Matt Dillahunty on mythicism

Atheist Matt Dillahunty moderated the Great Mythicist Debate between Bart Ehrman, who thinks that the Jesus myth is based on a real person, and Bob Price, who thinks that we have little confidence that Jesus is based on someone who really lived. (Both reject the idea that Jesus was divine or the son of God.)

Reader Dewo, who sent me this video, said that “I think Matt has the most reasonable take on the issue that I’ve heard thus far.”

What is it? Well, have a listen. I haven’t listened to the Ehrman/Price debate yet, but in the past I’ve not been convinced that Jesus was based on a real person. Whether that makes me a mythicist I don’t know, but having seen “Jerry McGuire” on the plane over here, I’ll just say that the historicists haven’t shown me the money.

If anybody watched the debate, or watches this 40-minute video, weigh in below.


  1. Ken Kukec
    Posted October 29, 2016 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    … but having seen “Jerry McGuire” on the plane over here, I’ll just say that the historicists haven’t shown me the money.

    Dillahunty had me at hello (or at “atheism debates presents …”, as the case may be).

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted October 29, 2016 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

      Actually, Dillahunty had me from his first mention of the word “evidence.”

      Dillahunty’s views reflect my own, albeit Dillahunty sets them forth much more articulately. The historicity of Jesus is a “nice” question, but not a crucial one.

    • Scote
      Posted October 30, 2016 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

      Before evidence even comes into play they need to meaningfully define “historical Jesus.” At the moment it seems such a vague concept that it is unfalsifiable. If there was a guy named Moishe who kicked over some tables at a money lenders, does that count? Or a Rabi named Jeshua and had some followers and made some sermons, is that enough? Or, to put it another way, just how *not* like the biblical Jesus can a “historical” Jesus be and not be historical?

      • Scote
        Posted October 30, 2016 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

        Oopps, should be:

        “Or, to put it another way, just how *not* like the biblical Jesus can a “historical” Jesus be yet still count as historical?

        • Diane G.
          Posted October 31, 2016 at 12:34 am | Permalink

          Or even, “just how *not* like the biblical Jesus can a “historical” Jesus be yet still count as Jesus?”


      • Posted October 31, 2016 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

        The questions mythicists ask:

        * Are the persons and events depicted in the gospels based, even loosely, on actual historical persons and events?

        * Was there an historical person known as Jesus who was later mythicized, or was there a mythical Jesus who was later historicized?

        * Was the first gospel (Mark by consensus) written as history or allegory?

        * What are the true origins of Christianity and the course of its early development?

        * What is the historical truth of the apostle Paul, and which of the Pauline epistles are pseudepigraphic?

        Nearly all mythicists acknowledge historical elements — building their arguments, in fact, upon them. Many historicists, Ehrman included, like to strawman mythicism as claiming everything is myth.

      • Posted November 1, 2016 at 7:11 pm | Permalink

        It sounds like you’re asking how much resemblance is required, which is the wrong question. The historicity question asks about the causal chain leading to the bulk of the biblical texts. If there is one person who did or said stuff which caused most of these verses to be written, that person is Jesus, no matter how inaccurate the stories are. Even if no tables were ever kicked and mere chatting was mistaken for sermons. Of course that would be extremely unlikely, and resemblance between historical events (independently verified) and the stories would be evidence of historicity. But that’s because it would be evidence for that causal chain.

  2. frednotfaith2
    Posted October 29, 2016 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    I think it’s possible the Jesus myth was based on an actual person who once existed but leaning ever more to believing that he was entirely mythical.

  3. Pliny the in Between
    Posted October 29, 2016 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    I’ve never been too concerned with the historicity debates. Did he or did he not really live? To me it’s beside the point – David Koresh, Jim Jones, and L Ron all lived but there are orders of magnitude on the Sagan-Laplace scale between having lived and any divinity claim.

    • Zado
      Posted October 29, 2016 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

      I feel the same way. My disagreement, after all, is with apocalyptic monotheism itself, no matter what form its preachers may take, or whether certain of them really existed.

      • Achrachno
        Posted October 29, 2016 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

        But the Christian position is shown to be all the more pathetic when they can’t even present a case that a mere mortal Jesus existed — and they can’t.

        Yes there were people around then, some of them preachers, but that’s about the closest Xians can come. Much of the historicist position consists of excuses for why they don’t have any actual hard evidence of that Jesus fellow portrayed in the Bible.

