"Independent Confirmation is Not Necessary to Establish the Mere Existence of the Jesus of the New Testament"

...so argued Jeffery Jay Lowder, co-founder of the Secular Web. I think people who deny the existence of a mere man named Jesus who was the founder of the Jesus cult have to explain away too many things to think the way they do. They could likewise claim Paul never existed by the same standards of reasoning that they do with Jesus. Where is Paul's existence independently confirmed outside of the New Testament?

Historical studies can be used to deny almost anything in history. Historical studies are like that, so we must exercise caution. There must be a limit to how skeptical a historian can be about historical conclusions simply by virtue of the fact that someone could be skeptical of almost all of them. As evidence for this, people today even deny the Holocaust happened.

Lowder makes the case that independent confirmation of a man named Jesus is not necessary, and I agree. He writes:.
There simply is nothing epistemically improbable about the mere existence of a man named Jesus. (Just because Jesus existed does not mean that he was born of a virgin, that he rose from the dead, etc.). I think that the New Testament does provide prima facie evidence for the historicity of Jesus. It is clear, then, that if we are going to apply to the New Testament ‘the same sort of criteria as we should apply to other ancient writings containing historical material,’ we should not require independent confirmation of the New Testament's claim that Jesus existed.”
Again, the standards for accepting historical conclusions cannot be as rigorous as the standards for scientific conclusions; otherwise we could not believe anything happened in the historical past. But something did happen in the past. So we cannot demand such high and rigorous standards. This is basic Philosophy of History.

What I do know is that charismatic leaders start religious cults, not committees and not authors. I also know that end time prophets have a higher than normal likelihood for starting religious cults. I also believe the best understanding of the Jesus in the New Testament is that he was a doomsday prophet, and that there is a likelihood the Jews of that era were expecting a Messiah, especially since they were under an oppressive Roman rule. Without a better explanation for how the Jesus cult started, I have good solid reasons for thinking it started with an end time prophet like the one described in the New Testament named Jesus.

Look at it this way. Since we can deny almost anything in the historical past, then when we read in an ancient text where a person existed and where it’s also said he did something, the burden of proof is on those who would deny this, under normal non-miraculous circumstances which have the burden of proof. This applies to characters like Adam, Noah, and Moses as well as for Jesus. We must take what the text says as a given in a prima facie sense, until shown otherwise. If, on the other hand, the burden of proof is on the person who accepts this textual testimony, then she could probably never meet that burden simply because historians cannot meet that burden in the first place.

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This is Part 3 of my case for the existence of the end-time prophet named Jesus described in the New Testament. Other parts can be found here: Part 1, and Part 2

75 comments:

John W. Loftus said...

I should say something else here. Archeological evidence is historical evidence, but it’s also scientific evidence, as is forensic evidence in the past. This is the most secure evidence in the past, although without textual evidence it is uninterpreted evidence. There are artifacts, and then there are historical texts. Written texts tell us what people may have believed in the past. But uninterpreted artifacts are another matter entirely.

Historians (qua historians) are the people who put all of it together to construct an account of a period of the past, and it requires a great attention to detail, sometimes needing to harmonize conflicting evidence (both textual and artifacts) into a complete account of that period. The larger the historian’s time period, then the less accurate her history will be. The archeologist, for instance, might find a coin. The forensic scientist will date it. But the historian must construct an account of that period as a whole. I am not talking about the archeologist or the forensic scientist when I’m describing the conclusions of the historian who might deny something in the past. The historian I'm referring to who might deny something happened in the past is the one who writes a history of a particular time period, or of a people, or of a person. This is a difficult task and guided by the historian's outlook and control beliefs.

John W. Loftus said...

I'm finding that some skeptics who deny Jesus existed are just as fanatical and dogmatic as the Christians they argue with. I have even been accused of having "blind faith" by arguing the way I do, which I find utterly preposterous and completely unfounded merely becasue I disagree. It's as if there is a thought police out there demanding complete uniformity on this issue if one is to be considered a bone fide skeptic. Sorry, but I'm first and foremost a freethinker. I left the demands for conformity when I left the church. If you disagree with me, fine. I might be wrong. As they say, "I really don't have a dog in this fight." It wouldn't matter to me a bit if I am wrong. I think I'm right. That's all.

kiwi said...

My position is that we should be agnostic on the issue. The burden is on people who take a position, HJ or MJ. As I've said, a case can be made for both.

If your position is that, because the evidence of ancient history is so scant, any reference to a person who did at least one action is enough well... It's hard to argue against that. It just means that you set the bar very low. So given your standard, well of course Jesus existed. And in 2000 years, it means that Harry Potter could be considered historical too.

I disagree with your view (and I've said, I totally disagree that we can reasonably deny almost anything in the historical past), because it opens the door too wide. My view is: when the evidence is solid, I conclude that a person existed; when the evidence is scant, then I'm agnostic. I'm not sure why it's necessary to always take a position.

John W. Loftus said...

kiwi, this isn't my standard. It's the standard for what historians must do. Perhaps I'm not making myself clear. I do think we can know what happened in the past for the most part. There are just too many controversial questions to know to any great deal of probability, certainly not like what science provides. And so while agnosticism is a reasonable position I think the textual evidence leads me to a tentative conclusion. And no, Harry Potter doesn't apply for so many reasons (although I haven't read any of the novels). There is nothing in them that claims Potter existed, there is no description of any recognizable landscap or cities or people groups we'd recognize historically, and there is no one who thinks Potter exists. yada yada yada.

kiwi said...

"It's the standard for what historians must do."

Well, I disagree. The evidence sometimes being scant, and history not being a hard science is no excuse to set the bar that low.

Who can deny the existence of Nixon? Who can deny the existence of Mao? Who can deny the existence of Darwin? Who can deny the existence of Kant? Who can deny the existance of the Roman empire? Etc. No one. So it's not like historians are always in the dark. And given the technology we have now, it's going to be virtually impossible to deny any future historical figure or event.

So the lack of good evidence is not universal to a point historians must desesperately adopt a low standard.

It just seems to me that if we have to set the bar extremely low just to allow the existence of some ancient historical figures, then I'm not sure if we're doing something meaningful.

Evan said...

John I appreciate all the work you are going through with this, but I'd like to question exactly what it is you accept as historical within the Greek gospels.

It's clear you believe Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet. Do you believe Jesus was crucified?

If so, what charge do you believe the Romans used to justify his crucifixion?

Do you believe there was habitation in Nazareth in the first part of the first century CE?

The archeological evidence for this is at best, weak.

Do you believe Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist?

Do you believe Jesus was a conjurer who performed magic tricks at weddings?

Do you believe Jesus went to Egypt?

Do you believe Jesus was born during a global census?

Do you believe Jesus gave a sermon and followed it by feeding a large number of people from a small amount of food?

Do you believe Jesus routinely told wealthy people to give away all their goods?

My guess is some of your answers will be yes and some will be no.

Was there a human being in first century Palestine who was named Yeshua or Yehoshua? Of course there was.

Is the story told in the Greek gospels history? I can't see how you can hold to that position. The Gospel of Mark (the first gospel) is clearly not a history but a literary construction -- a parable if you will.

Since Mark has primacy -- the rest simply re-tell the same legend.

And there I think is the real crux of the matter. The Greek gospels are legends, and pretty much anyone who views them can see them as such.

Certainly the evidence for a historical George Washington is quite strong, but the evidence for him chopping down a tree as a child and copping to it is extremely weak. We can believe in the historical George Washington without accepting that story as valid, because we know it is a legend.

Other legends are similar, Alexander cutting the Gordian knot, etc.

Do you believe there was a man named Moses who led some Israelites out of Egypt? There are lots of references to him in literature. Do you believe there was a man named Achilles who stormed Troy?

It's hard to say there weren't such men.

But it's easy to say that the stories we have about them are largely legends and it's impossible to take them seriously as history.

The burden of proof for a claim varies with the claim being made. You have stated this many times before and I agree with you.

I doubt anyone can gainsay the existence of someone named Jesus in first century CE. But it's indisputable that the stories we have now about such a person are legends that obscure any precisely knowable historical facts.

Steven Carr said...

'They could likewise claim Paul never existed by the same standards of reasoning that they do with Jesus'

No they don't.

Sherlock Holmes was based on a real person.

That means that Sherlock Holmes existed, doesn't it John, as all we need for somebody from a book to exist is that the character is based on a real person who really did live.

That is the standard all professional historians work to.

How come then that real historians need more for somebody from a book to exist than that the character be based on a real person?

Let us talk about non-existent persons.

Let us talk about the Maitreya

What could have caused Benjamin Creme to start to say that such a person lives, and is a real, historical person?

Surely the simplest explanation for Creme preaching a Maitreya is that there is a charismatic figure living and teaching today.

Of course, the fame of this person has not spread beyond a small circle , which is why nobody else writes about him.

But in 2,000 years the existence of the Maitreya will be considered axiomatic and anybody who questions whether such a person lived will be called irrational and living in a fantasy land.

Here are just some of the miracles worked by Maitreya, whose miracle-working is evident in every strata of writing about him by his followers :-

‘Such wells have been created by Maitreya all over the world — one in Germany, a place called Nordenau where thousands of people have taken the water, and one north of New Delhi where suddenly an empty well gushed this water, which was found to have miraculous healing properties.’

Maitreya appeared to not just 12 people or 500 people, but 12 TIMES 500 people, or 6000 people.

‘He appeared ‘out of the blue’ on the 11th of June, 1988, in Nairobi, Kenya, before 6,000 people. One moment he wasn’t there, the next moment he was standing beside the woman dressed in blue. Her name is Mary Akatsa.’

Gosh, Christians would kill for evidence like this!

Yet this Maitreya does not even exist, although the 'evidence' for him is a thousand times stronger than the evidence for Jesus of Nazareth.

Dave said...

>What I do know is that charismatic leaders start religious cults, not committees and not authors. <

I disagree. Cults don't spring, for the most part, from nowhere (only the universe can do that). Cult leaders base their cults on what has gone before. And it can be difficult to say where one cult ends and another begins.

I'm familiar - because I wrote about it - with one cult that began in California, the "I Am" movement. No one remembers - except historians, perhaps - who began the cult, in the 1930s. It was Guy W. Ballard. Google him to find out more for yourself.

