of the matter is that there was no Miracle of the Sun. It’s simply not the case that 50,000 people all reported witnessing this impossible behavior by the sun. The story is a fabrication, and there’s no need to explain a lie (outside of some fields of psychology). The story involving a parted Red Sea is fictional. There was no mysterious bifurcation of waters to contemplate the causes of.

    It’s the same with Jesus. If you grant that he existed, but that the supernatural bits of the stories are fictional, you sound shifty. Much simpler to go with the truth – there’s no evidence such a person ever existed, and the whole thing is entirely made up.

    Or, at best, he’s like King Arthur. Maybe, just possibly, the entirely fictional stories crystallized around an actual person, as a pearl around a grain of sand. But that person was not the character in the story, just as sand on a string is not a pearl necklace.

    • Posted April 20, 2012 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

      “as a pearl around a grain of sand” — Hey! I like that analogy.

      /@

    • Ajh
      Posted April 20, 2012 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

      Interestingly enough, I read a few years ago that a very similar debate exists around King Arthur – whether he was originally a war leader circa the year 500 around whom mythical elements accreted, or whether he was originally a Celtic god brought down to human level when Christianity came and ultimately inserted into a historical context.

      And just like the “historical Jesus”, the “historical Arthur” that you have to posit to get him to be at all believable bears almost no resemblance to the character in the texts.

    • Aratina Cage
      Posted April 21, 2012 at 8:22 am | Permalink

      Well said. It’s the ultimate Gnu observation with respect to religions to question not just the emperor’s airy new clothes but the emperor himself. Is this naked (excuse me, I mean “sky clad”) man who they’ve been parading around in front of us an actual emperor at all?

      How does one go about establishing that this person is an emperor? Because a self-confessed mad man said so, you say? Because people have been gullible enough to think he was the emperor, you say? Because a deity willed it, you say? Just what reasons do we have for believing that this buck-naked man leading the procession really is an emperor?

  36. Posted April 20, 2012 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

    It seems to be difficult to resolve the dispute at this distance in time, but I concur with those who note that atheists conceding Jesus’s existence is *some* succour to Christians. I’m also interested to see if even atheist/agnostics like Bart Ehrman might still be suffering, unwittingly, from a cultural bias toward his view. I’m certainly not inclined to doubt his *sincerity*.

    On this subject, can I recommend some, dare I say, *philosophy* from Stephen Law which challenges the certainty displayed by some historicists, with a look at their methods and the proposal of some principles that cast doubt on them:

    http://stephenlaw.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/published-in-faith-and-philosophy-2011.html

  37. Posted April 20, 2012 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

    As I said in another thread, I do think Erhman makes way too much of Q,M, and L. And he does seem to pronounce, with too much authority, the strength of his claims.

    A good explanation for why people get so worked up about the historicity of Jesus (regardless of what side of the fence they are on) is that there is no evidence either way that can easily settle the matter. Its like the vitriole that used to surround the question of whether Homo sapiens wiped out the Neanderthal or bred with them. Until there was strong evidence the conversation was heated, and revealed deep entrenchment.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted April 21, 2012 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

      As I commented on above, we have plenty of empirical evidence that religious founding figures are myths.

      There is simply no comparison to cases where there was no or uncertain evidence.

  38. steve1942
    Posted April 20, 2012 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

    If nonexistence was good enough for the Father, it should be good enough for the son–after all, they are of the same essence. And let’s not forget: the Apple doesn’t fall far from the Tree.

  39. MadScientist
    Posted April 20, 2012 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

    “Why does this evoke such strong feelings, and such acrimonious arguments, from atheists?”

    I’d say that’s because some people have a genuine interest in the truth. You go after people who make untrue claims about evolution just as Richard Carrier will happily hound anyone who publishes abject nonsense about a field which he knows well. It has nothing whatsoever to do with any desire to destroy religion.

    I fell over laughing at the part about how Ehrman despises the classics and would not spend time in that part of the library despite the fact that it has much to do with the Jesus myths.

  40. stevenjohnson
    Posted April 20, 2012 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    Ehrman explicitly declares that the historical Jesus was a great moral thinker, which is complete nonsense if he really believed that Jesus was an apocalyptic, because there is no sane morality in a religion which declares the world is about to be judged. But Ehrman must have a real Jesus so that there can still be a Christianity, albeit one without miracles. It really should be emphasized that Ehrman’s thesis is that there is a specific, recoverable historical Jesus, who can still serve as the foundation of modernized religion. Ehrman is a theological accommodationist.

    As to why some atheists are exercised on the issue, it is not just because they don’t believe the New Testament is historically reliable, but because they believe that it’s a pack of lies, even if they politely call it myths. And refusing to admit the possiblity, even abusing the scandalous villains who would be so bigoted to say such things, also accommodationism.

    I must say, it is a little shocking that Jerry Coyne would be so accommodating.

    Incidentally, amongst Ehrman’s many flaws, he doesn’t even cover the mythicist literature very well. For instance, Alvar Ellegaard’s book on Jesus notes the interesting parallels between the life of the Teacher of Righteousness in the Essene movement and Jesus’ supposed biography. Another mythicist work, Hyam Maccoby’s The Mythmaker, has very interesting things to say about Paul.

    I enjoyed Robert Oerter’s book about the Standard Model very much and will try very hard not to let the discovery he’s an abusive crackpot diminish it in memory.

  41. Posted April 20, 2012 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

    For what it’s worth, I’m agnostic about Jesus’ existence. But as far as actually debating Christians and trying to convince them of the folly of their faith, arguing that Jesus didn’t exist is too heavy handed. It’s much too radical of a paradigm shift in their worldview if Jesus didn’t exist, so if it were proved that Jesus indeed did not exist, cognitive dissonance would simply make them believe even harder.

    • Posted April 20, 2012 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

      Yes, but their belief would become much more brittle at the same time that it hardened.

      And that’s a good thing — at least, in the aggregate over the long term.

      It’s one thing to sit in a church and repeat a credo you’ve spoken so many times it’s lost all meaning, but that you still believe is basically true (even if a couple of the details might smell of the fish that got away).

      But to know that, not only the emperor is naked, not only is he ugly, not only is he invisible, but that he never existed outside of the fantasies of a handful of primitive conmen in the first place?

      Sure, there’ll be those — probably even a majority — who’ll first react by digging in their heels and sticking their fingers in their ears. But an adult who likes to pretend that she values truth and rationality can only take so much of that.

      Even better, it doesn’t take too many people pointing out the emperor’s nonexistence before they start laughing at the fools who still believe in Santa, even after it’s been made plain that he’s Mr. Murdoch from the hardware store — and such ridicule is, by far, the most effective poison there is to control irrationality.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Posted April 20, 2012 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

        “But an adult who likes to pretend that she values truth and rationality can only take so much of that”

        Unfortunately, I don’t think most Christians value truth and rationality; they value faith.

        • ROO BOOKAROO
          Posted April 20, 2012 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

          Faith comes before reason, not only at the level of beilievers in established religions, but in the history of thinking among humans.
          Myths and gods reigned for hundreds of thousands of years until the light of reason emerged in Ancient Greece to formulate the first principles of rational thinking, and from the start, it had to fight its way against the local Greek and Roman gods.
          This light was extinguished by the triumph of Christian superstition, and had to wait until the Enlightenment of the 18th century to re-awaken, and again not without a fight against the Christianity of the day.
          And this fight is certainly not yet won among the masses of the populations of the world.
          So, we cannot blame the individual believer to spontaneously trust first his/her faith before over any appeals to reason.
          Reason is just not an instinctive proclivity of the human mind. Faith is, and reason requires a long process of education and training.

          • Posted April 20, 2012 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

            Agreed. The first step in this debate between believers and non-believers is to get believers to understand that faith isn’t a virtue. Without that crucial step, everyone will be talking past each other.

            • Posted April 20, 2012 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

              Hear, hear.

              In fact, disabusing people of the notion that faith is a virtue might be the only step necessary. Might.

              As for the impact trying to show there was no historical Jesus might have, I don’t think we can conclude that it will reliably backfire. It might work in some cases, it might not in others. People respond differently to different arguments. I think it would’ve been part of an effective battery in my own case. That being writ, I think it behooves us to fall back on that trusty standby: honesty is the best policy.

