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Jesus Did Exist: A Response to Richard Carrier

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Filed under Historicity

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EDITOR'S NOTE: Today we continue our four-part series concerning the historical evidence for Jesus. Popular atheist writer Richard Carrier, probably the world's best known Mythicist, began yesterday with his article "Questioning the Historicity of Jesus". Today, Catholic writer Jimmy Akin responds. Tomorrow, Richard will offer his take on “Four Reasons I Think Jesus Really Existed" by Trent Horn. Finally, on Thursday, Trent will wrap up the series with a rejoinder.


 
I would like to provide responses to the arguments and evidence that Richard Carrier offers to rebut my argument that Jesus existed. This task is complicated because, in his response to my original piece, Carrier says a surprisingly small amount that engages my argument and a large amount that does not.

Approximately half of his piece is devoted to other matters:

  • running through the names of people who agree with him in varying degrees
  • recommending books
  • expressing hope for the fortunes of his thesis in future decades
  • plugging his forthcoming book
  • acknowledging the mistakes of fact and argument made by others who hold that Jesus never existed
  • discussing the goal of his own research.

Stating Your Position is Not an Argument

 
In the part of his post that does respond to the original piece, Carrier does not interact very directly with its argument. Instead, he makes a series of alternative assertions that state his own view.

His view does disagree with mine, but stating your own view is not the same thing as providing evidence in favor of it. Much less is it the same thing as providing evidence against the view you are responding to.

Carrier’s goal in the post does not seem to be so much responding to the original argument as “giv[ing] you an idea of where this new approach to Christian origins is coming from”—that is, sketching an outline of his own view.

What are Carrier’s Arguments?

 
Arguments for his view are apparently to be found in other people’s books, behind a paywall, or “in my forthcoming book,” where “I treat all the best objections and suggestions and debates surrounding all the evidence.”

I’m glad to hear that his forthcoming book will be so comprehensive, but the absence of arguments here makes it difficult to respond.

I could take any of the specific claims he makes in his post and critique it, but without knowing what evidence he plans to cite for it, he can simply say, “You’re attacking a straw man. Just wait until my book comes out.”

He does make occasional gestures in the direction of an argument—e.g., claiming that “There actually were Christian sects that said Jesus lived a hundred years earlier” or stating that Jesus probably was not from Nazareth—but he doesn’t put these together into a coherent argument.

I could try to form one out of the pieces he gives us and then critique it, but he could always say, “You’re attacking a straw man. That’s not what I would have said.”

So let’s set these aside and to the best we can with what Carrier has given us.

The Central Argument

 
The central argument I posed was based on evidence showing that Christianity was a movement that emerged in Judaea in the first century and then spread widely across the Roman world within a few decades, indicating that it had a substantial degree of organization and a founder who really existed. Carrier concedes these points.

The argument then held that it is most natural to look at the movement’s own account of its founding for information about who the founder was. Carrier’s attitude toward this is unclear.

My article then pointed out that the earliest records we have say that Christianity was founded by Jesus of Nazareth. Carrier takes exception here and states:
 

"[B]ut that’s not true. The earliest accounts (in the letters of Paul) know nothing of Nazareth and never mention Jesus recruiting or training anyone. When Paul mentions Jesus communicating with and sending apostles, it is always in the context of revelations."

 
Carrier appears to misunderstand the reference to “the earliest accounts” to mean “the early Christian documents we have.”

The subject at hand was who the “founding leader” of Christianity may have been. The relevant accounts, therefore, are those that dealt with this question.

The earliest specific accounts that we have of that question must include the gospels and Acts, which clearly point to a historical Jesus as the founder of the movement. These documents are nowhere near so late as Carrier seems to think, but even setting that aside, what can we learn from Paul?

Paul on the Founding of Christianity

 
As Carrier acknowledges, Paul speaks of “Jesus communicating with and sending apostles,” pointing to Jesus as the founder of Christianity. But does he indicate, as Carrier says, that this was “always in the context of revelations”?

Not in the slightest.

It’s true that Paul acknowledged that his own contact with Jesus was through revelation (Gal. 1:12), but Paul acknowledges that his relationship was different than that of the other apostles, that he related to Jesus as “one untimely born” (1 Cor. 15:8)—that is, out of the normal sequence that governed how the others related to Jesus.

So how does Paul indicate that Jesus related to the others?

Brothers of an Unreal Man?

 
Paul indicates that some of them were his brothers. Later in Galatians 1 (which Carrier cites as an authentic text), Paul writes that once when he went to Jerusalem, “I saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord’s brother” (Gal. 1:19).

Paul acknowledges that James, together with Peter (Cephas) and John, was one of the “pillars” of the Jerusalem church (Gal. 2:9).

And this is not Paul’s only reference to the “brothers” of Jesus. He also asked: “Do we not have the right to be accompanied by a wife, as the other apostles and the brethren of the Lord and Cephas [Peter]?” (1 Cor. 9:5). So Jesus had “brothers” who were distinct from the apostles and other major Christian leaders such as Cephas/Peter.

An examination of early Christian sources reveals that James was the foremost of these “brothers” of Jesus. We can discuss precisely what their relationship was to Jesus (whether they were cousins, step-brothers through Joseph, etc.), but the early sources indicate that they were familial relations of Jesus, despite strained mythicist attempts to avoid this.

