Ehrman replies to Carrier at length

I am too jammed at the moment to read Bart Ehrman’s longer response to Richard Carrier, in which Ehrman defends his views on the historicity of Jesus. This was posted today, and several readers have brought it to my attention.  So those of you who are interested in this continuing dogfight, go see “Fuller reply to Richard Carrier” at The Bart Ehrman Blog. It’s not behind a paywall.

I bring this to you as a public service, and as a forum for people to discuss Ehrman’s latest reply. As for me, right now I’d rather look at baby hawks.

141 Comments

  1. Somite
    Posted April 25, 2012 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    Here is another good red-tailed hawk webcam.

    http://metobs.ssec.wisc.edu/aoss/cameras/hawkcam-flash.html

    Jesus still not supernatural even if he existed.

    • Achrachno
      Posted April 25, 2012 at 8:12 pm | Permalink

      And it’s so much more fun that he’s both not supernatural and imaginary.

      • doctorrieux
        Posted April 25, 2012 at 10:44 pm | Permalink

        Er, given that he’s imaginary, surely it’s perfectly conceivable that he’s supernatural?

        • Achrachno
          Posted April 25, 2012 at 11:02 pm | Permalink

          Only in someone’s imagination.

  2. Posted April 25, 2012 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    Subscribing

  3. Posted April 25, 2012 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

    §, though I’m almost as swamped as Jerry and likely won’t even read most of the replies, let alone post….

    b&

  4. Posted April 25, 2012 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    You know, excepting Buddha, who is very clear cut to have existed…

    If Carrier said there was no historical evidence for Vishnu, Ehrman would probably say ‘Of course…’ If Carrier said there was no historical evidence for Thor, Ehrman would probably say ‘Of course…’ And Ra, and Horus, and Isis, and Athena, and… And I could on and on and on…

    Except Jesus. Jesus always gets ‘special consideration.’ All other mythological figures are dismissed as non-existent as a matter of ‘Of course…’ But not Jesus.

    It doesn’t matter there is no evidence. It doesn’t matter it doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t matter that the Bible itself claims hundreds of witnesses (thousands in some cases) and NONE of this was written down…

    Paul himself says:

    For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.

    Please. Spare me the ‘except for Jesus’ bull. Buddha was a man, and if the record isn’t perfect, it’s there.

    But Jesus, who preached to crowds (up to 10,000 which was a friggin’ huge number considering the population of the region) and witnessed to have been risen from death by HUNDREDS… Cricket’s chirping…

    • gravelinspector
      Posted April 25, 2012 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

      You know, excepting Buddha, who is very clear cut to have existed…

      If Carrier said there was no historical evidence for Vishnu, Ehrman would probably say ‘Of course…’

      While your point is perfectly reasonable, you do your argument a disfavour by neglecting to point out the historical reality of Mohammed, who is if anything better-evidenced than Buddha.
      Oblig : Jesus’n’Camel-herder link : http://www.jesusandmo.net/

    • Pirate
      Posted April 25, 2012 at 11:02 pm | Permalink

      Are you seriously suggesting that the historicity of Jesus is as implausible a priori as the historicity of Vishnu or Thor?

      I don’t have much of a stance on Jesus mythicism, but reading the Bible it does not seem totally implausible that the stories are based on the life of a real person. Reading about Vishnu, it does seem totally implausible that the stories are based on a real person. Certain avatars of Vishnu (Rama, for instance) do strike me as possibly having a historical basis.

      The Jesus myth presents us with a human being who was alive at a particular point of time and who did a bunch of stuff that a human at that time might well have done. He is also supposed to have done some stuff that no human at that time (or ever) could possibly have done, but if you strip out the supernatural it leaves plenty of stuff that might have actually happened. There is no parallel with Vishnu or Thor.

      There is a parallel with Buddha, Mahavira, Mohammed, Rama, Achilles, Moses and a number of other religious figures. I have no idea whether most of these myths are based on some historical fact, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they were. Jesus isn’t being given special status in this respect.

      • H.H.
        Posted April 26, 2012 at 12:04 am | Permalink

        In other words, it’s plausible to think a person named Jesus existed so long as we ignore all the implausible details for which he is remembered.

        • Posted April 26, 2012 at 12:43 am | Permalink

          If one begins with the totally unfounded a priori assumption, (as does Ehrman), that Jesus existance is a solid fact, and then (as does Ehrman), advertise the thin gruel that is confirmation, whilst rejecting the feast that is the reverese.

          Ehrman is doing a ‘creationist’ hack-job:- assume the conclusion as a given, and then torture reality in order to make it fit the ludicrous cultural premise.

          Do you think Ehrman would be doing this factual contortion had he been raised as a Buddhist? A resounding NO is the answer.

      • rhetoric
        Posted April 26, 2012 at 7:06 am | Permalink

        I wish we had a time machine so 2000 years from now you can tell me how Batman and Robin existed too…

      • Posted April 26, 2012 at 7:59 am | Permalink

        [I]f you strip out the supernatural it leaves plenty of stuff that might have actually happened.

        ORLY? Such as?

        No, seriously. I’d very much appreciate several examples (aka “plenty of stuff”) of supernatural-stripped bits of Jesus’s life that might actually have happened.

        Do please include the references to the passages you’re using as source material so we can see just how much of the supernatural has been stripped and how much of the “not totally impossible” is left behind.

        b&

    • Pirate
      Posted April 25, 2012 at 11:04 pm | Permalink

      Also, one can believe in a historical Jesus while also believing that he didn’t actually preach to crowds of 10,000. Ehrman isn’t denying that many parts of the New Testament are false.

      • Posted April 26, 2012 at 12:53 am | Permalink

        I just wish he would reveal his philosophers’ stone that informs as to which bits are “correct” versus which bits are “false”.

        But I’m not holding my breath waiting, as I suspect that this fallible amulet is really just his cultural bias, and cosseted parochial upbringing, with a pinch of uncontested ego to add zest.

        • Tyro
          Posted April 26, 2012 at 7:47 am | Permalink

          Weren’t there a series of meetings where many of the top Jesus scholars met to see if they could achieve a consensus on what they thought were genuine quotes or historical events? The name slips my mind now (Jesus Seminars? something like that), but even when they started with the assumption that Jesus was an historical figure, the “real” events were still vanishingly small. At the time it seemed like a light breeze of scepticism would blow them all away, let alone any sort of intense scrutiny.

      • Jeff
        Posted April 26, 2012 at 1:02 am | Permalink

        I may be completely inventing this, but in one of Ehrman’s books or maybe the DVD series “Historical Jesus” I believe he says something to this effect. That Jesus likely was never in front of crowds of anywhere near this size.

        • Posted April 26, 2012 at 1:13 am | Permalink

          But that, a priori, rests on the very faulty & unquestioned assumption that Jesus actually exited.
          Ehrman has made a career out of this schtick, and is not likely to strangle the golden goose with the ligature of reality.

        • Posted April 26, 2012 at 8:04 am | Permalink

          So, not only was Jesus not born of a virgin, not only was he not a necromancer, not only did he not become a zombie himself with a penchant for intestinal frottage…but he also wasn’t even a popular rabble-rousing preacher?

          Damn.

          If we’re going that far, then just how much farther can we keep going?

          Maybe Jesus wasn’t a Jew? Maybe his name wasn’t Jesus? Maybe he didn’t live in the first century? Maybe he wasn’t a man? Maybe he wasn’t even real?

          But never mind all that — the imaginary Jesus was still real, and he was the real Jesus who actually existed and died on the Cross by Pilate’s personal order! Whether you like it or not!

          Seriously, the lengths people will go to to hang on to their imaginary friends simply astounds me. I really wish all y’all would just grow up, already.

          b&

    • Abie
      Posted August 5, 2013 at 8:45 pm | Permalink

      “and none of it was written down?”. Please show me the place where the real things are “written down” so that I too can know what was real, without contamination from this *axe-to-grind caca. You wouldn’t have one*, would you?

  5. Posted April 25, 2012 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    Off topic but:

    New Online Evolution Magazine:

    “BECers — David Sloan Wilson, a past BEC speaker and director of a sister program at SUNY Binghamton, has launched an online magazine addressing evolution that is likely to be of interest to many members of the BEC community — see http://www.thisviewoflife.com/ (and check out the interview with BEC alumnus and all-around academic rock star Joe Henrich at http://www.thisviewoflife.com/index.php/magazine/articles/are-taboos-adaptive-evidence-from-the-island-of-fiji).”

    “BEC” is an awesome group Behavior, Evolution and Culture at bec.ucla.edu. Their videos have some of the best and latest applied evo-devo research. Not for the feint of mind.

  6. MadScientist
    Posted April 25, 2012 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

    Personally I don’t think Ehrman’s response is worth looking at; his book fails to establish that there might have been a single person in history who was the inspiration for the Jesus character. It’s a bit like arguing with the ‘sophisticated’ ones about which parts of the bible are literal and which are metaphor. Which elements of the Jesus story are myth and which ones referred to a single real person, and how do we know this? Ehrman’s basic assertion is “you can’t totally disprove it, so it must be possible.” Such a position establishes absolutely nothing and is not worth considering – it’s simply the “you can’t disprove god” nonsense all over again.