        • Posted April 20, 2012 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

          Curiously enough, their belief in faith typically vanishes the moment they step onto a used car lot. And their trust in truth an rationality grows by leaps and bounds when they’re taking their kids to the pediatrician.

          Yes, there are exceptions, but we needn’t worry ourselves with them, for the most part. Except for the anti-vaccination crowd, they only harm themselves; either way, the problems wind up being self-correcting.

          Once faith in the non-existent Jesus (and those who take money on his behalf) is seen on a par with faith in the car salesman, Christianity will wither and die.

          Granted, it’s something more akin to glyphosphate than diquat, in that it’s slow-acting. But hit something with glyphosphate and, so long as it’s not resistant, the whole thing dies. Diquat will fry the leaves within a few hours and can be quite satisfying, but most stuff will come right back in short order.

          …sorry. Can you tell that we had our weed control session in the Master Gardener class this past Tuesday?

          Cheers,

          b&

          • Aratina Cage
            Posted April 21, 2012 at 8:36 am | Permalink

            Just yesterday I listened to a Calvinist (*puke*) declare proudly something along the lines of, “Nothing in my life happens without reason!” I was thinking of how silly that is to say, and it really bugs me that anyone can be so mendaciously idiotic. When he takes a step and his foot lands on the ground in front of him, is that something he considers destined by God to happen? How about the next step? Did that happen for a reason? And so on. I could just see him haggling over a used car and coming away saying that he was destined to purchase that exact car for that exact price at that exact time and that it somehow plays into this master plan that God has for him, I’m sorry to tell you. It’s quite the con game these people live by.

    • Posted April 21, 2012 at 7:03 am | Permalink

      Christians have no difficulty in rolling their eyes and offhandedly dismissing Zeus, Thor, Odin, and a thousand other gods in human history. Why? Because they’re MYTHS! So they would not want to see Jesus placed in the same category, and I would therefore imagine that they are somewhat relieved to see Ehrmann defending Jesus’ historicity (even if Bart doesn’t believe any of the tripe about Jesus being divine).

      • Posted April 22, 2012 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

        Bingo!! This is why the question is so appealing to both sides. I’ll also admit that I just enjoy seeing religious squirm when faced with the prospect that their religious myths are just as ridiculous as scientology, magic underpants, insert whatever bizarre belief you like here. And I happen to think that this is something that the faithful need to be reminded of, regularly. But then again, I love to watch religious people squirm :)

  42. morkindie
    Posted April 20, 2012 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

    I am confused.

    I read “misquoting Jesus”
    I thought is was quite interesting.

    Now everyone is claiming that Ehrman is doing all the same things that he criticized Christian apologists for doing.

    • Posted April 20, 2012 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

      Ehrman’s “Misquoting Jesus” was very good, and very scholarly, which is why his new bit of destructive nonsense was completely unexpected.

      It is as though Ehrman has undergone some sort of transformation.
      He is suddenly writing EXACTLY like those whom he previously rightly criticized.

      • Posted April 20, 2012 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

        As I write below, what choice had he?

        How does one write a scholarly, convincing, well-referenced, well-reasoned defense of an historical Jesus Christ of Nazareth, a carpenter cum apocalyptic preacher who met his end exactly according to the Passion narrative? A Jesus who did exist, “whether you like it or not”?

        b&

        • Posted April 20, 2012 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

          He starts with a clear conclusion:
          “Jesus Existed”, and it is all self-serving confabulation from there to fabricate the required evidence needed for this impossible confidence.
          I simply expected better of him, as did others.

    • Ajh
      Posted April 20, 2012 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

      Well indeed, Carrier’s critiques have been quite clear on this: he admired Ehrman’s previous works, and thus expected a clear-headed defence of historicity, putting forth the best possible argument for the position and treating the counterarguments seriously. But that’s not what Ehrman gave him. It seems that Carrier’s admiration for Ehrman is a large part of why his disappointment with this book is so great.

    • Badger3k
      Posted April 20, 2012 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

      Unfortunately I agree with those conclusions. I’ve read almost all his books, and thought them well written and researched. I really expected a lot better than what he put out. I’d be ashamed to put out work of such poor quality. I’m not sure if Price was correct (that Ehrman farmed his work out to graduate students who read the mythicists for him), but that is more charitable than saying Ehrman did read them and completely misunderstood the arguments or else deliberately misrepresented them.

    • Bob Carlson
      Posted April 20, 2012 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

      I read Misquoting Jesus, too, but if there wasn’t a historical Jesus, then the statements that Ehrman identifies as having been incorrectly attributed to Jesus are just the same as the ones he thinks were correctly attributed to Jesus. Thus, Ehrman had to argue for a historical Jesus, and Carrier knew that, but he didn’t expect that he would do it so incompetently and dishonestly.

      • Posted April 20, 2012 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

        Really, how else could Ehrman have presented the case for an historical Jesus?

        I mean, it really comes down to a matter of inventing from whole cloth a man with the same name and a vaguely similar biography, but dissimilar enough that it’s not so surprising that nobody noticed him until a generation or so after the Crucifixion. Then, dredge up the usual very late sources we all know from bad Christian apologetics and re-re-re-interpret them in a light that’s not entirely inconsistent with your imaginary non-Jesus Jesus. All the while, keep harping on the “fact” that the very narrow view you’re taking of each of these individual sources in isolation doesn’t entirely contradict what you imagined your personal Jesus might maybe have perhaps possibly been like.

        Never mind the zombie snuff pr0n in the Gospels; they say Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem, as was your fantasy Jesus, so score! Never mind that the Pagans thought Christians were lunatic nutjob cultists; they referred to Christians believing that Jesus walked the earth, and your Jesus did, too, so score! Never mind that Josephus’s words are obviously and ham-fistedly distorted and the original (whatever it may have been) has been long lost to history; your own fantasy reconstruction of what you think he meant to write perfectly matches your theory of Jesus, so score! Never mind that Justin Martyr thought time-travelling demons planted all those Pagan stores about demigods indistinguishable from Jesus; he died for his belief in a real Jesus, so score!

        Ehrman’s latest sorriness is but the most recent example in a loooooong history of exactly this sort of apology. It’s quite pathetic, really — but so is belief in Jesus.

        Any belief in any Jesus.

        Cheers,

        b&

        • Bob Carlson
          Posted April 21, 2012 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

          A little over a year ago, Ehrman lectured at the Commonwealth Club of California. In the question & answer follow-up, he is asked: “What do you consider the most convincing evidence for the historicity of Jesus?” At 38:49 in the YouTube recording he divulges that his most convincing evidence is that nobody would have made up a story about a messiah that got crucified. Ergo, Jesus existed and really got crucified. I thought it pretty amazing that this baloney was the best he could come up with. So I wondered if any of the additional arguments he might make in DJE might improve on that, even if they weren’t what seemed most convincing to Ehrman. In DJE, he refers to Gospels as well as imaginary documents that the Gospels derived from being “independent” sources for things about Jesus. That didn’t make any more sense than his argument that a crucified messiah wouldn’t have been made up. I hadn’t expected Ehrman to express doubt about the historicity of Jesus, but I thought he might at least have a couple of somewhat reasonable arguments in support of his view. In my opinion, there are none in the book. Instead, the arguments that he presents are of the sort that seem convincing to someone like Ehrman who has spent the better part of his life researching the sayings of Jesus. Surely, it is almost impossible for such a person to even allow himself to doubt that there was a historical person behind those sayings, and you are right (no contracausal free will) that he couldn’t have presented the case in a way other than he did. But that doesn’t mean that Carrier (or I) couldn’t have expected better before the fact.

  43. Posted April 20, 2012 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

    2 more reasons that questioning historicity of Jesus is a good thing: 1.) Literalists use the truth of certain historical facts in the Bible as a justification for why the more ridiculous (supernatural) should be taken seriously. Each historical truth in the Bible, supposedly raises it’s accuracy as a historical document and thus makes the more outlandish claims more viable. 2.) Accomodationists also use the sprinkling of historical truths as a defense for why “it’s not that crazy” to hold the beliefs that are basically crazy.