  4. Stephen Barrett
    Posted October 29, 2016 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    Richard Carrier has an excellent analysis of the Ehrman/Price debate, which can be found here:

    Carrier, careful to point out that Price is neither a skilled debater nor has his arguments passed peer review, also states that some of Price’s arguments are a bit strange. So, perhaps Price isn’t the best person to be putting forward the mythicist case.

    • Stephen
      Posted October 29, 2016 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

      I wondered how long it would be before someone came out with this argument! If Carrier hadn’t responded so hysterically and personally insulting to Ehrman when Ehrman wrote his book then maybe Carrier would have been on stage instead of Price. And then somebody else would be claiming that it would have been better if he had been on stage with Ehrman instead of Carrier!

      It wouldn’t. The mythicist position just doesn’t hold up under expert analysis. I thought Matt’s position is generally the right one although I care about the issue Of Jesus’ historicity because I’m interested in the origins of Christianity and ancient history as a field of inquiry.

      • phil
        Posted October 29, 2016 at 9:12 pm | Permalink

        “The mythicist position just doesn’t hold up under expert analysis.”

        That depends on what the mythicist’s position is. If it is simply that historicists haven’t proven that Jesus was a real person then no, you are wrong.

        For me a significant part of the mythicist position is that the historicist position is based on pretty thin evidence.

        An important part of the debate for me is that if there is sufficient doubt over the reality of Jesus’ existence then it might be enough to push some believers away from what can be a pretty dangerous ideology.

        • Stephen Barrett
          Posted October 30, 2016 at 11:34 am | Permalink

          And that’s the most relevant point: which position is under analysis.

          If the debate nudges a person, even in the most subtle of ways, into re-thinking their belief, then it’s valuable. For me, as an atheist, it makes no difference. It’s just a fascinating question, did the founder of Christianity, ever actually exist.

          • phil
            Posted October 31, 2016 at 10:37 pm | Permalink

            I wouldn’t describe Jesus as the founder of the religion. He is an important character no doubt, but I think the the real founding efforts were done later (assuming Jesus existed).

            Since we historically reject the miracles, and given that we have no witnesses who validate anything he said, we have less solid basis for Jesus’ founding xtianity than we do for his existence.

            Therein lies one of the mythicist objections, that while there were people named Jesus and itinerant apocalyptic preachers, that doesn’t mean that there was an itinerant apocalyptic preacher called Jesus that did anything descibed in the bible. We can see from studying the texts that much that is attributed to him is simply there to satisfy older prophesy and to validate claims he was a messiah. We know more about Harry Potter, but the main reason we know he doesn’t exist is that we know the Potter books are fictional. In a thousand years who knows what people will make of it?

            • Stephen Barrett
              Posted November 1, 2016 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

              “We know more about Harry Potter, but the main reason we know he doesn’t exist is that we know the Potter books are fictional. In a thousand years who knows what people will make of it?”

              Well, that depends. Who would be Harry Potter’s ‘Paul’?

      • Stephen Barrett
        Posted October 30, 2016 at 11:35 am | Permalink

        Glad I could help.

      • Posted October 31, 2016 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

        Define “expert”.

  5. tubby
    Posted October 29, 2016 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    The actual debate seems available at the Mythicist Milwaukee YouTube page, but has a $5 ‘rental’ fee. While I lean towards mythicism because I’m don’t think historicity has made anywhere near as solid an argument as it claims to be, I agree with Noah Lugeons in that even the historical Jesus scholars think might have existed wasn’t anyone particularly special. Without the myth, a historical Jesus is nothing but one of hundreds of street preachers yelling at anyone in shouting distance with a small coven of followers not unlike the revvies in Williamsburg.

  6. Posted October 29, 2016 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

    At around 19:00 Matt is saying that only better evidence should matter with respect to whether mythicism is taken seriously. This is in contradiction to Ehrman’s statement that the mythicists need to get better academic credentials.

    That would be reasonable when evaluating a scientific hypothesis, but ancient human history necessarily has lower standards of evidence than science. We cannot experiment to make new evidence; what we know now about 1st Century history is probably as much as we will ever know. While there could still be an amazing cache of undiscovered scrolls somewhere, it’s unlikely.

    So it really does come down to: given the extremely limited and unreliable evidence we have, which side feel closer to the truth? It’s subjective, so the credentials of the people making that subjective call actually do matter. On the other hand it means we can never settle the matter once and for all.