    • Dermot C
      Posted April 25, 2012 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

      I can find no quotation or thought where Ehrman says, “you can’t totally disprove it, so it must be possible.”

      InDid Jesus exist…, he says, in reference to the mythicist, Price,

      … perhaps the matter should be put more neutrally (than that ‘the burden of proof does not fall on those who take the almost universally accepted position.’ [i.e. that of Ehrman - DC])…’The burden of proof belongs with whoever is making a claim.’ That is, if Price wants to argue that Jesus did not exist, then he bears the burden of proof for his argument. If I want to argue that he did exist, then I do. Fair enough.

      The question of whether you can disprove God is different to the debate over whether you can disprove the existence of the Jesus figure, because definite historical claims are made for the latter. The question of the reality, or otherwise, of God was addressed in Russell’s hypothesis of the celestial teapot; he did not compare the man or the divine Jesus to an astronomical brew, because he knew that the cases differed; the former can be approached philosophically, and maybe theologically, and the latter historically.

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted April 25, 2012 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

      That is a truly bizarre caricature of Ehrman’s position!

  7. Tyro
    Posted April 25, 2012 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    While I don’t agree with the main thrust of Ehrman’s book, I don’t like his slap-dash writing, I think one of his sources seems to agree with Carrier while Ehrman see it as a victory for himself, and I don’t buy Ehrman’s argument that because he was writing for a popular audience we should excuse his inaccuracies, I was a lot more impressed by this response than his first. It’s the first thing he’s written in a while that has the spark of a scholar and shows signs that he might be open to a real dialogue about issues rather than at sniping.

    That said, it is long and is more meant to address the specific concerns that Carrier raised rather than build any argument so there’s little substance here for the peanut gallery to chew on.

  8. mordacious1
    Posted April 25, 2012 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    I just read Ehrman’s response and will only comment on two things (because I’m certainly not qualified to get in between these two experts (and I do consider them both experts, sloppy work arguments aside).

    1)Ehrman does not seem to realize that Carrier is a fan and has read his previous books with interest and was looking forward to this one (same with me btw). His criticism was not that of one who was just waiting to pounce on every little mistake.

    2)He says he doesn’t want to get bogged down in the black hole that is the internet and won’t be responding further on this topic on the web (maybe he will behind his paywall, who knows). This is a major cop out and it makes his argument appear weak. [Oh, I just don't have the time to answer every criticism on the web because I'm too busy writing books]. What a load of horse poo.

    • Posted April 25, 2012 at 10:03 pm | Permalink

      So you would agree that when a biologist (such as Nick Gotelli from the U of Vermont) says he isn’t going to spend any more time responding to a creationist because he has better things to do, it’s a major cop out and makes his argument look weak?

      • Posted April 26, 2012 at 3:26 am | Permalink

        Does he just point to invisible transitional fossils and claim that is evidence, the way Bart Ehrman claims ‘we have numerous, independent accounts of his life in the sources lying behind the Gospels (and the writings of Paul) — sources that originated in Jesus’ native tongue Aramaic and that can be dated to within just a year or two of his life (before the religion moved to convert pagans in droves).’

        Waving invisible documents around and claiming you are not going to defend them is not the way to go.

        But Bart has already pointed out that he never intended to engage with scholarship in his book.

      • mordacious1
        Posted April 27, 2012 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

        No, I wouldn’t. But if Gotelli responded that way to a Coyne, a Dawkins, or someone else who is at least as qualified as he is in the field in question in that manner, at least one eyebrow would be raised. Your example equates Carrier with a creationist on this topic and that’s hardly the case. He is qualified to go toe-to-toe with Ehrman, whereas a creationist is not qualified to go toe-to-toe with Gotelli.

  9. Aratina Cage
    Posted April 25, 2012 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

    I found this to be quite convoluted:

    I am not denying that Doherty sometimes acknowledges that scholars disagree with him; I am saying that he quotes them as though they support his views without acknowledging that in fact they do not.

    They disagree with Doherty, but the things they have written support Doherty’s points? And somehow using their writing to support his points makes Doherty not scholarly? Why?

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted April 25, 2012 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

      No, Ehrman’s point that Doherty !*fails to acknowledge that they don’t support his position*! (Though Carrier disputes that- I haven’t actually checked). Nonetheless the failure of so many posters to understand Ehrman’s actual thread is bizarre.

      • Aratina Cage
        Posted April 25, 2012 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

        Doherty !*fails to acknowledge that they don’t support his position*!

        Did you read that? He wrote, “I am not denying that Doherty sometimes acknowledges that scholars disagree with him”. Which is baffling. If you acknowledge they don’t agree, then you are not saying that the scholars themselves support your position. Whether their findings support your position is another matter entirely. Don’t conflate the two.

        • joe piecuch
          Posted April 25, 2012 at 8:49 pm | Permalink

          it might clear up your confusion if you try to keep the word ‘sometimes’ in mind.

          • Aratina Cage
            Posted April 25, 2012 at 10:18 pm | Permalink

            I’m not confused about that, joe. It’s that Ehrman says in the part I quoted above that: 1) Doherty does acknowledge that some of his sources are historicists and 2) Doherty doesn’t acknowledge that some of his sources are historicists. Ehrman’s trying to have it both ways.

            Requiring a researcher to give the point of view of the author of a source every single time you use a finding of that source is too much when you only need the finding. A proper reference back to the source is all one should need to give for those interested in the author’s point of view.

            • Michael
              Posted April 26, 2012 at 3:58 am | Permalink

              Aratina:
              Pretty obviously that is not what Ehrman is saying. If you read the rest of his response on Doherty it is completely clear.

              What he is saying is
              (1) At times, Doherty acknowledges that scholars disagree with him (on one or another relatively minor point).
              (2) At other times, he quotes them as if they support his views (again, on one or another point), when they actually reject his overall position completely (which he never acknowledges). (Furthermore at times Doherty is just misrepresenting the scholars that he quotes to make it look like they support his argument on the specific point in question, when they actually don’t.)

              • Aratina Cage
                Posted April 26, 2012 at 9:00 am | Permalink

                (2) At other times, he quotes them as if they support his views (again, on one or another point), when they actually reject his overall position completely (which he never acknowledges).

                If a different scholar’s findings are quoted in support of your point which happens to differ from theirs, there is nothing wrong with that unless one is quotemining. Ehrman calling that “not scholarly” is ridiculous. Here is the one example Ehrman puts forth as evidence that Doherty didn’t acknowledge that an author he quoted was a historicist:

                Doherty quotes New Testament scholar Morna Hooker in support of his view. In the sentence before he introduces her, he says: “this self-sacrificing divinity (who operates in the celestial spheres, not on earth) is a paradigm for believers on earth” (p. 104). In other words, Christ was sacrificed in heaven, not on earth. Then he quotes Hooker: “Christ becomes what we are (likeness of human flesh, suffering and death), so enabling us to become what he is (exalted to the heights).” Here he cites Hooker to support his claim that Christ was paradigmatic for his followers (a fairly uncontroversial claim), but he does not acknowledge that when she says Christ became “what we are (likeness of human flesh)” she is referring to Christ becoming a human being in flesh on earth – precisely the view he rejects. Hooker’s argument, then, which he quotes in favor of his view, flat-out contradicts his view.

                Yet Hooker’s POV on whether or not Jesus did actually exist has no bearing on this “fairly uncontroversial claim” of hers. Ehrman is clearly trying to shoehorn in the “on Earth” where it doesn’t belong and then declare that in this battle between him and Carrier that he, Ehrman, wins! No, I’m sorry, anyone half interested can read up on Morna Hooker’s work from Doherty’s references and see that she is a historicist. Doherty did not need to acknowledge that bit of trivia.

  10. Curt Cameron
    Posted April 25, 2012 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    So Ehrman vs. Carrier is a dogfight, while Pigliucci vs. Krauss is a catfight.

    Hmmm. I’d say dogfights have more blood, while catfights have more screaming. Is that the point?

  11. Posted April 25, 2012 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

    You guys were expecting scholarship from Ehrman?

    What? Get real, guys! Recalibrate. There ain’t no way Bart will write scholarly works about mythicism.

    EHRMAN
    Carrier seems to expect Did Jesus Exist to be a work of scholarship written for scholars in the academy and with extensive engagement with scholarship, rather than what it is, a popular book written for a broad audience.

    CARR
    Ehrman couldn’t even be bothered to check if a statue existed , before accusing mythicists of drawing it themselves, and then demanding to see a statue that was half-Peter and half-rooster , like a creationist demanding to see a fossil that was half-bird and half-monkey.

    But hey, it was for the general public , not scholars.

    Scholars know that Ehrman’s invisible documents that he waved around as evidence for the existence of Jesus don’t actually exist.

    But the book wasn’t written for them.