    • Posted April 20, 2012 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

      There’s a flip side to that coin.

      If the Bible were actually a reliable historical document, Christianity wouldn’t be anywhere near as bastshit insane as it is.

      Really, that’s what it all comes down to. The realistic set of options is that the Bible is bullshit and Christians are fools (or sociopaths) for buying into it; or that the Bible is True and Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Light, and none shall come to the father but through him.

      The other two options — that the Bible is true and Christians are worng or that the Bible is false and Christians are right — simply son’t add up, no matter which side of the fence you’re on.

      Cheers,

      b&

  44. TheMuse
    Posted April 20, 2012 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

    The bottom line is if the atheist community is going to declare that the truth matters then it must embrace the truth here too even if it makes dismissing Christianity a bit more difficult. There are other arguments that one can make against Christianity. FWIW count me in the camp of those who believe there was a historical Jesus who got the ball rolling, though the story got taller with each telling.

    • Stephen P
      Posted April 21, 2012 at 12:11 am | Permalink

      But do you have any evidence for that position that is not forged (e.g. the long Josephus passage), very weak (short Josephus, Tacitus, Galatians) or speculative (Ehrman’s insistence that they wouldn’t have made this up)?

      Put against that e.g. Doherty’s highly detailed case from silence, the known behaviour of classical writers as mentioned in Carrier’s review, the evidence against Nazareth even having existed in the first century, the gospel contradictions, the old testament parallels and the pagan parallels, and the balance of evidence leans heavily in the other direction.

    • ladyatheist
      Posted April 21, 2012 at 7:25 am | Permalink

      I can accept the idea that Jesus may have existed. I think he would be more of a David Koresh or Jim Jones than a Messiah though. The real burden for Christians would be to prove the miracles happened as described. There’s zero proof of that being historical.

  45. Achrachno
    Posted April 21, 2012 at 12:15 am | Permalink

    I care about historicity because it the beginning of the whole discussion with Christians. They want to convince me that Jesus died for my sins, etc., but I don’t believe it. What should they do to get me to change my mind? I ask that they:

    1.) Show by a preponderance of the evidence that Jesus, even in merely mortal version, existed.

    2.) Show me, by very strong evidence, that the Jesus they demonstrated in step 1 was a miracle-working divinity (and not just some hapless human preacher).

    I’m yet to meet a single Christian who can even clear the first, much lower, bar.

    I find it more amusing to fight on that ground: to ask for so little, yet to have them unable to provide even that. The positive evidence for the existence of Jesus is really vanishingly slight. Many of their arguments consist of excuses for why there is no positive evidence.

    • Ray Moscow
      Posted April 21, 2012 at 12:40 am | Permalink

      I had a minister friend recently ask me if I thought Jesus existed historically. I told him that although it was very difficult to be sure, I thought not. However, there could could been several ‘Jesuses’ for all I knew.

      He completely dropped the subject, apparently since that was his starting point and I wasn’t going to accept it.

  46. Posted April 21, 2012 at 3:00 am | Permalink

    Those atheists who get upset, from my experience, are for most part those who insist that Jesus was historical. I really don’t understand why and cannot help but wonder what experiences they have been through to bring them to such visceral reactions against their fellow atheists who question the historicity of Jesus.

    I think John Loftus of Debunking Christianity made the most sensible comment when he said that arguing mythicism is the worst way to debunk Christianity. I don’t believe the brightest lights in mythicist studies are out to debunk Christianity, but simply to get to the truth.

    I’m fascinated by the whole question of Christian origins and don’t believe Jesus was historical, but it would be no skin off my nose if I found I was wrong on this.

    I can understand Christians and academics whose reputations have been built on Jesus studies getting upset, but why some atheists attack their fellow atheists who disbelieve in the historicity of Jesus is beyond me.

    • Posted April 21, 2012 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

      I’m fascinated by the whole question of Christian origins and don’t believe Jesus was historical, but it would be no skin off my nose if I found I was wrong on this.

      I’ll see you and raise you.

      Were there credible evidence of an historical Jesus, that would be hugely exciting, earth-shattering news. I’d love to see such evidence, in the exact same way that I’d love to see evidence of superluminal travel, zero point energy, antigravity, and the like.

      I’m just not holding my breath. And, more to the point, I’m laughing at those who think they’ve found the Holy Grail.

      Cheers,

      b&

  47. Aratina Cage
    Posted April 21, 2012 at 6:36 am | Permalink

    I have been a bit baffled about why this matter evokes such strong feelings, especially among atheists. Since we all admit that there’s no evidence that Jesus was the son of God, did miracles, was resurrected or born of a virgin, and died for our sins, does it really matter so much if he’s based on a historical person? Why does this evoke such strong feelings, and such acrimonious arguments, from atheists? –Dr. Coyne

    For me, in a way it is personal. Try having this pseudohistory (the Gospels) held up (I’d like to say “shoved down your throat” here because that’s what it seems like on reflection) as factual in every way, repeatedly–at least once a week–for the first two decades of your life. The people pushing it as real history are lying to themselves and to children–and not in a fun/harmless way that tests one’s maturity but in a way where if you disagree with them you are considered insane, evil, and foolish. This lastest salvo from the historicists is just another attempt to force this pseudohistory on us despite a lack of incontrovertible evidence that it has any bearing on actual past events. Imagine someone doing this for Moses, Noah, or Adam, and I think you’d agree it deserves a hearty pushback.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted April 21, 2012 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

      This.

      • John Scanlon, FCD
        Posted April 23, 2012 at 9:13 am | Permalink

        Yup.

        My parents were science graduates and history buffs, but still Catholics; the faith meme didn’t catch, and my verdict on their religion was my judgement of its historicity and explanatory power, even before I noticed how actively evil the institution still was.

        Not only is faith not a virtue… but why, lo these thousands of years after Socrates (if he isn’t just a character of Plato’s fiction) and Aristotle (an authentic person, the author of the works), is it the minority position that fallacious arguments are fallacious?

        Of course, historical or archaeological evidence for ‘Jesus’ would be very interesting if any were discovered. But at this point in history the historicists ain’t got shit, and it annoys me to see anyone (particularly someone not explicitly religious) pretend otherwise.

  48. berndsmathblog
    Posted April 21, 2012 at 7:07 am | Permalink

    I have no problem with the possibility that a historical person Jesus may have existed. I am interested in history and I have seen on the internet some lectures about the historical Jesus by Ehrman. He is a clear thinker and a great lecturer and as it seems he is a respected expert in his field.
    If it is his judgement and the judgement of all other reputable historians in the field, that Jesus existed, then one should at least pause a bit, before leaning towards Carrier.
    Carrier is no professionell historian working on a university, Ehrman is. That doesn’t prove that Carrier is wrong, but it is a fact to be considered. There seem to be no mythicist historians who think Jesus did not exist, why is that so?

    • yesmyliege
      Posted April 21, 2012 at 9:45 am | Permalink

      Good grief.

      Carrier is a professional historian, with multiple advanced degrees in precisely the period, languages, and place in question.

      Ehrman’s educational background is all from Christian institutions. His doctorate is from a divinity school.

      If you had even bothered to read Carrier’s review, his own pedigree is explicit.

      • berndsmathblog
        Posted April 21, 2012 at 11:23 am | Permalink

        Carrier does not teach at a university as a historian of early christianity, Ehrman does.
        That does of course not mean, that Carrier is wrong on his claims.
        But if it is correct that virtually every scholar in the field thinks that there was a historical Jesus, and if it is also correct that we have on the other side a small group of people with only one or two in that group having a Phd in the field and no one working on a reputable university who argue otherwise, then we should at least be skeptical about that minority group.
        How many creationists work at universities? None….
        I would like to see a discussion between Ehrman and Carrier.

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted April 21, 2012 at 7:28 pm | Permalink

          ???

          Bart Ehrman is employed at The Department of Religious Studies, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and is a “New Testament scholar”, not known as an historian. His CV corroborates that he teach religion, not history.

          Meanwhile Carrier lectures in “origins of Christianity“, which seems downright historical to me.