Paul also tells us that Jesus was “descended from David according to the flesh” (Rom. 1:3) and “born of woman, born under the Law [of Moses]” (Gal. 4:4). This clearly indicates Jesus’ birth as a Jew who belonged to the lineage of David (and who, as well, had both flesh and a woman as his mother).

All this indicates that Jesus was a real, historical individual.

Other Indications

 
In 1 Thessalonians, commonly regarded as one of the earliest New Testament documents, Paul writes that the Jews “killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out” (1 Thess. 2:14-15).

He also states “that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed” instituted the Eucharist and told his followers to perform it (1 Cor. 11:23-25) and afterward was “buried” (1 Cor. 15:4).

And, in 1 Timothy he writes that Jesus “made the good confession...in his testimony before Pontius Pilate” (1 Tim. 6:13).

Some would challenge the last document as post-Pauline, though not the former two, and the former two provide further indications that Jesus was a historical individual who gave instructions to his followers on a specific night, on which he was then betrayed; who was killed through the agency of earthly individuals, who also killed the prophets and drove Paul and others out of Judea (cf. 1 Thess. 2:14); and who was then “buried.”

This is all consistent with the idea that Jesus was a historical individual who lived, died, and was buried on earth, and there is no indication of this taking place in “the lower heavens.”

The Islam Analogy

 
Carrier acknowledges that the same logic used to support the existence of a historical Jesus also points to the existence of a historical Muhammad as the founder of Islam. He writes:
 

"Akin’s analogy to Islam is on point, and I would add Mormonism as equally apt: their founders, Mohammed and Joseph Smith, respectively, were “sent by” and “communicated the teachings of” non-existent celestial beings, the angels Gabriel and Moroni, respectively. In the most credible mythicist thesis, Jesus corresponds to Gabriel and Moroni."

 
I’m glad to see that Carrier recognizes the validity of the argument to this extent, but his own addition to it is problematic.

It’s true that Christianity, Islam, and Mormonism each had a founder who organized a movement that spread rapidly, but in each case the movement’s early writings point to that founder being a historical individual: Jesus, Muhammad, and Joseph Smith.

Their writings do not point to that founder being, on Carrier’s thesis, a spiritual being (i.e., a purely spiritual Jesus, Gabriel, and Moroni).

Carrier can’t have it both ways. He can’t say that the founding of Christianity, Islam, or Mormonism point to the existence of their claimed historical founders in two cases but not the third.

Not unless he has compelling evidence to the contrary.

Carrier’s Future Book?

 
Might he provide this evidence in his forthcoming book? We’ll have to wait and see, but the way that he handles evidence in this post does not provide much confidence. For example, at one point he claims that:
 

"Paul says no Jews could ever have heard the gospel except from the apostles (Romans 10:12-18)."

 
This is simply false. Paul says nothing of the sort. What he does do is stress the importance of preachers to spread the Christian message. But he merely indicates that people need “a preacher” (Greek, kerussontos) to tell them about Jesus, not “an apostle” (Greek, apostolos). (Romans 10:14; see here for Romans 10:12-18, the range of verses Carrier cites.)

Perhaps Carrier has some further, also-not-provided-here argument for why Paul actually meant what Carrier thinks he meant, but the fact is: It’s not what he said. It’s not even close.

What Carrier has provided does not give the appearance of a solid case against the existence of Jesus. It gives the appearance of a castle built of shaky inferences that strain to get us away from the plain meaning of the texts.

Including the Pauline texts.
 
(Image credit: GCSC)

Jimmy Akin

Written by

Jimmy Akin is a Senior Apologist at Catholic Answers, a member on the Catholic Answers Speakers Bureau, a weekly guest on the global radio program, Catholic Answers LIVE, and a contributing editor for Catholic Answers Magazine. He's the author of numerous publications, including the books The Fathers Know Best (Catholic Answers, 2010); The Salvation Controversy (Catholic Answers, 2001); and Mass Confusion: The Do's & Don'ts of Catholic Worship (Catholic Answers, 1999). Many of Jimmy's books are also integrated into the Logos software. Follow Jimmy's writing at JimmyAkin.com.

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  • Thanks Jimmy, for reorganizing his article and reinforcing your points.

  • Peter Piper

    This is a pretty thorough demolition. However, since one of the key points Akin makes is that he found some of Carrier's arguments were not well enough fleshed out for him to respond adequately, it seems to me that it would be fair to give Carrier a chance to flesh out these arguments a bit more. So I would like to see Carrier being given a chance to reply to Akin's article here, in addition to his response to Horn's earlier article.

    • Randy Gritter

      Carrier had a chance to reply to Akin's original article and basically did nothing of the kind. As Akin points out here he did not respond to the specific argument made. He just worked in a few lines and then gave his standard stump speech.

      So what makes you think Carrier would do better if given another chance? If he can he should make a comment here indicating a substantive reply. Otherwise another round will just cover the same ground again.

      • Peter Piper

        I'm not sure he would do better, and I wouldn't support giving him a third chance if he does the same again, but I think a second chance is reasonable.