    Ehrman couldn’t even be bothered to check which letter by Pliny mentioned Christians.

    Scholars already know which letter it is.

    But the book wasn’t written for them.

    CARRIER
    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.

    CARR
    COme on Richard, the book wasn’t written for you.

    What do you expect scholarship? Stop saying that we don’t have those sources. The book wasn’t written for you.

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted April 25, 2012 at 11:31 pm | Permalink

      Ehrman only pleads the excuse of the book being written for non-scholars in his slightly simplified/streamlined account of the content of Pliny’s letter and fully owns up to confusing Book 10 with Letter 10.

      Ehrman fully admits that the sources on which the Gospel writers claim to rely are hypothetical and is entirely up front about it. This is no more bizarre than the postulation of a lost earlier version of Shakespeare’s ”Hamlet” amongst those who maintain Shakespeare was the author. Ehrman never conceals this nor defends not mentioning it on the grounds that the book is for non-scholars.

      • Posted April 25, 2012 at 11:34 pm | Permalink

        I see.

        So then people would then use this lost earlier version of Hamlet as evidence for the existence of people in the play?

        Hypothetical documents are not evidence.

        Just as hypothetical transitional fossils are not evidence for evolution . Only real fossils are evidence.

        • JonLynnHarvey
          Posted April 26, 2012 at 11:48 pm | Permalink

          In the case of Hamlet there is only one hypothetical earlier version of a work we know to be composed as fiction. In the case of the Gospels there are reason to believe in multiple independent earlier versions which were composited into the Gospels we now have.

          • Posted April 27, 2012 at 12:06 am | Permalink

            And these multiple independent versions are not evidence.

            Only real things are evidence, not hypothetical things.

            So we have multiple independent versions , dating back very early, of the resurrection , do we?

      • Posted April 26, 2012 at 12:35 am | Permalink

        fully owns up to confusing Book 10 with Letter 10

        At least he has ‘fessed up to one basic schoolboy error.
        That is a start.

  12. Kevin
    Posted April 25, 2012 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

    I think it’s sad. Ehrman seems quite intent on destroying his reputation. Can’t imagine why.

  13. michaelbradycpp
    Posted April 25, 2012 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

    I thought Ehrman did a satisfactory job of laying out a response to Carrier’s allegations of unscholarliness. In a pre-internet age the “Sez you! Oh Yeah?” dialogue might have been carried out in the journals and most non-academics like us would have been none the wiser.

    As close as I can tell mythicists represent a scholarly minority in the field, yet they seem to be inordinately popular with atheists. Why? Is it so important that Jesus not only not be a god, but that he never existed as a man?

    What is it about Yeshua, an itinerant preacher who was crucified by Romans oppressors in first century Palestine, that so frightens atheists? If that simple core about a preacher deeply missed by his family and followers is all that true about him, and all the rest is storytelling, confabulation, myth, legend, Pauline spin, and church building why not move on to other issues? It’s at least a plausible kernel around which a story began to accrete. Without this wee bit of condensation nuclei explaining why the story began then and there requires additional less economical explanations.

    Finally, I have not read Ehrman’s book yet, but probably will at some point (Carrier is on my reading list too). Not having read it yet I am neither for it nor against it. I’ve read Carrier’s review and Ehrman’s response. Those of you who take Carrier’s side in this discussion without having read Ehrman, why is that? Is Carrier simply your man? Is he a better scholar? Writer? Atheist? Is Ehrman suspect because he’s only recently become agnostic, or beacuse he’s a former Christian?

    • Rudi
      Posted April 25, 2012 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

      It’s not “important to atheists Jesus never existed”. It’s important whether or not he did.

      World of difference.

    • Posted April 25, 2012 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

      It is more that Ehrman waves around invisible documents as evidence, while comparing mythicists to Holocaust deniers.

    • Posted April 25, 2012 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

      Why do we care? Because we care about the truth and good scholarship supported by evidence.

      There is no evidence, period, that supports your hypothetical Jesus. The closest you can find is by stripping away the supernaturalism from the Gospels — but, in so doing, you are declaring the Gospels to be 99 44/100% inaccurate, but somehow reliable for that remaining 0.56%. Make such a claim in any other field, and you’ll be laughed out of the room.

      The historicist postion, as with all things theological, boils down to, “Well, you can’t prove me worng!” Can you prove that Russell’s Teapot doesn’t exist? No? Is it therefore reasonable to confidently declare that it actually does exist? Of course not.

      Never mind the comparisons of Jesus with actual well-evidenced individuals from the period, such as Julius Caesar or even Pontius Pilate. Compare him instead with any of the other miracle-working Pagan demigods of the era, such as Perseus, Orpheus, Serapis, Mithras, Dionysus, or the rest. Do you think it reasonable to claim that those are based on real-life individuals? No? Why therefore the exception for Jesus?

      When you understand why you already dismiss the historicity of Janus and Charon, you will understand why you should also dismiss the historicity of Jesus and Christ.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Nathair
        Posted April 25, 2012 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

        “What is it about Yeshua…that so frightens atheists?”

        Yeah, uh huh, we’re all atremble. Feel better about yourself now?

      • Brett
        Posted April 25, 2012 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

        All the deities and demigods you name also are said to have had eyes and ears and noses. Should we then conclude that eyes and ears and noses do not exist?

        It is illogical to conclude that if ancient documents contain some blatant falsehoods or are peppered with propaganda then we are justified in dismissing them as having not a shred of historical truth in them at all. How exactly do you think historians operate? Certainly not by assuming that every text is literally true, but neither by assuming that every text is utterly false.

        Precisely what evidence do you require to substantiate the existence of a Jewish peasant in the first century? Moreover, given what we know both about the unfortunately imperfect historical record of the ancient world and also the fact that billions of nobodies throughout time failed to leave evidence of their historicity, are you justified in your demands?

        Grace us with your portrait of history and how you determine what constitutes evidence in trying to reconstruct it.

        • Chet
          Posted April 25, 2012 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

          There’s a substantial difference, which you ignore, between concluding that a source is “utterly false”, and concluding that it simply lacks credibility.

          The issue here is that the Gospels are the only source for many of the claims that they make, and the fact that they’re liberally peppered with claims that we know are absolutely false means that no credence can be given to the claims that can’t be corroborated.

          That’s the argument from contagion. It’s not that if the Gospels claim A, we must conclude ~A; it’s that if the Gospels claim A, that lends no support at all to A. Ultimately, there’s no support for the proposition that Jesus Christ was, in any way, a historical person who existed.

        • Posted April 25, 2012 at 7:35 pm | Permalink

          Oh, grow up. This isn’t some sort of childish, “I hate you, so the opposite of everything you say is true” nonsense.

          The point is that, when you read a story about a “man” born of a virgin and a ghost, who reanimated corpses for a living, whose death was accompanied by a massive zombie invasion of Jerusalem, and who himself returned as a zombie for the express purpose of having his intestines fondled…well, you’ve really got to be some kind of truly gullible idiot to think that any of that has even the slightest bearing on reality.

          Get back to me when you’ve got credible evidence that says anything at all about Jesus, let alone that he was nothing more than a Jewish Peasant.

          b&

      • michaelbradycpp
        Posted April 25, 2012 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

        Ben,

        “There is no evidence, period, that supports your hypothetical Jesus.”

        In case I haven’t made myself clear, I’m not a Christian, theist, or supernaturalist. Neither am I an academic of religion or the sciences. I cannot read any of the source material in its original language. I am interested in the nature and history of religion precisely because it is a human construct, one that need not involve a real deity, sky daddy, or ceiling cat for it to tell us about our neurology, psychology, and perspective on the human condition.

        “The closest you can find is by stripping away the supernaturalism from the Gospels — but, in so doing, you are declaring the Gospels to be 99 44/100% inaccurate, but somehow reliable for that remaining 0.56%.”

        I haven’t read the Jefferson Bible myself, but I can imagine it contains something more than a half a percent of the traditional content. Unlike you, I find it easier to infer that there probably was some minor Jewish apocalyptic preacher (with which the neighborhood was apparently crawling at the time) executed by the Romans (who discouraged civil disorder by torturing rule-breakers to death in public) around whom a story grew, than it is to imagine a group of disaffected Jews sitting down one day in Jerusalem to create a heretical new sect. I could be wrong. Unlike most others here, I’m not invested in one version of events or another.

        “Make such a claim in any other field, and you’ll be laughed out of the room.”

        Yup, the history of religions is special that way.

        Be well.

        McB

        • Posted April 25, 2012 at 7:40 pm | Permalink

          When a guy comes back from a fishing trip with no fish but instead regales you with his epic fight with a fish that was this big!…do you assume that he really almost caught a fish, but it just wasn’t as big as he’s making it out to be?

          What reason do you have to think that he even went fishing at all, and that he didn’t simply spend the time at the pub?

          Back on topic, what about all those other demigods? Do you think they are all based on historical figures? I mean, why would somebody go to the bother of inventing all those heresies? And what of all the tens of thousands of Christian sects throughout the ages, each founded when one group split with another over a heresy of some sort? Were all those heresies made up? What about Xenu and the aliens behind the comet?

