More tinder: Bart Ehrman’s speech on Jesus at the FFRF regional convention

At the regional Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) convention in Raleigh, North Carolina in early May, Bart Ehrman received the Emperor Has No Clothes Award for plain speaking about religion, one of which resides in my office as well. I was thus especially interested to see what he said in his acceptance speech, as I am not completely down with his views on atheism and agnosticism, or with his almost cocky assurance that there was a historical figure on which the myth of a divine Jesus was based.

And, sure enough, in the talk below, which is largely about his new book How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee, I was intermittently peeved.  In general, the talk was good, and I like hearing from an “agnostic” Biblical scholar who can tell us his view on how historical and psychological forces turned a renegade preacher into a God figure. But Ehrman also seemed he seemed a bit preening and arrogant in the talk, seeing himself as someone superior to both the religious and the atheists. And the last bit of the talk, in the Q&A, will certainly re-ignite our debate about Jesus’s historicity. (After this I’m not going to post on that for a while.)

Here’s the hourlong talk and Q&A:

And here are a few of my impressionistic notes:

One of the bits that bothered me (and perhaps I’m being overly petulant) is Ehrman’s distinction between “agnostics” and “atheists,” with the former saying they don’t know, while the latter say they don’t believe. Since Ehrman claims that he neither believes nor knows, but prefers to see himself as a “scholar emphasizing knowledge”, he says he’s an “agnostic.”  I wonder if he’s also an agnostic about Bigfoot, the Loch Ness monster, or the Tooth Fairy. From what he says, I suspect he has as little belief in a God or a divine Jesus as he does in Nessie. But I doubt that Ehrman would call himself an agnostic about Nessie.

I also suspect his self-characterization is also a bit self-serving, because saying he’s an “atheist” would alienate much of his constituency: those who buy his books, many of whom are believers. “Agnostic” is a far safer term.  But in fact, all scientists are agnostic about all knowledge if you take Ehrman’s “scholarly” tack seriously.  I would have to say, for instance, that I’m an agnostic about evolution, because I don’t know it’s true with absolute certainty. But I’m as certain that evolution is true as I am that there’s no God. (NOTE TO CREATIONISTS: those who take the next-to-last sentence out of context to imply that I have serious doubts about evolution, read this comment below.)

Ehrman clearly accepts the existence of historical Jesus, but says he didn’t think Jesus thought he was God because neither Matthew, Mark, nor Luke say that. The Jesus-as-God part was added by John, and Ehrman argues that Jesus would have been stunned to hear that he was God.

Ehrman further notes that “Faith is not a matter of smarts,” for “smart people” (his wife is an example) can be religious. He sees only fundamentalists as stupid, and decries both religious and atheistic fundamentalists, the latter apparently on the grounds that they “don’t have enough ‘mental'” and are harsh and overbearing.  Here Ehrman shows signs of the xkcd Syndrome. So Ehrman rejects fundamentalists, but, as I always say, every believer is a fundamentalist (or a literalist) about something. Why reject Genesis but accept the Resurrection? Is that a lot better than buying the whole hog?

Ehrman repeatedly says throughout his talk that he is not trying to convert people to nonbelief, but merely to educate them so they can have a basis for deciding what they believe or don’t. That’s fine, but he says it so often that he starts sounding smug and arrogant.  Ironically, he then takes it upon himself to tell people how to sway believers toward nonbelief: you do it not by using “hate or harsh, browbeating rhetoric,” but through love. Apparently we atheists always use hate. But Ehrman’s advice on how to convert the faithful conflicts with his claim that  “If we don’t want religion forced on us, then we should not cynically or hypocritically force our atheism on others.” I don’t quite get that, for if we think (as does Ehrman) that religion does bad stuff, what’s wrong with trying to eradicate it? Granted, I wouldn’t require or ask others to do so, but I think that doing so effectively is a good thing for this world.

Finally, Ehrman raises the old idea that nonbelievers won’t make headway unless we “replace the good that religion does in the world” with some secular alternative. He asserts that a leading goal of humanist organizations should be to provide the same social goods as does religion.

What he doesn’t seem to realize is that these statements completely undercut the very organization, the FFRF, that is giving him this award. While the FFRF does try to keep religion out of the public sphere, there’s no doubt that it works actively against religion, what with its many atheist billboards and “you-can-be-good-without-God” campaigns. And the FFRF is not, in general, in the business of providing secular alternatives to religion.

The first listener’s question, at 51:15, is about the existence of a historical Jesus. Ehrman says this is “an issue for scholars of antiquity”. Hie evidence for Jesus in the talk is simply that no such scholars doubt that a historical Jesus existed. He admits that that is not really evidence, but says that there is plenty of evidence in his books for a Jesus-figure, and if you want to claim otherwise, you have to muster some “evidence.” I would have thought that what we need to do to doubt Jesus’s existence is emphasize the lack of evidence, and critically examine the evidence that is offered. And that in fact is what the “mythicists” are doing.

Ehrman claims, and I quote, the evidence for a historical Jesus is “abundantly attested in early and independent sources.” He says (and I’m not sure who he’s referring to) “One author knew Jesus’s brother and his closest disciple Peter.” I am not sure what the “independent sources” are, but as far as I know there are not abundant and independent sources. Finally, Ehrman ticked me off by saying, “Atheists have done themselves a disservice by jumping on the bandwagon of mythicism. . . It makes you look foolish to the outside world.”

Too bloody bad! What we want is evidence for a historical Jesus, and we suspect that many Biblical scholars tout a historical Jesus because to question that would deeply offend many believers, even if we didn’t see Jesus as divine. I haven’t come down completely on one side or the other, but I must say that I don’t see the “abundant and independent sources” that Ehrman claims.  Until I do, I will continue to be a historical-Jesus agnostic, and if that makes me look foolish, so be it. There’s been no smoking gun for me supporting a historical Jesus, unlike the genuinely abundant and independent evidence for someone like Julius Caesar.

Finally, Ehrman did a short interview during the convention, which I present below but haven’t had time to watch. The notes on YouTube say this:

Bart provided Scott Burdick an opportunity for a short interview about his personal beliefs and religious experiences. Recorded at the FFRF (Freedom From Religion’s) Raleigh Regional Convention 2014 conference held in the Sheraton Raleigh Hotel, Raleigh N.C. on May 2-3, 2014. The interview will be part of FFRF and the Dawkins Foundation’s Openly Secular coalition campaign. Presented by Triangle Freethought Society.

 

141 Comments

  1. Posted September 7, 2014 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    Wait, does he say (because I don’t care enough to spend an hour of time on him) that *JOHN* added that bit about Jesus is god or did the *WRITER* of John add it?

    If he thinks John actually wrote John, then I’d love to see that evidence.

    • Beau Quilter
      Posted September 7, 2014 at 11:57 am | Permalink

      It’s a common shorthand for scholars to refer to what “Matthew”, “Mark”, “Luke”, or “John”, say or write, even when they know these are later attributions to anonymous writings.

      • John Scanlon, FCD
        Posted September 8, 2014 at 6:24 am | Permalink

        Exactly like using “Shakespeare” to denote the author of Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets. 🙂

        • Chris
          Posted September 8, 2014 at 7:32 am | Permalink

          Well, at least we have a reasonable idea that Shakespeare actually existed….

        • Beau Quilter
          Posted September 9, 2014 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

          … or using Lao-Tzu to denote the author of the Tao Te Ching.

  2. Lowen Gartner
    Posted September 7, 2014 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    Erhman is back at his pompous best. Those who aren’t experts 1) should worry their pretty faces about whether or not Jesus is real and 2) even they wanted to the experts could not explain why Jesus is real in ways that rank amateurs could understand.

    For those that haven’t seen it, Erhman’s last book was eviscerated over at Vridar. http://vridar.org/?s=erhman

  3. Lowen Gartner
    Posted September 7, 2014 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    meant to sub

  4. terrence sherry
    Posted September 7, 2014 at 11:00 am | Permalink

    Wow. Jerry Coyne is agnostic on evolution. You wouldn’t know it by the name of this website.

    • Posted September 7, 2014 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

      Stop that! I was using Ehrman’s fallacious usage, to show how ludicrous it was.

      • Doug
        Posted September 8, 2014 at 5:36 am | Permalink

        As soon as I read “I’m an agnostic about evolution,” I knew that people would jump on that. Prepare to see that quote appear–out of context–on creationist websites and books.

        • Posted September 8, 2014 at 6:20 am | Permalink

          Yes, I know, but they’d be taking it out of context, which is why I explained it. So, NOTE TO CREATIONISTS: I accept evolution as true because it is supported by mountains of evidence, whereas there is not an iota of convincing evidence for either creationism or a God. I used the phrase “I am an agnostic about evolution” to show how fatuous Ehrman’s definition of “agnostic is.” If you creationists quote me out of context, you are mendacious liars!

          There!

  5. Posted September 7, 2014 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    Since we’re back on this topic, I do believe that the following two excerpts from Justin Martyr’s _First_Apology_ will prove utterly toxic to all “scholarly” academic historicists as well as to most novices — a veritable historicist kryptonite.

    (For those who don’t know, Justin Martyr was the first of the Christian Apologists who, in the first half of the second century, defended the faith against the claims of outsiders — in his particular case, both Pagans and Jews.)

    http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0126.htm

    Chapter 54, “Origin of heathen mythology”

    But those who hand down the myths which the poets have made, adduce no proof to the youths who learn them; and we proceed to demonstrate that they have been uttered by the influence of the wicked demons, to deceive and lead astray the human race. For having heard it proclaimed through the prophets that the Christ was to come, and that the ungodly among men were to be punished by fire, they put forward many to be called sons of Jupiter, under the impression that they would be able to produce in men the idea that the things which were said with regard to Christ were mere marvellous tales, like the things which were said by the poets. […]

    Chapter 66, “Of the Eucharist”

    […] For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them; that Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, said, This do in remembrance of Me, this is My body; and that, after the same manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, He said, This is My blood; and gave it to them alone. Which the wicked devils have imitated in the mysteries of Mithras, commanding the same thing to be done. For, that bread and a cup of water are placed with certain incantations in the mystic rites of one who is being initiated, you either know or can learn.

