Bayesian Background Priors

A lot is made by Christian philosophers about their background "priors" when assessing the truth of Christian theism. Their claim is that with their particular "priors" they are warranted in concluding from those "priors" the evidence leads them to their faith. My claim is that they have the cart before the horse, big time, bad time.

For if the Christian "priors" are truly "priors" then they need to be there "prior."

So here you are wondering whether Christian theism is true. You were probably raised to believe in this Christian culture but now as the adult you have become you want to examine the case for yourself.

So when doing so what are your "priors" at that point? That is, what do you know and when? When do you place which "priors" into your bag of "priors"?

Name them in order to the best of your ability. And tell me how you arrived at them without using any subsequent ones.

Now for the punch, Hear ye, O' hear ye!

No amount of philosophical thinking alone will produce the conclusion that any event actually took place in the past, much less a miraculous resurrection. So on the one hand, in order to establish the Christian faith believers must use historical evidence at every juncture. But on the other hand, in order to see that evidence as evidence we need to have good reasons to do so. Where do those reasons come from? Not from any “background knowledge” or “priors” of theirs. They cannot use their so-called “background knowledge” or their “priors” to help determine whether the evidence shows Jesus arose from the dead until they can first show that he did. Christians must independently establish that the resurrection took place in history before such a belief can be placed into their bag of "priors."

We can even grant the existence of Yahweh or a creator god and the possibility of miracles and it changes nothing. For what needs to be shown is that Yahweh did such a miracle here in this particular case and the historical tools we have available to assess whether he did are inadequate for the task.

This is both obvious and non-controversial. For the very people in charge of the writing and maintenance of the OT faith, the Jews, believed in Yahweh and miracles and yet did not believe in Jesus--to this day. Yes there are pockets of Jews who do believe, but statistically not many of them at all.

Given this I defy anyone to provide for us a clear and unequivocal non-self-fulfilling prophetic text in the OT that singles Jesus out as the only person who could fulfill it using the historical grammatical method of interpretation. Tim Callahan in Bible Prophecy looks into this with tests and so forth.

It cannot be done.

54 comments:

David B Marshall said...

I think your argument fails in several ways, John.

First, is it true that the number of Jews who believed is "statistically insignificant?" No, it is not. A large percentage of Jews in the Roman empire became Christians. (See Stark, The Rise of Christianity, chapter 3, "The Mission to the Jews: Why it Probably Succeeded.") At the very least, "statistically insignificant" is certifiably untrue. When Jews became Christians, though, they tended (and tend) to melt into the general population, while those who did not, remained distinct.

Second, you again ignore the fact that conversion is socially risky, to put it mildly. Christians were persecuted in the early centuries. Later, it remained a betrayal of one's tradition and family to convert out of the Jewish community. This remains the case in many communities around the world today, as missionaries can tell you.

Third, in any case conversion is almost always slow and socially difficult. Stark is again good on this subject -- read any of his sociological books on religion and conversion. The game is almost always rigged against leaving the religion of one's community.

Fourth, the evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus is, as historical evidence goes, extraordinarily good. This is the topic of a massive amount of literature and debate. The simplest way to demonstrate this point may be to remind John that his old teacher wins the debates, even in the minds of the uncommitted, and even against formidable opponents.

Finally, what passage(s) single Jesus out as the One? I'm not sure why we have to pick just one passage -- where does that demand come from? But some of the best are obviously Psalm 22 and Isaiah 52-3, if for some arbitrary reason you have to pick just one or two.

I'm also inclined to argue that the Sage in ancient Chinese literature, especially the Analects and Dao De Jing, maybe with the Book of Poetry and Yi Jing included, may be a portrait of Christ. I can't think of anyone who fulfills that portrait more fully. But it's a collage portrait, not a single passage that you can take out of context.

I've been thinking about posting on this on my christthetao blog this week -- maybe I'll try to put something up later today, if I have time.

Rob R said...

Given this I defy anyone to provide for us a clear and unequivocal non-self-fulfilling prophetic text in the OT that singles Jesus out as the only person who could fulfill it using the historical grammatical method of interpretation.

John, I don't buy the typical view of prophecy of evangelicals, that every instance of fulfillment is a matter of prediction and fulfillment of the prediction. The New testament authors where interpreting Scripture by Jewish standards and the instances of fulfillment were often instances where the life of Jesus echoes the old testament.

More importantly, I find it is more important to observe the theological consistency between the old testament and new. I found a powerful demonstration of this in Terrance Fretheim's "The suffering of God" where he demonstrates that Yahweh suffers for because of his people, for his people and with his people. It is this powerful intimacy that is so close to the redemptive picture and the old and so powerful embodied in the life, death and teachings of Jesus. It just makes excellent sense to have this demonstrated in a powerful way through incarnation.

I'm not saying though that there are no fulfillments of scripture that fulfill the old prediction scheme though. The tail end of Romans 9 is an excellent example.

"I will make you envious by those who are not a nation;
I will make you angry by a nation that has no understanding." 20And Isaiah boldly says,
"I was found by those who did not seek me;
I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me." 21But concerning Israel he says,
"All day long I have held out my hands
to a disobedient and obstinate people."


The very thing you comment on, that the Jews, that non-Jews would embrace a covenant with God is a fulfilled prophecy.

The laws of Moses, the psalms of David, the exhortations of the prophets, and the whole history of God's relationship and struggle with his people are spread to the ends of the earth because of Jesus fulfilling God's intentions towards Abraham in choosing the Jews to begin with and fulfilling. It is because of a man who embodies God's redemptive activities towards us, His redemptive activity of his own suffering, because of us, for us, and with us.

John W. Loftus said...

David, just a comment. Isaiah 49:1-3 helps provide the context for Isaiah 42-53. The servant is Israel. Surely if anyone in today's pulpit interpreted the Bible out of context you would not like it. Why here?