          The fact of the matter is, religions are lies founded by liars. It takes truly profound evidence to the contrary to demonstrate otherwise.

          b&

        • J.J.E.
          Posted April 25, 2012 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

          I find it easier to infer that there probably was some minor Jewish apocalyptic preacher (with which the neighborhood was apparently crawling at the time) executed by the Romans (who discouraged civil disorder by torturing rule-breakers to death in public) around whom a story grew, than it is to imagine a group of disaffected Jews sitting down one day in Jerusalem to create a heretical new sect.

          I don’t think mythicists disagree with this. But let’s be serious about what such a “historicist” position is saying. It is making a claim equivalent to “Santa Claus is historical”. Indeed, there is a 4th century model for Santa Claus.

          Or to take this from a different angle, let’s perform the thought experiment of following the Christ meme from now back to its origin. So, in our minds, let’s trace everybody’s concept of Jesus backwards in time until they coalesce into older and older sources back into time. If Christ really WAS historical, then this process would terminate with the people who were contemporaries of Christ, and such people would include Romans (many of whom were of no mean station), Pharisees, his disciples, family, as well as many who attended his supposed sermons. If he was historical, the Jesus meme would have had its beginning in the interactions these people had with Jesus and would have spread from their testimony of real interactions with Jesus.

          On the other hand, if Jesus was mythical, this process would terminate with something much more amorphous. Though, it may not be altogether inappropriate to trace it back to someone very like Paul of Tarsus. Conditional upon Jesus being mythical, the testimony would have grown from a telling and retelling of events that didn’t actually happen. Yet such events, in order to contain sufficient verisimilitude to be mistaken as historical events would have to contain some plausible details, like Jesus being an apocalyptic preacher of the sort that was supposedly common at the time.

          In any event, both of these models should be viewed in the context of a human proclivity for mythmaking and story telling. Our priors should be informed by how often we made up stuff virtually out of whole cloth and how often our myths are based on a concrete kerel of actual historical reality. And in this regard, the prior for historicism doesn’t fare well at all.

          Finally, in order to derive a posterior, we’d actually have to collect data and consider realistic models of how that data would come to be, and then integrate that information with our priors. This is where it gets tricky. It is entirely plausible that any real historical figure might indeed have left very few actual traces (though obviously a fictional character CAN’T leave actual traces) and so evaluating the data in light of a realistic model might not be informative at all. However, in such a case, AT BEST our conclusions would be dominated by our priors. AT BEST, our priors would give equal weight to historicists and mythicists.

          So, in the end, given what we actually see, in order to come out with the best possible result for historicists possible, we have to accept a model wherein Jesus left no direct contemporary evidence and where we were COMPLETELY agnostic about the prior probabilities of being real or being fictional to begin with. Then, and only then, can you call it a toss up. Any other reasonable interpretation tends to down weight the historical hypothesis.

          The sad truth is, Jesus didn’t leave a trace and it may just be a brute fact that, even if he WERE historical, he left insufficient traces to establish that. But let us not pretend that we are more certain than we are.

          • Posted April 25, 2012 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

            The sad truth is, Jesus didn’t leave a trace and it may just be a brute fact that, even if he WERE historical, he left insufficient traces to establish that.

            The problem is that this hypothesis is directly contradicted by the fact that the whole point of Jesus is that he did leave a trace — a huge trace, in the form of Christianity.

            So, what the historicists are ultimately left with is somebody so influential that he founded the most powerful religion on the face of the Earth, whilst simultaneously being so non-influential that nobody noticed him until a couple generations afterwards.

            Generally, when one’s premises entail a contradiction, one concludes that the premises are false. Ergo, the historicist position is false. Ipso facto and a few other Latin phrases and all that.

            b&

            • joe piecuch
              Posted April 25, 2012 at 8:40 pm | Permalink

              because, of course, adherents of christianity, the most powerful religion on the face of the earth, constituted 33% of the population of the world during his putative lifetime.

              generally, when one is talking out of their ass, what they say does not stand up to scrutiny. ipso fartso.

              • yesmyliege
                Posted April 25, 2012 at 10:14 pm | Permalink

                They were called Jews back then, and there were plenty of them. Christian Jews, some of them, talking messiah savior talk before Jesus supposedly hit the scene.

                And there were plenty of people writing about Jews and savior talkers back then, and they tell us about a whole bunch of Jewish apocalyptic and Jewish rebel preachers, many of whom get killed by Romans. Some of them even called themselves Jesus. But none of whom amounted to a hill of beans. Them they talked about! But they didn’t mention Jesus Christ of Nazareth, for some reason.

                And you don’t mean to argue that Jews would actually worship a failed preacher, just a man who got himself executed, as a god, do you? Because they absolutely would not.

                Do you fail to see how this is a problem for the historicist camp?

              • joe piecuch
                Posted April 26, 2012 at 7:07 am | Permalink

                yes, yesmyliege, i do not see how this is a problem for the historicists; but i think the failure is on the part of people who are apparently unable to view the past except from a perspective that includes their 20th century prejudices. jesus wasn’t ‘god’ until long after he no longer lived; the divine attributes were pasted on as a part of process of making him ‘god’. and why him? that’s the way it shook out! figuring out the what, the how, and the why, and making sense of the past is what historians try to do. sometimes the evidence is scarce, but it’s NOT a court of law; historians work with what they have, rather than ‘dismiss the case’.

                chris stringer’s recent ‘lone survivors’ discusses the various efforts to understand why homo sapiens, of all the humanoid primates that have existed as recently as 20,000 years ago, alone survives; a great deal of the evidence is minimal and fragmentary, but plausible theories can be derived from it.

                if a mythicist theory makes sense to you, and you’re happy with it, great! for a mythicist to insist that an historicist’s efforts must of necessity be in the service of christian apologetics seems to me to speak mostly to the blindered, jaundiced views of the mythicist.

              • yesmyliege
                Posted April 26, 2012 at 7:41 am | Permalink

                joe piecuch:
                jesus wasn’t ‘god’ until long after he no longer lived…”

                Here is your problem, Joe. Everyone, including all the historicists, believe that the epistles of Paul precede the Gospels. And the epistles are not about a man, they are about a god.

                Jesus is not an earthly man until much later in the story. The story that has been told to you, that you want to believe, is exactly backward.

              • Dermot C
                Posted April 26, 2012 at 8:42 am | Permalink

                Paul in Acts 13:32-33 says Jesus was begotten as the Son of God through being raised up only on the day of that raising up. In other words, it was only then that Jesus was exalted; he had not spent his life as the Son of God.

                The ‘Son of God’ did not mean divine in our sense; the King of Israel was called the Son of God (2 Samuel 7:14) as was the nation of Israel (Hosea 11:1). So the Son of God is the one whom God had chosen to do his will.

                None of the Synoptic Gospels claim Jesus as God, but, the later they were written, the more supernatural the claims for him. In similar chronological fashion, they also advance the date for Jesus’ special relationship with God, from the baptism back to birth.

        • rhetoric
          Posted April 26, 2012 at 7:21 am | Permalink

          “Unlike you, I find it easier to infer that there probably was some minor Jewish apocalyptic preacher (with which the neighborhood was apparently crawling at the time) executed by the Romans (who discouraged civil disorder by torturing rule-breakers to death in public) around whom a story grew, than it is to imagine a group of disaffected Jews sitting down one day in Jerusalem to create a heretical new sect.”

          Unlike you, I find it easier to infer that there probably was some minor Gotham City rich boy (with which the neighborhood was apparently crawling with at the time) who had his parents killed (it was a crime-laden city at the time) around whom a story grew, than it is to imagine a group of disaffected comic book artists (of all things!) sitting around their house one day inventing ‘super heroes’.

          Batman was real, it’s up to you to prove me wrong.

          • Aratina Cage
            Posted April 26, 2012 at 9:09 am | Permalink

            Which is kind of funny to think about because we’ve seen how gullible a lot of Christians are (fundamentalists in particular). We have even known some or been them ourselves, some of us. And as we all know, Christians will shell out their money for more religious experiences. All that Christianity really needed as a seed was a bunch of terribly gullible people willing to throw their time and food and shelter and other valuable things at these storytellers who were serving them up their Jesus. It would be such a humble beginning for Christianity, really, if that was how it happened–nearly as humble a beginning as the one where Jesus was a real street preacher.

      • JonLynnHarvey
        Posted April 25, 2012 at 9:51 pm | Permalink

        The proper comparison is not with other gods, but with other folk-legends some of whom are certainly fictional, some of unknown provenance, and some certainly real.

        1) Certainly real.
        Although most of what you have heard about Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone is total exaggeration and confabulation, they are real historical characters.

        2) Certainly false, or almost
        It is certain that Paul Bunyan is complete fiction. 70-80% of historians believe King Arthur to be entirely legendary although there are a few holdouts such as Geoffrey Ashe, although the historicist position on Arthur is almost as marginal as the mythicist position on Jesus.