    Those not familiar with Christian scripture should also especially consider 1 Corinthians 11:20-29 — the very first mention of the Eucharist in history, and the most detailed terrestrial biography of Jesus given in the considered-authentic Pauline Epistles.

    Cheers,

    b&

    P.S. Chapters 21, “Analogies to the history of Christ,” and 22, “Analogies to the sonship of Christ,” as well as 54, “Origin of heathen mythology,” are also well worth a read. Hell, read the whole damned thing; it’s basically the entire modern mythicist argument, save for the bit about blaming soothsaying daemons. b&

  6. Steve Barrett
    Posted September 7, 2014 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    I believe the author to whom Ehrman refers when he says, “One author knew Jesus’s brother and his closest disciple Peter.”, is Paul.
    The quote is found in Galatians 1:18-19, “Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James, the Lord’s brother.’

    • Posted September 7, 2014 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

      Of course Paul did not say that Peter had known Jesus (indeed he shows no awareness of the concept of anyone knowing an earthly Jesus), so Ehrman’s wording is misleading. The “brother of the Lord” phrasing can be interpreted in several ways (see recent threads for a discussion of this).

      • Posted September 8, 2014 at 1:39 am | Permalink

        Coel:

        What strikes me as astonishing, not just about Paul, but also about ALL writers of the early Christian documents, is that there is NONE who claims to have met Jesus himself.
        NOBODY HAS EVER MET JESUS who left a document about him.

        At the NY Times or the BBC, any reporter who would have written about a subject, without ever meeting the subject, would be questioned on the sources of his information.

        Those sources are not traceable for the early Christian writings, and historians fall fall back on citing “traditions”, i.e. sources, presumably mostly oral, which would have presented some kernel of information.
        Ehrman is a great adept at invoking traditions for many things.

        Even if there were traditions, and there probably were some, the famous cartoon quip of a would-be reporter remains relevant:
        “Boring. I’ll rewrite all this in editing.”

        Skeptics and Jesus deniers have repeatedly pointed to rewrites of scenes of the Hebrew Septuagint.
        Justin Martyr explicitly pointed to the rewrite of major Pagan stories.

        About which Herbert Cutner said in his book, “Jesus — God, Man or Myth?” (New York, 1950), ch. VI, ‘Jesus and the Witness of the Jews’:

        “Most of these early Church Fathers are very nearly unreadable, and a good deal of what they say is a hotch-potch of the crudest superstition, credulity, and ignorance. But for the present controversy, this “Dialogue (with Trypho)” is OF SUPREME IMPORTANCE.

        The controversy is about Justin’s “astonishing statement which proves that some Jews at least did deny the existence of Jesus — a statement coming from a Christian source,which is the despair of all Historicists.” (P. 88).

        A fact that Ben Goren uses as the keystone of his case for non-historicity of Jesus.

        • Posted September 8, 2014 at 9:54 pm | Permalink

          But for the present controversy, this “Dialogue (with Trypho)” is OF SUPREME IMPORTANCE.

          I don’t know if I’d put the Dialogue ahead of the Apology, but the Dialogue is certainly important as well. Trypho’s initial reaction to Justin’s mention of Christ is the same yours might be if some crank from some unknown-to-you came knocking at your door: he laughed, encouraged Justin to return to his senses, and then let loose with this:

          But Christ — if He has indeed been born, and exists anywhere — is unknown, and does not even know Himself, and has no power until Elias come to anoint Him, and make Him manifest to all. And you, having accepted a groundless report, invent a Christ for yourselves, and for his sake are inconsiderately perishing.

          That Trypho, a Jew contemporary with Justin Martyr (100 CE – 165 CE), could be so blessedly ignorant of Jesus and so casually dismissive of him…well, that really does put paid to so many historicist myths, no?

          Cheers,

          b&

  7. GBJames
    Posted September 7, 2014 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    sub

  8. Scote
    Posted September 7, 2014 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    ““abundantly attested in early and independent sources.””

    None of which are actually extant, IIRC. That is Ehrman’s little bait and switch. It is as if Ehrman can’t bring himself to admit he is a scholar of mythology and still must cling to the idea that there was a “historical” Jesus (something which is so ill defined as to be virtually indistinguishable from “mythicism.”)

    • Lowen Gartner
      Posted September 7, 2014 at 11:24 am | Permalink

      This is a good point. Thanks. The cognitive dissonance the experts in the field must feel when faced with the realization that their whole career has been the studying Santa Claus and thinking there was a kernal of truth there.

    • John Scanlon, FCD
      Posted September 8, 2014 at 6:33 am | Permalink

      It doesn’t take much scholarly background in any subject to find out that Ehrman is lying when he says this. Lying for Jesus should not win awards from the FFRF.

      • Lowen Gartner
        Posted September 8, 2014 at 8:26 am | Permalink

        Bingo. They coulda shoulda known better. I love their work, support them, and will continue to support them, giving them a mulligan on this one. But I hope this is just an honest mistake and not the beginning of a trend.

  9. Ray
    Posted September 7, 2014 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Nicholas

  10. Posted September 7, 2014 at 11:53 am | Permalink

    Jesus tittyfucking Christ on a pogo stick! I can’t believe what I just heard him spew.

    In citing examples of how ancients made deities out of real flesh-and-blood humans, Ehrman picked…

    Romulus, Hercules, and Jupiter.

    I shit you fucking not.

    God damn, but how are we supposed to take this sort of idiotically patronizing bullshit with a straight face?

    b&

    P.S. Apologies if somebody else has already posted on this…I’m not caught up on the comments yet…. b&

    • Folie Deuce
      Posted September 7, 2014 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

      Ben, have you ever thought of writing a book yourself?

      • Posted September 7, 2014 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

        Bite your tongue! Have you any idea what that takes out of a person? And, once you’ve poured your life’s blood into such an abomination, what it takes to get it published?

        b&

        • Folie Deuce
          Posted September 7, 2014 at 9:21 pm | Permalink

          Seems like you’ve already done the hard part. Lots of less sophisticated arguments get published. And the time may be ripe for this particular topic?

        • John Scanlon, FCD
          Posted September 8, 2014 at 6:34 am | Permalink

          You could call it Jesus tittyfucking Christ on a pogo stick! Publishers would snap that up, I’m sure.

    • Marella
      Posted September 7, 2014 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

      Ahaahahaha, that’s so funny! I refuse to listen to Ehrman, I have read several of his books and most of them are interesting but his support for a human Jesus is just embarrassing. He is also clearly not a very pleasant person and I’ve got better things to do. I don’t know what the FFRF thought they were doing giving him this award but I’m not in favour of it. His book DJE shows he has no respect for evidence or reason, making him a poor choice, I can think of many better ones.

    • Another Tom
      Posted September 7, 2014 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

      I would have used Julius Ceasar instead. Did you know that he was a son of Venus, making him a demigod, and that upon his death Ceasar ascended to full godhood?

      Then there’s Mormonism which has Joseph Smith being a direct descendant of Jesus and George Washington being a direct descendant of Odin. There’s a “history” book mentioned in Caustic Soda’s podcast on Mormons starting at ~40:28 that’s nuts. The book is from the “intellectual mentor” of Glen Beck. If you keep listening you can also hear the Mormon guide to masturbation, which is also hilarious.

  11. Johan Mathiesen
    Posted September 7, 2014 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

    Oh, once again I point out the nonsensical nature of arguing about the origins of a myth. It’s truly an academic subject of no significance to the function of the myth. It’s another case of god pointing his finger at the apocalypse and scholars studying the finger. The fascination with the question eludes me.

    • Posted September 8, 2014 at 5:35 am | Permalink

      Oh! You’re not suggesting that Jerry should not choose to post on this topic are you?!

      /@

    • GBJames
      Posted September 8, 2014 at 5:45 am | Permalink

      I’m not dismayed by people being fascinated with the origin of these myths any more than I’m dismayed that people are fascinated with the origin of the King Arthur myths.

      I do, however, think the emotional intensity of the subject is unfortunate. There seems to be an awful lot riding on knowing the answer to what is, IMO, unlikely to be resolvable given the lack of sufficiently clarifying evidence.

      • Posted September 8, 2014 at 5:50 am | Permalink

        Agreed that there are more worthwhile battles to be fought.

        /@

  12. Filippo
    Posted September 7, 2014 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    sub

  13. Posted September 7, 2014 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

    Lots of tone trolling near the end, too. Poor guy, doesn’t want his fweewings hurt. But he doesn’t care if others think he’s a meaning; those who think he does just don’t see things his way.

    And who the fuck is forcing atheism of all things on others?

    Gahk.

    b&

    • Another Tom
      Posted September 7, 2014 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

      Didn’t you know, there’s a Muslim/Atheist conspiracy to force Sharia Law and Atheism on all Americans?

      Cause some people actually claim that, for real…

      • Posted September 7, 2014 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

        Someone thinks there’s a connection between sharia law and athiesm? Whoever they are, they must be either truly ignorant or delusional, or perhaps both.

        • charles minus
          Posted September 8, 2014 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

          It’s not that hard. They think that if you don’t believe in Jesus, you’re an atheist. There’s not a lot of concern about cognitive dissonance among those folks.

  14. Daryl
    Posted September 7, 2014 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

    I think scholars like Ehrman genuinely see themselves dealing with those who doubt Jesus’s historicity in the same way evolution scientists deal with young earth creationists. The two fields, however, are not very comparaple. Where biologists can present hard evidence to refute creationist claims, all historical jesus scholars seem to offer is appeals to authority, prooftexting Galatians 1:19 and Josephus, and coming up with excuses as to why the evidence is generally so poor. It’s not surprising that a growing number of laypeople interested in this area of study are less than impressed with scholars’ attitude when their methodology and assumptions are challenged.

  15. Posted September 7, 2014 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    “Why isn’t the FFRF as prominent as the Southern Baptist Convention?”

    “Why aren’t atheists seen at the front lines of disaster relief?”

    Seriously, dude? What the fuck?

    I bet he goes to NAACP meetings and bemoans the absence of darkies in board rooms….

    b&

    • Posted September 7, 2014 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

      Maybe if their trophy wasn’t a naked man … oh, wait. You can SEE his clothes? How sad for you … 😉

    • Daryl
      Posted September 7, 2014 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

      “Why aren’t atheists seen at the front lines of disaster relief?”