Psalm 22 is not predictive prophecy! It is a prayer for deliverance and a hope that God will deliver. A prayer is not a prediction and neither is an expressed hope. A prediction, since it has escaped you must involve more than that. To take it as prophecy takes it out of context. Surely if anyone in today's pulpit interpreted the Bible out of context you would not like it. Why here?

Is this the best you got?

Rhacodactylus said...

Makes total sense.

This is sort of like how when people have near death experiences, all the things that are cross cultural are phenomenons assosciated with brain death, everything else varies with the religion the person was raised in. Or with pareidolia, how you see what you are conditioned to see. Excellent post.

~Rhaco

David B Marshall said...

John: No, the servant clearly is not Israel.

How could Israel, which is consistently portrayed as sinful, be described as having done no violence and practiced no deceit? The whole OT is filled with evidence to the contrary, including Isaiah 53.

And how can Israel die for itself? ("pierced through for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities . . . ?")

Sure, Isaiah 52-3 belongs in the context of the Servant Hymns, and of the last half of Isaiah in general. Personally, I don't see how anyone can read those chapters and not see Jesus.

Nor do I see any reason to set up hard-and-fast boundaries between prayer and prediction. Let me recommend to you Nicholas Wolterstorff's Divine Discourse, if you haven't read it. An easier source to find, that makes a similiar suggestion more briefly, is C. S. Lewis' Reflections on the Psalms.

Spontaneous Order said...

David, curious if you would maintain the verses are prophecy had they not lined up with what you consider new testament events? If you would, what is the tell that they are prophecy?

At best they could be called literary foreshadowing.

John W. Loftus said...

Marshall asserted: "No, the servant clearly is not Israel."

Whew, glad we got that one figured out.

Thanks David! I thought 49:1-3 should have been clear, and if not then either 42:18–24; or 44:1–2 would do the trick, or all of them together.

I guess not. I must be misreading them all. You must have it right despite what it says. Any Jew would quickly see the error of his ways on that one and convert to Christianity, easily. Sheesh what idiots for them not to have done so en masse.

But wait, Catholic scholar Joseph Fitzmyer in The One who is to Come argued “there is no passage in the book of Isaiah that mentions a “‘Messiah’ in the narrow sense, and all attempts to speak of Isaiah’s ‘messianic prophecies’ are still-born.” (pp. 42-43). He claims that the Servant Song of Isaiah 53 “has no messianic connotation” per se. (p. 141). And “The idea of a suffering Messiah . . . is found nowhere in the Old Testament or in any Jewish literature prior to or contemporaneous with the New Testament. It is a Christian conception that goes beyond the Jewish messianic tradition.” (p. 142).

How can a Christian conclude other than what any Jew shouldn't known according to you?

According to Christian scholarship, Isaiah’s servant is “almost certainly to be identified with Israel.” (Anchor Bible Dictionary: “Lamb.”)

Do more work on this David, for the identification of Isaiah’s servant with Jesus was based upon the Christian recasting of Isaiah 52–53 in light of the apocryphal book of The Wisdom of Solomon (chapters 1–6).

John W. Loftus said...

The Psalms do not predict anything at all. They are prayers to be interpreted within the range of the writers’ experiences alone. Any extrapolation of them to Jesus is reading Jesus into the text, and not justified by the text itself. After discussing several of the key “Messianic Psalms,” Fitzmyer concludes, “The attempt to interpret these Psalms anachronistically in a ‘messianic’ sense is misguided.” (p. 25). It is more probable that the New Testament writers were influenced in the construction of their stories about Jesus by making his life fit some of these details.

David B Marshall said...

SO: I don't mind if you prefer a term like "literary foreshadowing."

David B Marshall said...

John: Scholars interpret Isaiah 53 in a variety of ways. Some like to think the Suffering Servant is Israel, others point out the obvious problems with that view, which I mentioned. Doing an end-around the literary evidence with appeals to authority won't work: the textual evidence is primary.

Nor is the word "Messiah" at the heart of the matter. That term has a specialized sense, and also a broader sense. You didn't even use the term in your original post. Why make a big deal about it now?

The point is, Isaiah 52-3 fits Jesus a lot closer than it fits anyone else you can name.

Tristan D. Vick said...

@David

The only books which ever make the sort of claim you are supporting here are apologetic works. I think John is correct here... I do not think it means what you think it means.

Check out NT historian Robert M. Price's new book 'The Case Against The Case for Christ' as he devotes a whole entire chapter to this exact debate.

Even if you disagree with Price's position on the matter he does an excellent job showing how form-criticism and redaction-criticism prove beyond a reason of a doubt that the aforesaid pericopes have nothing to do with messiaic prophecy/Jesus.

And even if (big if) those verses predicted a person, not likely, but assuming they did, the description would better fit the Hasideans or any member of the Hasidim than the person of Jesus Christ. So you may want to look into that.

Rob R said...

N.T. Wright takes an interesting middle ground, that Isaiah 53 is of Israel, but Jesus embodies Israel. Which leads us back to what I mentioned. God choose the Jews through Abraham to bless the world. And it is particularly through the message of Jesus that the book of the Jews has spread.

Spontaneous Order said...

David, you should not be comforted that I think of it as at BEST a literary foreshadowing. It could be forward or backward foreshadowing (let me make it fit this OT meme as I write this NT gospel).

Still haven't answered why this should be considered prophetic. What marks it as prophecy so we would know if there had NOT been a fulfillment (alleged)? If Jesus had been beheaded how would we know this was a prophecy fail or would apologists seek to have it overlooked or spin it as well a beheading is really a form of piercing?

(and I am mainly referring to Psalm 22)

B

Rob R said...

Even if some of these things were prophecies (that probably aren't prophecies ie predictions, but again, I don't believe that this was the new testament understanding of all quotes of the Old testament), prophecies can be conditional open ended as Jerimaiah 18 describes. And they can be fulfilled in more than one way.