    I’m totally fine with that. I know that the miracles and resurrection are bullshit, so it matters not at all whether the bullshit was based on an ordinary, real guy or a fictional figure.

    As Hitch pointed out: the value of the Socratic method is undiminished by the lack of any conclusive evidence that Socrates existed. Similarly the Christian philosophy is unaffected by the lack of conclusive evidence for Jesus’s existence or non-existence.

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted October 29, 2016 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

      I’m not sure it’s accurate to say we now know all we’re ever going to know about events in the first century. We may well have all the raw facts and primary sources we’re ever going to have, but that doesn’t preclude the possibility that our methods of analyzing them and extracting knowledge from them may improve.

      As you say, so far that process has been largely subjective. So maybe we should be looking for more objective metrics to apply to rival theories. Dillahunty briefly mentioned Bayesian analysis, noting that Carrier and Swinburne used it to reach opposite conclusions. For that reason he’s inclined to dismiss it as inappropriate to the task or not ready for the big leagues, but I think he’s overlooking the possibility that one or both of them applied it incorrectly.

      So I hold out hope that there might be more to learn from these ancient sources by moving away from subjective judgment toward increasing mathematical rigor, though I can’t say precisely what form that might take.

      • Posted November 1, 2016 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

        Yes, it’s easy for two disputants to say they’ve used Bayesian analysis.

    • Posted October 29, 2016 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

      “Similarly the Christian philosophy is unaffected by the lack of conclusive evidence for Jesus’s existence or non-existence.”

      perhaps you have a different idea of what “the Christian philosophy” is, but what I see as the Christian philosophy “there is a god, a part of it died as sacrifice for actions caused by the god, obey it or be damned” does seem to be entirely affected by the lack of evidence for any of this nonsense.

      Anything else attributed as “Christian philosophy” was not invented by Christians at all.

      • phil
        Posted October 29, 2016 at 9:21 pm | Permalink

        I am inclined to agree. I’ll go so far as to say that anything in xtain philosophy that is xtian is likely to be worthless (or worse, immoral or dangerous) and anything of value is not xtian.

        There are, however, likely to be some xtians who will believe regardless of evidence, but also some who will be dissuaded by the lack of it.

      • JonLynnHarvey
        Posted October 30, 2016 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

        A fair amount of what passes as Christian philosophy is actually from Greek philosophical monotheism.

    • Posted October 31, 2016 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

      Ehrman’s ‘academic credentials’ snub only works so long as he ignores active scholars like Detering, Eisenman, Vinzent, and Brodie (a clergyman, no less), while continuing to pretend the Dutch Radicals and German mythicist theologians(Baur, Bauer, et al.) of the 19th Century never existed.

      Hmm, does this make Ehrman a Mythicist mythicist?

  7. chris moffatt
    Posted October 29, 2016 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    It doesn’t matter a pig’s patoot if there was or was not a real Yeshue bar Yussef. The theological claims have moved so far away from any kind of rationality, from any kind of possible real person (even as described in the new testament which is the only source for Yeshue’s existence) that it just doesn’t matter if there was an actual person at the basis of it all. Just as rastafarianism no longer depends on any actual existence of Haile Selassie.

    • Pliny the in Between
      Posted October 29, 2016 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

      A point I tried to make with this graph

      • chris moffatt
        Posted October 29, 2016 at 7:40 pm | Permalink

        precisely. Regarding Laplace:

        “There is no supernatural, there is only nature. Nature alone exists and contains all. All is. There is the part of nature that we perceive, and the part of nature that we do not perceive. … If you abandon these facts, beware; charlatans will light upon them, also the imbecile. There is no mean: science, or ignorance. If science does not want these facts, ignorance will take them up. You have refused to enlarge human intelligence, you augment human stupidity. When Laplace withdraws Cagliostro appears.”

        Victor Hugo.

        • derekw
          Posted November 1, 2016 at 9:13 am | Permalink

          I know Hugo was an ardent critic of organized religion the Roman Catholic church in particular. His spiritual view had swayed around quite a bit during his life and could be characterized as a Freethinker. However he seems to hold to Christian beliefs as evidenced in his most well-known work Les Miserables and it’s portrayal of the Christian gospel. His final will and testament he accepts the supernatural “I leave 50,000 francs to the poor. I want to be buried in their hearse.
          I refuse [funeral] orations of all churches. I beg a prayer to all souls.
          I believe in God.”