Ballard wrote a book about his supposed experiences meeting Jesus, and the spirit of someone who was real, the cult figure Count St. Germain, a charlatan who lived in Europe in the 1700s. Ballard claimed he met Jesus and St. Germain on the slopes of Mt. Shasta, in N. California.

Ballard ripped off the idea of his book from a novel written in the late 19th century; in the story, the protagonist meets Jesus and St. Germain at Mt. Shasta. Ballard claimed his own book was non-fiction, and google wasn't around then to help people discover the truth behind Ballard's claim. Those who fell under his sway gave their money and time to Ballard.

By the 1970s the cult came under the control of Elizabeth Claire Prophet, and Ballard might as well have never existed. When she began exhibiting symptoms of Alzheimer's disease several years ago, the cult came under the leadership of a board of directors - a committee, if you will - and of course the committee has put its own stamp on the cult that started as a novel more than a century ago.

I don't know if Ballard was charismatic or not, but his cult survives today, and it's based not on Ballard, but on figures sprung from his imagination, which came in turn from the imagination of a fiction writer 40 years earlier.

Another example, more recent, of an author founding a cult: L. Ron Hubbard. Scientology was originally written, not as a self-help book, but as part of a science fiction story Hubbard penned in the mid-20th century.

So cults can come from authors, and even from committees.

Whatever the truth about Jesus, the seeds of imagination that flowered into the Bible are lost to time, making it, at least for now, impossible to know with certainty if there ever was a real person who gave rise to the stories in the Bible.

If it's possible there was a real Jesus on which the Bible is based, it's just possible there wasn't - we need only look to Ballard's "I Am" movement.

This much you and I agree on: that the Jesus of the Bible, the one with super powers, ever existed is certainly not so.

John W. Loftus said...

I won't get any Christian to help me out here because I'm denying much of what they believe, while skeptics seemed to have come to a consensus. With agnostic New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman I think there was a man named Jesus.

Let me respond to Evan's comments, briefly.

First off what murder trial have you seen documented on TV where every loose end is cleared up? None that I know. There are always things that cannot be explained, for instance, we think the guy did it but how the hell did he do it in 12 minutes?

Evan: It's clear you believe Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet. Do you believe Jesus was crucified?

Yes.

Evan: If so, what charge do you believe the Romans used to justify his crucifixion?

There are three theories. Jesus was probably crucified mistakenly as a rebel. See a really good book on this and other questions called The Historical Figure of Jesus, by E. P. Sanders.

Evan: Do you believe there was habitation in Nazareth in the first part of the first century CE?

Probably, and if so I visited this town.

Evan: The archeological evidence for this is at best, weak.

There is textual evidence. And given what we know about the existence of other places, people groups, and landscape from the Gospels then it's reasonable to believe they are right about the existence of Nazareth.

Evan: Do you believe Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist?

Yes, Jesus was one of his disiples and his message was the same.

Evan: Do you believe Jesus was a conjurer who performed magic tricks at weddings?

Possibly, but I cannot say for sure.

Evan: Do you believe Jesus went to Egypt?

No.

Evan: Do you believe Jesus was born during a global census?

No.

Evan: Do you believe Jesus gave a sermon and followed it by feeding a large number of people from a small amount of food?

As a prophet Jesus did preach sermons but we don’t have any newspaper account of any of them, and he didn’t feed a large number of people with bread and fish.

Evan: Do you believe Jesus routinely told wealthy people to give away all their goods?

Yes, it fits with his eschatological doomsday message where in the new world the poor will rule.

Evan: Is the story told in the Greek gospels history?

No.

Evan: The Gospel of Mark (the first gospel) is clearly not a history but a literary construction -- a parable if you will.

It has parabolic elements, that’s for sure.

Evan: And there I think is the real crux of the matter. The Greek gospels are legends, and pretty much anyone who views them can see them as such.

The overwhelming scholarly consensus is that you are wrong, so your assertion is incorrect.

Evan: Do you believe there was a man named Moses who led some Israelites out of Egypt? There are lots of references to him in literature. Do you believe there was a man named Achilles who stormed Troy?

No, because although we have textual evidence for these things we have archaeological evidence against them. But with regard to Moses it’s quite possible as the PBS NOVA program articulated, that a small group of slaves escaped from Egypt and told their story which was subsequently greatly exaggerated. It’s also possible that there were omens that the Pharaoh of Egypt took as signs from the gods and simply let a group of slaves free, and then some leader among the slaves claimed it was because of something he did.

Evan: I doubt anyone can gainsay the existence of someone named Jesus in first century CE. But it's indisputable that the stories we have now about such a person are legends that obscure any precisely knowable historical facts.

The historian must do the hard work of determining what is historical and what is not.

Cheers.

John W. Loftus said...

kiwi, if we demand archaeological and forensic evidence before we can say a person existed in the past then we cannot say very many people existed. Again, textual evidence provides a prima facie evidence which must be taken at face value in historical studies.

And you're right about how technology will change things. But if people can say we vever visited the moon, or that the CIA conspired to blow up the Twin Towers on 9/11 or that the US knew the Japanese were going to attack Pearl Harbor in advance, then there will even be doubt in the future. THAT'S the nature of historical studies, they are fraught with problems and guided many times by the outlook and control beliefs of the historian.

John W. Loftus said...

Steven: Sherlock Holmes was based on a real person.

Does anyone think the character of Sherlock Holmes did and said what we read in the novels? I don’t think so.

Steven: How come then that real historians need more for somebody from a book to exist than that the character be based on a real person?

They don’t. Again textual evidence is prima facie evidence and must be shown wrong from other evidence. Sometimes more trustworthy contradictory textual evidence does the requisite work as well.

Steven: Let us talk about non-existent persons. Let us talk about the Maitreya

I don’t know of this case enough to comment too much, sorry.

Steven: But in 2,000 years the existence of the Maitreya will be considered axiomatic and anybody who questions whether such a person lived will be called irrational and living in a fantasy land.

Possibly, except I’m pretty sure there are contemporary sources that actually deny he existed, so the parallel is non-analogous to Jesus. And in his case, like in the case of Jesus the standards are the same ones. Historians have quite a chore to figure out the truth.

Steven: Yet this Maitreya does not even exist, although the 'evidence' for him is a thousand times stronger than the evidence for Jesus of Nazareth.

I think historians would strongly disagree with you. The very fact that you have studied up on this topic and come to the conclusions you have is evidence of this, especially since you are a contemporary of these claims. Where does the scholarly consensus about Jesus lead us to believe? You know where.

John W. Loftus said...

Dave: I disagree. Cults don't spring, for the most part, from nowhere (only the universe can do that). Cult leaders base their cults on what has gone before. And it can be difficult to say where one cult ends and another begins.

But the beginning of a new cult starts with a cult leader.

Dave: I'm familiar - because I wrote about it - with one cult that began in California, the "I Am" movement. No one remembers - except historians, perhaps - who began the cult, in the 1930s. It was Guy W. Ballard. Google him to find out more for yourself.

I’m not familiar with this case. What do historians conclude?...probably the same thing you do for the same reasons. What do historians conclude about the existence of Jesus? The same thing I do.

Dave: Another example, more recent, of an author founding a cult: L. Ron Hubbard. Scientology was originally written, not as a self-help book, but as part of a science fiction story Hubbard penned in the mid-20th century.

I’m not familiar with this case either, but again, what do historians conclude about it? Probably the same things you do for the same reasons. What do historians conclude about the existence of Jesus? The same thing I do.

Dave: So cults can come from authors, and even from committees.

If a cult springs from a committee there was a dominant member of that committee who convened it, and if they are started by an author that author was a charismatic leader. There are needed distinctions here. Star Trekkies and Star Wars buffs are not a cult, but if they are none of them believe the stories are true. Historians will confirm this too. The cults I have in mind when I say what I do are religious ones like Charles Manson and David Koresh, and others. These leaders gathered a following of people who loved them and worshipped them and thought they were telling the truth about the world like no one they had ever encountered before. That’s the kind of cult I’m talking about and the Jesus cult fits this bill to a tee.

Dave: Whatever the truth about Jesus, the seeds of imagination that flowered into the Bible are lost to time, making it, at least for now, impossible to know with certainty if there ever was a real person who gave rise to the stories in the Bible.

No, this is not impossible. Historians are figuring it out, as I think I am. You simply cannot throw out the baby with the bathwater when we have textual evidence, plenty of it, that says Jesus existed, textual evidence that is confirmed archaeologically, as I said, of the sites and people groups and landscape of the times. The Pharisees and Sadducees have been confirmed independently. What if such groups were never confirmed at all? What would you claim then, that they never existed? Why? Textual evidence is considered by all historians to the prima facie true unless disconfirmed. Where is the disconfirming evidence that Jesus existed? Sure we have notable silences, but I think those can be explained. I wrote a review for this archaeology text on Jesus, which I found to be persuasive.

Dave: This much you and I agree on: that the Jesus of the Bible, the one with super powers, ever existed is certainly not so.

Yes, agreed.

John W. Loftus said...

I said: They could likewise claim Paul never existed by the same standards of reasoning that they do with Jesus.

Carr: No they don't.

All we have is textual evidence for the existence of Paul. It's the same evidence. And you're wrong. Robert Price is coming out with a book where he will claim Paul didn't write any of the letters attributed to him, so what is left of the existence of Paul?

If we demand independent testimony to corroborate textual testimony we could deny almost anything. It's demanding too much. It's too high of a standard.

kiwi said...

"Kiwi, if we demand archaeological and forensic evidence before we can say a person existed in the past then we cannot say very many people existed."

I'm not asking for a *specific* kind of evidence. I'm asking for evidence good enough any reasonable person would be forced to admit the person did exist.

In the case of Jesus, I don't think the evidence is good enough.

"Again, textual evidence provides a prima facie evidence which must be taken at face value in historical studies."

I disagree. I don't see the need to take old texts at face value.

"But if people can say we vever visited the moon, or that the CIA conspired to blow up the Twin Towers on 9/11 or that the US knew the Japanese were going to attack Pearl Harbor in advance."

People can say what they want. People can deny the Holocaust. But bottom line, the evidence for the Holocaust is simply overwhelming.