          As far as historians at large goes, this is what they say:

          “The Second Temple period (520 BCE-70 CE) differed in significant ways from what had gone before.[82] Monotheism emerged among the priests and the Temple establishment probably by the beginning of the Persian period, and beliefs regarding angels and demons were developing rapidly by its end.[83] It was at this time that the Torah was written, circumcision and Sabbath-observance became symbols of Jewish identity, and the institution of the synagogue became increasingly important.[84] By the end of the Second Temple period or soon after the Jewish canon was fixed, and, since there was still no monarchy and the reality of life did not match the expectations created by the religious traditions, messianic expectation began to surface.[84]” [My bold]

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted April 21, 2012 at 7:33 pm | Permalink

          Also this:

          “In 66 CE, the Jews of Judea rose in revolt, naming their new kingdom “Israel”[15] (see also First Jewish Revolt coinage). The events were described by the Jewish leader/historian Josephus, including the desperate defence of Jotapata, the siege of Jerusalem (69–70 CE) and heroic last stand at Massada under Eleazar ben Yair (72–73 CE). Much of Jerusalem and the Temple lay in ruins.

          During the Jewish revolt, most Christians, at this time a sub-sect of Judaism, removed themselves from Judea. The rabbinical/Pharisee movement led by Yochanan ben Zakai, who opposed the Sadducee temple priesthood, made peace with Rome and survived.”

          Seems there is a Jesus shaped gap in the historical account. =D

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted April 21, 2012 at 7:35 pm | Permalink

          Oops, C&P failure, this was supposed to go before, establishing the gap:

          “From 37 BCE to 6 CE, the Herodian dynasty, Jewish-Roman client kings, descended from Edom, ruled Judea. Herod the Great considerably enlarged the temple (see Herod’s Temple), making it one of the largest religious structures in the world. Despite its fame, it was in this period that Rabbinical Judaism, led by Hillel the Elder, began to assume popular prominence over the Temple priesthood.”

    • Stephen P
      Posted April 22, 2012 at 3:43 am | Permalink

      Carrier is no professionell historian working on a university, Ehrman is. That doesn’t prove that Carrier is wrong, but it is a fact to be considered.

      You are missing the point completely. Comparing CVs is a useful first filter if one doesn’t have time to examine the actual arguments in detail. However we now *are* examining the arguments. At this point Ehrman’s CV ceases to be relevant; it is the quality (or lack of it) of his arguments that matters. If you want to rescue Ehrman’s credibility you’ll have to come up with an actual good piece of evidence that he offers, which everyone here has so far overlooked. His CV is not evidence.

  49. Jason Goertzen
    Posted April 21, 2012 at 9:03 am | Permalink

    One comment, regarding Carrier’s mention of credentials. I don’t believe this is just wounded ego. Throughout Did Jesus Exist, and in his HuffPo article, Ehrman tirelessly flogs the question of qualifications–propping up the debate as one of experts vs. non-experts–this despite Ehrman *not* being an historican!

    Ehrman MAKES it about qualifications–then gets Carrier’s wrong in a way that maintains the story he’s trying to tell: that he, the expert, is handling the arguments of those not quite as qualified to deal with the question. Sure, this is one giant logical fallacy on his part, but I don’t think it’s just wounded ego on the part of Carrier to think this mistake is meaningful.

  50. Chet
    Posted April 21, 2012 at 9:19 am | Permalink

    does it really matter so much if he’s based on a historical person?

    Does it matter if there’s a Bigfoot? Does it matter if aliens crashed at Roswell? If something is widely accepted on the basis of bad evidence, isn’t that enough to justify the interest of skeptics?

    • Jason Goertzen
      Posted April 21, 2012 at 9:59 am | Permalink

      I believe Jerry’s point is that atheists are getting UPSET at each other over it. He doesn’t question whether there’s reason to be interested in the question. But the hostility is a bit puzzling. It would be more like if two people, who agreed that homeopathy was bunk, were at each other’s throats over the question of whether it was worth paying for additional research to prove it.

  51. yesmyliege
    Posted April 21, 2012 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    “…does it really matter so much if he’s based on a historical person?…”

    Well,, the Church thinks it is important, or it would not have put people to death over the issue. Nor would they have spent the enormous sums of money they have spent over the centuries to produce and groom legions of Biblical scholars to institutionalize that claim of historicity. Nor would they have destroyed competing texts, authorized interpolations and outright forgeries, etc, etc to bolster – indeed flesh out – the historical character of the anointed savior.

    Because the church understands that, unlike the relatively sophisticated denizens of atheistic blogs, the true believers in the pews believe in the church because they believe that JC was a real man made Divine, who sacrificed his mortal life for their salvation. For this is what is promised to them every day they attend services, and their afterlife depends on this. Meanwhile, the concessions of erudite theologians, that the miracle-working JC of the Gospels did not exist, that he must have been a mere apocalyptic preacher of no renown are NEVER reported to the sheep in the flock. No, that omerta is practiced 24/7/365.

    So, for those atheists who wonder why this is an important question – the Church thanks you and wishes you well.

    For those who DO think this is an issue so critical that the very faith of the people in the pews might well be shattered if they were to learn of the truth of it, the Church, through its minions of Biblical scholars,who are pleased to offer as a value-added customer service that your opinions are equivalent to those of creationists and Holocaust deniers, kindly begs your indulgence to please STFU.

    • ROO BOOKAROO
      Posted April 21, 2012 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

      This reads exactly like Roger Lambert’s comment on Vridar. Is this plagiarism or the same author?

      • yesmyliege
        Posted April 21, 2012 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

        same author. For the life of me, I can’t get wordpress to recognize me as anything else through this site, or couple of others, anymore. I’m also Gingerbaker most everywhere else. :)

  52. Blood
    Posted April 21, 2012 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    It matters because the historical method should never confuse theology with actual history. But this is precisely what all biblical scholars do.

    The Bible is theological literature. The people in it are literary characters. Did they exist historically? Perhaps some of them did. To suggest that if we simply remove the miracles, we will find the history, shows a serious inability to grasp the fundamentals of mythology. The supposed miracles were why the evangelists were writing in the first place. It was why the stories were preserved. Nobody preserved the stories because they thought Jesus was a great moralist.

  53. Kevin
    Posted April 21, 2012 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    “And it is the Christians who have the hard work ahead of them, for even if Jesus was demonstrated to be a historical person, they still must adduce independent evidence for all his divinity attested in scripture.”

    On what basis is it asserted that the historians of Christ’s divinity were not independent of each other, and how would independence work in this context? Are we to imagine that Josephus, for example, could have reached the conclusion that Jesus was divine, but only retain his credentials as an independent historian if he remained personally unaffected by this knowledge?

  54. Pirate
    Posted April 21, 2012 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

    I must confess I do not have a very high opinion of Carrier’s work, especially when it comes to historical methodology. I work on probability theory and statistics, and someone once sent me a paper by Carrier promoting the use of Bayesianism in historical research. The document was rife with mathematical errors that could probably have been corrected by consultation with a reasonably competent freshman math major. I don’t begrudge a historian for not being familiar with mathematics, but if a historian is going to publically promote a particular mathematical technique it is surely irresponsible for him to do so before acquiring more than an elementary understanding of said technique.

    Anyway, this is pretty much all I have read of Carrier’s work, so it might well be the case that the rest of his stuff (when he’s not dealing with Bayesianism) is careful and rigorous scholarship. Still, I suspect much of his Jesus mythicism is based on (or at least bolstered by) Bayesian argument, and unless he has learned a lot more than he knew when he wrote the article I read, is not to be trusted.

    On the substantive issue, I have no firmly held opinion. I am almost entirely ignorant on the issue, and Carrier may well be right. My tendency, as in most cases where I lack sufficient information, is to side with the academic consensus (there’s some actual Bayesianism for you).

    • ROO BOOKAROO
      Posted April 21, 2012 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

      Here is Richard Carrier’s blog:
      http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier
      He welcomes all relevant comments and makes it a point to answer.
      So, why don’t you send him directly your comment, and we’ll all be able to read his reply on his blog.