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted October 29, 2016 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

      I suspect it matters quite a bit to practicing Christians who see the actual death and resurrection of Jesus as proof of their own eternal life. That’s the theological claim they care most about, and a purely mythical Jesus provides no support for it.

      • Jenny Haniver
        Posted October 29, 2016 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

        Well, the practicing Christians are now going nuts over the recent discovery of the “real” burial site of Jesus. Most of the articles I’ve seen on the subject, cite the astonishment of one Frederik Hiebert, a “National Geographic archaeologist,” thus lending credence to this claptrap. Whatever they’ve found and however astonishing that find may be archaeologically, it ain’t the tomb of the Second Person of the Holy Trinity.

        • Achrachno
          Posted October 29, 2016 at 8:02 pm | Permalink

          Yes, it’s more grasping at straws — Xians know (at some level) that Jesus is imaginary, so they’re desperate for evidence that will justify their religious beliefs. Every couple of years they come up with something new that creates a splash and then sinks below the waves.

        • koseighty
          Posted October 29, 2016 at 9:12 pm | Permalink

          This isn’t a “recent discovery.”

          The story is about the renovation of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre — first built in 325 CE and most recently renovated in 1808.

          It’s the Catholic church putting a fresh coat of paint on some cave someone once decided was the tomb of Jesus.

          Definitely not an archeological find. And anything of archeological significance has no doubt been lost in the construction and constant renovation of a ‘holy site’ over the past 1700 years.

        • koseighty
          Posted October 29, 2016 at 9:18 pm | Permalink

          Its been a few decades since I visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, but I remember being shown the hole in a rock in which Christ’s cross was placed, the fissure that split the rock open on his death, and the skull of Adam found neatly at the bottom of said fissure — totally not some random skull placed in the crack by some devout worshipper.

          The tomb of Christ and thus the place of the resurrection is conveniently located just a few steps away in the same church. Joseph of Arimathea didn’t have far to carry the body to place it in his tomb.

        • koseighty
          Posted October 29, 2016 at 9:22 pm | Permalink

          ‘ “I usually spend my time in Tut’s tomb,” said Hiebert about the Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun’s burial site, “but this is more important.” ‘

          Well, if that doesn’t add authority to this archeologist, I don’t know what could.

          • Posted October 29, 2016 at 9:25 pm | Permalink

            Indeed. What a transparent advertisement for xianity masquerading as scientific news this is.

        • Posted October 29, 2016 at 9:23 pm | Permalink

          Wait, the “astonishing” thing was that when they peeled away some recent marble they found…older marble? My, that is astonishing.

        • phil
          Posted October 29, 2016 at 9:25 pm | Permalink

          Well, I dunno. We can’t be sure until we’ve found the remains of the body. 😉

          • phil
            Posted October 29, 2016 at 9:27 pm | Permalink

            should have written We can’t be sure it’s Jesus’ tomb until we’ve found the remains of the body.

  8. Somite
    Posted October 29, 2016 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

    Price made the excellent point that if you take away all the miracles and supernatural stuff there is nothing noteworthy about Jesus to write about. Why then even propose a real-life one?

    Ehrman doesn’t consider mythicism to be valid because it is not the consensus of bible scholars. However, it later occurred to me, and I wish I had asked him directly, that most bible scholars are religious people, hardly an objective group of people. Ehrman as an agnostic is an exception.

    One interesting point Ehrman made was that the writing in the New Testament makes more sense if it had been an Arrhamaic original. But this was said in passing without an in-depth explanation.

    • Lucian Nerwinski
      Posted October 29, 2016 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

      The “Aramaic original” is purely hypothetical. No Aramaic original has ever been discovered. The New Testament was composed in Greek. Most of the quotes of the Hebrew scriptures in the New Testament come from the Greek translation, the Septuagint (and NT writers follow the Septuagint even when it mistranslates the Hebrew). Paul was a Hellenized Syrian, and it’s my feeling that he invented Christianity. In CE 64 the Romans accused the Christians specifically of starting the fire that burned down half of the city–and the Romans had no trouble distinguishing Christians from Jews although there had been plenty of Jews in Rome from at least Horace’s time. In other words, from the start Christinity was never considered a sect of Judaism. Christianity is a Hellenitic fraud, perpetrated by wannabe Jews in Syria.

      • JonLynnHarvey
        Posted October 30, 2016 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

        yes, but even without an Aramaic original you can have tell-tale turns of phrase that give away a translation from Aramaic (especially if written in Greek by a writer whose primary language is Aramaic).