If people can make up crackpot, infinitely unlikely scenarios, it doesn't make the data go away.

In the case of Jesus, I think denying the historical Jesus is reasonable.

John W. Loftus said...

kiwi: I'm not asking for a *specific* kind of evidence. I'm asking for evidence good enough any reasonable person would be forced to admit the person did exist.

And my claim is that the evidence for your claim is not there.

"Again, textual evidence provides a prima facie evidence which must be taken at face value in historical studies."

kiwi: I disagree. I don't see the need to take old texts at face value.

You simply cannot be serious. Be consistent then with all textual evidence and see where that gets you. Become a historian and then you'll know why they treat textual evidence as prima facie true unless discomfirmed. THEY MUST DO THIS! THERE IS NO OTHER ALTERNATIVE!

kiwi: If people can make up crackpot, infinitely unlikely scenarios, it doesn't make the data go away.

That's the problem with historical investigations. Since someone can easily deny that a person, any person, existed in history then one must take textual evidence seriously, and that's all there is to it. I see nothing that disconfirms this testimony when it comes to a historical figure named Jesus or Paul.

kiwi: In the case of Jesus, I think denying the historical Jesus is reasonable.

And I think denying the Holocaust is reasonable too, seriously. I've talked with someone who thinks this. He can explain everything to his own satisfaction even if I disagree vehemently, and I do. I disagree with him for the same reasons I disagree with you, because no single piece of evidence can establish that Jesus existed or not. It's the convergence of evidence that does this, and that's how historians operate, on the convergence of evidence. I also think its reasonable to believe in Christianity, you see, but just like the Holocaust deniers I disagree vehemently.

Steven Carr said...

So John agrees that Sherlock Holmes was based on a real person, but denies that Sherlock Holmes existed.


So if Jesus of the Gospels was based on a real person, does that mean that Jesus of the Gospels existed?

Obviously not. It takes more than being based on a real person for a character to have existed.

What is needed are societies where people discuss the character (a bit like Sherlock Holmes!), or a museum in the place where he lived (a bit like Sherlock Holmes!)

JOHN
Possibly, except I’m pretty sure there are contemporary sources that actually deny he existed, so the parallel is non-analogous to Jesus.

2 CORINTHIANS 11

For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough.

So we have contemporary sources denying that some of the Jesuses existed that Christians were preaching.

So how does John know that the Jesus of the Gospels existed, when contemporary Christians complained about all the different Jesus's?

Steven Carr said...

JOHN
Does anyone think the character of Sherlock Holmes did and said what we read in the novels?

CARR
Is John demanding independent confirmation to establish the existence of Sherlock Holmes of the novels?

But the title of the thread is 'independent confirmation is not necesary'.

And John knows the Sherlock Holmes of the novels was based on a real person.

And no independent confirmation is needed.

So Sherlock Holmes existed.

John W. Loftus said...

Carr: So John agrees that Sherlock Holmes was based on a real person, but denies that Sherlock Holmes existed.

Well, I took your word for that, anyway. If I were to have more assurance of this than your word I would research into it, but since it isn't necessary I won't.

Carr: So if Jesus of the Gospels was based on a real person, does that mean that Jesus of the Gospels existed?

No, but I think I have already expressed what I think is reasonable to conclude about the Jesus of the Gospels.

Carr: Obviously not. It takes more than being based on a real person for a character to have existed.

Yes, but I have argued for what I think about Jesus.

Carr: What is needed are societies where people discuss the character (a bit like Sherlock Holmes!), or a museum in the place where he lived (a bit like Sherlock Holmes!)

...and who also remember an event like in the Lord's supper, and look forward to his coming again, and carry on his message even to the point of making excuses for why he never returned?

Carr: 2 CORINTHIANS 11

So we have contemporary sources denying that some of the Jesuses existed that Christians were preaching.


Yes, of course, but I'm arguing these stories had a basis in a real human person.

Carr: So how does John know that the Jesus of the Gospels existed, when contemporary Christians complained about all the different Jesus's?

This is what I'm arguing. I never said i was sure. I could be wrong. But I think I'm right. Do not misrepresent me. Doing so tells me you feel the need to mischaracterize my views because you cannot sufficiently argue your case.

Carr: Does anyone think the character of Sherlock Holmes did and said what we read in the novels?

No, so? I suppose historians overwhelmingly agree.

CARR: Is John demanding independent confirmation to establish the existence of Sherlock Holmes of the novels?

I haven't researched into this, but the very fact that you write on this topic with such assuredness shows that such things can be known. There is a convergence of evidence from both textual and independent evidence, and that's what is needed for any claim. But when there isn't indepened evidence for or against a claim it is as I say it is. When it comes to miracles like the sky turning dark of the sun backing up I DO NEED INDEPENDENT EVIDENCE< you see.

You're stretching things to make a point which no one accepts about Sherlock Holmes and trying to bring that example directly into the study about Jesus without noticing the dissimilarities. See how far you must go to defend what you believe. I think that's telling. Do the requisite work, the hard work, of a historian and you'll know what the overwhelming consensus is that Jesus existed and you'll also have some idea of what is believable and what is not.

John W. Loftus said...

Earlier I link to an archaeology book I reviewed. I found what I wrote:

JESUS AND ARCHAEOLOGY. Edited by James H. Charlesworth. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2006. Pp. xxv + 740. ISBN 0-8028-4880-X; Paperback $50.00.

This scholarly work contains the essays of leading archaeologists and biblical scholars that center on how archaeological discoveries shed light on the life, thought and times of Jesus in the Gospels.

Complete with many black and white pictures, the authors deal with a wide range of subjects, including what it meant for Jesus to be called a bastard (Mamzerut) child who taught in the synagogues. In it are revealed some recent findings from Qumran, Nazareth, Cana, Bethsaida, Jerusalem, and how such findings are relevant to theology.

Charlesworth briefly summarizes some of the results. Nazareth, Cana and Bethsaida have been identified as existing in the time of Jesus, along with some synagogues: “it would be foolish to continue to foster the illusion that the Gospels are merely fictional stories like the legends of Hercules and Asclepius.” (p. 694). This work will be of great interest to scholars working in this area as well as anyone interested in current archaeological findings related to the four gospels.

Jason Long said...

John said:

"Since we can deny almost anything in the historical past, then when we read in an ancient text where a person existed and where it’s also said he did something, the burden of proof is on those who would deny this, under normal non-miraculous circumstances which have the burden of proof. This applies to characters like Adam, Noah, and Moses as well as for Jesus."

I agree that documentation from a dispassionate historian is good enough evidence for an ordinary event and that the burden of proof in practice should be on the one who denies the documentation, but are you sure your standard should apply to Adam and Noah? Even if we strip the surrounding myths, we're looking at 3000-3500 years before documentation.

To me, claiming that ancient people were able to pass down the tradition accurately for this length of time is an extraordinary claim, and we know what Sagan said. Maybe I misinterpreted what you wrote. But in any event, I agree that religions didn't just drop out of the sky and that the gospel is likely based on a prophet (Jesus is as good of a name as any).

kiwi said...

"And my claim is that the evidence for your claim is not there."

I'm not sure what you mean by that.

"Be consistent then with all textual evidence and see where that gets you."

What makes you think I'm not consistant. Do you have a specific example in mind?

"Become a historian and then you'll know why they treat textual evidence as prima facie true unless discomfirmed."

I don't think historians do that. That would mean that historians would have to accept the historicity of the resurrection until it is discomfirmed. It doesn't make any sense.

"THEY MUST DO THIS! THERE IS NO OTHER ALTERNATIVE!"

I don't agree. Do you have specific examples in mind (not related to Christianity) that taking my approach would lead to obscurantism?

"Since someone can easily deny that a person, any person, existed in history"

No, it is not possible to do that. Or else, show me how it's reasonably possible to deny the existence of Nixon, or Kant. I'm waiting.

"One must take textual evidence seriously, and that's all there is to it."

I take them seriously. But a skeptic doubts until something is reasonably shown to be true. The approach of taking something as true until it's discomfirmed is contrary to the skeptical approach.

John W. Loftus said...

Jason Long: are you sure your standard should apply to Adam and Noah? Even if we strip the surrounding myths, we're looking at 3000-3500 years before documentation.

Yes, I am sure. Textual evidence is good evidence unless there is either more reliable contray textual evidence, or archaelogical evidence to the contray, or an unbelievable claim about a miracle. See, this discussion helps me clarify what I mean, and I might clarify even more in the face of other questions and objections.

In the cases of Adam and Noah there are unbelievable miraculous claims and there is no independent confirmation of them (which is necessary for miraculous claims), in the case of Noah there is archaeological evidence to the contray, and in the case of Adam there is mountains of geoloical evidence that their was never a first human pair described in the story.

Steven Carr said...

JOHN
You're stretching things to make a point which no one accepts about Sherlock Holmes and trying to bring that example directly into the study about Jesus without noticing the dissimilarities.

CARR
Your only criterion for saying that a character in a text existed is that the character was based on a real person.

Sherlock Holmes was based on a real person.

Therefore, the character of Sherlock Holmes existed.

Apparently, there are 'dissimilarities'.

Well, yes, so your criteria are too simplified, and do not take account of other factors.

Apparently, you want independent confirmation of the existence of Sherlock Holmes (Apparently we can't count Holmes socieites and a museum dedicated to him , literally at 221B Baker Street, an address which historians have proved existed)

So why claim that independent confirmation is not necessary for Jesus and demand it for Sherlock Holmes, somebody who was based on a real, existing person?

We know perfectly well that religions are based on frauds and lies from Joseph Smith's non-existent Golden Plates to Benjamin Creme's non-existent Maitreya, to the Dead Sea Scrolls 'Teacher of Righteousness.'

So it is by no means hyper-scepticism to ask for confirmation of Jesus of Nazareth, just as we ask for evidence of Dismas (the thief on the cross)

Did Dismas exist?

We also have to remember that Paul knows perfectly well that not all the Jesus's that early Christians preached were genuine.

John W. Loftus said...

I said: Become a historian and then you'll know why they treat textual evidence as prima facie true unless discomfirmed."

kiwi: I don't think historians do that. That would mean that historians would have to accept the historicity of the resurrection until it is discomfirmed. It doesn't make any sense.