John W. Loftus said...

David: The point is, Isaiah 52-3 fits Jesus a lot closer than it fits anyone else you can name.

Not at all! The point is, Isaiah 52-3 fits Israel a lot closer than it fits anyone else you can name.

Israel.

You do know about their history don't you?

Now here's the rub. If you read what I had initially said you see quite plainly that there is doubt about this. Come on and be reasonable. No hedging, fudging or making stuff up. An impartial reading of this passage in its context (did you read it?) would not lead anyone to see it as a prophecy about the Messiah, much less Jesus. Nor any of the Psalms.

Papalinton said...

I am totally amazed in reading this thread. The mental contortions and gymnastic verbiage engaged in the attempt to fit NT stuff through the wringer of OT stuff is simply mind-boggling. I think theology needs a co-lateral field of allied study to make the square peg fit into the round hole. I know, let's call it: APOLOGETICS!

And from the theists point of view, all this represents up-to-the-minute contemporary hard-hitting cutting-edge theology?

The very need for a thing called 'apologetics' is an example of the fundamental weakness of the theistic argument. 'God' always needs apologies, rationalizations, explanations, equivocations, excuses. The generic name I offer is; 'theo-babble'. It seems like English, it sounds like English, but it is 'speaking-in-tongue', a language from another world, perhaps supernatural.

John, I admire your patience, good sense as well as your constructive capacity to speak their language.

Bloody awesome

Sheesh

GearHedEd said...

Papalinton said,

"...The very need for a thing called 'apologetics' is an example of the fundamental weakness of the theistic argument."

Thank you.

Rob R said...

I'm always amazed at the mental insulation of atheists who think anyone who doesn't think like they do is doing mental gymnastics, and the further mental insulation of the frequent back patting and mere handwaving (not so much here on that last one, real interaction has taken place seems to me).

David B Marshall said...

Tristan: From what you say, I would guess Price is following rabbit trails. But if you dismiss arguments for the prophetic nature of Isaiah on the grounds that they were written by apologists, why shouldn't I dismiss Price's book on the same grounds?

The point, again, is that Isaiah 52-3 does closely anticipate the Gospel account and interpretation of Jesus. You can argue that the disciples made it look that way on purpose, but it's not tenable to deny the parallels.

If you think there's a better parallel somewhere else, perhaps you can flesh that out?

David B Marshall said...

John: "The point is, Isaiah 52-3 fits Israel a lot closer than it fits anyone else you can name."

I've already rebutted that, and you have not even tried to show where I'm wrong.

Again. First, almost nothing is more emphatic in the OT than that the Jewish people have gone away from God. This is even true of Isaiah, and even in this passage. But the Servant in this passage is "without deceit," and had "done no violence." That is the opposite of what the OT consistently says about Israel.

Second, the servant bares "our sins" and "our sorrows." Who is "us" if not Israel? How can Israel be depicted as a hero for baring its own sins? This makes no sense.

Third, not only is the Servant described in the singular -- which might, in theory, be considered allegorical -- but specific actions are ascribed to him that make no sense ascribed to the whole nation of Israel.

How can Israel "be with a rich man in his death?"

But really, the whole passage reads that way -- all of it sounds like it's talking about exactly one human being.

"An impartial reading of this passage in its context (did you read it?) would not lead anyone to see it as a prophecy about the Messiah, much less Jesus."

That's plainly untrue. Here, from Vera Schlamm, a Jewish Holocaust survivor:

"When I came to the chapter 53, it seemed so obvious that it was talking about Jesus that I thought, 'Well, this is a Christian translation, and they have slanted the text to sound that way.' So the following Friday night at Temple Emmanuel . . . I took the Scriptures from the pew . . . The wording was a little different -- but it still sounded like Jesus!"

I think anyone whose head has not been filled with contrary propaganda, will recognize Jesus in this passage immediately.

David B Marshall said...

John: "The point is, Isaiah 52-3 fits Israel a lot closer than it fits anyone else you can name."

I've already rebutted that.

Again. First, almost nothing is more emphatic in the OT than that the Jewish people have gone away from God. This is even true in this passage. But the Servant in this passage is "without deceit," and had "done no violence." That is the opposite of what the OT consistently says about Israel.

Second, the servant bares "our sins" and "our sorrows." Who is "us" if not Israel? How can Israel be depicted as a hero for baring its own sins?

Third, not only is the Servant described in the singular -- which might, in theory, be considered allegorical -- but specific actions are ascribed to him that make no sense ascribed to the whole nation of Israel. How can Israel "be with a rich man in his death?" Really, the whole passage sounds like it's talking about exactly one human being.

"An impartial reading of this passage in its context (did you read it?) would not lead anyone to see it as a prophecy about . . . Jesus."

That's plainly untrue. Here, from Vera Schlamm, a Jewish Holocaust survivor:

"When I came to the chapter 53, it seemed so obvious that it was talking about Jesus that I thought, 'Well, this is a Christian translation, and they have slanted the text to sound that way.' So the following Friday night at Temple Emmanuel . . . I took the Scriptures from the pew . . . The wording was a little different -- but it still sounded like Jesus!"

It does, indeed.

David B Marshall said...

Sorry for the doppleganger. The software played a fast one on me.

John W. Loftus said...

DM said "I've already rebutted that."

With an attitude like that it's no use arguing with you.

Read the relevant literature for yourself then. You will not listen to me.

Cheers.

David B Marshall said...

Rob: That interpretation makes sense from Tom Wright's Hebrew-filial POV, but not from the text. Wright himself points out, in Jesus and the Victory of God, 590-591, that Jews generally found the text very confusing until Jesus made sense of it for the first Christians. They could only explain parts of it. "Indeed, the use of Isaiah 40-55 as a whole, and in its parts, seldom if ever in pre-Christian Judaism includes all those elements which later Christian theology brought together . . . "

David B Marshall said...