    • Charles Minus
      Posted October 30, 2016 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

      Furthermore, as pointed out many times by Price, Carrier, and others, any academic who espouses mythicism quickly becomes an ex-academic. There are many examples.

      • Posted October 31, 2016 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

        Carrier was never an academic to start with.

  9. Diane G.
    Posted October 29, 2016 at 7:40 pm | Permalink


  10. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted October 29, 2016 at 8:32 pm | Permalink

    In some ways it’s an argument about definitions.

    I think it highly likely there would have been some preacher named Jesus (pretty common name, I believe). But also highly likely all the supernatural stuff was made up.

    In a way it’s similar to the Loch Ness Monster sightings. Is/was there a big animal in the loch? Very possibly. Suppose someone caught a ‘Nessie’ and it turned out to be e.g. a giant eel. Would this tend to prove that (a) Nessie exists or (b) Nessie is a myth? Depends which way up you look at it.


    • Diane G.
      Posted October 29, 2016 at 9:03 pm | Permalink

      Yes, good analogy.

      What Ben means when he says, yes, there is a Santa Claus, but he’s a retired guy who lives in Florida and loves venison and hates children and…

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted October 29, 2016 at 9:15 pm | Permalink

        Yep 🙂


      • Posted October 29, 2016 at 9:31 pm | Permalink

        Ha! Has he said that?

        • Diane G.
          Posted October 29, 2016 at 9:46 pm | Permalink

          Yes, fairly often, back in the day. (Before he got too, uh, busy for us. 😀 ) Only of course Ben embroidered it a lot more…

          • Posted October 30, 2016 at 12:57 am | Permalink

            I remember dissertations about Martyr, Philo, and the Testamonium, but that amusing analogy escaped me.

            • Diane G.
              Posted October 30, 2016 at 1:21 am | Permalink

              Hardly surprising. It took a village to keep up with Ben. 😀

              (I hope his ears are burning.)

          • Posted October 30, 2016 at 5:15 am | Permalink

            Yes, Ben has largely jilted us in favor of his inamorata, but I can’t really blame him!

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted October 30, 2016 at 2:05 am | Permalink

          Good question.

          There is almost certainly a real person named Ben Goren, and some of what he is reputed to have said may be authentic. But whether he said or did all the things attributed to him, is difficult to establish at this distance in time. Some of his alleged sayings may be founded in peoples’ recollections of his legendary polemics.


      • nicky
        Posted October 30, 2016 at 12:14 am | Permalink

        Santa is a great educational tool: someone you devoutly believe in as a child (in my personal imagery a kind of right hand man of God), judging about your being good or naughty, turns out to be completely made up. Shock! God is the logical next step.

        As for Nessie, I’m still (kind of) hoping it will be some surviving plesiosaur, not a giant eel 😊.

        • Diane G.
          Posted October 30, 2016 at 12:31 am | Permalink

          “God is the logical next step.”

          Wouldn’t ya think?!

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted October 30, 2016 at 2:11 am | Permalink

          I would love Nessie to be found to be a surviving plesiosaur, in which case I would say the legends were definitely ‘true’.

          (The ‘giant eel’ is a better supposition for the purposes of my example of ambivalence, though).


      • Posted October 31, 2016 at 11:27 am | Permalink

        Actually, he got the idea proximately from me, who actually got it from Daniel Dennett. It’s in _Consciousness Explained_.

        I really don’t care who uses it via me, after all, it wasn’t mine to begin with, but …

        • Diane G.
          Posted October 31, 2016 at 10:11 pm | Permalink

          Ah, thanks to the Look Inside feature at Amazon I was able to find the Dennett reference you mention:

          I have discovered that Santa Claus is real. He is in fact a tall, thin violinist living in Miami under the name of Fred Dudley; he hates children and never buys gifts.

          I see what you mean. 🙂 Ben could really elaborate on that, and I think I’m the one who added the “likes venison” after one such post of his. 🙂

    • loren russell
      Posted October 30, 2016 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

      IF by “large animal”, you mean “larger than a St. Bernard”, no there isn’t such a beast in Loch Ness [nor in any number of other lakes with tourist board like Lake Okanogan in western Canada]. A European eek might reach 4 or 5 feet, no more; a sturgeon quite a bit larger, but these aren’t exactly serpentine.

      So it’s either floating logs + whiskey or outright fraud.

      ?Plesiosaur? Do cryptozoologists not accept that animals must persist as populations — I’d hope the WEIT crowd know this.