      He’s just published his book,”Proving History: Bayes’s Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus”, and it would be very surprising if he hadn’t been prudent enough to have all the pages on Bayes’s Theorem reviewed by an expert probability expert.
      This will be extremely interesting. If Richard Carrier is a flake in elementary probability algebra, it is worth knowing.
      So be a Mensch, and speak up to him. You’ll render a valuable service to us all.

      • Posted April 22, 2012 at 9:16 am | Permalink

        it would be very surprising if he hadn’t been prudent enough to have all the pages on Bayes’s Theorem reviewed by an expert probability expert.

        In fact, on that very blog (February 8), Carrier says:

        I had the book formally peer reviewed by a professor of mathematics, and consulted with a few other professors of mathematics during its development.

        /@

      • yesmyliege
        Posted April 22, 2012 at 9:17 am | Permalink

        Carrier has said explicitly that he has vetted the Bayes math with more than one qualified expert. :)

    • Nikos Apostolakis
      Posted April 22, 2012 at 6:51 am | Permalink

      Do you remember what paper was that? and what kind of mistakes were there?

      I remember reading his paper on “The sources of Jesus traditions” and I noticed some minor mistakes, mostly of terminology, the one I still remember is using “equation” instead of “expression”, but I don’t recall noticing any serious mathematical errors. I don’t have access to that paper right now so I can’t check if I remember correctly.

  55. berndsmathblog
    Posted April 21, 2012 at 11:25 pm | Permalink

    Have you actually read that cv you posted above? Have you looked at what he lectures about for graduates and undergraduates? Have you read some of the titles of his publications?
    That to me sounds much like the work of a historian of early christianity.
    Further more, if you visit the department-homepage of religios studies at the university of north carolina, you read about Ehrman: …. Since then he has published extensively in the fields of New Testament and Early Christianity, having written or edited nineteen books, numerous articles, and dozens of book reviews. Among his most recent books are a college-level textbook on the New Testament, two anthologies of early Christian writings, a study of the historical Jesus as an apocalyptic prophet (Oxford Univesity Press), and a Greek-English Edition of the Apostolic Fathers for the Loeb Classical Library (Harvard University Press)…..
    But even if one didn’t have this information: you find lectures of Ehrman in the net on the historical Jesus. I have seen a lecture series about the historical Jesus of him, which was great. There you learn f.e. how to extract information in the gospels and other early christian and non-christian writings about Jesus even if there are contradictions, errors etc. in those texts… If you have 4 witnesses of a crime and they sometimes contradict each other in their reports then this can be better as having no witnesses. There are certain methods and criteria to extract useful historical information even if the texts you deal with have some of the problems discussed above.
    One is:
    F.e. if you have two authors who do not contradict each other in describing an event of the past and you know that they didn’t know each other, then they must have their information from an earlier source.
    They could not likely have invented the same story.
    Although being a mathematician, I like history and I understand that Ehrman doesn’t want to have polluted his field with conspiracy theories.
    By the way: Here is a video I have found of him presenting his new book:

    • berndsmathblog
      Posted April 21, 2012 at 11:36 pm | Permalink

      Ups sorry.
      This post was supposed to be an answer to the posts of Torbjörn Larsson on my comment above.
      Sorry again….

  56. Posted April 22, 2012 at 3:49 am | Permalink

    It’s important simply because Ehrman is wrong and wants others to think that he is not wrong.

  57. Mark Erickson
    Posted April 22, 2012 at 9:02 pm | Permalink

    It evokes strong feelings because we’re humans – we love mystery and conflict. History v. myth has all the elements of good drama.

  58. berndsmathblog
    Posted April 22, 2012 at 11:42 pm | Permalink

    Finally the first response of Ehrman to Carriers harsh critique:

    http://ehrmanblog.org/acharya-s-richard-carrier-and-a-cocky-peter-or-a-cock-and-bull-story/

    • Posted April 23, 2012 at 1:55 am | Permalink

      Harsh? Yes. But undeservedly so?

      I think Ehrman is wrong not to post a point by point rebuttal. Isn’t that the right thing to do in serious scholarship?

      The point he does respond to doesn’t seem to be crucial to Carrier’s critique overall. In any case, I think he’s being disingenuous.

      I posted on Ehrman’s blog:

      Carrier is both trained and smart. But sometimes he doesn’t read very well.

      I assume you are both trained and smart. But sometimes you don’t write very well.

      “There is no penis-nosed statue of Peter the cock in the Vatican,” is ambiguous. I don’t think many readers wouldn’t have inferred that you meant there’s no such statue at all. You would’ve been far clearer if you had said, “While there is a penis-nosed statue of a cock in the Vatican, it has nothing to do with Peter.”

      If your research isn’t as sloppy as Carrier claims, then it still seems sloppily articulated.

      /@

      /@

      • berndsmathblog
        Posted April 23, 2012 at 5:45 am | Permalink

        For me your response to Prof. Ehrman sounds quite emotional.
        As for me, I am a mathematician (i come from germany and I am about to finish my PHD in mathematics) who is also interested in history. I have never been a religious believer, but as Richard Dawkins I care passionately for the truth. I have the feeling that some people not really care about the truth, they just want, as religious believers want, some things to be true, even if the evidence is against their belief. The vast majority of historians think that there was a jewish lad named Jesus of Nazareth. Only a small minority of people of whom just a fraction are scholars (not working at a university) believe the contrary.
        I am no historian, I have to rely on the judgement of experts in these matters and on arguments that can be understood, even if you haven’t read all christian and non-christian texts of the first three centuries of christianity.
        I am sorry, but here I lean more towards Prof. Ehrman.
        Ancient history is a kind of biology as it seems, but with less evidence from the past.

        • Posted April 23, 2012 at 6:32 am | Permalink

          You think? Well, perhaps, as a professional writer I do get emotional about bad writing!

          I really think Ehrman is being remiss by not offering a point-by-point response to Carrier. It’s lazy to dismiss the need to do this just because “many of the mythicists” are “often so prolix and make point after point after point, that it is impossible to deal with them in short order.” Carrier is not “many of the mythicists”: He’s a conspicuously well-qualified critic (pace what Ehrman says in his book) and his critique deserves a more considered response.

          /@

          • berndsmathblog
            Posted April 23, 2012 at 8:49 am | Permalink

            As Ehrman posted: There should be some more responses in the future of him to Carrier.
            The best thing would be that they meet and do an open discussion, not a debate.
            Debates are for apologists. What matters is the truth here. I know two arguments from Ehrman for the existence of a historical Jesus. They seem convincing to me, although I know so little about early christianity. I have seen online a lecture series of about 20 lectures of Ehrman about the historical Jesus.
            No garantie that I get everything right, but one argument is something like this:

            The early christians (the followers of Jesus) from a bunch of people who thought that Jesus was absolutely human and would do great things to free palestine from the evil romans to more modern christians who after the death of Jesus created the theology that Jesus would come back soon and that he was devine. The early christians never thought that Jesus would be so easily squashed by the romans, they thought Jesus was the Messiah would change the world and overthrow the evil forces in the land. But he didn’t change the world he was crucified as were hundreds of thousands of other people who acted against the roman authorities badly. So could Jesus be the Messiah? No one seems to have thought that the Messiah (long awaited by the Jews) was to be crucified, so was he the Messiah? So now Religion or better theology comes into place. Instead of accepting, that Jesus was no Messiah, his followers created a theology that dealt with the facts and let christianity live on. “Yeah, Jesus was crucified, ok., but that doesn’t mean that he wasn’t the Messiah, lets see how we interpret his crucifixion, ah yeah look at the hebrew bible, oh yeah here, he must come back .. ……”
            There is a lot of more in detail to say and to add and to establish historically. I can’t do this, historians can and one can lay out this argument very good.

            • berndsmathblog
              Posted April 23, 2012 at 9:00 am | Permalink

              ps …. The argument here is that the early christians had to mention the truth. They knew that Jesus was crucified and they still thought that Jesus was the Messiah, so they had to explain why Jesus, although he was crucified against all expectations of the Jews, was the Messiah.
              Why would a bunch of people in that time make up a story of a crucified Messiah? The Messiah was supposed to be a great figure, a great general, a great thinker….
              But someone who gets that easily arrested and crucified can’t be the Messiah and yet these crazy people still claimed that he is the Messiah….. Why would someone make such a story up?