      I’ve not watched the video. PLEASE tell me Ehrman didn’t say this. Jesus fucking Christ.

      • Posted September 7, 2014 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

        Okay. “Ehrman didn’t say that.” I didn’t pause and rewind so as to get a word-for-word quote.

        …but he did say something damned similar with exact that accusation as its intent….

        b&

  16. Ionescu
    Posted September 7, 2014 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    Jerry,

    In this case you might like The Atheist Manifesto, by Michel Onfray. The English translation is not bad at all.

  17. Posted September 7, 2014 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    It’s not just you being put off by Ehrman’s attitude, Jerry. He has managed to annoy a lot of people who dare to express their dissent with the Jesus-industrial complex of apologists and Gospel defenders. Here’s how I put it in my review of a book of essays that roundly criticize his much-panned Did Jesus Exist?:

    “One can understand why there seems to be an undercurrent of hurt feelings pervading much of this book. For all their diligent efforts, countless hours of probing around dusty writings and dead languages, the Mythicists are left at the edges of the cafeteria looking wistfully at the Historical Jesus table where all the cool kids are sitting. Zindler’s description of the e-mail correspondence between himself and Ehrman (which he republished with permission) feels like the story of one of those poor cafeteria nerds working up the nerve to ask if he might sit at the seemingly vacant chair at that table and show what a worthwhile guy he really is, even without the letter jacket. Mr. Popular looks up at the interloper awkwardly carrying his tray, and asks, “What are your qualifications to talk about first century Palestine in the writings of the early Christians? Or do qualifications, in your opinion, not matter?” (p. 86). For Ehrman, whose very limited replies to Zindler in their lopsided correspondence include requests for Zindler’s curriculum vitae and an explanation for the circumstances of his departure from SUNY (p. 116), qualifications seem to matter a great deal indeed. Or, more specifically, credentials.”

    From “Jockeying for Jesus,” http://blog.edsuom.com/2013/05/jockeying-for-jesus.html

    • Folie Deuce
      Posted September 7, 2014 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

      I like Ehrman but his obsession with credentials makes me suspicious. Address the damn argument and not whether the person making it has tenure at a university, especially when tenure in a field dominated by theists making the tenure decisions.

      • Lowen Gartner
        Posted September 7, 2014 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

        When one has no clothes a tactic is to accuse others of being naked. In Erhman’s case, the others are not naked.

      • Posted September 8, 2014 at 5:54 am | Permalink

        “It doesn’t make any difference how beautiful your guess is, it doesn’t matter how smart you are who made the guess, or what his name is… If it disagrees with experiment, it’s wrong. That’s all there is to it.” — Richard Feynman (my emphasis)

        /@

        • John Scanlon, FCD
          Posted September 8, 2014 at 6:39 am | Permalink

          Oh yes, I watched that last night too.

  18. Posted September 7, 2014 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    I’m waiting for Ehrman’s announcement that he’s rediscovered the Lord.

    • John Scanlon, FCD
      Posted September 8, 2014 at 6:47 am | Permalink

      Has he collected from Templeton yet?
      Nope.
      Anyone giving odds?

      (I just found out there’ve been as many as three Templeton prizewinners who weren’t men. The last one was in 1981.)

      • Posted September 8, 2014 at 8:49 am | Permalink

        Oh, but the first one was Mother Teresa… and everybody knows what an incredibly giving and empathetic person she was. An exemplar of the highest integrity and forward thinking… /sarcasm

  19. Posted September 7, 2014 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    Me, I am an agnostic (not knowing) atheist (not believing — a 6 on the Dawkins 1-7 scale), in keeping with BOTH the etymologies of the words “gnostic,” “theist,” the prefix “a,” AND the explication found (among other places) in the first four titled sections of:

    http://www.reddit.com/r/atheism/wiki/faq

    I think Madalyn Murray O’Hair was a gnostic (knowing) atheist, for I heard her twice (once in her presence, once on a radio talk show here in Louisville back in the late ’80s) say that she “KNOWS there is no God.”

    I think Jerry Falwell was a gnostic (knowing) theist (I heard him on a talk show and from the Pulpit that he knew God exists).

    And I think my grandfather the Methodist pastor was an agnostic (unknowing) theist (believer) because he MANY explicitly said from the pulpit that he did NOT KNOW that God exists but that he BELIEVED (on “faith”) that God exists.

    Plus noted English theologian Lesie D. Weatherhead wrote a book titled “The Christian Agnostic.”

    Thus there are gnostic theists (who claim to know God exists), and there are agnostic theists (unknowing believers), and there are agnostic atheists (unknowing non-believers, me for one and Richard Dawkins for another as far as I can tell, as he characterized himself in print as a 6 on his own 1-7 Scale, and later verbally maybe as a 6.9), and there are gnostic atheists (who claim to know that no God exists).

    In short, “agnostic” is not an ALTERNATIVE to “atheist” or “theist,” it is a MODIFIER of “atheist” or “theist” designating unknowing believers or non-believers.

    Legions of theists and of my own fellow atheists (evidently including Bart Ehrman) may well still disagree with my stated perspective on this, but for what little it may be worth, there it is.

  20. Beau Quilter
    Posted September 7, 2014 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    I’m an atheist, so I don’t have a religious bias in the matter, but it doesn’t make sense to me when people say there is no evidence of Jesus’ existence.

    Of course there is evidence. You can’t say that Christian writings aren’t evidence. They are evidence of something.

    The question is not whether these writings “count” as evidence. Everything “counts”. The question is what are they evidence of. What historical reality best fits the evidence: a myth that is retold and elaborated with conflicting miracle stories, or man whose life is retold and elaborated with miracle stories.

    • Posted September 7, 2014 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

      And do you regard the Book of Mormon as evidence that some ancient inhabitants of the New World are descendants of Semitic peoples who sailed from the Old World? Or do you regard modern genetic data as having convincingly demonstrated that such a claim in the Book of Mormon is evidence that Joseph Smith fabricated the entire story? Is there a point where you stop regarding discredited sources as “evidence”.

      • GBJames
        Posted September 7, 2014 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

        To be fair, it is evidence… of fraud.

      • Beau Quilter
        Posted September 7, 2014 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

        Well, yes, in the case of the Book of Mormon, with it’s bad attempt at King James’ English, and purported ancient stories in a text that dates no earlier than the 19th century, is clear evidence of the myth-making of Joseph Smith.

        The Trojan War appears to be a more difficult case. Though Homer is clearly telling a story in the Iliad with ample supernatural embellishment, historians famously differ on whether there is an historical war upon which the story is based.

        • John Scanlon, FCD
          Posted September 8, 2014 at 6:56 am | Permalink

          Homer’s epics are certainly the most extensive surviving narrative texts from their region and age, so as history they can only be confirmed or contradicted by different kinds of evidence (archaeology, etymology, genetics, etc.). If it’s a narrative of that place and time you want, it’s Homer or write your own.

          • Beau Quilter
            Posted September 9, 2014 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

            Right. And when you’re talking about that kind of evidence (archaeology, etymology, genetics, etc.), there is nothing to back up either theory of Jesus. That he is completely invented myth or a mythologized human.

  21. Axl
    Posted September 7, 2014 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    As somebody who has read several Ehrman’s books and the arguments laid for the historicity of Jesus there, I must disagree with Jerry in this case. The historicity of any person or event is not something that you reject simple because there is no “hard” evidence by scientific criteria. For most of the real people who lived through history, there is no evidence that they ever existed. Nothing, nada. In Palestine 2 millennia ago it was the norm. Shall we reject those people who existed and left no trace as never having existed? Please. Having one source attesting one’s existence is more than nothing, and it encompasses a small minority of people who lived at the time. Ehrman’s argument is that Jesus was simply not important as a figure when he lived, and for quite a few years years after his death, to be remarked upon by independent chroniclers of the time.

    When there is only one or few unreliable source, historians have additional criteria for estimating how plausible the claim is. Ehrman’s argument, widely accepted by majority of (atheist and agnostic) New Testament historians as sound, is that there are a number of less than ideal elements of the Jesus story that would very unlikely be there if Jesus was a wholly mythical character invented purely for the purposes of a religious sect:

    1. He was born into a modest family in a small, remote, and virtually unknown Galilean village. If he was a king that some Jews expected to come, a mythical account would have him born in a much more glorious place worthy of kings.

    2. He was trialled and executed as a criminal, for what is basically a public disturbance. Accepting a convicted criminal as a saviour would have been (and was) a tough sell for most of the community. If he was fully mythical, he could have been ascribed a much more heroic death that didn’t have to be salvaged by bad theology like atonement.

    3. The later books of the New testament are written, the more mythical Jesus becomes in them. In the oldest – Paul’s epistles – there is no evidence that Paul is aware of the more mythical elements of the gospels. The oldest gospel – Mark – has much fewer mythical elements than later ones, and the original version does not even contain the details of resurrection past the empty tomb.

    Again, Jerry is rejecting historicity because there is insufficient support from disinterested witnesses – but that is something one couldn’t expect for most people who lived at the time, and proclaiming that they didn’t exist for that reason would be plain silly. The only tool at historian’s disposal is – given the limited evidence and the content and historical development of the story about Jesus, is it more plausible that the story was built around a living character (with some elements of his real life) or is it wholly made up, for whichever purposes? The details of the story point that the former is more plausible – myths built from scratch simply would not look like this.

    • Posted September 7, 2014 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

      Your comment is extremely bizarre, because of course there is evidence that PEOPLE existed at various times; but there is not nearly as much evidence (for most of them, none) that SPECIFIC people existed: ones with definable traits, like the supposed Jesus-character.

      Please do not distort my argument. This distortion is so large that I can’t help but think it’s deliberate.

      As for the evidence you cite, which is admittedly weak, you buttress it by saying that most Biblical scholars accept it. I don’t buy a numerical tally as evidence for truth.

      Now can you at least retract your claim that because we don’t have evidence that specific definable individuals existed, say, 100,000 years ago, we can’t demonstrate that ANY individuals existed? That just seems ridiculous.

      • Axl
        Posted September 7, 2014 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

        I am sorry, but if historical, Jesus was a SPECIFIC person, and you reject his existence based on what you think is insufficient evidence that he existed – just like the majority of SPECIFIC people who existed and were his contemporaries. If you accept people existed that left little of no trace for their existence, how can you reject that Jesus was possibly one of them, and that the only evidence that was left was what we have now?