John: I've read enough of the commentaries; they're all over the map. I'm surprised that you seem to want to make this an argument from authority, rather than talking about the actual text. Well, maybe not that surprised.

John W. Loftus said...

David, become informed. Think. Question. You have some spectacle on that I cannot remove. You don't believe me when I say this. You think it's about an argument over these texts. And you're confident you see these texts correctly. There is nothing I can say. Read Fitzmeyer. Read the Anchor Bible Dictionary entry and the relevant literature.

But most of all think. It's really not hard to do. The reason you defend these so-called prophecies is because you do not want to think the NT writers were wrong. That guides your thinking process. You cannot even entertain that they could be wrong.

I know enough to know I cannot convince you. Listen to the scholars on your side of the fence and see what happens. Do a serious investigation of all of the prophecies about Jesus.

The weight of the evidence will crush your faith eventually. But not now, not here not with me. I have better things to do.Let someone educate you whom you trust.

Cheers.

John W. Loftus said...

It should read: "You have some spectacles on that I cannot remove."

John Sfifer said...

Us statisticians use something called 'Jeffrey's Prior'. This allows for very general priors that do not have an impact on the likelihood. We can accomodate different prior distributions.

Rob R said...

Let me say that I know of Wright's interpretation of this passage. I have read parts of his work and intend to get back to it. But let me say that this makes a lot of sense with the hybrid view:

But the Servant in this passage is "without deceit," and had "done no violence." That is the opposite of what the OT consistently says about Israel.

So let us grant that yes, this is indeed about Israel, and yet, this really doesn't match Israel. Thus Jesus does what Israel couldn't do. He fulfilled the role in Israel's place.


John,
You're a religious scholar, David M is a religious scholar, It would make sense for you to tell a guy like me to go read the anchor bible commentary and then some, but it doesn't make sense to me for you to tell someone who, if he is not a biblical exegete may at least be as capable of you at analyzing the text to do the same when you could get into the details.

So why appeal to the authorities when you can dig into the thing itself?

John W. Loftus said...

Rob, the text says in three specific places that the servant is Israel. If that doesn't convince a "religious scholar" like David then nothing will. Why? Because the NT writers say differently, that's why.

What else is there to say here?

But the Servant in this passage is "without deceit," and had "done no violence." That is the opposite of what the OT consistently says about Israel.

So it surprises you that the Bible is inconsistent? Is such a thing a revelation you had never considered before?

And have you ever read some free verse poetry or listened to a pop song in today's world to make sense of every phrase in it? Sometimes it cannot be done.

In any case, it also says he did not "open his mouth" but was "silent" and talks of "his descendants" and "offspring" and that he went to "the grave" of the wicked.

Figurative or literal, eh? And why? Jesus was emphatically NOT silent at his trials.

Given the fact that the Israelites did not accept a general resurrection from the dead this could not refer to an individual. It was speaking metaphorically about a nation who had become a scapegoat, or a lesson to the other nations not to sin against Yahweh (and here we must consider the fact that the Babylonians were the scum of the earth compared to the Israelites such that compared to them the Jews were still a righteous chosen nation in the author's eyes). Surely the concept of a scapegoat was nothing new to you or to them. Only instead of a goat on the Day or Atonement is was the nation of Israel itself.

The text doesn't make complete sense but one thing I know is that it was about Israel.

The story of the crucifixion of Jesus was tailor made to fit the details of this prophecy not the other way around, anyway. THAT'S why is has the ring of truth to it. It's called prophecy historicized, and we see plenty evidence of this in the NT itself, especially from Matthew's gospel. Check out the story of Zechariah's prophecy about the Triumphant entry into Jerusalem by Jesus which is clearly a story made up given the way the four gospels treat it.

Cheers.

David B Marshall said...

John: You've hardly answered an argument I've made in this thread. Telling me to read commentaries, when I've already read them, and found something different than you, rather than respond to the actual evidence in the actual text that undermines your interpretation, is not an answer. Scoffing at my intelligence, open-mindedness, or education, is not an answer.

I know this is largely what you do, and everyone has to have their gig. But that sort of response is like a hothouse flower: it may resonate with skeptics who flourish in a protected environment, but doesn't look healthy out in the cold, cruel world.

Get back to me when you want to respond to the textual evidence.

John W. Loftus said...

I did David. If you cannot see that I did then there is no way in hell you will see my points.

I was responding to Rob anyway since you are too far gone to see the nose on your face. I could point it out, take a picture of it, have you touch it, and you would still deny it exists even though you still use it to breathe.

Rob, however, even though we disagree is at least trying to be fair-minded about what is to be seen.

John W. Loftus said...

In other words David, you are brainwashed. I am smart enough to see the signs of it. It's written all over your face. I cannot reach you. So I'm not gonna try. It's a waste of time trying with some people. You are one such person. Wave your hand around all you want to. Claim victory. But you're losing the argument in front of fair-minded people. It's like the emperor who had no clothes on. You think you're dressed. You think you win debates and arguments. You boast about them. And you'll do so here as well.

Only you think so. You're naked as a jaybird.

So please, link here all you want to. Tell everyone to come read this. Please. It won't do your cause any good.

David B Marshall said...

OK, John is finally trying to support his argument, at least to Rob.

"Rob, the text says in three specific places that the servant is Israel."

Where does it say that in Isaiah 52-53?

"If that doesn't convince a "religious scholar" like David then nothing will. Why? Because the NT writers say differently, that's why."

I have said nothing at all about NT interpretations. I've said repeatedly that it's Isaiah 53 itself that strikes me as being obviously about Jesus.

"So it surprises you that the Bible is inconsistent?"

But the issue here is whether Isaiah 52-3 is more consistent with (a) the "Israel" interpretation or (b) the "Jesus" interpretation. You can't throw out evidence that undermines your model because you argue, post hoc, that the whole Bible is inconsistent.