      • josh

        Akin's original article was pretty bad. His 'central argument' was that Christianity spread beginning somewhere in the first century, therefore Jesus. Carrier rightly points out that this is pretty irrelevant to defeating the mythicist view.

        What Carrier provided in his piece was a brief overview of his position. Akin does better here in raising some actual arguments for an early belief in a historical Jesus, namely, references to Jesus's 'brother(s)' and the barest outlines of a passion narrative in a specific setting (under Pontius pilate, killed by Jews). If you care to look through his stuff Carrier has written a fair amount dealing with these sorts of questions. The gist of it is that the 'brother' is a figurative phrase like 'brothers in Christ', the ideas of crucifixion and burial are borrowed from certain scriptural passages, and (I'm guessing here) 'killed by the Jews' is a proxy death for Jewish spiritual crimes.

        None of this is laid out in detail in Carrier's original post, but it can be found in rather extensive columns from his blog and other sources. He's not one given to brevity. I don't know if Akin is less superficial elsewhere, but one really has to get into the details to understand and potentially refute Carrier's position. Christian readers may not feel compelled to examine that position since it is admittedly fringe, but they shouldn't come away with the idea that the outline given was the pith of his argument, or that Akin can knock it down with a few unexamined biblical passages.

        What amuses me is his conclusion: "It
        gives the appearance of a castle built of shaky inferences that strain
        to get us away from the plain meaning of the texts..." I would expect that to kill a Catholic with a functioning sense of irony.

        • ziad

          "Akin's original article was pretty bad. His 'central argument' was that Christianity spread beginning somewhere in the first century, therefore Jesus. Carrier rightly points out that this is pretty irrelevant to defeating the mythicist view."

          The issue is that Akin did not write his piece to debunk the mythicist view. He might not have heard it before (it appears to me that it is a new theory of the origin of Christianity).

        • Randy Gritter

          Akin's argument was simply that Christianity came into existence therefore some cause needs to be identified. In the absence of any evidence for another cause the most obvious candidate is the traditional cause. Carrier and many like him don't grasp this. They think they can just say forgery, forgery, forgery and ignore the problems with people dramatically changing a religion while the religion is changing them. The idea that people just make stuff up and then preach it like it is the word of God. Never mind which people or why or how. Poof, we got a New Testament and a church.

          • josh

            As noted, the argument that Christianity had an origin isn't an argument for a historical Jesus. The 'most obvious' candidate isn't necessarily the right one and Carrier thinks he's got a case that it isn't. He's actually concerned with the details of how the New Testament was formed and the early church got started. He has actually argued at length why certain statements taken to indicate forgery or insertion, e.g. Pilate's being both a procurator and a prefect, are legitimate. At the same time, he is well aware, like any legitimate historian, that certain documents and passages are forgeries and corruptions. It's the exact opposite of Poof!; the beliefs of the Church today were formed over time and subject to the politics and personalities of various leaders. Carrier's thesis is one particular extension of that trend.

            You seem to have great difficulty with the notion that people can create, adopt, modify and spread new religious ideas. I don't know why. History and psychology both attest otherwise.

          • Randy Gritter

            History and psychology attest to some things. The trouble is that what is being alleged is very different. The test for me is to be precise. If Peter made up a new religion and invented this Jesus guy how does John react? He says, " O sure me and Peter both spent 3 years with Jesus." Why does he say that? The psychology does not work for me. Guys like Carrier don't just fail to solve such problems they don't even seem aware they exist. They just talk like Peter started Christianity and by the 4th century we had what we had.

            So sure, I would be happy with details but not more details saying Paul does not mention Jesus' healing. For me, apostolic succession is big. What was happening with the apostles? What was happening with the next generation of bishops, with Ignatius, Polycarp, Clement, etc. How does the history and psychology make sense?

          • Pofarmer

            Randy, look at all the religions and Gods that were around at the time of Peter and Paul. Keep in mind, these were people who didn't understand what made it rain, who thought the stars were "set in the firmament" and that God and heaven was above the firmament, etc, etc. What would "make sense" to them, isn't probably anything like what would "make sense" to us.

          • Randy Gritter

            So what is your point? They understood that dead people don't rise. They understood that bright lights and strange voices should have a proximate physical cause. They understood virgins don't give birth. Why do they need to know modern astronomy and meteorology to figure out these things are quite amazing?

            There were many gods being worshiped in the Roman empire. Again, so what? People became Christians because Christianity was more credible than those religions. So saying it is just more of what already existed explains nothing.

          • Pofarmer

            The point is, they had a habit of making things up to explain things that they didn't understand. Generally what they made up was a deity of some sort or the other. What makes sense to us today, isn't going to be the same sort of thing that made sense to folks back then. Even if you don't agree with Dr. Carriers point, it's a mistake to think that the ancients thought the same way we do about the physical world.

          • Randy Gritter

            But what did they make up? They pray to some deity for rain and praise him when rain comes. They don't say, "This guy was the incarnation of the rain god and rose from the dead." The reason they don't is it would be asserting something they could understand and falsify. They might tell a story that something fantastic happened in the vague unspecified past. They don't make up a story with actual places and dates and people and inject the rain god into it. One is normal, expected human behavior. The other is too weird. Nobody would do it.

            The Jews were the least likely people to make up god stories. I mean they killed people for blasphemy. They were the only monotheists of the time. If Christianity were made up then Jews would be the last people group to make it up.