        (There is also a rapidly growing consensus that Moses is entirely fictional, though most historians regard the Biblical King David as real)

        3) Completely unknown.
        There is absolutely no consensus whatsoever among historians as to whether Robin Hood or the railroad hero John Henry are partly real or entirely mythical. The current sense among historians about their provenance is complete and total agnosticism.

        This is the proper comparison that should be drawn not with divine figures like Thor and Zeus, IMO.

        • Nikos Apostolakis
          Posted April 25, 2012 at 11:59 pm | Permalink

          This is the proper comparison that should be drawn not with divine figures like Thor and Zeus, IMO.

          Why? It seems to me that both comparisons are legitimate. The sources we have for Jesus treat him as a divine being (at least some of the sources, Paul for sure). So why is it not appropriate to compare these stories with stories about other divine beings? for example why not compare Jesus with Hercules, a human with one divine and one mortal parent?

          • Dermot C
            Posted April 26, 2012 at 7:29 am | Permalink

            @Nikos Apostolakis

            “So why is it not appropriate to compare these stories with stories about other divine beings?”

            Because, it is trivially easy to think of other divine or semi-divine beings, who had miracles ascribed to them and who existed. I think of Gilgamesh, Akhenaten, Julius Caesar, Augustus, Claudius. The analogy doesn’t take you very far; the point is how to evaluate the sources we have for Jesus’ existence, irrespective of his subsequent deification.

            • Nikos Apostolakis
              Posted April 26, 2012 at 8:21 am | Permalink

              @Dermot C

              I don’t see how your answer is relevant to my point. I didn’t say that it is not appropriate to compare Jesus with real people people that had legends accumulated on their biographies. I said that it is also appropriate to compare him with mythical beings like Hercules. Actually I started my comment with “It seems to me that both comparisons are legitimate.”

              I think that to decide whether Jesus is more like Julius Ceasar or more like Hercules is exactly what the historicity question is about. So to declare from the start that the only legitimate comparison is with Julius Ceasar seems to me to be question begging. I’m not convinced that the sources we have about Jesus are more similar to the sources we have about Julius Ceasar than the sources we have about Hercules. That’s where the evaluation of the sources we have for Jesus has to start from, IMHO.

              • Dermot C
                Posted April 26, 2012 at 11:30 am | Permalink

                I do apologise, Nikos, for not making myself clear. I merely meant to make a rather similar point to yours that one can compare the Jesus figure with historical characters who have had divine powers attributed to them, on the one hand, and with fictional and supernatural heroes or gods, on the other.

                I suspect, though, that I would be more sceptical than you as to its effectiveness and weight in determining the historicity of Jesus. But, I could be convinced further along the spectrum towards what I assume is your position.

        • Posted April 26, 2012 at 7:52 am | Permalink

          The proper comparison is not with other gods, but with other folk-legends some of whom are certainly fictional, some of unknown provenance, and some certainly real.

          Hey, don’t blame me when I compare Jesus to Pagan demigods. I’m just doing what Justin Martyr did all the time in the early second century.

          Here’s but one small example:

          And when we say also that the Word, who is the first-birth of God, was produced without sexual union, and that He, Jesus Christ, our Teacher, was crucified and died, and rose again, and ascended into heaven, we propound nothing different from what you believe regarding those whom you esteem sons of Jupiter. For you know how many sons your esteemed writers ascribed to Jupiter: Mercury, the interpreting word and teacher of all; AEsculapius, who, though he was a great physician, was struck by a thunderbolt, and so ascended to heaven; and Bacchus too, after he had been torn limb from limb; and Hercules, when he had committed himself to the flames to escape his toils; and the sons of Leda, and Dioscuri; and Perseus, son of Danae; and Bellerophon, who, though sprung from mortals, rose to heaven on the horse Pegasus. For what shall I say of Ariadne, and those who, like her, have been declared to be set among the stars?

          So, what’s your position on the historicity of Jupiter, Mercury, Æsculapius, Bacchus, Hercules, Leda, Dioscuri, Perseus, Danae, Bellerophon, Pegasus, and Ariadne?

          Cheers,

          b&

      • TheMuse
        Posted April 26, 2012 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

        That is patently false. The gospels are not primarily made up of supernatural stories. If you take out the supernatural stories you are left with Jesus’s movement and encounters across Palestine, his teachings, Sermon on the mount, parables etc. This content accounts for most of the gospels. The mythicists are like evolution deniers some even claiming that Paul and the disciples are all imaginary and the gospels and epistles the writings of a single author. Sure you can find a few scientists who deny the truth of evolution but they are on the fringe of the science community as the “mythicist scholars” are.

        • Posted April 26, 2012 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

          Squeeze me?

          Okay, I give.

          Let’s have your best example from the Gospels of something real from Jesus’s life — just the beginning and ending chapter and verse. No need for the text; we can all look it up in our favorite translations.

          I’ll bet you a cup of coffee that, once every sentence with something supernatural or absurd in it is removed, there won’t be enough left to figure out what Jesus was supposed to have done.

          b&

          • Posted May 1, 2012 at 9:55 pm | Permalink

            Ben, you forgot to mention removal of OT references and retellings (though many/most of those would fall under your absurd and supernatural categories) :-)

          • Posted May 1, 2012 at 9:57 pm | Permalink

            Ben, you forgot that you’ll also need to excise references to and retellings of parts of existing texts, though many/most of those would probably fall under being absurd and/or supernatural.

    • Tyro
      Posted April 25, 2012 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

      As close as I can tell mythicists represent a scholarly minority in the field, yet they seem to be inordinately popular with atheists. Why?

      This was discussed earlier, but you raised a slightly different question. I think there are two obvious answers: first, anyone who thinks Jesus is their saviour and one true light and the divine risen son of God are likely to have some personal biases clouding their decision making. Second, the atheists you see on forums are likely there because they value the search for truth very highly so this sort of thing would naturally draw them. Us.

      • Lurker
        Posted April 26, 2012 at 10:28 am | Permalink

        I think you missed the most obvious answer, Tyro: confirmation bias.

        • Tyro
          Posted April 26, 2012 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

          That’s a possibility. I don’t think atheism is contingent upon an historical or mythical Jesus and there are plenty of atheists who defend an historical Jesus so I don’t know if that is a powerful generalization amongst atheists.

          Confirmation bias surely must play a role amongst christians who are almost compelled to start with the conclusion of an historical Jesus and work back from there.

          At any rate, yes, this is a good reason to use an objective, scientific methodology.

          • Lurker
            Posted April 26, 2012 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

            Tyro — Even the attempted use of “an objective, scientific methodology” is subject to confirmation bias and I see no reason to think that atheists are less susceptible to it than anyone else.

            The “no historical Jesus” meme provides a shorthand way conclusively to dispense with Christianity for those who wish to do so. Given that confirmation bias is so prevalent, I suspect that many who reject the idea of an historical Jesus think that they have done so on account of a dispassionate evaluation of the evidence, but really haven’t.

            • joe piecuch
              Posted April 26, 2012 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

              oh, my gosh…there may be evidence aplenty of that all over these comments, but it isn’t HARD PHYSICAL EVIDENCE and YOU CAN’T PROVE IT!!

    • ForCarl
      Posted April 25, 2012 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

      “What is it about Yeshua, an itinerant preacher who was crucified by Romans oppressors in first century Palestine, that so frightens atheists?”

      Re: Yeshua in the above quote- provide evidence for your claims about him. I am more frightened by your adding another myth to the myth.

    • Posted April 26, 2012 at 5:40 am | Permalink

      “What is it about Yeshua, an itinerant preacher who was crucified by Romans oppressors in first century Palestine, that so frightens atheists?”

      Do you really expect Christians to even have the cognitive wherewithal to seriously question whether Jesus existed? They can’t even do that for god.

      This sort of question can only be addressed by someone who has no emotional investment on whether Jesus existed or not. This excludes almost every single Christian. I would expect similar situations trying to find the historical Muhammad; only non-Muslims would be emotionally agnostic about his existence.

      Of course, the only people who become Biblical scholars in the first place are people who are seriously devoted Christians, which is an alarming bias. This is why I would only read scholarship on the historical Jesus by non-Christians (e.g. Ehrman, Carrier).

      It’s not like only atheists become biologists, yet only Christians would be Creationists.

      Oh, and it really irks me when people say “Yeshua” instead of Jesus. If you want to be accurate for modern English (since I assume you don’t know the language; you don’t call the book of Isaiah “Yeshuayahu”, or call Isaac “Yitsak”, Jerusalem “Yerushalem” etc.) it would be Joshua.

    • Posted April 27, 2012 at 4:44 am | Permalink

      “What is it about Yeshua, an itinerant preacher who was crucified by Romans oppressors in first century Palestine, that so frightens atheists?”

      -This seems to me like a silly question that begins and ends with some baseless assumptions. The first being all that about Jesus, and last being about this alleged atheist fright.