"In any case, it also says he did not "open his mouth" but was "silent" and talks of "his descendants" and "offspring" and that he went to "the grave" of the wicked."

Yes, and the Gospels say Jesus refused to answer his critics. His initial refusal to answer charges "amazed" Pilate (Mt. 27:12-15; Mk. 15:3-5).

It's true Isaiah is writing poetically, and a couple details do not precisely match the Gospel story. My claim was that it fits Jesus better than anyone else, not that the fit is perfect.

Of course one favored poetic device in the OT is parallelism, which may make the "grave with the wicked, death with the rich" reversal more apparent than real. But I concede it's not a perfect fit.

As resurrection, see Resurrection of the Son of God, especially the 3rd paragraph on 117, speaking of Isaiah 26. "The original Hebrew refers literally to bodily resurrection, and this is certainly how the verse is taken in the LXX and at Qumram."

In any case, of course by hypothesis, a prophet can transcend what his culture knows.

"The story of the crucifixion of Jesus was tailor made to fit the details of this prophecy not the other way around, anyway. THAT'S why is has the ring of truth to it."

Heh. That's the inevitable fallback position. I don't think it's very plausible, but it implicitly admits my original point, which is good enough for now.

David B Marshall said...

"You are too far gone to see the nose on your face . . . you are brainwashed. I am smart enough to see the signs of it . . . It's a waste of time trying with some people. You are one such person . . . like the emperor who had no clothes on . . . You're naked as a jaybird."

ROFL! That's why we keep you on the payroll, John.

Little secret: I answer posts sequentially. I hadn't gotten to the post where you finally tried to offer a little evidence, still less could I be deluding myself by pretending to ignore the supposed cogency and overwhelming intellectual force of that evidence.

Nice try, though. Just out of curiosity: when you do debates, do you all your arguments in your closing statement?

Rebel1 said...

I have a simpler rejoinder to all this talk of "priors" and "Bayesian" so-called philosophy:

Bayes' Theorem is a mathematical relation between the probability of two events.

This means that before you can even use the name "Bayes", YOU HAVE TO BE ABLE TO QUANTIFY PROBABILITIES. You can't say: Well, I feel that the probability of X is 0.5, so it's truthy that Y, if X has happened, should be something like 0.9. You SIMPLY DON'T HAVE THE RIGHT TO USE BAYES THEOREM THAT WAY.

So: Where are your numbers? What field studies did you do to arrive at them? What was your study's methodology? How did you assess statistical significance?

Simply stated, it's pseudo-science of the first order, using sciency words to hide the fact that they don't know what the hell they are talking about.

David B Marshall said...

Let's consider further John's claim that the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 52-3 is Israel.

John offered two arguments for this view: the context of the Suffering Servant passages, from which he cited Isaiah 49, and an argument from the authority of OT scholars.

(1) Isaiah 49:3 does, at first glance, seem to affirm John's interpretation:

"He said to me, 'You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified."

Seems pretty straightforward, right? Read on, and not so:

"5. But now the Lord, who formed me from my birth to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to Him and that Israel might be gathered for Him . . . He says, 'It is too light a thing that you should be My servant, to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved of Israel; I will make you a light to the nations that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth."

If this servant IS Israel, how can the servant be called to "raise up" and "preserve" the people of Judah and Israel? (And then the world?)

One can suppose, as Loftus suggests, that the poet is simply clumsy, and can't help contradicting himself. But the most obvious thing about this poet is that he is a genius. This is some of the most magnificant poetry in all literature. It's not likely he just can't keep his story straight. What is far more likely that just as the name "Israel" was a person given to a nation, here again it refers to some representative Person.

In any case, "Israel" doesn't fit, both for reasons already given, and for reasons I'll mention below.

I'll deal with John's other argument, his argument from authority, in the next post.

David B Marshall said...

John cites two authorities in the attempt to support his claim that Isaiah 52-3 refers to Israel, not to Jesus. He also tells me to "listen to scholars on your side of the fence," and warns that when I do, my faith will eventually be "crushed."

The odd thing about his two appeals to authority, is that one of his sources doesn't seem to support him! Nothing he quotes from Joseph Fitzmyer actually says either than this passage refers to Israel, or that it is not in some sense a prophecy about Jesus. He appears instead to be making a technical point about whether it speaks of the "Messiah."

John's second source is the Anchor Bible Dictionary, scholar unspecified, and what looks like a pretty loose comment.

I've gone through this argument before, with a philosophy prof from the Midwest, so I had a pretty good idea what commentators say about this passage. But to refresh my memory, I followed John's advice, and looked through commentaries on Isaiah in the main library at a major West coast university.

In the time I had available, I dug out opinions on this issue from eight commentaries: four Medeival Jews, one modern liberal or skeptic, two evangelicals, and one probable Christian. (Publishers: Peter Lang, Cambridge U, New Century, IVP, Moody)

Of those eight scholars, not a single one agree with the Loftus-Anchor interpretation.

The most skeptical was by RN Whybray, who seemed offended by the idea the Suffering Servant was Jesus, and argued the author was writing about himself. He argued in his commentary on earlier passages already "that the servant . . . cannot be Israel."

The Medieval Jews were quite conflicted over how to interpret the passage. One, Saadia, said it was Jeremiah, or perhaps the prophets collectively, or perhaps Abraham. It was all rather vague. A Jew belonging to another school dismissed that view with contempt, but with no real argument. Obviously Jeremiah doesn't fit, though. A couple Jewish scholars of another school therefore claimed the Servant will come in the future -- obviously very much connecting him to the Messiah -- but simply flipping the stuff about sacrificial atonement on its head, and having the Messiah kill rich criminals.

This also is interesting because it treats "the rich" and "criminals" as parallelism, as I noted above.