          • Pofarmer

            They would have to give the gods they prayed to attributes of some kind. I think that it is just that most of those are lost to us, as they were pretty much all oral traditions. As for the Jews making up God stories, isn't it the least bit interesting that the first evidence we have, isn't preaching to the Jews, but a Jew having a conversion experience preaching to the Gentiles? Why isn't it possible that the rest of the reinterpretation of what may have indeed be an historic event, came later on?

          • josh

            "They might tell a story that something fantastic happened in the vague
            unspecified past. They don't make up a story with actual places and
            dates and people and inject the rain god into it."

            No, this is also a historically common behavior. Suetonius reports quite a number of miraculous events surrounding the lives of Roman emperors. E.g., Tacitus is reported to have healed someone of blindness by laying on his hands. And it should go without saying that the emperors were much more famous and surrounded by verifiable witnesses at the time than Jesus. Haile Selassie was the real emperor of Ethiopia who died in 1974 and Rastafarians believe he was the messiah and an incarnation of God. Some refuse to accept that he died and others believe it is the fulfillment of a prophecy. Sound familiar?

            You are just talking from ignorance when you assert that 'Jews were the least likely people to make up god stories'. Jews are like any other people, they had lots of mysticism and numerous sects active during the 1st century AD and before. There were multiple would-be messiahs trying to fulfill the expectations of an imminent Jewish golden age.

          • Bob Apposite

            Or that they killed people for blasphemy might be an indication that there was a lot of blasphemy. I think your inference is questionable, at best.

          • Israel was pretty much unique in the Roman empire in its ability to avoid paganism. The fact that they stoned people for blasphemy had a lot to do with that. So Christianity grew up in an area that was decidedly inhospitable to new religious ideas. It does indicate it is more likely to be based on an undeniable fact like the resurrection than on sort of speculation that some feel could have been a precursor of the resurrection story.

          • Ron Maimon

            Peter didn't "make up" Jesus! He had an experience of the risen Jesus, something that many people have had even today. John doesn't say "I spent 3 years with Jesus", another anonymous author, writing to piously mythologize the early church, writes this as a proselyizing tool, at least 50 years later, and possibly a hundred years later.

            Paul doesn't just fail to mention Jesus healing, he treats Jesus as a celestial figure whose only Earthly manifestation is to get crucified somewhere (Paul doesn't say exactly where, Carrier argues with some confidence that it's in the lower heavens). Clement has the same view. You need to read Carrier's book instead of attacking straw-men, as he addresses these at length.

            As for the psychology making sense--- the experience of the risen Jesus is REAL, and it is POWERFUL, and there is no need for a tacked-on historical Jesus to allow it to change the world. Simply the text of the Epistle to Philemon, which spells the beginning of the end of ancient slavery, is enough to allow the Church to be both ethically true and growing.

          • A pious mythology as a proselytizing tool? How is that different from a lie? If the story of Peter was ever anything other than an eye witness account of a physically risen Jesus then you have a huge problem. Actually many huge problems. The old story would not inspire anything. The new story would lack any credibility being made up 100 years later. The leaders of the church at that time were strong conservatives and spending their time fighting these kinds of myths.

          • Ron Maimon

            This is simply ridiculous--- if you think that seeing the risen Jesus in the mind is a lie, as compared to seeing Jesus in the flesh, you have never experienced the risen Christ in the mind. It is among the most powerful events in a person's life, and it will completely rewire their relation to other people and their interpretation of events, and their relation to religious text. This is not arguable, because it happens to people all the time (talk to Christians who have experienced Christ), and it even happens to atheistic non-Christians (it happened to me).

            Peter's probably authenetic epistle, Paul's authentic epistles, these without doubt talk exclusively about the experience of the risen Christ, the same exact thing you can experience, the same exact things Christians preach and experience today. This experience is very subtle, is consistent with Jewish theology, and has nothing to do with supernatural events.

            The identification of the risen Christ with the Messiah (which both Peter and Paul share) means that the flesh Messiah has already come and gone, but without altering the material relation of Rome and Judea. This historical circumstance is what implies that the Messiah is not working on Earth immediately, that the kingdom is in heaven, and it's Earthly manifestation begins slowly.

            The kingdom of Christ begins with his replacing of the temple sacrifice through his own sacrifice, and explains why he must be crucified. It is prefigured in Psalm (Psalm twenty-something, about the crucifiction), and this is what can be very convincingly understood from other scripture too, Daniel, Isiah 53, and the method of Jewish theology at the time will produce a Christology without a historical figure, and further, the Christology that it produces is exactly the Christology of the Epistles.

            The credibility of the story does NOT come from history, true history simply doesn't produce convincing evidence for people who are being converted to a spiritual religion. Eyewitness attestations are forgotten, nobody cares to preserve historical memory except historians. Actual historically provable exceptional events, like the HUGE supernova in 1054 or so (we know about it because we see the remnant crab nebula) are barely attested to in history. But spiritual events are attested, especially ones which are socially meaningful and produce change.

            The "new story" would not be new, as the story would be humanized from the beginning. It starts with "Do you know Christ appeared in the flesh and died for your sins to assure your salvation?", and the details are added by missionaries and proselyzers, without any tradition. You don't NEED a tradition, other than the Jewish literary tradition, because you are explaining a spiritual truth.