      Nessie, the Sasquatch and Grey Aliens all will manage to persist — at the tourist board level — but remain curiously unwitnessed by the ubiquitous cell phone camera.

      Prophets are not a population phenomenon, however.. I’ll take Plinytheinbetween’s representation of the odds for a mortal, but unpleasantly loud-mouthed jesus.

      • Posted November 1, 2016 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

        A European eek might reach 4 or 5 feet

        That’d be a good word to use upon sighting a 5 foot eel 😉

    • Kiwi Dave
      Posted October 30, 2016 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

      My preferred analogue is the Hollywood based-on-fact genre. At what point does fact become creative fiction?

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted October 31, 2016 at 12:16 am | Permalink

        “At what point does fact become creative fiction?”

        About five milliseconds after the script proposal gets green-lit. 😦


    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted October 30, 2016 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

      Except half the notable stuff in the Gospels are sermons and parables of Jesus, certainly about a third of the Gospel of Matthew.

      It still remains significant as to whether THIS stuff, the Golden Rule, The Beatitudes, the apocalyptic discourses, etc. comes from a wandering street preacher with a group of disciples or not.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted October 31, 2016 at 12:30 am | Permalink

        I concede it would be significant, I suppose, to Christians. (To me it’s of no more significance than if the sayings of Confucius were really by Confucius, or not).


        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted October 31, 2016 at 12:31 am | Permalink

          Oh, and I hadn’t seen Aneris’ comment at #12 when I wrote that. Well, well.


  11. Mark Cagnetta
    Posted October 29, 2016 at 8:43 pm | Permalink

    I was at the debate. Bart based his case on oral tradition supplemented with the gospels. He denies the divinity of Jesus. Bob made the point that, without the supernatural aspects of Jesus’ life, there would be no point in passing on stories orally. I am a mythicist.

  12. Posted October 29, 2016 at 10:02 pm | Permalink

    That it isn’t crystal clear with Jesus’ existence is already a strong indicator that he probably didn’t exist. Even when some historians have convoluted reasons, confidence should be proportional. Since it cannot be shown clearly, there is no reason to believe in his existence with any conviction.

    Jesus is completely unimportant, even in the sense that he was a great moral teacher as some atheist maintain. He’s completely overshadowed by someone like Confucius. So if we really need to hold up some bloke from the past, it should be him.

  13. nicky
    Posted October 29, 2016 at 11:59 pm | Permalink

    This falsification about the Census in Luke makes one think that there really was a kind of ‘Jesus’ figure. A guy from Nazareth, who needed to be born in Bethlehem to fulfill some prophecy. Why not have him simply Bethlehemian if he was wholly fictional?
    [I think (but am not sure) it was the Hitch who made that point]

    • Achrachno
      Posted October 30, 2016 at 2:11 am | Permalink

      Some people are just really bad story tellers.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted October 30, 2016 at 2:15 am | Permalink

        In the sense that they sometimes drag in completely irrelevant and time-wasting digressions that do nothing for the story, yes. I can think of a few.


    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted October 30, 2016 at 2:37 am | Permalink

      I’m not sure I follow the logic here. Does the fact that Superman grew up in Smallville rather than Metropolis count as evidence for a historical Clark Kent?

      The journey from Nazareth, being turned away at the inn, and being born in the manger all serve a plot purpose, establishing the humble origins of the Jesus character, just as living in a cupboard under the stairs does for Harry Potter. I don’t see how that counts against the fictional nature of the story.

      • nicky
        Posted October 30, 2016 at 9:27 am | Permalink

        Point is that this weak indication is about the only one believers have got (if we exclude the falsification in Josephus)
        Still think it is odd to make up a story of going back to Bethlehem if he actually could easily have been placed there from the beginning.

        Note, I still am a mythicist. All the stories, turning water into wine (besting Dionysos), being killed and resurrected (Mithras, Horus, Dionysos), born from a virgin (about half of all gods and demi-gods), etc. etc. are clearly myths, generally predating the NT.
        As others have pointed out above, the fact there *might* have been a preacher Jesus at the time does not change the fact that the NT is totally mythical where it is not esotherical. One does not need to be a biblical/ancient literature scholar to realise that.

    • reasonshark
      Posted October 30, 2016 at 6:43 am | Permalink

      Because later storytellers were trying to be consistent with earlier storytellers, whether the story was true or not. Is it really that hard to figure out that internal consistency does not equal truthfulness, much less amount to actual evidence?