The two evangelicals see Jesus writ large not only in 52-53, but in that whole section of Isaiah. I didn't have time to read too much, but they seem to give excellent reasons. Their books are called "Songs of Servant" (Henri Blocher) and "The Servant Songs: A Study in Isaiah;" will have to read more later.

So thanks, John, for the stimulating challenges.

These passages amaze me every time I read them, and fair reading of the scholarship doesn't seem to lessen the effect one whit. Certainly scholarship seems, so far, to help the "Jesus hypothesis" more than the "Israel hypothesis."

John W. Loftus said...

David Marshall, I agree with Arizona Atheist who wrote about you saying, "Never one to concede defeat even when all the evidence is against him, Marshall appears to be eager to be made a fool of again...[and again, and again].

Authorities? What are they? Who are they? Who knows? Who cares? I did not use them as authorities but scholars in their own right who make the case for me. Why should I have to make that case here? Is it people cannot do the requisite amount of research...that I must spend an hour typing in their arguments here? Bullshit. I already di so anyway.

Here's the problem. If the evidence does not convince Jews nor at least some Christians, then would you be so kind O wise one to tell me why the evidence should convince non-believers,including Buddhists, Hindu's?

Since I agree with Arizona Atheist about you and since I have already spent more time on you than you deserve, and since I have more productive things to do than argue with a person like you who will never concede even the smallest of detail, I'm not bothering.

David B Marshall said...

John: Heh. (A) I pointed out three fatal exegetical flaws in your interpretation of Isaiah 52-3.

(B) I then showed that the way you presented the state of the scholarly argument is phoney. Most scholars do NOT seem to agree with your interpretation of Isaiah 52-3. At least, I offered a larger sample than you did, NONE of whom agreed with you.

(C) I also showed that in context, your main defeater, 49:3, cannot refer to Israel -- as even many non-Christian scholars seem to recognize for the passage as a whole.

You respond by pretending (against B) that scholars are really all on your side, and by citing -- get this -- Arizona Atheist? (aka "Gifted Writer" aka "Angry Atheist" aka Ken?) A guy who, when confronted (not just by me) with the absurdity of his arguments, those he is willing to show, that is, laspses into fantasies about the death of his opponent, pornographical posts, and obscurity of the kind we all know and love -- I'm right because no one is going to follow me to THIS web site and prove me wrong?

Brilliant, John. I wasn't honestly expecting a great argument from you, but your response still kind of surprises me.

David B Marshall said...

By the way, your claim that I "will not concede even the smallest detail" is also nakedly and plainly false.

In one of my last posts, for instance, I conceded that on the face of it, 49:3 seems to support your reading of the Servant Songs.

I also conceded that some passages in Isaiah 52-3 do not easily fit my model.

You seem to be projecting your own unwillingness to see or admit the gaping holes in your argument.

Rob R said...

Why should I have to make that case here?

No need to write a whole book here or even a chapter. But don't let the pendulum swing the other way. Just because cases have been made doesn't mean that they can't be discussed by others. And what does it matter what they argue if no one will disseminate the information because it's all been done.

The masses or even the minorities who read this blog simply don't have the time funds or accessibility to go out and consult every resource on every topic.

Rob R said...

"Never one to concede defeat even when all the evidence is against him, Marshall appears to be eager to be made a fool of again...[and again, and again].

This is a complaint that always cuts both ways since it's not always clear that the one making it has conceeded anything.

And what does it matter anyways? The question is not whether one has made any concessions but whether it was worth making any at all to begin with.

John W. Loftus said...

Rob, what more need I say?

Really? What is there about my response that I left out and needs further explanation?

And where did David say anything about the Psalms as prophecy? They are clearly not prophetic! So rather than say anything about that all I got was silence.

Silence. Crickets chirping.

Oh but wait, here comes David now, and without even attempting to answer why anyone who is not already a believer should think Isaiah 52-53 is about Jesus maybe he'll proof text and proclaim victory again.

This is not the kind of person that can be reached by reason and evidence.

Imagine this scenario: David is evangelizing and the potential convert asks me what I think. I share it. On this issue is there any doubt but that the potential convert will not be persuaded by David?

That's the point. That's why we need an Outsider Test.

David B Marshall said...

Rob: John seems to have forgotten that this thread is all in response to a challenge he issued. Perhaps if he doesn't have time to defend his arguments, he should make fewer of them, and follow through on those he makes.

This thread is not exactly the top of my priority list, either; but the subject interests me, and I'll follow through on it.

David B Marshall said...

John: I think I'll start a "Where's Wally?" contest for atheists, based on this thread. I'll ask a fair-minded atheist to act as ref, and challenge your fellow atheists to find the devastating argument you made in this thread that justifies all the trash talk you've sent my way. I'll give out prizes, for anyone who can find that argument.

I don't take the trash talk personally, though. I knew before coming here that that's the way you and your friends -- Carrier, Avalos, Physicist Dave, Arizona Atheist -- operate. It's what I expected from you. I also thought you just might try answering my points; but I wasn't holding my breath.

Rob R said...

Rob, what more need I say?

I looked over this thread again, there's points both of you didn't address as far as I can tell. I'm really not concerned about psalms, and David Marshall seemed to just reference Wolterstorff in favor of that without going into much detail. As for Isaiah 53, he didn't address the issue with descendents.

Now you've mentioned that Israel is named as the subject several times, but As David pointed out, it's reasonable that the servant could be a specific individual is a representative of Israel, and so Jesus fits that mold. That's a very common in scripture so I don't see why not.

As for the rebuttal that the inconsistencies with israel are chalked up to the claim that the Bible is inconsistant instead of allowing us to draw the conclusion that Jesus fits it better, this does strike me as conceptual insulation.

And that is an overly short overview of the discussion, but it's all I have time for.

David B Marshall said...

Here's a brief account of elements in Isaiah 52-53 that fit or do not fit Jesus.

Fit:

(1) The context (52:7) is "good news" announcing peace.