This is a huge non-sequitur. The very fact that you think this is an argument tells me you are that critical of a thinker and are stretching thngs way beyond the bounds of what I'm arguing to make a point that cannot be defended by you. Sorry. Only when you can show yourself reasonable when disputing me will I take you seriously. You're not even trying to understand me.

kiwi: "THEY MUST DO THIS! THERE IS NO OTHER ALTERNATIVE!"

I don't agree. Do you have specific examples in mind (not related to Christianity) that taking my approach would lead to obscurantism?


There was a very interesting PBS program about the group of warrior women mentioned in Herodotus' work which had no independent confirmation. It sounded too unbelievable to think there were a warrier women who banded together and won battles against men and conquered territory. But the women were confirmed archaelogically, thus providing additional evidence that textual evidence should be taken seriously when it's not about a miracle claim.

"Since someone can easily deny that a person, any person, existed in history"

No, it is not possible to do that. Or else, show me how it's reasonably possible to deny the existence of Nixon, or Kant. I'm waiting.

Try the unconfirmed claims in the ancient past, try Attila the Hun, or Hannibal. In today's world it would be much more difficult, as I said, but then you apparently haven't studied philosophy, for if you have then there is a case to make that there is no material world, even though I don't accept it at all.

"One must take textual evidence seriously, and that's all there is to it."

KIWI: I take them seriously. But a skeptic doubts until something is reasonably shown to be true. The approach of taking something as true until it's discomfirmed is contrary to the skeptical approach.


A skeptic must be reasonable about his skepticism otherwise you could end up denying cause and effect or that there isn't a matterial world, too. I'm arguing for a reasonable skepticism. One cannot approach the past with any sort of extreme skepticism when there is textual evidence to the contray for that's all we have to go on in most cases.

John W. Loftus said...

Carr, I've seen you in action before. You and I are repeating ourselves. I think I already answered you. If you really wanted to research into what Sherlock Holmes did or didn't do or say, then do that. You cannot merely say we don't have a clue, unless we do, which might be the case with him, I don't know. What I'm claiming is that there are reasonable things to think about what Jesus did.

John W. Loftus said...

Sorry for the typos. Sometimes I don't double check what I write.

What I said to kiwi is this:

The very fact that you think this is an argument tells me you are not that critical of a thinker and are stretching thngs way beyond the bounds of what I'm arguing to make a point that cannot be defended by you.

kiwi said...

"This is a huge non-sequitur"

No, it's not. What is wrong to accept the resurrection, if something written is prima facie true until it's discomfirmed?

"You're not even trying to understand me."

I AM understanding you. You say that ancient texts should be considered true until discomfirmed. Are you sure you understand the implications of your claim?

"But the women were confirmed archaelogically, thus providing additional evidence that textual evidence should be taken seriously when it's not about a miracle claim."

But.. as you say yourself, those women were confirmed archaelogically. So we have good evidence now. I'm not familiar with what you're talking about, but with the little information you gave, what is wrong to suggest we should have been agnostic about those women, until better evidence is presented?

"try the unconfirmed claims in the ancient past"

Why are you avoiding answering about Nixon, or Kant? You did mention ANY figure of history can be denied. So how do you reasonably deny the existence of Kant or Nixon?

"but then you apparently haven't studied philosophy, for if you have then there is a case to make that there is no material world, even though I don't accept it at all."

We are talking about history, and how historians currently deal with the data.

What you mention about the material world not existing, that's radical skepticism. As I've said 4 times now, historians are not concerned with that.

Even if it's theorically possible that Nixon didn't exist because he was an hologram, historians will will not care. Historians seek to reasonably show that something happened, or that someone existed. And we can reasonably show that a lot of historical figures did exist. I do not think the evidence for Jesus is good enough to be able to reach a confident conclusion.

John W. Loftus said...

Again, Charlesworth briefly summarizes some of the results: “it would be foolish to continue to foster the illusion that the Gospels are merely fictional stories like the legends of Hercules and Asclepius.” (p. 694).

John W. Loftus said...

kiwi, you just gave me cause to ignore you. I have explained myself by now. You are being unreasonable and arguing just like Christians who have bliders on. If you decide to post something here again please summarize my thoughts in this thread so I know you understand them. I think not. As I say with Christians who argue here, with critical thinking skills like you have just exhibited no wonder you believe what you do. Sorry. But it applis.

kiwi said...

"A skeptic must be reasonable about his skepticism."

I am perfectly reasonable with my skepticism. It is your approach that is not skeptical.

"I'm arguing for a reasonable skepticism."

No. You're saying we should swallow old texts as true until discomfirmed. It's contrary to skepticism.

"One cannot approach the past with any sort of extreme skepticism when there is textual evidence to the contray for that's all we have to go on in most cases."

It's not extreme skepticism to NOT consider something true until discomfirmed.

The evidence being scant is no excuse to give up skepticism.

John W. Loftus said...

kiwi: Why are you avoiding answering about Nixon, or Kant? You did mention ANY figure of history can be denied. So how do you reasonably deny the existence of Kant or Nixon?

I did. You missed it. If there is no material world then they never existed. Besides, it's much harder to deny this about non-miraculous persons in today's world anyway. When it comes to the distant past it's much different, as I've argued.

You obviously know nothing about the task or craft of a historian.

Jason Long said...

The evidence against Noah and Adam is certainly good reason to consider that they never existed - I agree. The fundamental reasons for the Bible mentioning Noah and Adam are false accounts, so their existence can be soundly disputed - I agree. The account of Jesus is complex and should not be immediately disqualified because the miracles are intertwined - I agree there as well.

I'm certainly not a historian, but it seems strange to me that we would accept the say so of a hypothetical secular historian from say 500BCE who would claim that an ordinary man from 4000BCE existed. To me, there is no basis for the historian to make that claim. If he stated that someone from 600BCE or 700BCE existed, that would be fine, but should we not decrease the historian's reliability as that date slips backwards? What if he made a claim about a man from 15000BCE? To me, 14500 years is a long time. But so is 3500 years. I think no reasonable historian would try to speak of things that happened 3500 years ago when he fails to list his sources. But again, I'm certainly no student of history.a

Thanks for letting me pick your brain. I'm going to bed now.

John W. Loftus said...

Jason Long: I'm certainly not a historian, but it seems strange to me that we would accept the say so of a hypothetical secular historian from say 500BCE who would claim that an ordinary man from 4000BCE existed. To me, there is no basis for the historian to make that claim.

Good point. The more contemporary sources are the more reliable ones. That too figures in our assessment of the case.

kiwi said...

"kiwi, you just gave me cause to ignore you. I have explained myself by now. You are being unreasonable and arguing just like Christians who have bliders on. If you decide to post something here again please summarize my thoughts in this thread so I know you understand them. I think not. As I say with Christians who argue here, with critical thinking skills like you have just exhibited no wonder you believe what you do. Sorry. But it applis."

This post is nothing more than a disguised ad hominem.

I will let people judge who is irrational here. I have lost a lot of respect for you with that reply, and the more I read about you, the less I have.

kiwi said...

"I did. You missed it. If there is no material world then they never existed."

For the fifth time, to claim that the material world doesn't exist is radical skepticism, and historians are not concerned with radical skepticism. The existence of Kant or Nixon, from an historical perspective, is an undeniable fact that no rational person can deny.

"You obviously know nothing about the task or craft of a historian."

Personal attack number 4. Yawn.

kiwi said...

"Again, Charlesworth briefly summarizes some of the results: “it would be foolish to continue to foster the illusion that the Gospels are merely fictional stories like the legends of Hercules and Asclepius."

Sure. No one can reasonably think the Gospels were legends created in a vacuum.

But why exactly is it so improbable to think that writers can use the context they live in to write things that happen to not be true?

Surely I can write a story about Los Angeles, with every little detail being true, while completely inventing the main character. What is unlikely about that? That is what writers do all the time.

To explain the Gospels, positing a HJ is not necessary.

John W. Loftus said...

kiwi, so now it degenerates into name calling and a loss of respect, eh? Okay. All I said is that you were not dealing with me reasonably and that you have not exhibited good critical thinking skills in arguing your case. You might be correct, but you are not dealing with what I am arguing. So let me elaborate again, one last time.

kiwi said: What is wrong to accept the resurrection, if something written is prima facie true until it's disconfirmed?

It's about a miraculous claim which requires a great deal of evidence to overcome our belief such things do not happen...a lot of independent evidence. See how simple that was? I had already said that though.

kiwi: You say that ancient texts should be considered true until discomfirmed. Are you sure you understand the implications of your claim?

Yes, when you factor in the other things I said, yes. Care to cite an example? If someone in the past claimed to create cold-fusion we would naturally be skeptical about it for all the reasons I stated. The claim must fall within the parameters of what we presently think is probable.

kiwi: But.. as you say yourself, those women were confirmed archaelogically. So we have good evidence now.

Sure, but what about other claims which are possible but have not been confirmed which fall within the parameters of what we think is possible? Historians take these statements as prima facie evidence because they have no other choice.

kiwi: I'm not familiar with what you're talking about, but with the little information you gave, what is wrong to suggest we should have been agnostic about those women, until better evidence is presented?

Perhaps. But what would history look like if we treated everything as if we were agnostics about it all unless it was confirmed. We have to go with what is probable, and textual evidence is prima facie evidence for what is probable.

This whole discussion is one of the reasons I maintain history is fraught with so many difficulties that it’s a slender reed to hang one's faith on, as Christians do.

kiwi: I do not think the evidence for Jesus is good enough to be able to reach a confident conclusion.

Fine. I have no problem with that. But stop demanding I must accept what you do without good arguments to the contrary, okay? That's the whole problem I see with many Mythicists and conspiracy theorists. Many of them are made from the same mold, in my opinion. We must agree with them or else we are not being reasonable or not being skeptical or not even smart...we even have blind faith! Such idiocy baffles me to no end. As I said I'll have none of that garbage. I left church a long time ago.

If you don't agree with me, so what? What's the big deal? Do you think I should agree with everything you do before you will respect me? That’s ludicrous, otherwise the only person you’ll ever respect is yourself. Why does what I think even matter to you such that you've lost respect for me? My target audience is the Christian not you, anyway, so why should I even care what you think? If skeptics could only understand that and stop demaning that I think and argue like they do to be one of them and back me with some more respect Christians would be forced to take more notice.