      You know which other people go to the trouble of forcing later details to match the precursor material? Fanfiction writers. It’s not a good sign when a proposed argument for historicism implies that fanfiction writers are historians.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted October 30, 2016 at 7:52 am | Permalink

        “You know which other people go to the trouble of forcing later details to match the precursor material? Fanfiction writers.”

        Not always. They may do the exact opposite. Often fanfic writers are motivated by dissatisfaction with the direction the story has taken and so write their own alternative accounts. Or they retcon it.


    • Flint
      Posted October 30, 2016 at 8:18 pm | Permalink

      There are two tales in the gospels of the birth of Jesus. One places him in Bethlehem, the other in Jerusalem. The star in the east, the three wise men, are only part of the Jerusalem story.

      Both of these versions are attempts to satisfy varying interpretations of existing prophecies at the time.

      There were a good many Jewish sects and mystery religions current them, and multiple self-proclaimed messiahs. Paul’s messiah was entirely celestial. Apparently the Pauline school of thought lost the political battle to the “let’s create a physical Jesus and place him long ago and far away in a different language” school.

      I think this faction’s victory is understandable. In the winning version, ordinary schmucks like you and me can go to heaven and live forever. In Paul’s version, you had to be divine to begin with. Not so appealing…

    • Posted October 31, 2016 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

      That’s the ‘Argument of Embarrassment’. But some of the most persuasive mythicist work has shown that ‘Nazorean’ derives from a taker of nazarene vows, not a denizen of a town (which would translate something like ‘Nazarethnon’).

      Ehrman also disingenuously shits all over René Salm, who has shown — by compiling the research of archeological experts, mind you — that Nazareth was not even inhabited during the 1st Century. Ehrman repeatedly and stupidly refers to 10 ‘period’ coins that prove Nazareth existed c. AD 33, when these coins are so worn as to be mere slugs with no identifying features!

  14. Posted October 30, 2016 at 12:38 am | Permalink

    Here is Richard Carrier’s review of the Ehrman-Price Debate:

  15. Posted October 30, 2016 at 3:13 am | Permalink

    It’s possible that they’re both right — that Jesus was, in fact, several real people. ‘Yeshua’ was a common name at that time and place, the country was in religious turmoil, and people from all walks of life got inspired to become street-preachers. Over the years, the memories of these assorted street-preachers got consolidated under the name of the most famous of the lot and eventually written down. Remember that the council of Nicaea sorted through over 100 “gospels” before settling on the final four.

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted October 30, 2016 at 3:58 am | Permalink

      This sort of answer is often proposed but strikes me as unsatisfying. I doubt that many people would accept the existence of actual lumberjacks named Paul as sufficient basis for concluding that the Paul Bunyan of legend must be based on one of them. We’d want additional evidence connecting the deeds of the legendary Paul with actual events in the life of the putative historical Paul.

      I don’t see why the standard of evidence for historical Jesus should be any less rigorous. Lacking such evidence, the null hypothesis ought to be that he’s wholly fictional.

      • Posted November 1, 2016 at 7:32 pm | Permalink

        If you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras. A rabbi under Roman rule preaching messianic messages? Offering faith healings? People repeating the tales with inflated embellishments? Horses all the way down. In the absence of specific evidence, one should go with the base rates.

    • Charles Minus
      Posted October 30, 2016 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

      The idea the the Council of Nicaea established the canon has been floating around for ages. But it is not true. The council was concerned with the “true nature” of god and Jesus and if they were both made out of the same stuff and other fantasies. The canon was not established until much later.

  16. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted October 30, 2016 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

    Actually, the sponsors of the debate report that polling the audience the numbers that decided perhaps J of N may have existed after all went up from 46% to 51%.

    (Source: )

    I was there in person and in an odd social position afterwards since my father is fairly good friends with both Ehrman and Price.

    It remains by basic position that the preponderance of the evidence is in favor of Jesus existing, but there is no proof beyond reasonable doubt. (You can “convict” him of existing in a civil suit, but not a criminal one.)

    The mythicists are divided amongst themselves re the timeline of the actual origins of Christianity, and Earl Doherty’s claim that the early Christians originally thought of Jesus as someone who just fought demons in outer space but not as a figure on earth strikes me as bizarre, and Ehrman was at his best in refuting that one.