(2) This is a universal peace, "the Lord has bared his holy arm in the sight of all the nations, that all the ends of the earth may see the salvation of our God." (52:10)

(3) The servant will be "greatly exalted." (52:13)

(4) Paradoxically, his appearance wil also be "marred more than any man." (52:14) (One should take this as OT hyperbole, meaning, "really messed up.")

(5) He will "sprinkle many nations," referring to some sort of redemptive activity, like substitutionary sacrifice in which blood was sprinkled on the tribes. (52:15)

(6) Because of the servant, "kings" will learn something they didn't know before, presumably about the work of God. (52:15)

(7) The Servant was "despised and rejected," and "we" (presumably the Jewish people) did not esteem him. (53:3)

(8) He would thought to be punished by God. (53:4)

(9) But in reality he would bare "our" griefs and sorrows. (Note the parallelism, relevent to below.) This is the main theme of the passage, and is repeated many times, in striking rhetoric. Some overlap with (5).

(10) He was "pierced" and "crushed for sin . . . some commentators say this implies a violent death. (53:5) "He was cut off from the land of the living." (53: 8) Makes it clear that the violence did in fact end in death.

(11) He "did not open his mouth." (53:7) (Again, this is not a perfect parallel -- Jesus refused to answer at one stage of his trial, but later talked to Pilate.)

(12) "He had done no violence, nor was their any deceit in his mouth." (53:9) Both literally and in an expanded, figurative sense, true of Jesus. Aside from chasing money-changers from the temple, Jesus refused to take up arms -- unlike most OT heroes. He was truthful. He was also "innocent" and "holy" in a deeper sense.

(13) The pair "His grave was assigned with wicked men, yet he was with a rich man in his death" may count either way. Isaiah is using a lot of parallelism, and it is probably fair to take this enigmatic pair in the same way -- his death involved both a rich man and wicked men. Some commentators put the two together -- a rich, wicked man. Of course the exact wording reverses the NT description. Which makes one wonder: if the Gospel writers were making up facts to force parallels, why didn't they make Joseph a rich sinner? Anyway, a strong but imperfect parallel.

(14) "He will see the light of life." (Dead Sea Scrolls.) Clearly suggests resurrection after death.

Does not quite fit:

(1) Rich man, sinner, see above.

(2) Booty with the strong? (53:12) Sounds like a tribal warlord after a battle. Probably just a poetic way of saying, "He will be richly rewarded for his suffering." As the NT says, "For the joy that was set before him, he endured the cross."

All in all, the parallels are deep, unique, and astounding. The differences are trivial and poetic. Again, I challenge anyone to find someone whom this passage describes better than Jesus. Israel obviously won't do, nor will Jeremiah.

John W. Loftus said...

David, do that analysis with Micah 5 while you're doing such things. Show me how this chapter has an astounding fit to Jesus. Stay focused:

1 Marshal your troops, O city of troops, [a]
for a siege is laid against us.
They will strike Israel's ruler
on the cheek with a rod.

2 "But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
though you are small among the clans [b] of Judah,
out of you will come for me
one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins [c] are from of old,
from ancient times. [d] "

3 Therefore Israel will be abandoned
until the time when she who is in labor gives birth
and the rest of his brothers return
to join the Israelites.

4 He will stand and shepherd his flock
in the strength of the LORD,
in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God.
And they will live securely, for then his greatness
will reach to the ends of the earth.

5 And he will be their peace.

Deliverance and Destruction
When the Assyrian invades our land
and marches through our fortresses,
we will raise against him seven shepherds,
even eight leaders of men.

6 They will rule [e] the land of Assyria with the sword,
the land of Nimrod with drawn sword. [f]
He will deliver us from the Assyrian
when he invades our land
and marches into our borders.

7 The remnant of Jacob will be
in the midst of many peoples
like dew from the LORD,
like showers on the grass,
which do not wait for man
or linger for mankind.

8 The remnant of Jacob will be among the nations,
in the midst of many peoples,
like a lion among the beasts of the forest,
like a young lion among flocks of sheep,
which mauls and mangles as it goes,
and no one can rescue.

9 Your hand will be lifted up in triumph over your enemies,
and all your foes will be destroyed.

10 "In that day," declares the LORD,
"I will destroy your horses from among you
and demolish your chariots.

11 I will destroy the cities of your land
and tear down all your strongholds.

12 I will destroy your witchcraft
and you will no longer cast spells.

13 I will destroy your carved images
and your sacred stones from among you;
you will no longer bow down
to the work of your hands.

14 I will uproot from among you your Asherah poles [g]
and demolish your cities.

15 I will take vengeance in anger and wrath
upon the nations that have not obeyed me."

John W. Loftus said...

David do Psalm 22 too:

1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from the words of my groaning?

2 O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, and am not silent.

3 Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;
you are the praise of Israel. [a]

4 In you our fathers put their trust;
they trusted and you delivered them.

5 They cried to you and were saved;
in you they trusted and were not disappointed.

6 But I am a worm and not a man,
scorned by men and despised by the people.

7 All who see me mock me;
they hurl insults, shaking their heads:

8 "He trusts in the LORD;
let the LORD rescue him.
Let him deliver him,
since he delights in him."

9 Yet you brought me out of the womb;
you made me trust in you
even at my mother's breast.

10 From birth I was cast upon you;
from my mother's womb you have been my God.

11 Do not be far from me,
for trouble is near
and there is no one to help.

12 Many bulls surround me;
strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.

13 Roaring lions tearing their prey
open their mouths wide against me.

14 I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint.
My heart has turned to wax;
it has melted away within me.

15 My strength is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;
you lay me [b] in the dust of death.

16 Dogs have surrounded me;
a band of evil men has encircled me,
they have pierced [c] my hands and my feet.

17 I can count all my bones;
people stare and gloat over me.

18 They divide my garments among them
and cast lots for my clothing.

19 But you, O LORD, be not far off;
O my Strength, come quickly to help me.

20 Deliver my life from the sword,
my precious life from the power of the dogs.

21 Rescue me from the mouth of the lions;
save [d] me from the horns of the wild oxen.

22 I will declare your name to my brothers;
in the congregation I will praise you.

23 You who fear the LORD, praise him!
All you descendants of Jacob, honor him!
Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!