              • Nikos Apostolakis
                Posted April 23, 2012 at 10:59 am | Permalink

                The argument here is that the early christians had to mention the truth. They knew that Jesus was crucified and they still thought that Jesus was the Messiah, so they had to explain why Jesus, although he was crucified against all expectations of the Jews, was the Messiah.

                This also look like a statement and not an argument.

                Why would a bunch of people in that time make up a story of a crucified Messiah? The Messiah was supposed to be a great figure, a great general, a great thinker….
                But someone who gets that easily arrested and crucified can’t be the Messiah and yet these crazy people still claimed that he is the Messiah….. Why would someone make such a story up?

                This looks more like an argument but not that strong, IMHO. Arguments from incredulity don’t look very strong to me—why would somebody make such a story up? I don’t know people make weird shit up all the time. This particular argument seems especially weak though: as Carrier pointed out, the only kind of Messiah somebody could plausibly make up is an executed one—people would notice that the Romans were still around otherwise.

              • Posted April 23, 2012 at 11:06 am | Permalink

                Arguments from incredulity don’t look very strong to me—why would somebody make such a story up?

                Exactly.

                Why would somebody make up a story about Xenu traveling all the way to Earth in DC-8s in order to put a bunch of imprisoned space ghosts in the Hawaiian volcanoes just so he could blow them up with nuclear bombs? Anything that crazy simply has to be true! Nobody could possibly make it up, and why would they want to?

                An argument from incredulity is nothing more than a con artist who’s going after your pocketbook, or a mark convincing himself he hasn’t been conned after the con artist has liberated said pocketbook.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • berndsmathblog
                Posted April 23, 2012 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

                There is of course a lot of more to say. Just read about ancient history.
                There are more methods and techniques and you have to read more and know more about ancient palestine to understand how people lived there. What did those people believe, who where the ruling authorities …etc…
                And then one has to ask: What is more likely to explain our evidence? Again:
                Why would a bunch of people in ancient palestine create the idea of a crucified messiah? This goes absolutely against what everyone believed a messiah would be.
                And then these crazy people created that weird theology to explain why their messiah was crucified.
                This is crazy, why invest all that energy to explain how a made up messiah was crucified?
                Why fight and defend these crazy ideas against other jewish schools of thought? The early christians f.e. argued with another group of jews following a man named apollonius of tyana (or so). Why that energy to defend a made up messiah? Unless you create a fancy explanation for that evidence, this behavior seems not to fit with a made up messiah.

                Lets not forget: This is only one (poorly presented) argument for the existence of Jesus of Nazareth. There is more evidence, but as I said, you don’t have to ask me (I am no historian and what I say above is in no way complete and may be not in every detail right. I just remember the lectures I watched), look up the lectures of Prof. Ehrman on the historical Jesus ..

              • Posted April 23, 2012 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

                Why would a bunch of people in ancient palestine create the idea of a crucified messiah? This goes absolutely against what everyone believed a messiah would be.

                I dunno.

                Why would those same people create the idea of a zombie that liked to have his intestines fondled?

                Why would those same people create the idea of YHWH having a son with a virgin in the first place — a son who turned water into wine? That’s all unabashed Pagan stuff that Jews ostensibly hated.

                Why would those same people create the idea of bread and wine transmuting into flesh and blood?

                Or is it your position that none of that is made up and it’s all true? Or that they made up all that, but that they didn’t make up the 1% of Jesus’s life that we supposedly know about that was sorta-kinda banal?

                Really, you would do wise to avoid the used car lots….

                b&

              • Tyro
                Posted April 23, 2012 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

                Why would Joseph Smith make up a story which got him chased across the States imprisoned and eventually killed? He died for his beliefs! It makes no sense unless he was telling the Complete and Absolute Truth.

              • Posted April 23, 2012 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

                Tyro, you jest, of course. But I have heard Morons make that exact same argument in defense of Moronism. No joke.

                b&

            • Nikos Apostolakis
              Posted April 23, 2012 at 9:39 am | Permalink

              This is not an argument. It’s the statement of (one version of) the historicists’ claim. Where is the proof?

              • berndsmathblog
                Posted April 23, 2012 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

                A story from the past is either true or it is made up. Those are the only possibilities.

                If someone in the past tells us something that is absolutely not in his interest to tell us that goes against what he is interested to say then this story he tells us is more probably true.

                F.e. an ex-president tells us in his memoir, that he betraid his wife with his secretary once, then he very likely has not made up that story. He was forced to tell this story, because everyone knows the story…

                Do you see the analogy?

                But I must say again and that is important.
                I am no historian and I don’t want to destroy arguments here, because I am incompetent.
                Are there some historians here?

              • gbjames
                Posted April 23, 2012 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

                A story from the past is either true or it is made up. Those are the only possibilities.

                Huh? There are an infinite number of blends, with bits of fact mixed with bits of fiction in arbitrary proportions.

              • Posted April 23, 2012 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

                A story from the past is either true or it is made up. Those are the only possibilities.

                Oh, man…you are so gullible.

                Lies are so much more effective when they contain bits and pieces of truth. Even fantastic fiction like Harry Potter works better when it incorporates real locations and people.

                F.e. an ex-president tells us in his memoir, that he betraid his wife with his secretary once, then he very likely has not made up that story. He was forced to tell this story, because everyone knows the story…

                Or, it could be that his liaison with his secretary was cover for passing documents to the enemy. Once people know that he was having an affair, that’s all the explanation needed for the cover-up. Hell, his wife could even be in on the matter, and her righteous indignation is just part of the act.

                In this (or any other) case, the memoir is nothing more than evidence of what the author wants his audience to read. In some cases, authors go to great lengths to establish their reliability and credibility…but most of the time, there’s an agenda being pushed.

                I’ll close by noting that Josephus, that favorite whipping-boy of Ehrman and the rest of the Christ Apologists, is a textbook example of an historian writing history for the victors. Josephus had more in common with the tabloids than the broadsheets — and, never mind, of course, the biases of the broadsheets themselves.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • joe piecuch
                Posted April 23, 2012 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

                “Lies are so much more effective when they contain bits and pieces of truth.”

                oh, the irony…so you ARE capable of grasping this idea…heh heh heh.

              • Nikos Apostolakis
                Posted April 23, 2012 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

                @ berndsmathblog

                A story from the past is either true or it is made up. Those are the
                only possibilities.

                Provided that you define a story to be false if one of its
                components is false. ;) As others have pointed out most, most
                stories mix some true elements with some false elements.

                If someone in the past tells us something that is absolutely not in
                his interest to tell us that goes against what he is interested to
                say then this story he tells us is more probably true.

                I agree. But in order to use this, one has to be able to determine
                what is in the best interest of the person telling the story. In
                order to do that one has to know who is telling the story, when, and
                what kind of story it is, is it history? biography? fiction?… As
                far as I know we don’t have any certain answers to these questions
                concerning NT.

                For example, it is conceivable that the person who wrote the story
                about a crucified messiah considered it a parable or some kind of
                allegory or whatever. In this case the crucified messiah serves the
                interests of the author, namely to teach her audience a moral
                lesson. It is also conceivable that later generations started to
                believe the original allegorical story as true and eventually the
                fact that their messiah got crucified became an embarassement. The
                story does not serve their best interests anymore but that doesn’t
                mean that it didn’t serve the best interests of its original author.
                Stories are interpreted differently by different audiences in
                different periods. For example Don Quixote was conceived by its
                author as a satire but later generations view him as a noble symbol
                of idealistic quests.

                F.e. an ex-president tells us in his memoir, that he betraid his
                wife with his secretary once, then he very likely has not made up
                that story. He was forced to tell this story, because everyone knows
                the story…

                Do you see the analogy?

                Yes but I’m not sure it’s very fitting. In this example we know who
                the author is, when he wrote the story, and that the story is a
                memoir. So we can be pretty confident that telling this story is
                not in his best interest. (Unless of course, as Ben pointed out,
                there are some charges of espionage and this story provides a great
                alibi.) In the case of the NT stories I don’t think we have enough
                information to answer these questions with certainty.