            The fact that it is spiritually true, meaning that it does produce transformative change in people's ethics, means that it has no relevance to history, simply because historical truth is useless and stupid for producing spiritual change. This is the view of early Church founders, who resist the false claims to objectivity of their Pagan overlords.

            All powerful orders claim that their order is scientifically supported, and say "logic is on our side". The Christians were not arguing with logic, they were arguing with spiritual power, and the historicity arguments only came slowly, as the Chuch became powerful and needed unanimous acceptance of doctrine, by even those who are spiritually obtuse and can't experience a risen Christ directly nor understand those who do indirectly.

          • What is ridiculous? You talk at length about whatever. My point is if the story of Jesus physically dying and rising was a pious myth to help get converts then it is a lie. I know this does happen. This is why Christians have always been skeptical about amazing stories with very few witnesses. We do see it as a huge lie when someone says God did some mighty work that He did't actually do. This is not something the church at any point in time would see as OK.

          • Ron Maimon

            I disagree that it is a lie. It wouldn't be seen as a lie by those who composed it, and it wouldn't be seen as a lie by those who propagated it, and it would gradually turn into what you are calling a lie only later, when a fundamentalist historical interpretation trumped the allegorical interpretation sometime in the 2nd century. But even if the final interpretation is a historical lie (although it's arguable, I guess it is, in the sense you say), no one person would be responsible for lying, certainly it's not Jesus's fault, and everyone is working in good faith througout. The only purpose of the literal interpretation is quicker conversion of people who aren't well versed enough to see the theological subtleties and visions, it's not like every missionary has the time to get people to go through however many years of seminary studies to join the religion.

          • Does a lie need to be seen as a lie by those who composed it? It is not clear to me how they would not see it as one but the human capacity for self deception is great. Still I don't think it matters. It is a lie. In fact, it is a huge lie. It cases people to embrace a completely different image of God. No lie can be bigger than that.

            I still can't see at all how this would lead to quicker conversions. A purely spiritual death and resurrection is just easier to believe. Christians have always been tempted to remove the cross from Christanity to gain more converts. What you suggest is a lie nobody would be tempted to tell.

          • Ron Maimon

            I agree that a historical interpretation leads to a different, less spiritual and more literal, view of God, but what can you do about it? It happens gradually, it's not a purposeful conspiracy, and it's not exactly a deliberate lie, both because everyone believes their own stories, and also because eventually the believer in the community realizes what communion is all about, and what the body of Christ is in the congregation, and the two beliefs, the literal resurrection and the spiritual resurrection coexist side by side, as they coexist today.

            Whether you can see it or not is not really important, the important question is what happened historically. Historically, this is with high likelihood more or less what happened, as Carrier argues well.

            Christians can't have been tempted to remove the cross, as the cross is central event: it's the sacrifice that ends blood sacrifice. It is what sets Christianity apart from both Judaism and the barbaric Roman order. How do you get more converts by denying the main event? You are not gaining converts by denying the cross, you are converting your religion to something which is the opposite.

          • Doug Shaver

            Does a lie need to be seen as a lie by those who composed it?

            Yes, it does, if you're going accuse them of lying.

          • So if a politician says something untrue and knows that it is untrue when he says it then he might not be lying? He might not think of it as a lie. He might call it a strategic statement and really believe it is morally different from a lie. To me he is still lying.

          • David Nickol

            The morality of knowingly saying something that is not true is very tricky, and the Catholic Church is still debating it. I am sure you remember past discussions in which the question is asked whether it is permissible to tell the Nazis that Ann Frank is not hiding in the attic (when in fact she is).

            One side in the debate says you can use any trick in the book to evade or mislead the Nazis, but if you simply say, "Ann Frank is not in the attic," you are lying and lying is a sin. The other side says telling an untruth is not a lie (or at least is not sinful) only if the person being deceived has a right to the truth. Nazis seeking to capture, imprison, and kill Ann Frank have no right to the truth of her location, because they intend to use that truth to do evil.

            One person's politician is another person's statesman. it is not clear at all if the rules for individual truth-telling apply to a government spokesperson. If a reporter at a news conference asks a president is such-and-such a state secret is true, for the sake of the state, the president may have to conceal the truth. Statesmen, diplomats, spies, undercover police officers, generals, and people in many other official positions have a duty to protect people when telling the truth would cause damage. We could not have either undercover policing or espionage if people undercover were required to tell the truth. Are we to brand all undercover police, or, say, the people in the French Resistance, as liars? Sinners?

            If the Gospel writers wrote something "symbolically" true or metaphorically true or not literally true in some other way, it makes no sense to accuse them of lying. If someone recounts getting angry and says, "I literally exploded," that is not a lie. There are a number of ways in which Gospel writers may have told their stories to conform to some Old Testament passage that I am certain the Gospel writers considered quite legitimate. When Matthew mistakenly has Jesus ride a "donkey and a colt" to "fulfill" Zechariah, surely he is not to be accused of lying.

            It is never lying to say something you believe to be true.

          • Doug Shaver

            So if a politician says something untrue and knows that it is untrue when he says it then he might not be lying?