      In the first case it seems like saying even that much is a bit of stretch. Honestly all we can say is that the story of Jesus is clearly a mythology, that may or may not originate with a person in the 1st century. To say much beyond that is probably to reveal more about one’s self than Jesus.

      In the last case, pointing out the flaws in either strain of thought on Jesus (be it mythicist or historicist) is not to reveal some core of fright. Pointing out that the evidence and arguments for Jesus (even the best of them) rest on fairly weak evidence (tortured readings of the NT and hypothetical documents) is not fright. It is an honest appraisal of the evidence used to support the idea of historical Jesus.

      “If that simple core about a preacher deeply missed by his family and followers is all that true about him, and all the rest is storytelling, confabulation, myth, legend, Pauline spin, and church building why not move on to other issues?”

      Well it is an interesting historical question. We don’t know if that is all that is true about him, or if even that was made up. Erhman certainly makes that case (and well) in Jesus Apocalyptic Preacher. Even that though was tenuous at best. The problem is stating any of this authoritatively. That is my problem with Erhman, and the rest of the people who say Jesus was a historical figure. They tend to do it without much nodding to the fact their arguments are built on tissue thin evidence. Yet BE takes an almost dogmatic stand on the issue. Jesus definitely existed. Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t the evidence for either case is, in a word, shitty (at least from my amateur’s view into the subject).

      “It’s at least a plausible kernel around which a story began to accrete. Without this wee bit of condensation nuclei explaining why the story began then and there requires additional less economical explanations.”

      Its at least plausible that Hercules was just a really strong guy who did some neat things for his time (cleaned a stable really fast for example). I could use that reasoning to prove almost any mythological construction throughout history. But how useful is that reasoning in justifying any case of historicity for Jesus, Hercules and the rest of the gods, goddesses, demigods etc?

  14. Rudi
    Posted April 25, 2012 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

    So Ehrman is effectively defending the falsehoods in his book on the grounds it is for a lay audience? In which case, his book is pure propaganda and a disgrace to his profession. Which is even WORSE than his merely writing a bad book.

    This is really, really weird.

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted April 25, 2012 at 9:44 pm | Permalink

      No, Ehrman is defending omissions and simplifications, not falsehoods, in his book on the grounds that it is for a lay audience. Ehrman is presenting the reader’s digest version of historicism.

      • Posted April 25, 2012 at 10:02 pm | Permalink

        How is:

        With respect to Jesus, we have numerous, independent accounts of his life in the sources lying behind the Gospels (and the writings of Paul) — sources that originated in Jesus’ native tongue Aramaic and that can be dated to within just a year or two of his life (before the religion moved to convert pagans in droves).

         — Ehrman, Huff Post, Apr 26.

        How on Earth does this single sentence not contain several fundamentally basic clear errors of fact of which a scholar of Ehrman’s perspicacity not be considered falsehoods by you?

        • JonLynnHarvey
          Posted April 26, 2012 at 11:46 pm | Permalink

          I don’t know how Ehrman DATES the earlier sources but it is on the basis of textual/linguistic analysis and cross-comparison of the sources that scholars think it is most probable that say the Gospel of Matthew is a composite from three separate sources, Mark, the Q document, and M, the latter two of which were originally in Aramaic. However, I haven’t a clue as to why Ehrman or anyone thinks they can be “dated to a year within Jesus’ life” rather than say 50 AD (which would be roughly 25 years prior to the accepted date of the composition of Matthew). That seems overly speculative and suppositional to me, but I would like to know more of the argument. However, in no way does this contain “several fundamentally basic clear errors of fact”

  15. dunstar
    Posted April 25, 2012 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

    For comparison, who would be a “historical” figure around the same time as jesus whose evidence for his/her existence is as strong/weak as that of jesus?

    • Dermot C
      Posted April 25, 2012 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

      Plenty, I’m afraid: Damis, student and lifelong companion of Apollonius of Tyana; his writings, if they ever existed are not extant; Epictetus, (no works of the Stoic philosopher are known; his work was transcribed by his pupil, Arrian); Musonius Rufus, (1st century Stoic philosopher, dead by 101 CE; it is not known whether he published in his lifetime but 21 philosophical treatises were collated by his student, one Lucius); and of course, Socrates, if you’re willing to stretch the timeline.

      The difference is, of course, that none of the above are alleged to be divine, but even Plato himself questioned the usefulness of writing ideas down.

    • Posted April 25, 2012 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

      Harry Potter.

      • Achrachno
        Posted April 25, 2012 at 11:10 pm | Permalink

        While the quantity of evidence is the same, and the picture of H.P. is more detailed and realistic, I’m afraid you can’t use him because of the “around the same time as Jesus” restriction. Sorry.

        • Posted April 26, 2012 at 12:34 am | Permalink

          But you see, using sophistimucated HP theology, I can show that Harry Potter was created in 4BC, and I have the multiple sources with which to prove it.
          Although, like Bart Errorman, I refuse to show them to you as you do not possess a Degree in Potterology.

          Like or not, Harry Potter did exist.

          Quod erat demonstrandum.

    • Posted April 25, 2012 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

      For those with evidence comparable to what we have for Jesus, pick any of the other Pagan demigods, such as I’ve named elsewhere in this thread.

      For those with mounds of evidence, see any of the Twelve Caesars, especially Julius — but also see Pilate, either of the Kings Herod, John the Baptist, and even some of the members of the Sanhedrin for not-miserably-evidenced real-world people the Gospel authors included for verisimilitude.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • joe piecuch
        Posted April 25, 2012 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

        you really need to work up some new material; repeating the same stuff interminably only works when you have a new audience…it’s becoming overly familiar, and the laughs are getting scarce!

        • Posted April 25, 2012 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

          Pot, kettle, black.

          • joe piecuch
            Posted April 25, 2012 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

            It’s really just an issue of honesty–you cannot justifiably criticize that which you do not understand.

            • yesmyliege
              Posted April 25, 2012 at 10:20 pm | Permalink

              Can I be honest, then? You come across as a moron.

              • whyevolutionistrue
                Posted April 26, 2012 at 3:20 am | Permalink

                That’s enough namecalling, “yesmyliege”. Apologize for it and don’t do it again, or you won’t be allowed to post here. I don’t like my readers calling each other names.

              • joe piecuch
                Posted April 26, 2012 at 6:12 am | Permalink

                sorry, yesmyliege, for being willfully obscure in this instance. rather than reply to lapsed laestadian with ‘oh yeah?’, which likely i alone would have found amusing, i c&p’ed a barely-relevant quote from his website in response.

      • Dermot C
        Posted April 26, 2012 at 5:29 am | Permalink

        @Ben Goren

        For those with mounds of evidence, see…John the Baptist…

        I don’t understand this; as far as I know, J the B is referred to only in the Gospels, Josephus, Pseudo-Clementine and the Koran (which we can ignore as being too late). How does that constitute better evidence than that for the Nazarene Jesus?

        • Posted April 26, 2012 at 7:56 am | Permalink

          The elision of your quote is misleading. I thought I had made it clear that the evidence for John the Baptist is “not miserable.”

          Everybody agrees that the Jesus passages in Josephus have been heavily tampered with, and it’s clear to everybody who doesn’t a priori presuppose the historicity of Jesus that they’re Christian fabrications.

          The passages on John the Baptist don’t suffer from those problems.

          Cheers,

          b&

          • Dermot C
            Posted April 26, 2012 at 9:05 am | Permalink

            Yes, Ben, scholars agree that the Testimonium Flavianum was tampered with by later Christians, but that nevertheless Josephus did reference Jesus in it. With regards to the other passage in which he mentions Jesus, it is viewed widely amongst scholars as authentic. So how you would doubt both references, I don’t know.

            With regards to his comments on J the B, agreed.

            • Posted April 26, 2012 at 9:23 am | Permalink

              Considering that Origen bemoaned Josephus’s ignorance of Christ and that no reference to the Testamonium exists before Eusebius’s remarkable discovery of it, I think it’s pretty clear that the scholars you’re referring to are all in seminaries.

              b&

              • Lurker
                Posted April 26, 2012 at 10:26 am | Permalink

                “I think it’s pretty clear that the scholars you’re referring to are all in seminaries.”

                This claim is obviously and demonstrably false. Two ready falsifiers: Géza Vermes (Oxford) and Paula Fredriksen (Boston University), both of whom are Jewish.

                Does Ehrman work in a seminary now?

              • Dermot C
                Posted April 26, 2012 at 10:53 am | Permalink

                Origen: On Matthew 10:17, referencing Josephus.

                ‘But James is this one whom Paul says that he saw in the epistle to the Galatians, saying: But I did not see any of the other apostles except James the brother of the Lord. [B1] And in such a way among the people did this James shine for his justice [C] that Flavius Josephus, who wrote the Judaic Antiquities in twenty books, [D] wishing to demonstrate the cause why the people suffered such great things that even the temple was razed down, [E1] said that these things came to pass against them in accordance with the ire of God on account of the things which were dared by them against James the brother of Jesus who is called Christ. [F] And the wondrous thing is that, although he did not accept our Jesus to be Christ, [B2] he yet testified that the justice of James was not at all small; [E2] and he says that even the people supposed they had suffered these things on account of James.’