I go with what I think is reasonable. Why would you ask me to do differently? I can only accept that which I accept. I'm not asking you to accept what I think. I'm merely stating my case. I will happily let you alone to come to your conclusions. Why do people like you demand I accept yours? I think you should respect me for thinking for myself and not buying into the party line. It’s tough to do this, as I’m sure you probably know. So listen to the case I present and come to your own conclusions. No big deal to me at all. I already know that to respect someone does not mean I have to agree with them or like how he argues. I even respect William Lane Craig, you see, and Alvin Plantinga.

kiwi said...

"We have to go with what is probable, and textual evidence is prima facie evidence for what is probable."

I disagree, but there is no poing going in circles at this point.

"This whole discussion is one of the reasons I maintain history is fraught with so many difficulties that it’s a slender reed to hang one's faith on, as Christians do."

I agree with you on that.

"Fine. I have no problem with that. But stop demanding I must accept what you do without good arguments to the contrary, okay? That's the whole problem I see with many Mythicists and conspiracy theorists. Many of them are made from the same mold, in my opinion. We must agree with them or else we are not being reasonable or not being skeptical or not even smart...we even have blind faith! Such idiocy baffles me to no end. As I said I'll have none of that garbage. I left church a long time ago."

Huh? When did I demand that you share my opinion about Jesus? What I have taken issue in this thread is how you deal with old texts.

As I've said, I'm not a MJ anyway; I'm agnostic on the issue.

"If you don't agree with me, so what? What's the big deal? Do you think I should agree with everything you do before you will respect me? That’s ludicrous, otherwise the only person you’ll ever respect is yourself."

I hope you realize that I said I lost respect because you start throwing ad hom at me, not because we disagree. It was made perfectly clear. There is no point addressing the rest of your post, because it's all based on misunderstandings.

M. Tully said...

John,

I may be missing the boat here (in that there may be standard practices in biblical textual criticism that don't apply to other fields of history), goodness knows it wouldn't be the first time.

But damn John, if historians actually accepted the premise that, "Textual evidence is considered by all historians to the prima facie true unless disconfirmed," it would set the philosophy of history back to before Herodotus.

One skill an historian has to master is effective source criticism. It's a difficult skill that takes years to master, but without it don't plan on publishing any new discoveries an any reputable journal. The referees would not even be slightly kind in their rejection.

There are in general seven areas an historian evaluates about textual evidence before assigning a probability to it's veracity. Three of them deal with genuineness of the document itself, one with interpretation of the words and meaning, but three of them deal directly with the claims made in the document and include the authority, competence and trustworthiness of the observer.

This comment should not be taken as I'm weighing in on the HJ/MJ debate, it's out of my expertise. Only that no textual claim is taken as prima facie truth by standard historical method.

Again, my apologies if Biblical history is done differently.

John W. Loftus said...

M Tully: One skill an historian has to master is effective source criticism. It's a difficult skill that takes years to master....There are in general seven areas an historian evaluates about textual evidence before assigning a probability to it's veracity. Three of them deal with genuineness of the document itself, one with interpretation of the words and meaning, but three of them deal directly with the claims made in the document and include the authority, competence and trustworthiness of the observer.

Agreed. I guess I was thinking of the historian's conclusions about such matters before looking at what the text says. Doing history is extremely difficult.

Tyro said...

John,

Looks like I missed quite the storm of comments! I'm a little surprised by the responses on both sides.

On the original post, I will weakly agree with you. I think merely lacking independent confirmation isn't sufficient grounds to argue some historical figure did not exist. The evidence is scant enough that virtually everyone that ever existed won't receive any mention in any book.

BUT a lack of independent confirmation is just one tiny part of the argument of mythicists. If you read Doherty's work, he devotes barely a couple paragraphs to this issue, using it to only establish that his argument hasn't been fatally undermined. Since it doesn't exist, a lack of independent confirmation doesn't advance the cause of either group but just shows that either could be right.

Given that to do a proper response to the mythicists you should really deal with the heart of their argument and in three posts in this series you have failed to address any of their strongest arguments. Doing that and then implying that anyone who doesn't agree is akin to a Holocaust denier seems intellectually dishonest.



Now, as to some of the specifics of the post and some of the back-and-forth... Without any details, you're right that a mention in an historical text of a person should sway us slightly towards believing that person was real. This is the weakest evidence and it could easily be overridden in a heartbeat if further analysis of the text indicated that the work was fictitious. The mythicists have done the latter and build a large, well-developed argument indicating that Paul sincerely believed that Jesus was a myth. That definitely trumps a mere mention. I think that's what people are getting at with mentions of Sherlock Holmes - knowing nothing else we may believe Holmes was real, but once we analyse the text, we see that he probably was not.

Next, it's true that cults often form around a cult figure but there's no good reason to think that the cult figure should also be their God-figure. L Ron Hubbard was the cult leader, Xenu was the god. Joseph Smith was the cult leader, Jesus and the Angel Moroni were the gods. I don't know how the Christian cult started but placing Paul as the cult leader and Jesus as the (non-existent) God may not be far off. Whether this is true or not, it's plausible and fully consistent with what we know about other cults meaning that we cannot use this single observation to decide the issue. In the end we must look at the text, something I still believe you are avoiding.

Did Jesus exist? At present I think he didn't. The answers I've seen from Doherty and Carrier are thorough and dispassionate and I have yet to see anyone present a rebuttal which deals with their major points. I'm open to evidence but I'm not likely to be swayed by people who don't deal with their major lines of evidence and argumentation. If there are even somewhat reasonable responses to their arguments then I would happily agree that an historical Jesus existed since it's less controversial and has a nice feel to it. I would like to be convinced.

Lvka said...

Paul sincerely believed that Jesus was a myth.

How do You/they explain his sufferings and martyrdom by the hands of the Romans, then? :-\

Tyro said...

Lvka,

How do You/they explain his sufferings and martyrdom by the hands of the Romans, then? :-\

I was uncomfortable with the word "myth" in that sentence when I used it but since it's the term used ("mythicists"), I stuck with it. As you've shown, it has connotations which aren't intended.

I think the evidence shows that Paul believed Jesus was "real", but in a different sphere/realm/plane of existence.

And, if you've seen how cults operate, members can become fixated on ideas and will gladly sacrifice their lives. It sounds foreign to us and I wish it weren't so, but we see it even today. And in a twist of irony, a lack of evidence, wide-spread disapproval and even a failure of prophesy may drive some people away but it actually solidifies the beliefs of those that remain.

To be clear, I'm not using this as a part of my argument, only observing that mere martyrdom cannot be used to confirm or reject either theory. (Ironically, if one side were too evidence-based, it probably wouldn't have martyrs, see Galileo for that. Faith motivates extreme acts, not rational examination of evidence.)

Lvka said...

Tyro,

if You're thinking what I think You're thinking, :-) then You know that the famous founders of those sects were very much existent, and not non-existent or "real in another sphere of existence", etc.

Tyro said...

Lvka,

Not sure which founders you're referring to. If it's Christianity, that's the subject of several blog posts and hundreds of comments. It would hardly do to assert that conclusion without at least outlining your argument and evidence.

If it's some other sects see my earlier comment about distinguishing between the founder of the cult and the figures they worship. The founder needs to be real, the objects of worship need not be.

Steven Carr said...

Hi John,
We are indeed repeating ourselves.

I will continue to repeat primary evidence, from Paul, that different Christians were inventing different Jesus's.

Not all those Jesus's existed!

And Paul writes amazing things for somebody who believed that Jesus lived just a short while previously.

Romans 10

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!"

But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, "Lord, who has believed our message?" Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ. But I ask: Did they not hear? Of course they did:
"Their voice has gone out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world....

Why did the Jews not accept Jesus, according to Paul?

It was because they did not accept the people who preached about Jesus.

So what happened to the signs Jesus allegedly did, such as the resurrection? Did the Jews reject them? There is no word of that in Romans 10.

Why does Paul not think the Jews rejected the preaching of Jesus?

It is because Jesus did not do any preaching.

There was no preaching of Jesus for the Jews to reject.

It is almost exactly like Benjamin Creme and the Maitreya.

People are rejecting the preaching of Benjamin Creme, but not even Creme says people are rejecting the preaching of the Maitreya himself.

Because the Maitreya does not exist!

Of course, this problem has already been answered by professional historians.

So trot out the professional historian answer please of why Paul never dreams in Romans 10 of blaming Jews for rejecting Jesus himself, rather than the preaching about Jesus.

I'm dying to hear it.

Steven Carr said...

JOHN
JESUS AND ARCHAEOLOGY. Edited by James H. Charlesworth. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2006. Pp. xxv + 740. ISBN 0-8028-4880-X; Paperback $50.00.

This scholarly work contains the essays of leading archaeologists and biblical scholars that center on how archaeological discoveries shed light on the life, thought and times of Jesus in the Gospels.


CARR
And, of course, it just never deals with Romans 10 where Paul never dreams of suggesting that Jesus was a recent figure whose preaching and message was rejected by Jews.

The mythicist case is ignored time and time again, rather than even being examined.

It might be wrong, but you will just never find professional historians taking the letters of Paul and actually thinking about what they imply for somebody whose life was turned upside down by a charismatic preacher and alleged miracle worker who allegedly lived just a couple of year before Paul persecuted the church.

John W. Loftus said...

As I said, I am standing alone as a skeptic arguing against the skeptical consensus among freethinkers. I stand with the historical community and with Biblical scholars. The consensus is on my side even if it isn't with freethinkers. I don't have the time to deal with so many comments. I don't feel this is even worthy of further consideration. It distracts me from doing other, more important things. To make Romans 10 into what Carr wants to make it is ignorant in my opinion. No doubt he'll ask me to do hours of research to back it up. Instead I call upon him to defend it with some good solid exegesis. To say that someone doesn't know about a historical Jesus because of such language is once again arguing from silence. Such skepticism runs smack into gullibility in my opinion.

John W. Loftus said...