        Ehrman never claims that the majority of traits ascribed to Jesus are traits of the historical person – just that the traits were ascribed (mostly by other people) to a person who most likely lived and did something what is ascribed to Jesus (namely preached the end of times, had disciples, caused trouble in Jerusalem and got executed for it). Most of the other things were added later.

        • Posted September 7, 2014 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

          I’m sorry, but this is a desperate case of special pleading. We have PLENTY of existence that people in general existed: documents, the remnants of their homes, and so on. But documenting any specific person requires evidence.

          What “SPECIFIC” people are you talking about whose existence I accept?

          If you think that no real evidence is needed to show that there is one specific person on whom the Jesus myth accreted, then you don’t know the meaning of evidence. And I’m frankly baffled that anybody can make an argument that the likelihood of Jesus existing is the same as the likelihood of people in general existing. I can adduce a lot of evidence for the latter; you can’t give me anything outside the Bible for the former.

          I don’t want to engage this silly argument any further, so please do not bother to reply.

          • Nick
            Posted September 7, 2014 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

            I have to ask, do you deny the existence of Plato, Aristotle, Confucius, or Euclid? The only proof we have that any of these people existed are documents that claim they existed and documents supposedly written by them. Precisely what kind of proof are you requiring for the existence of Jesus Christ?

            • reasonshark
              Posted September 8, 2014 at 4:25 am | Permalink

              The evidence for their existence is certainly not strong, compared with the evidence of evolution by natural selection or the existence of Julius Caesar, but nothing in the sources is particularly incriminating, and so a weak acceptance is not really an issue. The New Testament has the opposite problem; it literally can’t mention Jesus without either snarling on its own details or throwing miracles and bombastic behaviour onto him.

              It’s more like looking for evidence for Atlantis, Robin Hood, the Trojan War, King Arthur, the Loch Ness Monster, and William Tell. The most plausible scenarios are either that Jesus was a legend (which concedes a kernel of historical truth before the fiction starts) or that Jesus was a myth (which doesn’t).

            • John Scanlon, FCD
              Posted September 8, 2014 at 7:13 am | Permalink

              Plato, Aristotle, Confucius and Euclid (also Julius Caesar, Archimedes, Shakespeare, most-of-Paul etc.) can be identified as the authors of their extant and other attested works, and even if there were no credible biographies and intellectual lineages attached to those names we would know (to a 6 or better out of 7) they – as authors – definitely existed.

              This is completely otherwise for Jesus, Socrates, and others who are known only as characters in literature. This is the most important division because it’s objective, based on the known general property of books (they have authors).

              Characters in books may be ‘historic’ or they may be ‘mythic’ to various degrees, but I think there’s no objective all-or-nothing criterion.

            • Chris
              Posted September 8, 2014 at 7:49 am | Permalink

              To be honest, their existence doesn’t actually matter in the same way, as they don’t have a set of major religions based around it.

              As an atheist, Jesus’s existence (the magic stuff is a whole other argument) is irrelevant. For Christians this is absolutely not the case. Without existence their whole worldview is broken.

              I tend towards the view that he is mythology. Early Christian writing is opaque to say the least, and there is no external sources to back anything up.

              Even if a census document, or whatever, comes up suggesting that JC did exist then it would be no skin off my nose. Even if he was a historical figure he’d likely be an apocalyptic preacher who managed to annoy the Romans. Big deal. The magic stuff? Not so much.

            • Posted September 8, 2014 at 8:45 pm | Permalink

              I have to ask, do you deny the existence of Plato, Aristotle, Confucius, or Euclid?

              Don’t know enough to ask. Mildly curious, not enough to get off my ass to check.

              I do know, however, that Euclid’s geometry — whoever actually came up with it — is amazingly, powerfully useful. And Aristotle — again, whoever wrote it — had insights into the art of rhetorical persuasion that remain the foundation of the field. Plato…meh. Some good geometry, lots of bullshit. Confucius…don’t know much about him.

              b&

      • Posted September 7, 2014 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

        “In Palestine 2 millennia ago it was the norm”

        Simply not the case – it was one of the best attested periods of ancient history. There are multiple accounts of rabble-rousing preachers, apocalyptic prophets, religious militants of that area and time. Several of them by the name of Jesus! Just not you-know-who. He appears nowhere.

        How an actual historical man – your model – who had so little traction that he wasn’t even noticed by anyone of the time, could be worshiped as a god by the Jews of the time is a huge problem for Jesus historicists – because it is virtually impossible that such a thing could happen.

        • reasonshark
          Posted September 8, 2014 at 3:07 am | Permalink

          Even shorn of the supernatural bits, Jesus is too obscure for someone who allegedly sacked the temple of Jerusalem and was crucified for spreading a superstition. This superstition, mind you, apparently involved believing he was the Son of God, he was an earthly descendant of David “in the flesh”, the world would be destroyed (and only the pure of faith would survive), and that he must die in order to cleanse and so save the souls of humanity from the incoming purge. Unless loonies of this calibre were such a dime a dozen that the historians of the time would still be too bored to note that one of them managed to spark a rapidly growing cult soon afterwards, it couldn’t have escaped the attention of non-believing outsiders, or so I would have thought.

          If nothing else, he would have gotten a lot more attention from historians of the time than he did. Instead, the best we’ve got are three posthumous sources from the next century, including:

          – a brief mention of a “Chrestus” in Suetonius, which probably shouldn’t count: “Since the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus,[74] he expelled them from Rome.”

          – Tacitus’ brief, vague, unexplained, and largely uninterested and contemptuous mention in the context of discussing Nero’s blaming Christians for the Great Roman Fire, which is so careless that he doesn’t seem to realize he’s talking about a title: “Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus” (which is also at odds with Suetonius’s description of the Great Fire in The Lives of the Twelve Caesars, as the Christian-blaming wasn’t even mentioned there)

          – and the infamous doctored passage from Josephus’ The Antiquities of the Jews, which is tantamount to tampered evidence and also probably shouldn’t count.

          Better still, Paul and Peter don’t even exist outside of Christian writings despite being the main apostles, and James gets one obscure mention in Josephus in one cursory sentence if you assume that the sentence, as I say above, “wasn’t tampered with, doesn’t refer to a religious monk “brother” rather than a blood brother, isn’t referring to some other James, and isn’t suggesting James is the one being called “the Messiah”.”

          • reasonshark
            Posted September 8, 2014 at 3:49 am | Permalink

            “Better still, Paul and Peter don’t even exist outside of Christian writings…”

            Sorry, I meant John and Peter, as in the John who is mentioned as the one of the “pillars” in Galatians. It’s safe to assume there was at least one writer of the Pauline letters that was called Paul, and presumably we can conclude that the biographies one can extract from Acts and the letters themselves – contradict each other though they do – have at least a grain of truth to them, especially since Paul was supervising the churches and spreading the religion from central Turkey to Greece and Italy.

        • reasonshark
          Posted September 8, 2014 at 3:10 am | Permalink

          “Abundantly attested in early and independent sources” it ain’t. “Barely mentioned by incorrect name in a couple of century-late sources that obviously know barely a thing about it and are more concerned about the loonies that believe it” is more like it.

        • Tomas
          Posted September 9, 2014 at 12:33 am | Permalink

          @Gingerbaker

          //Simply not the case – it was one of the best attested periods of ancient history. There are multiple accounts of rabble-rousing preachers, apocalyptic prophets, religious militants of that area and time. //

          Actually this is not true.

          We only have a few accounts of messiah claimants during that period, and for most of them the only references are in Josephus, and in each and every case he’s not documenting them, as much as he was documenting the various violent revolts against Rome they inspired. He devotes very little attention to the messiah claimants themselves.

        • Tomas
          Posted September 10, 2014 at 5:10 am | Permalink

          @Gingerbaker

          //Simply not the case – it was one of the best attested periods of ancient history. There are multiple accounts of rabble-rousing preachers, apocalyptic prophets, religious militants of that area and time. //

          Actually this is not true.

          We only have a few accounts of messiah claimants during that period, and for most of them the only references are in Josephus, and in each and every case he’s not documenting them, as much as he was documenting the various violent revolts against Rome they inspired. He devotes very little attention to the messiah claimants themselves.

    • Daryl
      Posted September 7, 2014 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

      What is embarrassing about someone suffering a martyr’s death? For sure, it may have happened, but I don’t see anything to stop someone making up such a story in this situation. Nothing at all. Similarly, there’s nothing intrinsically embarrassing about someone coming from a small town. It’s a familiar literary trope: person from humble beginnings makes it big. All the arguments from embarrassment are just non sequiturs; the conclusion simply doesn’t follow. It’s the same with things like Jesus’s baptism by John and his bad mouthing of his own family. You can’t simply say, “I don’t know why someone would have made up such a story, therefore it happened.” It’s a bad way to do history. There are clear and plausible reasons why these things may have been invented.

      Now, one could argue these various events occurred in another way, but you can’t keep appealing to the embarrassment criterion. As a method it’s been taken apart by scholars outside the guild who question the existence of an historical Jesus (Richard Carrier) and those from within who accept his historicity (Stanley Porter). The fact that Ehrmann keeps appealing to it reflects poorly on him as a scholar.

      • Posted September 7, 2014 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

        What is embarrassing about someone suffering a martyr’s death? For sure, it may have happened, but I don’t see anything to stop someone making up such a story in this situation. Nothing at all. Similarly, there’s nothing intrinsically embarrassing about someone coming from a small town.

        For example, Luke Skywalker was an orphan who grew up on a poor farm in the farthest backwater reaches of the Empire, and Obi-Wan lowered his lightsaber and stood undefended as Darth Vader struck him down.

        If we are to apply the Embarrassment of a Criterion, historicity can be the only conclusion of Star Wars. All hail the great prophet Lucas!

        b&

        • reasonshark
          Posted September 8, 2014 at 4:28 am | Permalink

          I don’t think deliberate fiction is a good comparison, since we can confirm that they were intended as such. You need a different approach when dealing with pseudohistory.