            No. If it's untrue and he knows it's untrue, then he's lying.

            He might not think of it as a lie.

            In this instance, what he thinks is irrelevant.

          • I am interested in why you think experiencing Jesus personally is not evidence that Jesus is who He says He is. It seems to show He has some power. If He does then why would he allow all these falsehoods to be written about Him? Maybe He did not. Maybe He organized things so the New Testament and the church got it right. That is the whole incarnation, death and resurrection story is true. Isn't that at least possible that if Jesus can impact people's lives He could do that?

          • Ron Maimon

            The experience of the risen Jesus as far as I can tell is not exactly unambiguous in the way a scientific experiment is. It is an internal experience that comes with indications and what subjectively feels like communication, but it isn't in words you can write down, nor can you be sure of the accuracy of the conclusion. The doctrine of the Church isn't a lie, it just doesn't look like history.

            In my opinion, a person who demands that the events of their religion must have exact replica copies on Earth has a very poor faith. Must the material world be an exact replica of the spirit realm? The spirit realm of Christianity is an abstraction, a Platonic idealization whose rough ugly mirror is the material world, and the claim here of Carrier and the mythicists is that the perfect crucifiction and resurrection are attributes of the Platonic realm, not exactly of the messy historical realm.

            I know it is heresy for all denominations, but heretical or not, I don't see it in conflict with the ethical and spiritual message of Christianity. I also see it as concordant with the ethical and spiritual message of Wolfgang Pauli and Rudolph Carnap, who are interested in the study of the material world, not the spiritual world.

          • So do you believe there is something special about Jesus? It sounded like you did for a while.

            Suppose it was true. Can you even imagine any evidence that would convince you? I mean if you have personally experienced Jesus and have raised the bar of evidence high enough that that does not impress you then it makes one wonder. What more do you expect Jesus to do?

          • Ron Maimon

            I don't understand--- there is absolutely nothing that can convince me that the events of the resurrection are historically true material events. I would not believe such a preposterous story even if I saw it with my own eyes. No event in my mind can possibly change this, as events in the mind simply do not constitute the class of evidence that I accept for changing the beliefs I hold regarding material world. For that, I require instrument readings, quantum mechanics, mathematical laws, S-matrices, that kind of stuff, stuff that is generally irrelevant to ethics.

            Likewise, there is absolutely nothing that can lead me to deny that the events of the resurrection are spiritually true insights, as for this class of events, revelation is sufficient evidence, if it can be supplemented with reason and made consistent with ethical teachings that are universal, as I have become sure that this insight is. In this regard, I personally confidently attest to the truth of at least the most central parts of the Christian doctrine. I also try to explain it in a more atheistic-friendly way, as I can do that, having been an atheist before and during my "conversion". This is not to deny the truth of other religious doctrines, mind you, just to attest that I am pretty sure I personally get it regarding Christianity, and I can explain the doctrine to atheists. I don't know why you are taking my word for this, because, although I am not lying, I can't prove it to anyone else very well. I did explain it to other atheists at great length, and I think I was able to get some of them to "see the light", so to speak. I don't think you would like the discussion, as it is focused on ambiguities in game theory, large computable ordinals, and teleology in evolutionary dynamics of complex systems, with the revelation being an exegesis of these rather abstract objects and ideas, and their direct relevance to undermining any unethical power-structures in society.

            I think it is absurd to think that a spiritual event had to occur in a scientifically impossible way in the material world in order for it to be true. God is not something revealed in miracles in the material world, God is revealed in miracles of the mind. No spiritual event can possibly force a person to renounce rational scientific thought, because any true insights can't possibly be incompatible with precise logical thinking about nature.

            When I got the religious business, as an atheist, I actually got a little angry, because I felt that the doctrine of faith in existing presentations make it needlessly difficult for scientifically minded people. If you insist that a convert must renounce their rationally developed model of evidence about the material world, they are just never going to listen to you, no matter what. I personally never listened to Christians at all, I really thought they were crazy for denying scientific laws are universal.

            Supposing the only two choices available were "deny all Christian spiritual teaching" or "deny material truth of scientific insights", I would be torn. I don't know which to defend harder, as both are essential insights. It's really dependent on circumstances. If I were living in Ancient Rome, I would deny science first, because it seems that the corruption of the material order by the monstrously evil power-structure in that horrific empire would require ethical insights be placed first. Perhaps our modern power structure is similarly evil enough. But if I were llving in reneissance Europe, I would insist on the scientific view first, because that is what was required at that time, to advance the study of the material world. But TODAY, I don't see any reason to deny one or the other when you can have both.

          • So nothing can convince you the Christian account is materially and historically true? Yet it is possible. There is no scientific data that would be different if it was true. So it is possible that you have shut yourself off from the truth. You have done so not because logic demands it or science demands it. They don't. You have done so because you find the type of evidence distasteful. Seems odd.

            The centre of Christianity is a physical resurrection. A spiritual resurrection is not almost the same thing. Paul says if the resurrection did not happen we are of all people most to be pitied because our faith is useless and we are still in our sins (1 Cor 15).

          • Ron Maimon

            Of course nothing can convince me, and nothing should convince YOU either, because it's a mentally retarded story for children. Paul is talking about a revealed resurrection. I have nothing further to say to you, except that if you believe that Jesus walked around as a zombie, you need to seek medical help, because you are mentally ill.