                It looks like Origen was fairly complimentary towards Josephus. Can you direct me to where Origen bemoaned Josephus’ ignorance of Christ?

              • Posted April 26, 2012 at 10:59 am | Permalink

                Well, Josephus “did not accept our Jesus to be Christ,” the central claim of the Testamonium, for starters. And you’ll notice that the rest of the passage is about what Josephus had to say of James, not of Jesus.

                b&

              • Dermot C
                Posted April 26, 2012 at 11:56 am | Permalink

                Ben, back to the historicity of John the Baptist: if you are happy to call the evidence for that “not miserable” (referenced in the Gospels, Pseudo-Clementine and Josephus) why do you not call the evidence for Jesus’ existence “not miserable”? (Referenced in the Gospels, any book you choose from the NT and Josephus).

              • Posted April 26, 2012 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

                Dermot, I don’t consider the Gospels reliable sources for pretty much anything except what Christian theology and dogma had decided.

                And the references to Jesus in Josephus everybody considers seriously contaminated and many (including me) consider outright forgery.

                On further investigation, I’m now remembering that the Josephian references to John also show signs of tampering, though not so blatant.

                So, I should probably omit John from such similar lists in the future. There’s a small bit of fragmentary evidence, enough to establish the plausibility of existence but no more.

                There is, however, one significant difference between John and Jesus in the historical record. All references to Jesus are of an overwhelmingly supernatural religious figure, whereas John actually is “just zis guy.” John’s claim to fame is that he ritually cleansed people in rivers, and that’s it.

                We know that ritual cleansing was and still is quite important to Jews, and we know that ritual cleansing in rivers was and is popular all over the globe. Claiming that there was a person named, “John,” whose specialty was that in first century Judea is hardly remarkable, and one perhaps doesn’t need a whole lot of evidence to reasonably suppose that it may be true.

                On the other hand, everything we know of Jesus is that he was the miracle-working necromancer son of YHWH whose own zombification is the key to human immortality. To establish that there really was a person with a vaguely-similar biography who established the Christian church and whose followers later piled on all the miracle stuff requires a far higher standard of evidence, especially in light of all the other evidence, sound evidence, that establishes Jesus as a religious fiction.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted April 26, 2012 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

                Here is what Ehrman considers the authentic Josephus text ….

                ‘At this time there appeared Jesus, a wise man. He was a doer of startling deeds, a teacher of people who receive the truth with pleasure. And he gained a following both among many Jews and among many of Greek origin. When Pilate, because of an accusation made by the leading men among us, condemned him to the cross, those who had loved him previously did not cease to do so. And up until this very day the tribe of Christians, named after him, has not died out.’

                Who were the Christians named after again?

                They were called Christians because they were named after Jesus?

                How did Biblical scholars come up with the idea that this was an authentic version?

              • Posted April 26, 2012 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

                Steven, did you notice the evidence and reasoning Ehrman provided to justify his reconstruction of the Testamonium? Or, rather, the perfect lack thereof?

                It’s worth noting that there’re multiple references (sorry, don’t have time to dig them up) of Christians claiming the title because they anoint themselves with oil — which, of course, is the literal meaning of the term. It’s further worth noting that they’re not the only ancient Mediterranean tribe to adopt such a term for such a reason; the priests of Serapis were also called Christians because of the anointment. (Again, sorry for the lack of reference.)

                b&

              • Lurker
                Posted April 27, 2012 at 10:54 am | Permalink

                It’s truly remarkable, Ben. This thread (as ever) is replete with examples of your viewing anyone who disagrees with you as a gullible idiot and your unrelenting willingness to shout that opinion from the rooftops. But when specifically called out for a readily demonstrable error, you say absolutely nothing about it and move on as if nothing happened (and hoping nobody notices?). No birther, creationist or other denialist could have done it better.

                Congratulations.

              • joe piecuch
                Posted April 27, 2012 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

                i think that’s unfair; he does also allow for the possibility that a contrasting view has its origin in mendacious, deliberately misleading dishonesty.

              • Dermot C
                Posted April 27, 2012 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

                With regard to the idea that John the Baptist is portrayed as merely a human baptiser, I don’t think it’s there in the Gospels. Supernatural claims are made for J the B.

                Matthew 17:12-13, says that Jesus revealed to the disciples that John the Baptist was Elijah returned; so John is presented as a supernatural figure by the time of Matthew. Luke 1:7 says that J the B’s mother, Elizabeth was barren.

                Interestingly enough, the non-synoptic Gospel, John, in 1:21, has John the Baptist deny that he is Elijah.

                The main point is that throughout the Gospels, there is an evolving theological debate about not only the nature of Jesus, but also of J the B, particularly in his identification (or not) with Elijah.

                From our point of view, we are evaluating the evidence for two similar types of being; allegedly – and I do not want to overemphasise the adverb, but can not think of a better one -real people who had supernatural qualities ascribed to them.

              • Posted April 28, 2012 at 6:25 am | Permalink

                Supernatural claims are made for J the B. Matthew 17:12-13, says that Jesus revealed to the disciples that John the Baptist was Elijah returned; so John is presented as a supernatural figure by the time of Matthew. Luke 1:7 says that J the B’s mother, Elizabeth was barren.

                Eh, neither of those claims are supernatural. Religious figures are always claiming to be the reintarnation of somebody-or-other; see the current Dalai Lama or Rev. Moon. And seemingly-infertile couples get “surprises” all the time.

                Contrast that with stopping to get your intestines fondled before beaming up to the mothership. Now that’s a supernatural claim.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Dermot C
                Posted April 28, 2012 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

                Oh, Ben. I can’t believe that you really think reincarnation is a natural event, and not a supernatural one.

                Of course, “surprises” happen to hitherto ageing and infertile couples. But look at the context of the barren (as baldly stated as that) Elizabeth’s late 1st century B.C.E. coming pregnancy; it is announced to her husband Zacharias by the angel Gabriel with various prophecies for J the B’s ministry.

                If you were cut-and-pasteing a Jefferson Bible today, would you leave the passages in? Me neither.

              • Posted April 28, 2012 at 9:31 pm | Permalink

                Oh, to be sure — actual reintarnation just don’t happen. But people make claims to that effect so often it’s hardly remarkable to encounter such a claim. Same thing with people claiming angels (or aliens) are talking to them. I don’t have any trouble believing that so-and-so says that angels told him he was somebody else in a past life. The fact of the claim is pure bullshit, but the statement of the claim is banal.

                I’m afraid I can’t speculate about what I might put in a Jefferson-style Bible…frankly, I’d probably either edit the whole thing down to, “In the beginning, amen,” or go over-the-top with all the zombie snuff pr0n schtick. I don’t see that there’s really anything to salvage, aside from maybe a few poems here and there.

                b&

  16. Greg Esres
    Posted April 25, 2012 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

    I thought Carrier was unnecessarily abusive of Ehrman, and my opinion of him (Carrier) is poorer because of it. Regardless, I don’t find either of their arguments very persuasive.

    • David Leech
      Posted April 25, 2012 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

      Erm, arguments about ‘tone’ don’t go well around here, just giving you the heads up.

      • Paul Goodhew
        Posted April 26, 2012 at 12:08 am | Permalink

        No, this isn’t Pharyngula, please keep it that way.

        • Cliff Melick
          Posted April 26, 2012 at 8:41 am | Permalink

          +100

    • Peter Beattie
      Posted April 29, 2012 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

      Maybe you can supply some quotes of what you found unnecessarily abusive, and why? Why should anyone be interested in an opinion without being made aware of how it was formed, in order to judge it for himself?

  17. Egbert
    Posted April 25, 2012 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

    This can only be good for those interested in truth, despite the obvious kicking that Ehrman deservedly gets. I want to know the facts and evidence, I’m not interested in consensus, reputations and bare-faced denial.

    I will always treasure the insights Ehrman has given me with his lectures and books, but it’s time for someone fresh to come in and blow the cobwebs away, and Carrier is the man to do it.

    • David Leech
      Posted April 25, 2012 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

      That’s a bit unfair, without consensus, reputations and bare-faced denial. They have nothing.

      • Posted April 25, 2012 at 10:13 pm | Permalink

        …Sounds like something a creationist would say.

        • David Leech
          Posted April 26, 2012 at 5:10 am | Permalink

          and they would be wrong as there is enough evidence for there to be a consensus, reputations have been earned in the field, so no bare-faced denial is necessary.

  18. ForCarl
    Posted April 25, 2012 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

    At the end of his defense, Ehrman hangs his hat once again on the claim that all “serious scholars” agree that Jesus existed. I haven’t read anyone that has yet produce evidence that even approaches the level of being able to stand up in a court of law. Evidence indeed! Bah humbug!

  19. David Chumney
    Posted April 25, 2012 at 8:38 pm | Permalink

    Bart Ehrman does a superb job of rebutting Carrier’s critique. Carrier could learn something from the more professional tone of Ehrman’s response.