          A legend might be a better bet:

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legend#Examples_of_famous_legends

          • Doug
            Posted September 8, 2014 at 5:53 am | Permalink

            Even when I was a kid (and a Christian) I was struck by the similarity between the stories of Moses and Jesus. In both cases, a king (the Pharaoh, Herod) orders the death of Hebrew boy babies, but the hero escapes. “It’s the same story,” I noticed. Did Matthew have Jesus escape to Egypt to make a connection in the reader’s mind between Him and Moses?

            I later learned that the writer Lord Raglan had found that the same themes appear over and over in stories of heroes: the hero escapes death as a child; he is taken from his place of birth and raised by someone not his real father; his true identity is kept secret and only revealed later. These themes apply to Moses and Jesus, but they also apply to Zeus, Hercules, and King Arthur as well as Tarzan, Superman, Harry Potter, and Luke Skywalker. While at least some of the authors of the modern fictional characters may have been aware of the template and deliberately used it, I suspect that most were simply following the millennia-old formula unconsciously.

            • Posted September 8, 2014 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

              Did Matthew have Jesus escape to Egypt to make a connection in the reader’s mind between Him and Moses?

              I think Justin Martyr even makes that exact same analogy at one point somewhere. Sorry…no time now to look it up for you….

              b&

    • Another Tom
      Posted September 7, 2014 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

      As for #2, you’re wrong. At the time you have to commit Sedition in order to be crucified by the Romans. Simply making a public disturbance isn’t enough to end up on the cross.

      • Hypatias Daughter
        Posted September 7, 2014 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

        Which always made me wonder why the two men crucified beside Jesus were supposed to be thieves. Jesus was accused of being the new Messiah. The Jewish Messiah was supposed to become a new King David, to rise up, free them and lead Israel to become a powerful nation again. THAT is certainly seditious to Roman rule and earned him crucifixion.
        But why were two thieves crucified?

        • Another Tom
          Posted September 7, 2014 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

          Because they were insurgents against Rome. There’s a translation error between being thieves and bandits raiding Roman caravans. Directly targeting Roman caravans for banditry could earn one a place on the cross.

          Rome crucified huge numbers of people in Judea during the uprising of the Jews, post Christ, against Roman authority. The Romans crucified whole villages, man, woman, and children. Being crucified by the Romans is not all that special. They did it to Spartacus and his whole army after their defeat.

          • Chris
            Posted September 8, 2014 at 7:53 am | Permalink

            Yep, which is why the whole crucifixion narrative stinks… mainly of “let’s blame the Jews to make this guy acceptable to a wider Roman audience”.

            Am I being too much of a conspiracy theorist here? It certainly is possible if there was an early schism between the Jewish & gentile focus of the early church, with the guys who wanted to convert gentiles winning out.

    • FloggingAHorse
      Posted September 7, 2014 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

      +1.

      There are people here invested in denying that there is a historical person behind the Jesus myth because I suspect it buttresses their case that religion is foolish so expect a firestorm of insults to come your way. I am a sort of ‘fan’ of most of Ehrman’s work and side with him on this that Jesus the man from Nazareth was a historical person. The mythicists have to jump through too many hoops like twisting Paul’s almost off-handed comment that he met James, the Lord’s brother into something other than what it is, to make their case. Occam’s razor – the simplest explanation is usually the best one.

      • reasonshark
        Posted September 8, 2014 at 4:48 am | Permalink

        “There are people here invested in denying that there is a historical person behind the Jesus myth because I suspect it buttresses their case that religion is foolish so expect a firestorm of insults to come your way.”

        Firstly, what a real charitable characterization of your fellow disputants. Ben Goren, for instance, is certainly vulgar and overly keen to challenge/provoke an argument at times, and some of his arguments (like the 100% spiritual Jesus of Paul argument) are overstated and bunk, but I don’t recall him hurling “a firestorm of insults” around to people who question him. Not to mention the people above you who are arguing his points rather than, say, hurling abuse at him.

        I don’t doubt there are mythicists that wander into unscientific arguments, nor that there are some who might be motivated thusly (the christianity-was-a-conspiracy crowd comes to mind). However, at this point it seems to me the historicists (like Ehrman) are more often as indecently overconfident in their own conclusions, and I don’t see why we can’t have the back-and-forth argumentation on the point without presuming, sans argument, that the other side’s motivations make them automatically biased and abusive.

        Secondly, isn’t religion foolish anyway, even were Jesus an actual person? Whether the Gospels are total myth or inspired legend, either way the Jesus story is either 90% horse manure or 100% horse manure. The Pauline epistles and the Gospels are already an embarrassment to anyone who takes Christianity seriously. The basis of Christianity – the New Testament – is filled with such transparent nonsense that believing in the existence of a non-existent precursor for it is a small potato issue. Historicists can make and win their case, but the result is still distinctly unimpressive for a skeptic of religion.

      • Posted September 8, 2014 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

        The mythicists have to jump through too many hoops like twisting Paul’s almost off-handed comment that he met James, the Lord’s brother into something other than what it is, to make their case.

        The “Lord” in that reference in Paul is the Greek word that you’re most familiar with as, “Kyrie,” as in, “Lord have mercy,” — and contrasted with, “Christe,” Everywhere else it’s used in the Greek translations of the Bible, it refers to YHWH.

        This is confirmed by Origen:

        Paul, a genuine disciple of Jesus, says that he regarded this James as a brother of the Lord, not so much on account of their relationship by blood, or of their being brought up together, as because of his virtue and doctrine.

        Occam would tell us that the simple answer is that Paul knew the difference between YHWH and Christ and Jesus, and that Origen was right.

        b&

      • Posted September 10, 2014 at 9:26 am | Permalink

        Even if there weren’t an obvious (which later docuemnts confirm) interpretation of “the Lord’s Brother”, we’d be left with something *very* strange, since there would then be a split between early documents (like Hebrews) which *say* there is no “on earth” Jesus and that “tiny line”. Personally I would discount the tiny line, since everything else points away or silent. But as mentioned, that’s hypothetical, since we have a pretty good case for how to read the line. If it said “Brother of Jesus”, I’d concede to the point previous, but …

  22. Tod
    Posted September 7, 2014 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

    I’m no expert, but I believe Richard Carrier is…

    I’m currently reading through his latest book “On the historicity of Christ”, and he is laying out a very good detailed template of the best scholarly hypothesis for the mythcist position…

    He has also taken Ehrman to task recently…

    Having said that, I do love Ehrman’s talks and even Richard still recommends his books such as “Jesus Interrupted” and some of the best in the field dealing with new testament difficulties…

    Hearing the “Paul along with other early christians thought of Jesus as a heavenly spirit with some of the traditions later detailed in the gospels based in the spiritual realm at first and then placed into recent history as the beliefs changed” idea didn’t seem like too much of a leap from the evidence we have..

    • Chris
      Posted September 8, 2014 at 7:57 am | Permalink

      Carrier comes from ancient history as his academic area. This isn’t quite the same as those who come from the specifically biblical side of things.

      Whether you agree or not with how he uses Bayes Theorum, the standards of evidence that Carrier uses are more consistently applied than those of almost all biblical scholars.

  23. Chewy
    Posted September 7, 2014 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    Well, even still I like Bart Ehrman, feeling a sort of protective fondness for the old sweetie. Heard him long ago on the radio, Fresh Air?, and appreciated his (seemingly) scholarly touch and gentle manner.

    That’s not how I am, though I do try to be nice. But poor Bart is still recovering these days from devastating encounters with Richard Carrier (whose massive Historicity tome I’ve just received — making me wonder again why we atheists spend so much time and energy on it).

    I don’t think Ehrman has the resources to “win” the Carrier struggles, so will keep on doing what he does best, and it will serve the cause in its way, just as Carrier does in his.

    • Alex T
      Posted September 7, 2014 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

      […]Richard Carrier (whose massive Historicity tome I’ve just received — making me wonder again why we atheists spend so much time and energy on it)

      Carrier describes the history of his books in his books. He’s an historian with the necessary skills, he’s fairly early in his career and this was where he found funding. I think there’s any reason to hint at ulterior motives or that his atheism is a significant factor.

      You might as well hint that biologists who spend their careers studying fruit flies must have something wrong with their brains or grumble that it’s not furthering “the cause”.

  24. Alex T
    Posted September 7, 2014 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    I find it a little troublesome when he seems to psychoanalyze critics. It’s as if the issue is so cut-and-dry and the evidence is so overwhelming that even amateurs should be able to understand the arguments and the only explanation for disagreement is some major cognitive impairment.

    I privately believe that some questions might qualify, like does evolution explain the diversity of live on Earth, were the towers destroyed on 9/11 by a plane crash, and are contrails caused by mind-control chemicals added by mysterious government forces. However when I and others deal with these questions, it is through careful discussion of the evidence and the best arguments of opponents. Jerry didn’t write a book speculating on whether Creationists reject evolution because they are stupid or brainwashed – he wrote a book showing multiple lines of evidence which a lay reader could understand, so that they can be convinced of the truth.

    History is inherently murky, especially so when it intersects with religious beliefs. Yet Ehrman sometimes acts as if this issue is even more obviously true than evolution or vaccines not causing autism.

    I know I shouldn’t judge theories by the quality of the defenders but it doesn’t help when the so-called experts act like Youtube trolls.

  25. Nathan
    Posted September 7, 2014 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    Neither side is provable, however, there is more evidence for a historical Jesus than a mythical non-existent Jesus.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted September 7, 2014 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

      There is no historical evidence for the myth persona. “There’s been no smoking gun for me supporting a historical Jesus, unlike the genuinely abundant and independent evidence for someone like Julius Caesar.”

      If there is no evidence, we can definitely prove there is no person with the required historicity. And of course the null hypothesis is that there were no such person. (Either if you look at it as myth. Or you look at it as specific persons, what would be the odds…)

    • Marella
      Posted September 7, 2014 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

      And what is this evidence of which you speak?

    • Posted September 7, 2014 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

      Read the New Testament in the order it was written, which is Paul’s epistles first and then the gospels, and tell me Paul was something other than the Joseph Smith of his day. That is the way I read it and I have yet to see evidence that refutes the concept.

      Flying to Paradise on a winged horse, rising from the dead, having your head replaced with an elephant’s head…if it reads like a bunch of made-up stuff, “Neither side is provable” is preposterous. It’s made up stuff and obviously so.