Let me once again repeat myself. If someone wants to deny the historicity of Jesus then he can do this simply because historical evidence is not very strong evidence. If the standard for accepting Jesus' existence is placed higher than on other persons in history because of an agenda then one can easily reject the historicity of Jesus.

I think I have argued a bit haphazardly here that the standards should be the same across the board, and we can use as our test case whether Paul existed. The existence of Paul can esily be denied if someone wants to do so. But if textual evidence is as I say it is then both Paul and Jesus existed. I have given plenty of reasonable evidence for this. I won't repeat it now.

Tyro said...

John,

I forget who said it, but a consensus matters when it is as a result of the evidence and not when it comes from tradition. Certainly there is a lot of tradition in this.

o say that someone doesn't know about a historical Jesus because of such language is once again arguing from silence. Such skepticism runs smack into gullibility in my opinion.

I have read Doherty's work (not Carrier's or Price's, unfortunately) and there's an element of silence to be sure, but it's more than merely an absence of evidence. The problem I think we're seeing here is that Carr is presenting single, isolated instances any one of which can be dismissed but it is the totality of these instances which build and build and create a powerful argument. By presenting individual examples Carr makes it concrete yet it seems that you think this is all there is to it and you accuse him (us) of gullibility.

How would you suggest that defenders of the mythicist position present their case? I'm sure you're familiar with where to turn for more information yet you don't address their arguments directly despite devoting three posts and many comments to this issue. I think you're interested in this issue else why devote the time & energy, but it seems a waste if you only attack incidental points and strawmen rather than the main body of evidence. From my perspective I'd like to see you (or anyone) present a proper rebuttal to the mythicists, especially when you write with the goal of defending an historical Jesus. From your perspective, what would you like to see from us? You've laid many accusations of gullibility, denying evidence and conspiracy theories which seem unjustified. There must be some miscommunication. In your opinion, what would an argument for a mythical Jesus have to contain to avoid these accusations?

John W. Loftus said...

Tyro, any minority opinion group says the exact same thing about the consensus of the scholars by denigrating it, just think young earth creationists.

You tell me, what would it take for you to consider that Paul never existed. Can't say right?

Do you know how many views there are that are argued very well but false? I won't bother listing them. And how many of them will you bother researching into when you have the consensus of scholars and your own initial research that suggest they are wrong?

In my book I talk about control beliefs and when I sign it I do so with this phrase: "Control beliefs control." They do. I think the skeptical community is so opposed to miracles they have come up with good arguments to deny the very historicity of the man Jesus. That's going too far, as I've argued. It doesn't need to be.

I've given an overall argument for thnking as I do. What possibly am I missing? Skeptics can easily fudge dates and deny Papias and John the Elder and so on and so forth. That's because history can be fudged with. So because it can be fudged with I must look at other things as well, and I do, like the general overall reasons for thinking Jesus existed who was a cult leader. I have every reason to think this about Jesus.

John W. Loftus said...

Okay, Okay. I'll probably revisit this issue later and put it all together in a single post after reading some more of the literature. Any suggestions? Any links? Where are Carrier's arguments to be found? What is the single best book from the skeptical side. Frank Zindler's book doesn't look good enough given what I argued for in my opening post. One book, maybe two. Give it your best shot.

Dave said...

> But if people can say we vever visited the moon, or that the CIA conspired to blow up the Twin Towers on 9/11 or that the US knew the Japanese were going to attack Pearl Harbor in advance, then there will even be doubt in the future. THAT'S the nature of historical studies, they are fraught with problems and guided many times by the outlook and control beliefs of the historian.<

What historians, though, make such claims? Generally, they don't. And if they do, so what? Very few people, from any walk of life, who have learned of the Holocaust would deny it happened. Nay-sayers are far and few between, because the documentary evidence about the reality of the Holocaust is so strong.

>If we demand independent testimony to corroborate textual testimony we could deny almost anything. It's demanding too much. It's too high of a standard.<

People DO deny anything and everything - Pearl Harbor, Holocaust, 9/11, evolution itself, and in all these cases there is all sorts of verifiable evidence.

So we don't even need independent testimony, mountains of it, to know that some people will still deny what the rest of us know is true. In fact, a majority of Christians in the U.S. apparently deny the reality of evolution, and believe Jesus was a God. But lots of evidence points to the reality of evolution, and lots of evidence shows Jesus as a god is a myth.

You say demanding independent testimony to corroborate - or disprove - textual testimony demands too much, sets too high a standard? You have set your own standard, but there's no god-given command that anyone else follow your lead.

I'm somewhat at a loss to understand your stance. You believe there was a Jesus, based on prima facie evidence - i.e. that it is self-evident from the words themselves in the Bible. Yet you discount the words in which every Christian puts faith that appear in the Bible. To Christians, what the Bible says about Jesus is prima facie evidence to them, too, sufficient to prove Jesus worked miracles. Christians don't think there's anything impossible about miraculous events - for them, textual claims of miraculous events in the Bible are prima facie evidence - good enough for them - are proof enough.

The reason some people - myself included - doubt (but don't necessarily deny) the existence of a "real" Jesus, is that much of the Bible is not believable, that much about the Jesus in the Bible who works miracles is clearly an invention of the human mind, and so the authority of what else appears is in the Bible is in question, too.

It's like the boy who cried wolf. No one believed him, even when he told the truth, because his lies tainted his reputation for truthfulness.

Beyond that, here is no more reason to reason to believe there was a real Jesus than to believe a real Jesus and St. Germain talked to Guy Ballard in the 1930s. In fact, Ballard published books supposedly written by Jesus.

People like Ballard and L. Ron Hubbard (and I'm surprised you don't know about Scientology, which is a powerful, world-wide cult) founded cults in which they are not the cult leaders.

Would those books by Ballard and Hubbard - and Joseph Smith - in the absence of any other evidence, pro or con,be prima facie evidence Jesus existed both as a human and as the man of miracles? Yes, according to your definition of "prima facie" evidence.

But we do have evidence, lots of it, pointing the opposite direction about the reality of Jesus.

if, in the far future, humans forgot about the Holocaust, and only a single book discussing the Holocaust existed, a book with claimed the Holocaust never happened, that would be prima facie evidence, too - even so, it wouldn't be true.

Just as we have evidence - for now - that proves there was a Holocaust, so too do we now have evidence to cast doubt on the prima facie evidence that the "human" Jesus of the Bible ever existed.

We know now, for example, that the stories about Jesus in the NT are NOT contemporaneous accounts of his life and death. (How do we know? Here's one simple way: some of the "eyewitness" accounts in the Gospels are written in third person, about events at which the authors were not present to see.)

- "Evidence" from historians such as Josephus have been shown to be at least suspect.

- Archeological evidence is in dispute.

Bit by bit by bit the evidence against the Jesus of the Bible having ever lived has been gathered. Is it overwhelming evidence? No, or we wouldn't be having this discussion. But there is evidence in support of the claim that no real Jesus existed.

Nothing is ever completely knowable. You, John, say you are willing to accept, in the absence of competing evidence, nothing more than what's in the Bible to support your view. Those who think the jury is out have our own evidence - as well as lack of evidence - that makes us think otherwise.

Evidence for your position isn't growing - evidence against your position has grown.

kiwi said...

"I don't have the time to deal with so many comments. I don't feel this is even worthy of further consideration."

You're right; it makes very little difference one way or another.

That's why I don't see the need to put ancient history data in "true" or "false" boxes. Is there any urgency to do so? Why not just looking at the possible scenarios and acknowledging that the evidence being scant means that there is more than one possible conclusion about some events and people? That's just healthy skepticism to me.

The problem with conspiracy theorists is that they use selective data to reach a conclusion, while ignoring the rest of the data. What do MJ proponants ignore? There isn't much to ignore, because the evidence for Jesus is very thin in the first place.

As for ID proponants / Young Earth Creationism, I would have no problem with their skepticism of evolution if they would suggest a reasonable alternative to evolution. But they don't. ID has nothing to offer.

Tyro said...

Tyro, any minority opinion group says the exact same thing about the consensus of the scholars by denigrating it, just think young earth creationists.

Hmmm... The YECs hold their views despite an overwhelming mountain of evidence contradicting their views. From what I see, there is evidence supporting the mythicist position. The YECs throw up long debunked arguments without regard for veracity and then run to new positions when counter-arguments are presented. I haven't seen any of that from mythicists.

As tiresome or futile as it may be, evolution supporters marshal evidence to defend their views and tackle opponent's arguments directly but I haven't seen that from any of the historicists.

I think a better analogy and one that is less dismissive and insulting would be to compare mythicists with other minority groups like Loop Quantum Gravity supporters (as opposed to String Theorists).

I'm not denigrating the consensus opinion, I'm questioning if it is an informed one or a traditional one. If it is informed and if this really is comparable to Evolution/YEC, where is the mountain of evidence to support it?

You tell me, what would it take for you to consider that Paul never existed. Can't say right?

I can't say specifically, you're right. But in general I would like to see a theory in which Paul is fictitious that:
- explains all existing evidence at least as well or better than current theories
- requires fewer ad hoc explanations than an historical Paul
- resolves outstanding questions or issues without creating more issues or difficulties
- answers questions or issues in other texts or disciplines outside of the Pauline writings

I'm not sure how this theory would look but if this could happen I think we would have to treat it very seriously.

To my knowledge, the mythicists do deal with all of the evidence, takes all writing as a whole and with this one simple change in our thinking is able to explain many outstanding issues in the Epistles. In an essay, Carrier said that he attempted to disprove the claim by turning to texts not covered by Doherty and found that the mythicist theory not only held up but was strengthened as more observations were made.

Since I'm not qualified to evaluate the evidence directly I'm relying on the opinion of the experts. So far it has been almost entirely one-sided which is why I'm siding with the mythicists. A well-reasoned rebuttal which tackles their arguments head-on could easily convince me to side with the majority only I've yet to see it.


Do you know how many views there are that are argued very well but false? I won't bother listing them. And how many of them will you bother researching into when you have the consensus of scholars and your own initial research that suggest they are wrong?

Yes, I'm aware of that. I'm all too aware that I'm siding with a minority. I will join the majority with no qualm once I see someone defend the consensus using evidence while directly addressing the issues the mythicists raise. Until then I'm in the uncomfortable position of concluding that the majority view is held through tradition rather than reason or evidence. (I don't like this any more than you do.)