          • Yet this is not a rational objection. It does seem retarded to us. Christians have always admitted that the gospel seems crazy. Yet God's wisdom should seem crazy to us if it is really a higher way of thinking. If nothing about the teaching seemed radical or mind-blowing then we would it is not from God. Your observation that it seems retarded means you should suspect it is true.

          • Aldous Huxley

            Interesting posts, post but a couple caveats:

            "The Christians were not arguing with logic,"

            --Actually Justin Martyr's letter to the emperor is entirely about logical argument, as was Paul's Address to the Areopagus.

            "...the class of evidence that I accept for changing the beliefs I hold regarding material world. For that, I require instrument readings, quantum mechanics..."

            --You and the Apostle Thomas seem to be very much in the same boat. Would putting you hands into the holes in his side, and hands be sufficient evidence? Your quantum mechanics provides no evidence that didn't happen.

          • Emily Thorne

            What of all the other same experiences from persons of different faiths for different gods?

          • Ron Maimon

            These are valid or not according to whether they are ethically compatible with other revelations. It's a limiting self-consistency in the infinite future. There is no limit on the different types or numbers of mutually compatible revelations, only that they reveal a convergent system of superrational ethics eventually, which is essentially unique. There is no serious contradiction between, say, Buddhist revelation and Christian revelation if you are careful to stay logically-positivist about the meaning of the revelations and not interpret these things in historical or material terms. That's why spiritual resurrection is just better theology than material resurrection.

            The ethical compatibility is essential, as it is the distinction between the gods people reject today and those that survive. Hinduism is compatible with monotheistic ethics (it was probably the original source of monotheism historically), so it continues. Other religions, like those that demanded child sacrifice or widow-burning, were deprecated and died, or else evolved to remove the parts which were ethically shown to be false by other insights and experiences, like (some) Christianity jettisoned its anti-gay and anti-women teachings recently.

            The point of Carrier's view of the resurrection is that it is completely compatible with the one other monotheistic faith in the region around at the time, which was Judaism. In standard Christianity, Jesus being both a historical human and a spiritual deity makes for a serious incompatibility with Judaism, which leads Jews to see Christianity as a completely impossible belief system and completely unrelated to Judaism, which it really isn't and wasn't.

          • Emily Thorne

            Instead of invoking divinity of a specific revelation and speculating why an omnipotent all powerful being would choose to reinforce different religions through various revelations that encourage further disparity among faiths, wouldn't there be a simpler explanation.

            That all these thoughts and feelings are, like all other thoughts and feelings, biological. And that the specifics of each relies on the culture of the individual. That culture being defined as the stories and histories from the perspective of a given people. Isn't that much easier to understand and require fewer unprovable explanations?

            There is often, of course, a shared moral core that all healthy humans experience. This is because, as highly social animals, we must both appear to be good while also taking advantage of each other. The best way to achieve both is to Believe we are good. That way, others see we "mean it" and we can make routine reasonable demonstrations we're good - and feel good for it. All while at the same time we're able to "cheat a little" and steal company pens or tell "white lies" and so on. And, it's usually for those little cheats, or things we thought were little cheats in the moment, that we ultimately feel guilty for and want to be forgiven.

            But, and this important, we only feel guilty AFTER we've enjoyed the benefits, or if we don't think we'll get away with enjoying the benefits. This is because we get the rewards and get to appear to be good for our guilt. It's not "bad" or "shameful" it's just human. And exactly what you'd expect to see of a long-lived, highly social species. And there are more than faint glimmers of the same behaviors in dolphins, elephants and many kinds of apes.

          • Ron Maimon

            You are missing the main point of monotheistic religions. The monotheistic religions introduce a notion of morality which goes BEYOND the simple requirement of producing a social order which is stable and self-propagating. The requirement of stability is the endpoint of the Roman Empire. They had ethics, for sure, but it wasn't monotheistic ethics, so it was wrong from the point of view of any future time, especially so from our point of view two thousand years later, when the monotheistic idea is so deeply embedded.

            In the Roman empire, you had a strict caste system, with slaves, landowners, free-merchants, powerful imperial appointees, senators, military folks, and so on. Each caste was rigidly determined and nearly strictly hereditary. There was nothing wrong with this from a social or evolutionary perspective, but from a monotheistic perspective it was abominable.

            What it meant was that you had people tortured in arenas for entertainment, women sold and raped, other slaves who were forced into a life of illiteracy and drudgery and thrown to fend for themselves when their productive labor period was over, slaves who toiled in mines and fields, and others who lived off the labor of these slaves. This ancient economic system was extremely stable, it was evolutionarily productive, the Roman economy was growing until Christianity arose, and very self-reinforcing. The point of monotheistic ethics is to shatter these stable but abhorrent fixed points and move to a better equilibrium, and to do so, you can't rely on logic or evolution, you must be guided by a transcendent idea of what it means to be "better". This is what monotheism is all about. Notice that I never said anything about omnipotent beings.