      • Lowen Gartner
        Posted September 7, 2014 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

        seems like a bad trip to me…

  26. Posted September 7, 2014 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    He admits that that is not really evidence, but says that there is plenty of evidence in his books for a Jesus-figure, and if you want to claim otherwise, you have to muster some “evidence.” I would have thought that what we need to do to doubt Jesus’s existence is emphasize the lack of evidence, and critically examine the evidence that is offered. And that in fact is what the “mythicists” are doing. […] There’s been no smoking gun for me supporting a historical Jesus, unlike the genuinely abundant and independent evidence for someone like Julius Caesar.

    I do not particularly care for Ehrman of course, but the problem seems to be that it is only reasonable to demand hard, direct evidence in those cases where the existence of that type of evidence should be expected. If there was a doomsday preacher at the root of the Jesus cult then he would have been nowhere near as important as Caesar. So in this case one would always be limited to considerations of overall plausibility.

    I will continue to be a historical-Jesus agnostic

    Seems like a sensible position; count me in!

    • Posted September 7, 2014 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

      If there was a doomsday preacher at the root of the Jesus cult then he would have been nowhere near as important as Caesar.

      …but, if so, the author of the Epistles wouldn’t have repeatedly and explicitly and emphatically described him as a disembodied divine spiritual being. And, of course, we do have reports of doomsday preachers from the period, including ones more noticeable and influential by any reasonable criteria — but not of Jesus.

      …and, of course, this is long before we get to Justin Martyr positively and affirmatively laying forth the entire mythicist case, save for him attributing the imitation not to the Christians but by evil daemons working centuries in advance…or all the other examples, Christian and other, ancient and modern, of this being how gods are born….

      b&

      • reasonshark
        Posted September 7, 2014 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

        Here’s a question: What’s the status of the evidence for a church or movement in Jerusalem and Judaea generally? The “strongest” link Paul has is his alleged tie to the Jerusalem branch, specifically to Peter/Cephas, James “the brother of the Lord”, and the other “pillar” John. Also, Paul’s writings suggest that the movement was already taken off and being suppressed by the Pharisees before his vision and conversion. And I’d imagine a skeptic coming from any of the churches in Galatia or Corinth could go to Judaea and find the figures themselves, making an outright lie difficult to pull off.

        Would such a movement have attracted the attention of Josephus, the Dead Sea Scrolls’ writers, or a contemporary like Pliny the Elder? Is there, in short, a likelihood that Paul lied about the Jerusalem branch, James, Peter/Cephas, and even his own “poacher turned gamekeeper” backstory as a way of boosting his credentials, similar to Joseph Smith’s claiming to have met the angel Moroni and received divine knowledge?

        I ask because it seems to me that Paul, a Greek writer to boot, could have taken advantage of a niche. And he hardly seems like a reliable source to begin with on historical matters, given his strange lack of detail of terrestrial Jesus and outright neglect of the “pillars” themselves in his letters.

        • Posted September 8, 2014 at 7:52 pm | Permalink

          Here’s a question: What’s the status of the evidence for a church or movement in Jerusalem and Judaea generally?

          Excellent point. I haven’t seriously considered it. Off the top of my head, there’s likely nothing significant beyond the Pauline Epistles, themselves. James the Just gets similar treatment as John the Baptist…enough to suppose they might maybe have something to them, but far from enough to go beyond that. And there’s good reason to suspect that John the Baptist, if real, had nothing whatsoever to do with Christianity; I suppose the same could even be true of James the Just.

          Would such a movement have attracted the attention of Josephus, the Dead Sea Scrolls’ writers, or a contemporary like Pliny the Elder?

          Josephus very likely — especially if there was any scandal associated with them. The DSS most likely wouldn’t have mentioned any non-supernatural contemporary figures; the Gospel narrative couldn’t possibly have gone missing from them, but more mundane stuff easily could have. Pliny would have noticed them if they were into public magic tricks.

          That “Paul” — whoever he was, however many of them there were — was inserting himself into an extant Jewish sect is obvious, as is the fact that said sect bore little or no semblance to the Christianity it evolved into. Piercing the veil past Paul is risky business, at best.

          b&

      • Posted September 7, 2014 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

        The underlying problem is that Christianity is clearly a syncretist religion, melding Jewish, Eastern Mediterranean pagan and Neo-Platonic concepts (and later also other pagan ones, e.g. from Germanic peoples). The Messiah and doomsday cult comes from the first, virgin birth and resurrection from the second, and the whole logos nonsense from the third.

        There were different people pulling in different directions and trying to appeal to different audiences, with some works later incorporated into the bible addressing religious Jews and others addressing philosophy educated and superstition-hostile pagans.

        The conclusion may then not simply be: I accept Justin Martyr as being totally honest, and everybody else lied; or, Paul had the one true Christianity, and everyone else made things up. They all had their agendas.

        The question is, why would one of them have been to invent the life story of a doomsday preacher walking around a few towns in Palestine, cursing fig trees, throwing over money changers’ tables, having dinners, and being brusque with his mother if he was really just a disembodied divine spiritual being?

        • Posted September 7, 2014 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

          Also, why would Paul say, “we once regarded Christ according to the flesh…” in 2 Corinthians 5:16?

          Doesn’t sound like a “disembodied divine spiritual being,” but a man some of them used to know on earth before he was executed by the Romans.

        • Folie Deuce
          Posted September 7, 2014 at 9:14 pm | Permalink

          “Invent” makes it sound like it was a conscious choice of a single individual. The story could have simply evolved over time and been later misinterpreted by theologians who lost track of the origins of the story.

          • Chris
            Posted September 8, 2014 at 8:08 am | Permalink

            Evolution in action.

            Ahem.

        • reasonshark
          Posted September 8, 2014 at 2:55 am | Permalink

          The essential story is that a Son of God comes to Earth, incarnated for no more purpose than to be killed and resurrected in order to complete the Fall story, fulfil Scriptural prophecy, and wipe the slate clean (hence the emphasis on giving up the Law in favour of faith in Jesus), and at some point along the way gains disciples to spread his divine message. Apart from the “this bread will be my flesh” bit, this is literally all the biographical detail Paul provides as the earliest source.

          The elaborated versions in the gospels, bizarrely, don’t appear until a generation after this basic and almost entirely spiritual kernel has been set down, which is the opposite of what you’d expect if an earthly apocalyptic preacher was turning into a mystical Son of God dying to fulfil prophecy.

          From there, the movement was based on the apostle’s work in Jerusalem (if you believe Paul, that is). Paul’s only contact with Jesus – or so he claims – is divine revelation and meeting other apostles who have had divine revelations. We don’t even get a suggestion that the apostles met an earthy Jesus until the gospels.

          In fact, it’s weirder than that. Saints Paul and Peter practically don’t exist outside of the New Testament, apocrypha, and later Christian writings. James gets a mention only because Josephus mentions him a grand total of once, and that’s assuming “the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James” wasn’t tampered with, doesn’t refer to a religious monk “brother” rather than a blood brother, isn’t referring to some other James, and isn’t suggesting James is the one being called “the Messiah”.

          Anyone trying to jump on the bandwagon has room for elaboration from there, which in turn can lead to more elaboration when someone else copies that story. We know the Synoptic Gospels are basically copies and elaborations of each other, with Matthew and Luke sometimes outright plagiarising their predecessors. The apocrypha and pseudepigrapha of the next few decades also multiply the number of Jesuses, with only the most generic of connecting threads binding them to the franchise. Even as early as the time when Galatians was being written, there were schisms and heresies that Paul was trying to suppress and check.

          Basically, consistency and specificity don’t necessitate historical precedent, especially when you get either only through ignoring or overlooking numerous counterexamples (the Gospel of John being a big offender here). The spread of the Gospel of Mark’s biographical details were more likely frozen accidents: fabricated details, but once put into circulation, treated as the basic truth.

          After all, Mark – the earliest gospel – was written at least three decades after the “fact”, by someone who was acting from second-hand information at best, from a cult whose earliest literate disciple was perfectly fine with revelation as a way to get the truth, and for circulation among believers – most of whom were plucked from the poorest, least educated, and most desperate quarters of society, if Paul is any indication – who had devoted themselves and weren’t going to ask too many questions.

          • reasonshark
            Posted September 8, 2014 at 3:57 am | Permalink

            “Saints Paul and Peter ”

            Darn! I meant Saints John and Peter. Oy vey…

        • Posted September 8, 2014 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

          The question is, why would one of them have been to invent the life story of a doomsday preacher walking around a few towns in Palestine, cursing fig trees, throwing over money changers’ tables, having dinners, and being brusque with his mother if he was really just a disembodied divine spiritual being?

          The doomsday stuff was practically common wisdom after the Romans destroyed the Temple. The cursing of the fig tree was virulent anti-Semitism; the fig tree was then and remains to this day the symbol of Rabbinic Torah study. The scene with the money changers was much of the same. The Last Supper was Paul inserting the Mithraic Eucharist of his home town’s local religion into the extant cult he was trying to insert himself into as an authority. Telling Mary to shut up…can’t tell you off the top of my head.

          Note: that’s emphatically not “one of them.” It’s at least three just from your list, each with his own agenda.

          Cheers,

          b&

  27. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted September 7, 2014 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

    Ehrman entered pompously, at that. So I stopped watching.

    Ehrman’s distinction between “agnostics” and “atheists,” with the former saying they don’t know, while the latter say they don’t believe.

    That is taken from the fundamentalist playbook, analogous to how they say “science is a faith”. It is, ironically, the claim of a believer in belief or most agnostics.

    And it is a strawman of course. Most atheists makes empirical claims, e.g. lack of evidence or degree of likelihood (Russell’s teapot). You almost never hear an atheist say that he believe there are no gods.

    • Another Tom
      Posted September 7, 2014 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

      I don’t remember if it was Hume or Russel, but he basically states that if among philosophers he was an agnostic and in public he was an atheist. Such a difference seems to extend into the current age.

      • Doug
        Posted September 8, 2014 at 5:09 am | Permalink

        Russell said that he was an atheist regarding the god of the Bible and an agnostic on the question of whether or not SOME god existed.

  28. Another Tom
    Posted September 7, 2014 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

    Maybe I’m just nitpicking but there are plenty of historical Jesi. Jesus wasn’t exactly an uncommon name in Judea at the time. What you should be arguing about is whether or not there was a historical Christ, or Jesus Christ. Of which there is basically one instance of a historian (not apologist) named Josephus mentioning a Jesus who was known as Christ.