                I am no historian

                I’m not a historian either. However, Carrier is a historian and he
                finds the methods used by Ehrman invalid. In comment 36, there is a
                link to a philosophical paper that also casts doubt in the validity
                of those methods. Unless a historian comes out defending the
                validity of those methods I will remain skeptical.

              • Lowen Gartner
                Posted April 23, 2012 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

                Where is the hue and cry from mainstream academic historians regarding Carrier’s criticism and defending Erhman’s methods and conclusions.

                Seems to me Erhman finds himself out on his own. No wonder he doesn’t want to give his critics from all directions any more fodder by answering Carrier point by point

            • Posted April 23, 2012 at 10:31 am | Permalink

              The problem is that anybody can make up any sort of “Just So” story to fit whatever narrative you have in mind, and then explain how it’s not inconsistent with a cherry-picked set of facts.

              What Ehrman lacks is positive evidence to support his claims. That he lacks such evidence is painfully clear from how he cites not just the infamous “Q” document as evidence, but that he cites the use of a couple words of Aramaic as evidence of original eyewitness sources…and then he goes on to confidently, authoritatively state what those eyewitnesses witnessed.

              If you had independent knowledge of the facts, you could use corroboration in a fourth-generation hearsay account to bolster the credibility of the hearsay on otherwise-unknown details, but only extremely skeptically and only of the most banal and unimportant details.

              But Ehrman doesn’t even have any evidence that the Aramaic came from anywhere other than an author of fiction looking for some local in a tour guidebook to add a touch of authenticity — let alone that the eyewitnesses he thinks he’s found are themselves reliable and not liars and conmen.

              If you’re trusting somebody foolish enough to build such sky castles out of a religious zombie fantasy, you’re as much of a fool as the one who’s building the castles.

              This latest work clearly demonstrates that, whatever his past credentials and accomplishments, Ehrman today is no scholar. He’s a charlatan, and not a very good one.

              Cheers,

              b&

              • Tyro
                Posted April 23, 2012 at 10:42 am | Permalink

                I don’t know about charlatan, but based on his earlier essay and now his response to Carrier, I’d say that he is very quick to inflate the significance of all points which support his position and equally quick to dismiss opponents based on seemingly trivial details. He seems to lack the sort of even-handedness and honesty that I’ve come to expect from scientists.

                Probably the most important thing that I’ve taken from WEIT is the ethical duty to discuss the flaws in your own argument and to be especially charitable with opponents. We have psychological biases and blind-spots and the good scientist will try to compensate. I’ve seen none of that from Ehrman, quite the reverse.

                Ironically, I do see this from Carrier (see last year’s long post about the difficulties of dating manuscripts) and Doherty (see his many responses to critics). I admit I am probably biased but it’s hard to see the up side in Ehrman’s latest works.

              • ROO BOOKAROO
                Posted April 23, 2012 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

                Ben Goren:
                Excellent comment by Tyro. There’s a radical difference in mindset and attitude between Ehrman on one side, and Richard Carrier and Earl Doherty on the other. Ehrman displays the self-confidence and arrogance of his established and undisputed status of academic pundit of NT textual criticism, while Carrier and Doherty are acting more as outsiders who want to be acknowledged, and manifest a humility and a willingness to self-criticism. Ehrman cannot accept the loss of prestige in acknowledging that he’s tackled a subject he is not yet prepared to handle. Willing, but not yet able and ready.
                Having ignored the whole line of skeptical literature on the subject of the existence of Jesus Christ, 200 years from Bruno Bauer to G.A. Wells, Earl Doherty and Robert Price, until recently, he was in no measure to produce a high-quality critical study in a short time.

              • berndsmathblog
                Posted April 23, 2012 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

                A lot of people can make a lot of things up.
                But what is more likely?
                Do you really think that a bunch of people defended a made up messiah against other Jewish schools of thought and against the very idea of a messiah in that time?
                Why invest all that energy to defend a crazy idea?

              • Posted April 23, 2012 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

                Do you really think that a bunch of people defended a made up messiah against other Jewish schools of thought and against the very idea of a messiah in that time?

                So, what about the Raelians who suicided in anticipation of the spaceship hiding behind the comet? Or Jonestown and the Koolaid? Or David Koresh and the Davidians?

                Do you really think that those people defended their made-up stories with their lives, or are their theologies true as well?

                People believe all sorts of stupid made-up shit all the time, and they kill and die for those beliefs. It’s called, “religion.”

                And Christianity is a…?

                b&

    • Tyro
      Posted April 23, 2012 at 7:53 am | Permalink

      Eech. He talks about missing forests for the trees and harping on irrelevant details then he goes on about a semantic argument about a statue which even Carrier says is not a significant part of the argument.

      Anyway, I can sort of understand where Ehrman is coming from on this point. He comes across as a hair-splitter. While his statement may be accurate (or at least he sees it as accurate), this sort of semantic game comes across more as a way to deceive us and attack his critics by implying that opponents are lying and horrible scholars, even when the disagreement is a fairly minor interpretation of a statue.

      If we want to talk big picture, it’s this sort of behaviour which Carrier was attacking and if anything, seems to be borne out by Ehrman’s response.

  59. Posted April 23, 2012 at 6:05 am | Permalink

    “I have been a bit baffled about why this matter evokes such strong feelings, especially among atheists. ”

    It evokes strong feeling because Erhman and others have made comparisons of Holocaust deniers to anyone that has questioned the historicity of Jesus while simultaneously not being able to show solid evidence for his existence. I’m not even a mythicist and I found Ehrman’s latest book to be openly hostile, thereby essentially asking for a like response.

  60. yesmyliege
    Posted April 23, 2012 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    berndsmathblog

    …The vast majority of historians think that there was a jewish lad named Jesus of Nazareth…

    That is wrong.

    The vast majority of historians have no interest in this issue, and have no professional opinion on the matter.

    The vast majority of people who do have a professional opinion on the matter are ‘Biblical Scholars’, who are not trained historians, and who do not use accepted historical methods.

    The vast majority of Biblical Scholars are products of divinity schools, not full universities, and most of them work at seminary schools. And employment at most of these seminary schools requires sworn adherence to the Nicene creed as a condition of employment.

    You will often see Biblical scholars asserting themselves as belonging to the defined set of professional “historians” and claiming that there is a “consensus” in the field. Do not be misled. These is a consensus among Biblical scholars, which is not exactly surprising, but not among historians.

    This is why some are calling for the abolition of Biblical Studies programs from secular universities.

    • berndsmathblog
      Posted April 23, 2012 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

      I mean of course the vast majority of historians working in that field of ancient history. This is at least what wikipedia says and what Prof. Ehrman says.
      We are talking about history here.
      In that field a Jew, a Moslem, a Christian, an Atheist, an Alien can look at the evidence and draw the same conclusions.
      Have you seen a lecture on the historical Jesus before? This is not theology, it is history.
      Jesus is dealt with there as is dealt with Clinton, with Alexander the great, with Julius Cesar, etc….
      History is important. As a german I can assure you this. Because we have still in our country a tiny bunch of insane people who state that the holocaust produced not 6000000 dead Jews but much less. But they are wrong, as history clearly shows. The evidence is strong enough to deduce that the high number of casualties of about 6000000 dead Jews is correct. There are historians who work on the holocaust.
      And there are those who work on early christianity. Clearly those who work on ancient history have much less evidence as those historians who work on events in our times.
      But one can, as Ehrman says, establish some facts about Jesus.

      • Posted April 23, 2012 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

        Since you’re comparing the historicity of Jesus with the historicity of Caesar and the Holocaust, then perhaps you’d care to present some evidence for Jesus on the level of a Caesar coin or Commentarii de Bello Gallico and associated archaeological digs on the one hand, or the death camps and Mein Kampf on the other?

        …no? Didn’t think so.

        Cheers,

        b&

  61. berndsmathblog
    Posted April 23, 2012 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

    Wow, this is post of another expert in the field:

    http://rjosephhoffmann.wordpress.com/2012/04/23/mythtic-pizza-and-cold-cocked-scholars/

    You must read this….

    • Tyro
      Posted April 23, 2012 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

      Yes, if you thought Ehrman was bad, R Jo Ho really ups the ante.