    • Torbjörn Larsson
      Posted November 1, 2016 at 5:29 am | Permalink

      A, the mythical “preponderance of evidence”, which when looked after never shows up. I cite:

      “Most scholars of antiquity agree that Jesus existed,[52][53][54][55] but scholars differ on the historicity of specific episodes described in the Biblical accounts of Jesus.[14]:181 The only two events subject to “almost universal assent” are that Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist and was crucified by the order of the Roman Prefect Pontius Pilate.[12][56][57]”

      [ ]

      See my longish comment on why those two “events” are mythical. That makes the preponderance of actual evidence nil.

      Re “mythicists” I think the lumping together of disparate ideas and hypotheses for the purpose of (philosophical) debate is ludicrous. As long as there is no historical evidence for the myth, the same applies as for atheism, the null hypothesis rules. The claimed historicity doesn’t stand up to the standards that applies (or should apply) to historicity elsewhere, i.e. a consensus based on a common set of robust evidence.

  17. Posted October 31, 2016 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    Strictly speaking, a mythicist is one who thinks the original Christianity is one where the Christ figure appears in “myth time” not on Earth in history.

    One can deny the historical Jesus and *not* be a mythicist, in principle, if you are even more at the fringe (like the PISO CHRIST BS), i.e., that it was made up as a deliberate fraud.

    One can be agnostic about the origins, needless to say, which I think is the minimum defensible position if you seriously take the anti-evidence into account. It isn’t that there is just a paucity of evidence in favour of historicity, but there are a lot of little bits that should push one away from it further. Does it take you all the way to the mythicist one? I think so, but that’s up each to decide on her own.

    One piece is understanding Hebrews 8. Another is to understand how on earth there could have been so many non-canonical gospels, if there was something like a historical source to draw upon. If they are instead read as midrash, as even the canonical ones should be, that’s *anti-evidence*. There are more; Doherty and Carrier at least present this material very well – and disagree on details, as one should expect at this point.

  18. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted November 1, 2016 at 5:19 am | Permalink

    I wouldn’t say that watching Dillahunty’s opinion laid out was a waste of time, but he is clearly confused about “scholarship” and the purpose of looking at archaeology and history instead of “biblical history”. At times he baits with looking at evidence, then he switches to having an opinionated debate. And I can’t possibly see the purpose of grouping a heterogeneous set into a philosophic ‘mysticist’ vs ‘historicist’ camp.

    Back to basics:

    As everywhere else a claim should have evidence. The mythical person (i,e, having a description in myths) we discuss is not a historical person, he is at best a “biblical historical” person. The two evidences that the latter agree on are clearly based in myth. (I.e. a baptism – by a mythical person- and a state murder – at a cross which has never made it into the historical and archaeological record).

    I see the oft repeated claim even in this thread that there is a lot of evidences, but such claims are never backed up by evidence. The above characterization I take from Wikipedia’s description of the presumed historicity of the myth.

    Finally I note that Dillahunty, whether intentionally or not, makes sophist arguments in other cases.

    When Dillahunty claims that noting the analogy between this myth and other, always non-historical ones, or between the myth and such superstition as astrology is not evidence, it is erroneous. It is a clear constraint on the myth, and explains why “biblical historians” can never find the historicity evidence they expect.

    Dillahunty also accepts without evidence that religious magic is special pledged as “supernatural” and that it can never be tested. Which is news to all physicists that with the completion of the Standard Model and its field vacuum *knows* that if “supernatural” causation exist it doesn’t show up in everyday physics. No miracles, no ‘gods’.

    Finally Dillahunty accepts that Saul met “apostles” that in turn had met the myth persona despite that these descriptions were written generations after the fact. Saul himself never claimed that he met them in the seven papers that everyone agrees on he wrote [according to Wikipedia], including the crucial letter to the Galatians. He mentions a “Peter” from Jerusalem, presumably what the latter myth producers caught up on and inserted into the so called “gospels”.

    To sum up: Dillahunty believes noting the non-historicity of the mythical founder of the christianist myth package is somehow not of academic standing. But that is an arguable position of his as long as he leans on “biblical historians” instead of history and archaeology.

    • Posted November 1, 2016 at 11:44 am | Permalink

      A lot of people confuse Paul of the letters (genuine and spurious) and Paul of Acts. The latter is fiction, as even mainstream scholarship is beginning to realize. (See the Carrier-Cook debate, where Cook says as much – a professor of New Testament who is not a mythicist but regards the gospels and Acts as fiction.)

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