    So what we’re left with is one tiny bit of evidence of a Christ that might have existed as a man before being deified.

    From this and previous posts there seems to be a desire that a historical Christ not exist, and a strange rejection of any evidence that might indicate that some dude, or dudes, in the ancient world was the inspiration for Christianity. I don’t think that this is the right discussion and doesn’t even matter all that much.

    Humans have a long history of making people, places, and things sacred. A Christ, historical or otherwise, is merely a symptom. Just think about how many times in the past year that the founding fathers or the constitution was invoked as an argument from authority. We are constantly making gods.

    This is why I find people complaining about a historical Jesus Christ to be missing the point. We create gods all the time, but we should be practiced in the awareness of the gods we create. Awareness of the kind of nonsense that humans instinctively use to make up a god is a good defense of such nonsense.

    • John Scanlon, FCD
      Posted September 8, 2014 at 7:52 am | Permalink

      “Of which there is basically one instance of a historian (not apologist) named Josephus mentioning a Jesus who was known as Christ.”

      You know that’s widely accepted as a later copyist’s interpolation? Where’s your non-mythical historical character now?

  29. Folie Deuce
    Posted September 7, 2014 at 9:36 pm | Permalink

    The historicity of Jesus debate is not unlike the historicity of Mohamed debate. Historically, Orientalist scholars of Islam accepted the “Mohamed lived in full light of history” line without question. So while they never accepted the theological claims, they did accept without question many of the historical claims of the Islamic narrative. And all scholarship simply assumed Mohamed was a real person.

    Then some scholars decided to look at the evidence for historicity and found very little of it. These scholars were treated skeptically by established experts in the field because nearly all work done by these experts was predicated on the assumed historicity of Mohamed. If he wasn’t real, the potential implications were huge. Nonetheless, slowly the historical Mohamed skeptics are gaining credibility.

    Isn’t this essentially what happened with the historicity of Jesus. New Testament scholars (a field dominated by Christians) simply assumed the historical Jesus was real and never bothered to consider the possibility that he was not? The reason Ehrman get so sensitive about this topic is that his entire life’s work is predicated on the assumption of a historical Jesus (the same is true for the rest of the New Testament scholars)?

  30. Folie Deuce
    Posted September 7, 2014 at 9:45 pm | Permalink

    A question for historians. Ehrman calls himself a historian. And he likes to call out others for their lack of qualifications. He holds a master’s in divinity and a PhD from Princeton Theological seminary. Am I the only one not impressed by those credentials for someone who claims to be a historian? Yes, his work may involve history but was ever actually trained as a historian?

    Stated differently, how do professors of history view the quality of training on offer at divinity schools?

  31. Posted September 8, 2014 at 1:44 am | Permalink

    John 18v38 has Pilate ask, ” What is Truth ? ” and then said, ( ReWrit) ” I find no basis for a charge against him, I even asked him to turn some water into his best wine but he refused saying he doesn’t like being put to the test ”
    Was there no evidence that Jesus could claim to be a king of the Jews, no evidence of an organisation or finances or network structure, no headquarters, no writings by Jesus or about Jesus by others, no evidence of royal birth, no evidence of a significant following among Jewish people,no evidence of miracles having been done, no evidence of knowing things about the world that weren’t already known ?

    Maybe Pilate would have said, ” What is Truth ? Things aren’t truth just because you assert that they are truth. You need evidence that things are true. Think of the fossilized sea shells that can be seen in the stones of many of Roman buildings and most of the quarries and marble of Italy, also high in the Apennines & the Alps e.g. Mount Cenis; clearly they show that life on Earth is ancient and not just 4000 years old like the Jewish scriptures claim. Also they show that the land which used to be under the sea has been pushed up by massive forces to form these high mountains. There have been great changes in Earth geology over countless eons. If you were divine then you would surely at least be able to know more than the common uneducated peasant. You would also know that this idea of Hades you talk about is probably adopted from the ancient Greeks or Zoroastrians. Do you think that Zeus lives on Mt Olympus ? Look these are no more than amusing fantasies. Please go away home and get a proper education and stop making a nuisance of yourself before you meet an untimely end.
    Why not take a study tour of the ossified skeletons Echinoderms. Eocene fossilized fish from a limestone quarry at Ain El Sira, Cairo. Or petrified fish in the hills of the Barbary coast.
    Now I bid you adieu “

    • John Scanlon, FCD
      Posted September 8, 2014 at 7:54 am | Permalink

      Can I get some of that weed you’re smoking?

  32. Schelte Heerema
    Posted September 8, 2014 at 4:59 am | Permalink

    Ehrman makes the same false argument as Elliott Sober, who says that atheists should call themselves agnostics, because they don’t know whether or not any gods exist. Nobody knows whether or not gods exist. People who say they know only show their delusion. The Pope doesn’t know, the Ayatollah’s don’t know and the evangelical preachers don’t know.

    Thinking that agnosticism is about (not) knowing whether or not gods exist is absurd, because that would make everybody (including the Pope) an agnostic. Agnosticism is about not knowing what to believe. Theists believe the religious narrative, atheists don’t and agnostics don’t know what to believe.

    • Posted September 8, 2014 at 5:03 am | Permalink

      This is a very good point, one that I’ve not encountered before. One potential problem is that religious people often say they KNOW that there is a god, because revelation has told them. And they know FOR SURE. Religion, they claim, is unlike science because it gives absolute rather than provisional truth.

      Still, when pressed many believers would say they didn’t know with 100% certainty, and so your argument could be used against them. I like it.

      • Schelte Heerema
        Posted September 8, 2014 at 5:07 am | Permalink

        In order to say that you know something, you have to be able to SHOW how you know it. Revelation cannot be shown.

    • Alex T
      Posted September 8, 2014 at 9:18 am | Permalink

      Ehrman makes the same false argument as Elliott Sober, who says that atheists should call themselves agnostics, because they don’t know whether or not any gods exist. Nobody knows whether or not gods exist.

      Is this just another face of the false dichotomy we see all the time, that if something isn’t absolutely proved then we should treat it as if it is totally uncertain?

      We don’t “know” if gods don’t exist with 100% certainty but I strongly disagree that we should go from that to saying that the question is a toss-up and we should call ourselves agnostic. I think that should be reserved for cases where we think it’s close to 50/50, and not for the cases where we’re anything shy of 100%.

      • Posted September 8, 2014 at 8:58 pm | Permalink

        I think that should be reserved for cases where we think it’s close to 50/50, and not for the cases where we’re anything shy of 100%.

        If you’re agnostic about whether or not the Sun will rise in the East tomorrow, you can be equally agnostic about what’ll happen if you step off a cliff…and about whether or not any gods or prayers or other forms of magic will save you if you do.

        Most people are, functionally, atheistic — including most of the religious. Notable exceptions include the Jehoovers Witlesses and the Christian Sciencehaters…but even they are atheists when it comes to the second phrase of Luke 16:18.

        b&

      • Schelte Heerema
        Posted September 8, 2014 at 11:44 pm | Permalink

        First, I said that we should NOT call ourselves agnostic if we don’t believe that gods exist, even when we admit that we don’t know if they exist.

        Second, how can you show your percentage certainty to be correct? On the basis that nobody has ever shown any god to exist? That would be the same as saying that people knew that Pluto didn’t exist before its discovery in 1930.

        • Alex T
          Posted September 9, 2014 at 9:52 am | Permalink

          I was addressing the point in the quote, where Ehrman says that we should be agnostic if we don’t “know”. I think you & I are in agreement, that certainty and knowledge are very rare and are impossibly high standards making the term useless because it would apply to everyone and every subject.

          As to percentages, I think that’s an interesting question but ultimately it’s a judgement call. If someone thinks it’s 50/50 then ‘agnostic’ is a good description, even if we may not agree with how they arrived at that percentage.

    • Posted September 8, 2014 at 8:54 pm | Permalink

      Nobody knows whether or not gods exist.

      <ahem />

      The whole notion of a god is incoherent outside the context of a literary device. The whole point o a god is that s/h/it can do the impossible — can work miracles. But, were a real god to actually do a miracle, said miracle would simply constitute evidence that our prior understanding was incomplete — in exactly the same way that observations a century or so ago demonstrated that Newton’s Mechanics was itself incomplete.

      Whether or not we would even in principle be capable of understanding the principles used by purported gods to do what they do is irrelevant. We still don’t know if we’ll be able to reconcile Quantum and Relativistic Mechanics. But an entity that does know how to do so — and, perhaps, to put that knowledge to use in ways inconceivable to us — would be no more divine than you might be using Quantum Mechanics (necessary for modern IC design) and Relativistic Mechanics (necessary for GPS) to use your smartphone to tell you how to get to the library.

      Cheers,

      b&

  33. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted September 8, 2014 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    It’s interesting that what freethinkers are kind of “live and let live” on whether the teachings of Jesus are good or not
    (Sam Harris admires the Sermon on the Mount while Walter Kaufmann does not), or only slightly contentious on whether progressive/liberal Christianity is benign or not, secularists are really combative on whether Jesus existed or not.

    The historical Jesus seems to me to be like dark matter and/or quantum physics. Like dark matter, because while it nicely explains a few anomolous things, but we can’t really know very much detail about the historical Jesus (if any), and like quantum physics because over a dozen different reconstructions of who Jesus “really” was are all compatible with the limited data we have.

    Ehrman is very very smart, but also just a tad snitty.

    Richard Dawkins once said that while he did not find the mythicist case convincing, he did think it deserved a much wider hearing than it had been given.

  34. Tomas
    Posted September 9, 2014 at 12:21 am | Permalink

    @ Jerry Coyne:

    // I would have thought that what we need to do to doubt Jesus’s existence is emphasize the lack of evidence, and critically examine the evidence that is offered. And that in fact is what the “mythicists” are doing.//

    I think it’s here that we find your fundamental misunderstanding. There’s no lack of evidence. We have piles and piles of it. It’s rather a question of what explanation or theory the evidence supports. We have a variety of early writings, a variety of different sources that mention Jesus, and the movement that arose around him. And the question here is who was Jesus?