I think the skeptical community is so opposed to miracles they have come up with good arguments to deny the very historicity of the man Jesus. That's going too far, as I've argued. It doesn't need to be.

I agree, if a Jeusus-myth belief is an attempt to dispel miracle claims it is misguided. I don't see that from Carrier, Doherty or Price though there may be some net residents who feel this way. I would be surprised if kiwi or Carr are amongst them.

I've given an overall argument for thnking as I do. What possibly am I missing?

http://humanists.net/jesuspuzzle/home.htm

(It contains a link to the full text of his book, not to mention hundreds of pages of text analysing the Epistles.)

Richard Carrier has a book review: http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/jesuspuzzle.html

To quote from his introduction:

The "scandalous" consequence of Doherty's theory is that Jesus didn't exist. But it cannot be emphasized enough that Doherty's thesis is not "Jesus didn't exist, therefore Christianity started as a mystical-revelatory Jewish sect" but "Christianity started as a mystical-revelatory Jewish sect, therefore Jesus didn't exist." This is significant. Most scholars who argue that Jesus didn't exist (who are called "ahistoricists," because they deny the "historicity" of Jesus, or "mythicists," because they argue Jesus is mythical) have little in the way of reasons beyond a whole complex of arguments from silence. Doherty, in contrast, uses arguments from silence only to support his thesis. He does not base it on such arguments, but rather on positive evidence, especially a slew of very strange facts that his theory accounts for very well but that traditional historicism ignores, or explains poorly. By far most of the criticism or even dismissal of Doherty's work is based on the criticism or dismissal of the Argument from Silence, or his (often supposed) deployment of it. This completely misses the strongest elements of his case: evidence that Christianity did in fact begin as a mystical-revelatory religion.


I think the last two sentences summarize my reactions to reading supposed defences of the historicist position and it's what I'm looking for in a rebuttal.

What is the single best book from the skeptical side.

I wish I knew. I've read two of Doherty's books and most of his website and I've read the essays Carrier has published on infidels.org (he's writing a book on the historicity of Jesus but it isn't finished yet) but I haven't read anything by Price and I've never heard of Zindler. Perhaps some others can give you better sources, all I can recommend is "The Jesus Puzzle" - the full text is on the site above and there are many supplementary articles and reviews so at least we'd all have access to the same material :)


Frankly I'm in this for the comments & discussion. You guys know so much more than I do that I rely on you to ferret out the best evidence and arguments to defend positions. My contributions are just to occasionally goad people into talking about areas where I have the most to learn. I read and research and try to disprove what I think is true but it's hard to do this by myself :)

John W. Loftus said...

Okay, last week I ordered The Jesus Legend. Anyone opposed to me reading the other side?

And I placed the Jesus Puzzle book on my wish list. Anyone want to buy it for me? On page two of my list is Robert Price's Deconstructing Jesus. Anyone want to buy that for me? I have Price's other book, The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man.

I received an email from a skeptic who agrees with me and encouraged me. I am not alone after all. ;-)

kukram said...

I would respectfully wish to ask all the contributors to this site a couple of fundamental questions:

1. Do you respect the rights of an individual to live their life and retain a belief that they themselves wish to live by?

Assuming and hoping the answer to that is yes, then the major question is this:

2. What is your purpose and need for "debunking christianity" and therefore, undermining other individuals' rights and wishes to have faith in that they wish to just as you wish to have faith in that in which you believe.

The reason I ask is not that I believe in christianity or any religion (I was brought up Roman Catholic but I basically denounce it) - I am agnostic but cannot say truly aetheist for what I believe to be logical and sound reasoning that, in my own personal view (as a physicist) I feel there must have been a point of creation and therefore a creator.

I simply wish to understand your purpose. Is it just purely for no end goal and pure "intellectual" debate? If so, may I suggest respectfully, it is a waste of time. People will always hold, and have every right to, their own opinions and belief. Neither one of us have the answer and surely not one of us can be so arrogant as to say they KNOW.

Edward T. Babinski said...

Dear kukram,

What ways do you spend your life that you consider "most useful?" Perhaps you are involved with a charity that helps others? That's good. But once people are fed and clothed they also get curious to have discussions.

Steven Carr said...

JOHN
To make Romans 10 into what Carr wants to make it is ignorant in my opinion. No doubt he'll ask me to do hours of research to back it up. Instead I call upon him to defend it with some good solid exegesis. To say that someone doesn't know about a historical Jesus because of such language is once again arguing from silence. Such skepticism runs smack into gullibility in my opinion.

CARR
Just personal abuse and no attempt at explanation.

And entirely missing the point.

The point is that the book he mentioned never even examined things like Romans 10.

Historicists simply have not done their homework.

They might be right. They might be wrong, but to wave books around which don't even examine why Paul writes what he does is not a refutation of mythicism.

It simply reinforces the fact that these things have *not* been examined.

openlyatheist said...

"2. What is your purpose and need for "debunking christianity" and therefore, undermining other individuals' rights and wishes to have faith in that they wish to just as you wish to have faith in that in which you believe?"

This is probably a job this blog's FAQ, but I thought I'd respond to this instead.

Firstly, in defense of this blog, the writers here are not placing their literature in anyone's hotel rooms. Christians are free to, and often do, ignore this site completely.

Secondly, if you are perturbed by those publicly admitting they holds different beliefs than others, your next stop is every church, synagogue, mosque, and temple in your local phone book because every faith is an "undermining" of every other, by definition. Atheists are the least of your worries.

Thirdly, to 'debunk' anything means to examine it critically. I'm astonished at how often I see faith defended as some sort of civil right to abstain from critical examination. Those who defend faith in this manner are admitting that they do not care what is true. One might as well criticize geologists for undermining people's right to believe in flat Earth or ban sex education due to children's right to believe in the Stork.

Lastly, for evidence of who is undermining whose rights look no further than to the religious who concern themselves with every civil right of the public at large from the definition of marriage to the right to choose.

If it merely came down to people having "faith in that they wish to," what a different, and better, world this would be. Sadly, that does not describe any religion I know.

P.S., Jesus didn't exist. ;)

Dave said...

1. >Do you respect the rights of an individual to live their life and retain a belief that they themselves wish to live by<

Depends. I have no respect for those who crash airplanes, based on their religious beliefs, into tall buildings filled with human beings. I have no respect for those who would teach their religious views in a science class.

2) >What is your purpose and need for "debunking christianity" and therefore, undermining other individuals' rights<

I'm sure everyone has their own reason, but this isn't a school room where everyone has to tell what they did last summer. Keep reading here, you'll figure out who things what and why.

>I simply wish to understand your purpose. Is it just purely for no end goal and pure "intellectual" debate? If so, may I suggest respectfully, it is a waste of time.<

You're wasting your own time asking such a question.

>People will always hold, and have every right to, their own opinions and belief.<

Exactly, which is what is happening here.

>Neither one of us have the answer and surely not one of us can be so arrogant as to say they KNOW.<

Christians can be closed-minded - just keep reading some of the comments here. They claim the know "the answer" and that answer is Jesus, who they believe, with faith rather than evidence, is God, and that he worked a series of miracles a long time ago.

Skeptics are open-minded, willing when the evidences points a different direction to change the course of their minds. Without skeptics, we'd probably still be chewing tubers and hunting giraffes on the plains of Africa, we'd think the sun spun around the earth, we'd believe in Adam and Eve.

Skeptic are like Iowans - we say "Show me!" The more we learn about the world around us, the less faith we put in religious beliefs like those found in Christianity.

You yourself, though, appear to have a closed mind, despite your claim you are a physicist -where, pray tell?

>I believe [snip] that, in my own personal view (as a physicist) [snip] there must have been a point of creation and therefore a creator.<

Today, physicists talk about string theory, and multiple universes - I'm not aware of a general line of thought physicists have pushed that dovetails with your belief.

I think an atheist here might ask you:

What is it that makes you think the universe needs a creator?

if there must have been a point of creation for the universe which must have been a creator, then why the doesn't the creator need a creator, too?

That is to say, if everything needs a creator, what created the creator? And if the creator - an entity you are incapable of describing, defining or understanding - doesn't need creation, why would the universe, which in fact we can describe, define and understand.

District Supt. Harvey Burnett said...

Wow, I know Jesus is coming back...I NEVER thought I'd see the day that atheists would be arguing over the existence of Jesus...

I was just kidding...

John I appreciate your stance for what it's worth. I know you don't believe in the Jesus of faith BUT I believe as you that the Jesus of history actually existed (of course) now the meaning we pour into that is even different but I believe this is one particular element that has been settled historcally at least with certitude if not certainty.

I'll stay out of this one. Thanks.

Dr. Hector Avalos said...

Dear colleagues,
As you may know, I am a minimalist, and I think the best position on the historical Jesus is agnosticism. I hope to provide a longer post in the near future on why this is so.

I do think there is nothing illogical about a person named Jesus existing.

But after studying many ancient figures, I realize that it is very difficult to tell what is historical from what is not without independent corroboration. I know of many ancient figures who have detailed biographies but who are not regarded as very historical.

Whether in ancient or modern times, authors are perfectly able to provide all the historical context you want for characters that are fictional. Historical novels today are built on this very principle of verisimilitude.

In terms of historical methodology, accepting things prima facie unless proven otherwise has not yielded very good results once you apply it to the extensive literature of the Near East or even to the Bible. In fact, deciding what is historical from what is not has been one of the greatest failures I know from my experience in biblical and Near Eastern Studies.

Independent corroboration is a minimal requirement and that is the reason that we do accept Mao, Darwin, and Kant. There is OVERWHELMING independent corroboration
for their life and deeds. Jesus has NO independent corroboration from HIS time.

For the same reasons, trying to decide that he is an apocalyptic prophet versus some dozen other roles that have been attributed to him is not going to be very helpful.

The data for any Jesus all comes from the second century or later. So there is no way to determine what has been added or subtracted from any portrayal of Jesus between ca. 30 CE, when he supposedly worked, and ca. 125-ca. 400 CE (the latter range is the dates of our actual manuscript data).