      • Posted May 7, 2012 at 9:14 am | Permalink

        He does admit it’s a “rant” and end up with this:

        “This little rant (and it is a rant, I acknowledge and I do not apologize for it: somebody’s got to do it) will be followed next week by three essay-length responses to Richard C. Carrier’s ideas: The first by me, the second by Professor Maurice Casey of the University of Nottingham, and the third by Stephanie Fisher a specialist in Q-studies. We will attempt to show an impetuous amateur not only where he goes wrong, but why he should buy a map before starting his journey. ”

        Worth a look, if and when these “essays” appear.

  62. Ben
    Posted April 24, 2012 at 10:42 pm | Permalink

    Subscribing to comments.

  63. biomuse
    Posted May 6, 2012 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    “Christians conflate the existence of a historical Jesus with the existence of a divine Jesus.”

    YES, BECAUSE THEY ARE ALL DUMB AND SIMPLE, STOOOOPID PEOPLE!

    Um, yeah no, no they don’t.

    Yet another “thing that Christians do” that the far tail of the distribution does and no one else does, which property is then imputed to the entire group.

    What will end this undying romance between militant atheists and straw men? I mean at least theists are *consciously and electively* irrational in a well-defined and restricted category, as opposed to…

    • biomuse
      Posted May 6, 2012 at 9:53 am | Permalink

      P.S., yes, evolution is demonstrably true from the phylogenetics and yes, misogyny is bad and yes, gay rights are obviously just (no, I’m not being sarcastic – just stating what the majority of Christians in the US believe and, in so doing, trying to save you from more of the straw men under your bed).

  64. Posted May 7, 2012 at 9:11 am | Permalink

    Haven’t read Ehrman’s book, but Carrier’s rebuttal seems a bit silly in places. For instance, the lucky survival of population records in Egypt doesn’t make such records remotely plausible as a source for the existence or nonexistence of a Galilean peasant.

    We have zero evidence about 99% of the people who lived in the Roman Empire and its client states.

    And then, when you argue Carrier-style, you get to have it both ways. “There’s no evidence Nazareth existed.” Well, but people wrote about Nazareth in these documents collected in the New Testament. “We’re excluding that evidence!” Oh … well yes, that does make the argument harder. You could disprove any number of facts about the ancient world that way.

    One thing that strikes me about the picture of the early church in Acts is the embarrassment of Jesus’s crucifixion. How do you explain your way around that, is the unspoken question that the early disciples are shown having to work their way around. If you’re going to invent a religion from scratch, can’t you do better than that?

    • Stephen P
      Posted May 7, 2012 at 11:52 am | Permalink

      “Invent a religion from scratch”? Please: who has suggested that the gospel-writers were trying to do that? Do you know anything at all about the early history of Christianity?

      And where in the New Testament is anything at all written about the city of Nazareth? (other than that it supposedly existed).

      • Posted May 7, 2012 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

        (1) You’re going to have to distill that into making an actual point if you want a response.

        (2) In the study of ancient history, textual evidence that some place “supposedly existed” is pretty good stuff, relatively speaking. Particularly for some obscure pissant village.

        We have NT documents from the 2d half of the first century referring to Nazareth. That doesn’t prove that Jesus was born in Nazareth, but it’s evidence that there was such a place – the author expected his audience to buy it and not go, “what, there isn’t even such a town in Galilee!”

        Cf. the notion in Acts that the high priest could send Saul to arrest Christians in Damascus: very implausible that that was the case, but it’s evidence of what someone writing post-Temple could *think* sounded like a plausible thing for the high priest to do.

        • Jim Jones
          Posted May 11, 2012 at 7:57 am | Permalink

          And this is well within the bounds of fanfic – which often takes the original story in a direction where the original author would not go.

    • Posted May 7, 2012 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

      Ah, I see from this post by Jim McGrath that my exceedingly obvious point about the crucified Jesus was made by Ehrman in his book (as one would hope):

      [Carrier] also fails to address what the expectation of Jews regarding a Davidic anointed one was, and so does nothing to counter the widely-accepted fact that it is profoundly unlikely that someone invented a story about such a figure being crucified, and then tried to persuade their Jewish contemporaries that the figure in question is the long-awaited Davidic anointed one.

      Ehrman is clearly correct that there was no expectation prior to the rise of Christianity that a Davidic Messiah – i.e. the one who would restore the kingdom to the line of David – would be executed by the foreign empire ruling over the Jewish people. And Ehrman’s point about this being unlikely to have been made up still stands. In theory, anything can be invented. But if we are asking what is likely, as historians are supposed to, then the evidence fits more naturally a scenario in which a historical figure was crucified and those who believed him to be the Davidic Messiah found ways of maintaining their beliefs in spite of the cognitive dissonance caused by his crucifixion.

    • Jim Jones
      Posted May 11, 2012 at 7:54 am | Permalink

      How do YOU explain Superman being constantly embarrassed by the tricks of Mister Mxyztplk? Doesn’t that prove (by your argument) that both are real?

    • Jim Jones
      Posted May 11, 2012 at 8:07 am | Permalink

      “Well, but people wrote about Nazareth in these documents collected in the New Testament.”

      http://www.jesusneverexisted.com/nazareth.html

      On balance, ISTM that ‘Nazareth’ was created (by a quick renaming) for the Empress Helena. Plucking gullible tourists has a long history.

  65. Aaron Baker
    Posted May 7, 2012 at 9:12 am | Permalink

    This is not an endorsement of Ehrman’s essay, which does seem to be marred by carelessness.

    Rather, I’m posting to say that whether mythicism is correct or not, Carrier hasn’t come close to proving his case.

    In his reply to McGrath’s defense of Ehrman (http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/archives/749/comment-page-1#comment-9473), I took issue with what appear to be some of Carrier’s key points. (If anybody wishes, they can look at my arguments, starting at comment 53.) I’ll just say here that Carrier relies heavily on a deductive argument that doesn’t in fact prove what he says it does (and the failure of proof here is glaringly obvious)–and that Carrier imposes on 1 Corinthians 9 an interpretation that does violence to the text as it’s come down to us and isn’t implied by anything in that text either.

    I’ll just add here that Carrier repeatedly asserts that he’s “proved” things when in fact he hasn’t–and he does this to such an extent that I think that one has to question his judgment.

  66. per-olov
    Posted September 18, 2013 at 7:30 am | Permalink

    And once again Carrier proves himsel as a complet quack..
    Of course is it possible to find pieces of information about births and death. But registerswhich would alowe us to search för a particular person in judea aroun the birth of Jesus.

  67. Daniel N.
    Posted December 22, 2013 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    We will never know the truth. There’s only one meaningful question: is it more probable that there’s a historical person behind the myth or the myth was a complete invention?

    Think about Arthur.

    I agree with Ehrman, it’s more probable that Jesus was not invented, but his story was heavily amended.

    Fully invented stories contain less contradictions. Besides, basic story about Jesus (supernatural elements removed) sounds plausible: a guy preaches around villages with a couple of followers, then makes some trouble in Jerusalem, and he’s eventually arrested and executed by the authorities.

    Everything ELSE about Jesus is a bit less probable.

    Were Mohammed and Buddha historical persons? Why not?


5 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] as opposed to a rhetorical ploy that will only work on those already mythicists themselves. (UPDATE: See too Jerry Coyne’s discussion of Carrier’s post).While Carrier’s treatment lacks nuance and seeks to distract from the force of the book as a [...]

  2. [...] Coyne of Why Evolution Is True fame has posted on his blog his own comments on Richard Carrier’s review of Ehrman’s [...]

  3. [...] the mosquito infested ghettos of what people can see to be common sense. The likes of evolutionists Jerry Coyne and P. Z. Myers might dirty their grubby ghetto-tainted hands by sharing their research and studies [...]

  4. [...] Drum, we get Jerry Coyne looking at Richard Carrier griping about Bart Ehrman, who (for once) is being criticized for saying something mainstream: that Jesus really existed (tho [...]

  5. […] Coyne of Why Evolution Is True fame has posted on his blog his own comments on Richard Carrier’s review of Ehrman’s […]

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