    Was he an actual historical person that inspired the narratives about him? Was he a purely fictional character in the sense that spiderman is? A creation of the mind of the authors? Does the numerous things we have of him, indicate historicity or some alternative to it?

    Mythicist take the writing such as the Pauline epistles as evidence of non-historicity, while historicist will say that it supports historicity far more persuasively. If Epistles are evidence, than the question is, evidence of what? Which view of it, holds the greater explanatory capacity?.

    I believe you lack a real understanding on the subject. I don’t believe you looked into the question with anymore than a few glances. It’s clearly not your area of expertise, and I think you’d confess this much. But I think it’s pretty unfair of you to accuse scholars and historians and those who do devote themselves to studying the subject, who come out strongly in favor of historicity, of doing so because they’re afraid to offend the religious, rather than the fact that alternative theories to historicity are all pretty absurd.

    Aren’t you worried that in essence you’re doing exactly what folks like Ben Stein did in Expelled, when he claimed that the mainstream science establishment keeps intelligent design out of the schools, because of a conspiracy to keep God out of the classroom, rather than because the case for ID is rather shoddy?

    A quote for Dawkins here might be appropriate:

    “The Rome-deniers, let’s imagine, are a well-organised group of nutters, implacably convinced that the Roman empire never existed. The Latin language, for all its rich literature and its romance language grandchildren, is a Victorian fabrication.
    The Rome-deniers are, no doubt, harmless wingnuts, more harmless than the Holocaust-deniers whom they resemble. Smile and be tolerant. But your tolerance might wear thin if you are a scholar and teacher of Roman history or literature.

    And what if Rome-deniers manage to infiltrate the teaching staff of an otherwise reputable school, and energetically promote their inanities to a susceptible new generation? A normally tolerant person could be forgiven for wanting to see those teachers fired.”

    Except here we have deniers of a historical Jesus.

    • Posted September 9, 2014 at 10:39 am | Permalink

      And the question here is who was Jesus?

      Yes. Exactly. Indeed, that was the very first bullet point of my challenge a couple of threads back.

      I note that you fail to answer the question, in perfect form for the historicists.

      A quote for Dawkins here might be appropriate:

      “The Rome-deniers, let’s imagine, are a well-organised group of nutters, implacably convinced that the Roman empire never existed. […]”

      You know why the Rome-deniers would be absolute bonkers? Because we’ve got an entire city of hard physical evidence — not to mention all the aqueducts and roads and coins and other artifacts, and that’s long before we get to the textual stuff.

      What evidence do the Jesus-affirmers give us to support their claims? Is it anything comparable to the evidence we have to support the claim of an historical Rome? Ha! Not even close — quite the opposite, indeed. Instead, we get excuses for why we actually shouldn’t expect any evidence, and we should be grateful we’ve even got a fantasy anthology about a superhero with the same name.

      Pro tip: comparing Jerry to Creationists, as you’re tiptoeing towards, is a good way to be shown the door.

      b&

      • Tomas
        Posted September 10, 2014 at 3:21 am | Permalink

        //What evidence do the Jesus-affirmers give us to support their claims?//

        Evolutionist provide all sorts of evidence to creationist who just explain all of it away, and the same thing happens here.

        When a historicist points out things such as Paul believed in a historical Jesus, as evident in a variety of different passages, where he speaks of Jesus being born of a woman, buried, having a brother, crucified,meeting his disciples, in fact in some parts stating exactly that he was a human being, etc.. the mythicist will attempt to explain this away using very specious reasoning, claiming things along the line that Paul believed this took placed in some sort of platonic sphere, just like moon-landing denier will claim that videos of the moon-landing took place in some studio in .

        • GBJames
          Posted September 10, 2014 at 5:09 am | Permalink

          Are you serious?

          Things like DNA, fossils, geography, etc., that are the grounding of our understanding of biology are all real, demonstrable, things.

          Your claim that equivalent evidence is provided by a shabby bit of hear-say, “Paul said…” contained in a book that is chock-full of obvious fiction is a bit laughable. “Paul sez…” is not equivalent to video transmissions from the lunar surface during an extremely well documented Apollo program.

          • Tomas
            Posted September 10, 2014 at 5:25 am | Permalink

            Let’s not try and equalize what I didn’t equalize. No where did i state or imply that Paul’s reference to Jesus were the equivalent of video transmissions of the moon landing. So please, don’t accuse me of things I clearly did not do.

            The comparison i did make, is the way in which moon landing denialist explain away the video transmissions, is similar to how mythicist explain away the references to a historical Jesus in Paul, that they both resort to specious and quite ridiculous reasoning. The claim that the moon-landing videos were staged and filmed locally, and the claim that for Paul all these supposedly human elements of Jesus took place in some platonic sphere, are both ridiculous, though one may be more absurd than the other.

            I used Paul as one of many examples here, but there are numerous other references of Jesus, Josephus speaking of his brother, Tacitus writing of Jesus being crucified under Pilate, all being denied by mythicist using the same sort of shoddy reasoning.

            And lastly in regards to Paul, mythicist often use him as evidence of Jesus not being a historical person, as evidence for a mythicist version of Jesus. No one seems to have a problem with this. But when using Paul as evidence for a historical Jesus, or at least as evidence that he was thought to have been a historical person as early as the 1st century, and everyone gets their panties in a bunch.

            • GBJames
              Posted September 10, 2014 at 5:35 am | Permalink

              You made the analogy between mythicists and moon landing deniers. Are you now taking that back?

              You equated creationists and “evolutionists” (the creationist’s word for “evolutionary biologist”) in your first sentence… “the same thing happens here”. Are you revoking that sentence, too?

              • tomas
                Posted September 10, 2014 at 10:01 pm | Permalink

                //You made the analogy between mythicists and moon landing deniers. Are you now taking that back?//

                No I am not taking it back, was I suppose to? But my point in the comparison wasn’t to say that they are both equally bad, such as ID proponents might not be as bad as Young Earth Creationist, but regardless they use similar ways of reasoning to defend their positions.

                I was only speaking of how mythicist and moon landing conspirators handle evidence that’s not favorable to their positions, how they jump through hoops, make wild claims like the events took place in a studio, or happened in some sort of platonic otherworld, etc…

                //You equated creationists and “evolutionists” (the creationist’s word for “evolutionary biologist”) in your first sentence…//

                Uhm, that wasn’t the comparison. Particularly since I’m in the “evolutionist” camp myself. Perhaps you should read what I wrote again. The comparison more appropriately would have been one between the creationist vs evolutionist debate, and the historicist vs mythicist debates.

            • Posted September 10, 2014 at 8:09 am | Permalink

              I used Paul as one of many examples here, but there are numerous other references of Jesus, Josephus speaking of his brother, Tacitus writing of Jesus being crucified under Pilate

              Oh, please — not this embarrassingly pathetic Christian apologetics again.

              But when using Paul as evidence for a historical Jesus, or at least as evidence that he was thought to have been a historical person as early as the 1st century, and everyone gets their panties in a bunch.

              Historical people say things and do things. Paul never mentions anything Jesus said nor did — save for when he substituted Jesus for Mithras in the Eucharist. Oh, did I mention? Real people aren’t mistraken for the the gods of the hometown religion….

              b&

        • Posted September 10, 2014 at 8:05 am | Permalink

          When a historicist points out things such as Paul believed in a historical Jesus, as evident in a variety of different passages, where he speaks of Jesus being born of a woman, buried, having a brother, crucified,meeting his disciples, in fact in some parts stating exactly that he was a human being, etc..

          …the mythicist lays bare the lies that those statements represent. Such as Paul’s emphatic declaration that Jesus was the genesis of the spiritual body in direct contrast to Adam as the genesis of the corporeal body, plus all the other points you’ve repeatedly ignored.

          b&

          • Tomas
            Posted September 10, 2014 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

            //Jesus was the genesis of the spiritual body in direct contrast to Adam as the genesis of the corporeal body, plus all the other points you’ve repeatedly ignored.//

            lol, i ignored it? I actually responded to a post in the other thread where you mentioned the Corinthians passage in question on 9/8/14, and the only who did any actually ignoring is you, since you never actually responded to it. But I’ll go ahead and copy and paste the entire post here:

            “// The TL/DR is Adam = flesh, Jesus = spirit//

            So Paul’s Jesus is not allegorical, but an actual spirit being, who existed in some sort of otherworldly realm, in which he was crucified, buried, and rose again?

            In the Corinthians passage you referenced, Paul explicitly states Jesus was a human being: “But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits* of those who have fallen asleep.

            For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead came also through a human being.”

            In fact even in the life-giving spirt passage you have in mind, Paul states: “But the spiritual was not first; rather the natural and then the spiritual….Just as we have borne the image of the earthly one, we shall also bear the image* of the heavenly one”

            Or to summarize, Paul is speaking of how our natural bodies die, and resurrect as spiritual ones, that Jesus was a human being whose body died and whose spirit rose again. This is pretty evident in the context of the passage, and your reading of it is a pretty blaring distortion.”

            //…the mythicist lays bare the lies that those statements represent. //

            No what mythicist do is exactly what moon landing denialist do when presented with thing like the video transmissions. They jump through all sorts of hoops to try and explain the evidence away, in very unbelievable sort of ways.

            The statements of Paul don’t bare lies, they state a variety of very clear things, such as Jesus was buried, that he died. If anyone is lying is those that attempt to say he did not mean what he clearly did mean, that this burial took place in some platonic realm, which apparently no one else but Paul believed in, to just so conveniently support the mythicist theory.

            On to James. James is mentioned as one of Jesus brothers in a variety of sources, from Mark, Mathew, Jude, references in Josephus, and even in Origen. Paul also references James exclusively as Jesus’s brother. And mythicist would like to argue that he didn’t mean brother in a literal way.

            So it’s just a very uncanny coincidence than the sole individual he refers to in this way, is the individual referred to in a variety of places as Jesus’s brother?

            You don’t even realize how ridicolous the mythicist claim here is? That they are in fact trying to peddle the very unlikely? That they would like us to believe this was just a coincidence?


2 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] Read the original post: More tinder: Bart Ehrman’s speech on Jesus at the FFRF… […]

  2. […] I am not completely down with his views on atheism and agnosticism, or with his almost cocky assurance that there was a historical figure on which the myth of a divine Jesus was based. [Read more] […]

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