There are at least a dozen Jesuses we could reconstruct given the data. Scholars have been trying for hundreds of years to determine WHICH JESUS is historical, and we still have disagreement precisely because there is no independent corroboration to determine which portrayal is more "historical."

John W. Loftus said...

Hector, I look forward to your post and I wish you well this weekend. Maybe you could report back on the Seminar.

Cheers.

John W. Loftus said...

There are a few things about the quest for the historical Jesus that need an explanation. I grant that historical studies are extremely difficult when it comes to Near Eastern Studies, so agnosticism is a reasonable position. I also grant that there are parallels among pagan myths that have crept into the Gospels. I'm not sure I grant that there was no independent corroboration of the Christian movement though, although there are notable silences. There was certainly a huge debate over who the real Jesus was in the early centuries. And I'm not sure the Gospels are all 2nd century products, since the The Rylands Library Papyrus P52, dated between 100- 160 CE, sets the upper limits of the Gospel writings because it contains a small portion of John's Gospel which was written last (even though I known that we don't know what else that manuscript had in it).

I don't understand how a movement like the Jesus cult could be started without a charismatic leader, and unless we dismiss much of the textual evidence because it doesn't fit with our preconceived notions, it was not Paul.

I don't understand why Christians would invent the embarrassing story of a crucified Messiah.

I don't understand why the authors of the New Testament would include the embarrassing apocalyptic elements in it that had to continually be watered down and explained away.

I don't understand why the New Testament authors didn't completely eliminate from the words of Jesus some other embarrasing elements, most notably when he purportedly said, "No one is good but God alone," (Mark 10:17-18) which had to be doctored over in Matthew 19:16 to read "There is only One who is good." (leaving open who that person is).

Who the historical Jesus was must be figured out from historical analysis of the texts using what we believe is possible based on our control beliefs about how cults arise.

I'm now interested more than ever in trying to figure such things out. But I can't as yet throw the baby out with the bathwater until someone can cogently explain to me how the Christian movement originated that is a better explanation than that a charismatic apocalyptic doomsday prophet named Jesus preached his failed doomsday message to the masses.

You realize there was a Santa Claus, right? It was Saint Nicholas of Myra. Is that what we're talking about here? Trying to get at the historical core of who Santa Claus was? What does everyone think of this suggestion?

These questions are reasonable ones. Perhaps Hector will address them later. I hope so.

Tyro said...

John,

I don't understand how a movement like the Jesus cult could be started without a charismatic leader, and unless we dismiss much of the textual evidence because it doesn't fit with our preconceived notions, it was not Paul.

That's an interesting question. I don't know much about the origin of sects. Did all ancient cults/sects form around a single individual or were some community affairs? How much information do we have today on the origin of ancient sects?

Doherty does discuss the origins of the sect and has several articles on his site which expand on his ideas, including this supplemental article. It presupposes a familiarity with his general argument but you may be interested in it anyway. He walks through the evidence and concludes the origin of Christianity can be traced back to a few small groups but he states bluntly "They did not launch the sect." In the end he is left with some scraps of evidence of the originating community but not enough to satisfy anyone that craves definite answers. Is that a failing of his theory or of the poor historical record?

kiwi said...

John asked good questions. But it seems those questions presuppose that human being are rational being who worry about every detail.

Sometimes when you study a crime case, you wonder "why the hell the murderer did or didn't do this, this and that?". The answer is that human beings are often not rational. A better answer is that they don't have the same perspective as we do.

For example:

"I don't understand why the New Testament authors didn't completely eliminate from the words of Jesus some other embarrasing elements, most notably when he purportedly said, "No one is good but God alone," (Mark 10:17-18) which had to be doctored over in Matthew 19:16 to read "There is only One who is good." (leaving open who that person is)."

Who knows? I can think of many reasons. Maybe they interpreted the sentence in such a way that it wasn't embarrassing for them? Maybe they didn't care, for whatever reason? Maybe such details wasn't important for them? I'm not saying it's the case, but it's possible answers.

When I look at some Christians today, they seem to care very little about a lot of things. They have faith, and that's it. If Christians in the past had the same nonchalant attitude that some have today, well nothing about the NT is puzzling if Jesus didn't exist.

Dave said...

>You realize there was a Santa Claus, right? It was Saint Nicholas of Myra. <

John, if you're going to quote from something as authoritative as Wikipedia, allow me this quote from the same source:

> In Greek tradition and according to historical records, St Basil, of Greek heritage, is the original "Santa Claus" <

How about this Wiki entry:

>The folklore of Saint Nicolas has many parallels with Germanic mythology, in particular with the god Odin.<

So, who was the "real" Santa Claus? Nicolas, Basil, Odin?

None of these figures from history and legend meet the criteria of charismatic cult figures. But the stories about them meet the need, perhaps unconsciously, for humans to honor sacrifice and altruistic behavior. (And the story of Jesus' resurrection meets the need for humans to believe in redemption.)

The stories about gift giving may attach to real people, but as in the case of the god Odin - or Joulupukki in Finland - such stories have grown up around figures about which nothing of substance is known.

In addition, there is no way to know if the stories attached to Nicholas or Basil were created at the time of they were alive. Yes, NIcolas and Basil are historical figures. Odin, Joulupukki - and Jesus - are not.

There is no reason to think that Jesus was a historical figure, anymore than we should believe Odin or Joulupukki were historical figures. Maybe they were, but there's no way, at present, to know, one way or the other.

By the way, the hallmarks of the many stories about St. Nick (and Basil) are that they gave anonymously. The most famous story about St. Nick is that he gave bags of gold to three sisters otherwise headed for careers in prostitution.

It is impossible, by the way, for us to know St. Nick was the gift giver, if he did so, as according to legend, anonymously. In all likelihood, the stories about St. Basil and St. Nick and Odin and our own Santa Claus are apocryphal. All of the stories are blends of legends stretching back into the dim, prehistoric past.

Jeff said...

I've been watching the discussion on this particular point with great enthusiasm. I have recently de-converted from Christianity and am currently trying to work through this issue myself. If I may make one comment to John, I think that your position is a reasonable one to take. It may be false, but it is at the very least reasonable. I also see merit in the mythicists arguments, but I am struggling to find good material by historians who actually refute such a position. I'd like to hear the other side before trying to figure out who's got the better arguments.

At any rate, there is one other position, somewhere in the middle of all of this. There are those who claim that the figure of Jesus from the Bible is a composite of several "Jesus figures" from various places that, at some point or another, were merged. Perhaps we have a Jesus who served as a cynic philosopher, and another travelling prophet, etc. If the community that Mark came from had begun to merge these together, it would not be a stretch for him to literalize it into an allegorical account.

At any rate, that's all I have to say on the matter. I'm firmly agnostic on the issue until I can figure out exactly what the best argumentation is. I think almost any position you can think of can be reasonable, simply because of the paucity of evidence. It seems almost like trying to prove that the tooth fairy is real, based on some children's accounts...

John W. Loftus said...

All I can say Jeff is that you should not decide based upon the votes cast here in this thread, for if you were to count votes the huge consensus is on my side, not theirs. This is not a scientific sampling of thoughtful people on the issue. Go with the reasons and the evidence, as I'm sure everyone who has commented here will say. None of us would argue that you should follow the group just because the group says so.

Cheers.

Steven Carr said...

JOHN
I don't understand why Christians would invent the embarrassing story of a crucified Messiah.

CARR
For Paul the crucifixion was necessary.

He preached Christ crucified, while others preached a different Christ.

Didn't Daniel 9:26 prophesy that the Messiah would be killed?

DingoDave said...

I'm with Hector Avalos and Robert Price on this one.
I think we need to remain agnostic about this question.
One interesting thing to ponder though, is that the name 'Jesus', simply means 'Yahweh Saves'.
The very name itself could be a title, rather than a proper name.

Consider the passage in Phillipians chapter 2 which states; "[9] Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name,
[10] that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth..."

and;

Heb.1: [4] having become as much superior to angels as the name he has obtained is more excellent than theirs.

This seems to suggest that the name, or title, 'Jesus' was not bestowed upon him until after his resurrection an ascension into Heaven. If this is the case, then perhaps historians and Bible scholars should be looking for a historical figure who is known by another name, who might represent the real historical figure behind the man we now know as the gospel Jesus. Who else living around that time fits the bill?

DingoDave said...

An interesting article which discusses the plethora of Jesuses, or Jesi, who lived around this time, which is entitled; 'A Surfeit of Jesuses! – But No Jesus of Nazareth', can be found here.
http://www.jesusneverexisted.com/surfeit.htm

Terry said...

To me the most convincing argument for the existence of Jesus is the fact that his enemies acknowledged his existence. John Dominic Crossan has put forward this argument in his "Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography" and other writings. The Roman/Jewish historian Josephus notes the existence of 'Christos' who was executed but his following continued. This indicates a single person and fits with the gospel stories. Crossan and other members of the Jesus Seminar have examined the gospel stories in great detail for several decades and have produced some useful analyses.

DJ Wilkins said...

This whole issue just seems to raise a problem about the trustworthiness of history in general for me. Then it would seem to me that it all comes down to probabilities with history. I'm no historian or historical scholar. I suppose as such I don't feel obligated to any of their rules (nor presume their essential importance.) Still I do respect history having an important place in society, so I'm open.

As for the Gospels, I've heard before it argued that since they're not legend as many religious legends of the past, actually containing historical details, it should be treated as a historical documents. Shall we also apply this to all novels of HISTORICAL FICTION?? And all legends about historical figures? I just don't accept the logic.

Jesus was a popular name. It certainly makes sense that Joshua, the original military hero of the Israelites who lead them in taking the promise land (which they were now in need of retaking), in Greek - Jesus - would be a name associated with messianic concepts. Was there a particular individual behind the Gospels narratives at some point? It's quite possible. What we can actually now is attributable to him from the text? Couldn't tell you. There's also the possibility that he was a figure created to communicate the teachings of a Hellenistic Jewish subculture (the authors of Q) syncretised with Paul's earlier form of Christianity.

I'm no fan of being hardcore about any particular interpretation. Though I think we have every reason to believe that as far as the gospels as a whole are concerned, if there was a historical jesus, he probably wasn't THAT GUY :o)

Too many better explanations for most of it. This of course follows not only from the details but also my sharing of your "natural-bias."