    I am currently reading Carrier’s book Proving History. In Chapter 2, entitled “The Basics,” Carrier lists 12 axioms of historical method and 12 rules of historical method. In his attack on Ehrman, Carrier clearly violates his own principles.

    Carrier’s childish, unprofessional harangue tells us more about his personality than it does about scholarship on the issue that is being debated.

    If Carrier can demonstrate his views with good evidence and reasoned argument, he should do so. The rule in academia is “publish or perish.” If all Carrier can do is nit-pick material out of context and misrepresent what others have written, he should do us all a favor and go quietly!

    • yesmyliege
      Posted April 25, 2012 at 10:29 pm | Permalink

      Maybe by the time you reach chapter three, you can decide if Carrier can indeed “demonstrate his views with good evidence and reasoned argument” and that would make the read worthwhile?

      And perhaps you missed Ehrman’s HuffPo intro piece to his book, where he says that people who question whether Christ might be fully, instead of merely partially, mythical are equivalent to Holocaust deniers? You might want to add that to the tone ledger.

      • Tyro
        Posted April 26, 2012 at 7:42 am | Permalink

        Tone my foot. Comparisons between holocaust deniers (or Creationists, as James McGrath always likes to use) show both dreadful ignorance of the holocaust (and evolution), but a stunning disregard for honesty. A little hyperbole or metaphor is one thing but to compare the stories of magic and some hypothesized shared texts with the literal tonnes of evidence as books, artefacts, buildings and photographs is beyond the pale.

        Whoever makes these comparisons have proved they are willing to say anything to defend their position. Reality is no longer a part of their thought process.

        • joe piecuch
          Posted April 26, 2012 at 8:29 am | Permalink

          “…literal tonnes of evidence as books, artefacts, buildings and photographs…’

          that evidence doesn’t count for much with david irving, who was, amusingly, described by christopher hitchens as a “great historian of fascism”.

          • Tyro
            Posted April 26, 2012 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

            Yes, there are many ways that people can get tricked into accepting conspiracy theories. I have felt the urges before and it takes some active attention to avoid the traps.

            I think that’s why we do need to show some caution before calling someone a denier. It’s not just when they disagree with us. There must truly be overwhelming evidence. With evolution, there are so many different lines of evidence including fossils, genetics, biology, geology, and bioregionalism which all point to the same direction. The holocaust too is very well documented including eye witnesses, videos, photos, Nazi documentation, gas chamber remnants, graves, census figures, and emigration records.

            There is evidence which supports an historical Jesus, but it’s merely a few scraps of paper and chains of inference. And unlike evolution and the holocaust, there is evidence which points in the opposite direction that’s at least as strong as the supporting evidence. If we found a rabbit in the precambrian, we wouldn’t discard all of evolution since it’s just too well supported and a single observation will be an exception. Even being charitable, the historical jesus is so thin that it’s easy to imagine uncovering even a single new document that would totally upset things.

            There will always be people like Irving who, for whatever reason, perversely deny the evidence. That’s why the standard is not the ability to change everyone’s mind, it is that an unbiased observer following a consistent, scientific methodology must arrive at a conclusion. That’s also why Carrier’s work (and Law’s comments) are so important. They’re not talking about methodologies which are created just for the study of an historical Jesus, they’re looking at methodologies which can be applied to any situation. The exceptional approach that’s currently used by Ehrman and other jesus scholars can be applied to create an historical superman.

    • KPV
      Posted April 26, 2012 at 11:28 pm | Permalink

      Ehrman does NOT do a good job – he starts out with smarmy credentialism.

      What a snore.

      Ehrman’s off the deep end.

  20. Posted April 25, 2012 at 11:31 pm | Permalink

    Was Ehrman right to claim that Tacitus was ‘precisely wrong’ in saying Pilate was a procurator?

    Carrier pointed out Ehrman’s mistake.

    So Ehrman then went to consult an expert who told him ‘Not really’ has to be the answer to your question, because prefect and procurator are simply two possible titles for the same job.’

    Ehrman then published this as a lengthy ‘response’ to Carrier’s criticism that Ehrman messed up in saying Tacitus was ‘precisely wrong’.

    You have to admire the honesty of Ehrman, who consulted an expert, who told him Carrier was right and he was wrong , but then published the expert’s view anyway….

  21. Ben
    Posted April 25, 2012 at 11:48 pm | Permalink

    Subscribing to comments.

  22. Roz
    Posted April 26, 2012 at 12:16 am | Permalink

    The true test of the character of a person; how desperately they will cling, against all reason, to the belief that they are going to heaven and others are going to hell.

    • Posted April 26, 2012 at 12:45 am | Permalink

      Eh?
      Ehrman is an atheist.
      Or he was when I last checked.
      Damascus highway on stand-by alert.

      • Elle
        Posted April 26, 2012 at 3:51 am | Permalink

        Ehrman is an “agnostic with atheistic leanings”. This is not an atheism vs theism debate, is an historical debate.

  23. Nikos Apostolakis
    Posted April 26, 2012 at 1:33 am | Permalink

    For me the most important part of Carrier’s criticism is the claim that Ehrman’s methodology is invalid. I posted the following on his blog:

    Dr. Ehrman,

    The criticism I would like seing you, or an other expert on the field, address is that of your methodology. Carrier in his review argues that your methodology is invalid—essentially based on circular logic. This is not the first time that I have come across this criticism, but I have never seen a reply that enganges with the arguments. You seem to be arguing that your methodology can produce certainty about the existence of Jesus, or at least enough confidence to justify comparing those who doubt the existence of Jesus to Holocaust deniers. This, to my lay eyes, seems a pretty strong claim since the evidence that the Holocaust did happen is so overwhelming.

    I understand that you’d rather devote your time doing your actual research, and I know only too well what a sinkhole of time the internet can be. You said though that you would address furter questions from your readers, and I would really appreciate hearing your side of the story in this, very important IMO, criticism.

    Thank you for your time.

    I hope he will respond.

  24. Posted April 26, 2012 at 3:28 am | Permalink

    Years ago, I attended a party at the home of a professor of Spanish. Most of the other guests were academics in languages and the humanities. The bulk of their conversation consisted of character assassination, as far as I could tell. I went away feeling that I had opted correctly for science, particularly empirical, experimental work. I learned of course that scientists also get the knives out from time to time, but I never witnessed anything like that party at a scientific conference.

  25. Sigmund
    Posted April 26, 2012 at 7:35 am | Permalink

    The methodology argument is the big one for me.
    To claim that there is a consensus in the academic discipline of New Testament research that Jesus was a real historical figure is not going to be so convincing if they use a methodology that no other discipline accepts.
    Contrast this approach with the various scientific fields. In science you use the scientific method to whittle down the incorrect ideas and then use the balance of evidence to weigh the probability of any of the remaining hypotheses being correct.
    The basic approach is shared across the various disciplines and so a biologist and a physicist will be able to come to an agreement about the consensus ideas in their respective fields because they are based on positive evidence.
    If I am correct in interpreting Ehrmans arguments there is an additional/alternative criteria used in his field of study, that of the interpretation of the motives of the original scribes. If something in the Gospels looks like it doesn’t quite fit with what a believing scribe would have wanted to happen (for instance something happening in Jesus life that seems at odds with the old testament messianic prophecies – or Jesus acting in a less than perfect manner, killing fig trees, driving pigs off cliffs, being rude to the Canaanite woman) then Ehrman takes this as positive proof of a historical Jesus.
    This seems very tenuous to me – there are many other reasons why the Gospel stories of Jesus might have him doing things that don’t fit in with prophesies or appearing the model of good behavior.

  26. Posted April 27, 2012 at 1:01 am | Permalink

    Few if any of us (apologies if I’ve overlooked someone) have the same subject matter expertise as either Carrier or Ehrman. But I don’t think you need to be a subject matter expert to see that Ehrman, no matter how good his evidence or methodology, does himself no favours in the way he articulates things. Intentionally or not, he seems to leave himself open to the same criticism (I can’t remember whose, and I paraphrase) that was aimed at von Däniken, that “it could be” too often becomes “it could only be”.

    /@

    • berndsmathblog
      Posted April 28, 2012 at 4:06 am | Permalink

      The most of us are no historians of antiquity, I agree absolutely. Therefore my proposal:

      Let us list all known facts about the time and let both formulate their thesis to explain those facts. Then we all can judge where the evidence leans to.
      It must be possible to lay out the evidence for us and so we can judge. Has anyone read Ehrmans book?

  27. Posted May 8, 2012 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

    If anyone’s still following this controversy as it rumbles on, Hoffmann has announced a ‘consortium on the historical Jesus’, centred on ‘recent attempts by internet bloggers to enter the scholarly arena on the subject’. Not sure if that means it’s an attempt to consider mythicist claims in a measured and scholarly manner, or to give them an unscholarly kick into the long grass.

    http://rjosephhoffmann.wordpress.com/2012/05/08/the-jesus-process/


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