24 For he has not despised or disdained
the suffering of the afflicted one;
he has not hidden his face from him
but has listened to his cry for help.

25 From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly;
before those who fear you [e] will I fulfill my vows.

26 The poor will eat and be satisfied;
they who seek the LORD will praise him—
may your hearts live forever!

27 All the ends of the earth
will remember and turn to the LORD,
and all the families of the nations
will bow down before him,

28 for dominion belongs to the LORD
and he rules over the nations.

29 All the rich of the earth will feast and worship;
all who go down to the dust will kneel before him—
those who cannot keep themselves alive.

30 Posterity will serve him;
future generations will be told about the Lord.

31 They will proclaim his righteousness
to a people yet unborn—
for he has done it.

John W. Loftus said...

...and Psalm 69:

1 Save me, O God,
for the waters have come up to my neck.

2 I sink in the miry depths,
where there is no foothold.
I have come into the deep waters;
the floods engulf me.

3 I am worn out calling for help;
my throat is parched.
My eyes fail,
looking for my God.

4 Those who hate me without reason
outnumber the hairs of my head;
many are my enemies without cause,
those who seek to destroy me.
I am forced to restore
what I did not steal.

5 You know my folly, O God;
my guilt is not hidden from you.

6 May those who hope in you
not be disgraced because of me,
O Lord, the LORD Almighty;
may those who seek you
not be put to shame because of me,
O God of Israel.

7 For I endure scorn for your sake,
and shame covers my face.

8 I am a stranger to my brothers,
an alien to my own mother's sons;

9 for zeal for your house consumes me,
and the insults of those who insult you fall on me.

10 When I weep and fast,
I must endure scorn;

11 when I put on sackcloth,
people make sport of me.

12 Those who sit at the gate mock me,
and I am the song of the drunkards.

13 But I pray to you, O LORD,
in the time of your favor;
in your great love, O God,
answer me with your sure salvation.

14 Rescue me from the mire,
do not let me sink;
deliver me from those who hate me,
from the deep waters.

15 Do not let the floodwaters engulf me
or the depths swallow me up
or the pit close its mouth over me.

16 Answer me, O LORD, out of the goodness of your love;
in your great mercy turn to me.

17 Do not hide your face from your servant;
answer me quickly, for I am in trouble.

18 Come near and rescue me;
redeem me because of my foes.

19 You know how I am scorned, disgraced and shamed;
all my enemies are before you.

20 Scorn has broken my heart
and has left me helpless;
I looked for sympathy, but there was none,
for comforters, but I found none.

21 They put gall in my food
and gave me vinegar for my thirst.

22 May the table set before them become a snare;
may it become retribution and [a] a trap.

23 May their eyes be darkened so they cannot see,
and their backs be bent forever.

24 Pour out your wrath on them;
let your fierce anger overtake them.

25 May their place be deserted;
let there be no one to dwell in their tents.

26 For they persecute those you wound
and talk about the pain of those you hurt.

27 Charge them with crime upon crime;
do not let them share in your salvation.

28 May they be blotted out of the book of life
and not be listed with the righteous.

29 I am in pain and distress;
may your salvation, O God, protect me.

30 I will praise God's name in song
and glorify him with thanksgiving.

31 This will please the LORD more than an ox,
more than a bull with its horns and hoofs.

32 The poor will see and be glad—
you who seek God, may your hearts live!

33 The LORD hears the needy
and does not despise his captive people.

34 Let heaven and earth praise him,
the seas and all that move in them,

35 for God will save Zion
and rebuild the cities of Judah.
Then people will settle there and possess it;

36 the children of his servants will inherit it,
and those who love his name will dwell there.

Rob R said...

BTW, Rebel1 who has been ignored has posted precisely a point that I have made. You can speak of probability, but when you do, unless do some real statistical math, it is a subjective appeal.

Hey, we really do have a subjective sense of probability. I suppose some people who are succesful gamblers have this going on, but here, as is the common problem with what is subjective, it isn't necessarily translating.



John, bringing up the psalms is all good and well, but whether the same thing with the psalms can be demonstrated as with Isaiah 52-3, it doesn't skirt the issue of Isaiah 52 and 53 as fitting Jesus.

I certainly don't depend upon all fulfillment claims in the New Testament to refer to fulfilled predictions. I see no reason why my suggestion can't serve, that what they highlighting was not predictions that were successful but rather how Jesus life echoed the old testament in many places.

David B Marshall said...

John: The only one of those passages I mentioned, in response to your OP, was Psalm 22. I do think it fits the Gospel account remarkably well. Most of the conversation has been about Isaiah, though, and being pretty busy myself (I have a seminar for my dissertation coming up in a few weeks, am flying to Iceland tomorrow, and am putting together an anthology of my own, as well), I'd rather not skoot off to another part of the Bible right now.

David B Marshall said...

Note: It appears that I was partially wrong in something I said in this forum about another poster:

¨Angry Atheist" aka Ken?) A guy who, when confronted (not just by me) with the absurdity of his arguments, those he is willing to show, that is, laspses into fantasies about the death of his opponent, pornographical posts, and obscurity of the kind we all know and love -- I'm right because no one is going to follow me to THIS web site and prove me wrong?¨

Ken tells me he is not ¨Angry Atheist.¨ If so, then he is not the one responsible for the pornographic hate mail. (He was, however, responsible for that other stuff I described.)

There were reasons for thinking it was him, but I accept his word, and apologize for my error. I am glad to know Ken did not make those posts.