            In the case of Judaism, this was achieved by a series of accumulating gradual reforms, which on their own seem arbitrary and unrelated but together transform ancient society to something much different. There was a law that required you to circumcise all foreign slaves, another law that required Jewish slaves to be manumitted every seven years, another law which required property to be restored to its original owners every 49 or 50 years (the way the Jubilee worked is debated). There was a labor law requiring a day of rest, strictly enforced, a law requiring the sharing of the Passover lamb with strangers and wanderers (meaning non-Jews). There was a requirement of reading and writing to be able to read and understand these laws, there was abolition of temple prostitution, and the introduction of a slave-narrative of the exodus, which required all Jews to picture themselves as slaves. Taken together, these laws essentially ended chattel slavery in Judea, gradually, as slaves converted to Judaism (it was easy as they are circumcized), and were manumitted.

            The Christian transformation is based on personal revelation, through Jesus, and takes this idea further, into an open-ended project of continual transformation, based on the insights one gains through the holy spirit (this is also true in Judaism, but it is disguised, as when you change something, you are supposed to pretend it was always this way in the holy book, leading to more and more tortured interpretation of the texts over time).

            In the Christian method, you don't demand manumittence every seven years, rather there is an even stricter expectation, which is not enforced by any law: you just expect the Christian slaveholder to release their slaves voluntarily! On their own schedule, but to do it. This is explained in the Epistle to Philemon. There is a marked transformation of the Roman economy in the Christianization period, which is likely a serious economic decline, and I personally believe this is caused by the gradual end of slavery. Does this decline mean that Europe was going backwards? Not exactly. Sure, it was harder to run the mines and make those sculptures. But you didn't have to be a slave anymore. Only the monotheistic ethics allows you to make such a tradeoff calculation, and do it right.

            The sixth century European edicts made this an explicit--- you were not allowed as a Christian to own Christian slaves at all. Jews also abolished slavery, so the reintroduction of slavery in the late middle ages was through captured Muslims.

            The point of the revelation is to get you to understand that there is a large unique mind which tells you what is right and what is wrong, that you can access this mind both personally and through collective religious discussion and congregation, and that while your knowledge is never perfect, the ideal ethics is NOT something that the social order will naturally converge on without a lot of hard work convincing people to accept the transcendent insights. This is why people make up fairy-tales about impossible events and force people to repeat them, to make sure that they are forced to accept the NON fairy-tale of the actual process of producing better ethics. It should be possible to do this without this kind of lying when people are universally literate and have an internet.

          • Greg G.

            What it meant was that you had people tortured in arenas for entertainment, women sold and raped, other slaves who were forced into a life of illiteracy and drudgery and thrown to fend for themselves when their productive labor period was over, slaves who toiled in mines and fields, and others who lived off the labor of these slaves.

            While the Jews had laws that required stoning for picking up sticks on one particular day of the week and the stoning of sassy children.

            another law that required Jewish slaves to be manumitted every seven years

            Male Hebrew indentured servants were released after six years (Exodus 21:2), the seventh year was like a sabbath. There was a way around that using family values. If the owner gave the indentured servant a slave wife and they had kids, the indentured servant was forced to choose whether to go free without his wife and children or to become a permanent slave. (Deuteronomy 15:12-17 and Exodus 21:2-6)

            There was a difference between slaves and indentured (bound) servants:

            Exodus 12:43-45 (NRSV)43 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron: This is the ordinance for the passover: no foreigner shall eat of it, 44 but any slave who has been purchased may eat of it after he has been circumcised; 45 no bound or hired servant may eat of it.

            Leviticus 22:10-11 (NRSV)10 No lay person shall eat of the sacred donations. No bound or hired servant of the priest shall eat of the sacred donations; 11 but if a priest acquires anyone by purchase, the person may eat of them; and those that are born in his house may eat of his food.

            Slaves could be kept forever and could be bequeathed to the owner's heirs. They could be treated like slaves and they are excluded from the injunction of not being treated harshly.

            Leviticus 25:44-46 (NRSV)44 As for the male and female slaves whom you may have, it is from the nations around you that you may acquire male and female slaves. 45 You may also acquire them from among the aliens residing with you, and from their families that are with you, who have been born in your land; and they may be your property. 46 You may keep them as a possession for your children after you, for them to inherit as property. These you may treat as slaves, but as for your fellow Israelites, no one shall rule over the other with harshness.

            In the Christian method, you don't demand manumittence every seven years, rather there is an even stricter expectation, which is not enforced by any law: you just expect the Christian slaveholder to release their slaves voluntarily! On their own schedule, but to do it. This is explained in the Epistle to Philemon.

            Philemon 15-1615 Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might have him back forever, 16 no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother—especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.

            Paul does not say Onesimus should be released from slavery, only that he should be treated as more than a slave, as a brother. Ephesians 6:5-9; Colossians 3:22; 1 Timothy 6:1; Titus 2:9; 1 Peter 2:18-20 all say that slaves should accept their lot as slaves.

            Luke 12:47-48 has Jesus saying that beating slaves is expected, as long as the innocent are beaten less than the guilty slave. In Luke 17:7-10, Jesus doesn't even think slaves should be thanked. The early first century pagan, Seneca the Younger, thought slaves should be treated with dignity:

            "'They are slaves,' people declare. NO, rather they are men.
            'Slaves! NO, comrades.
            'Slaves! NO, they are unpretentious friends.
            'Slaves! NO, they are our fellow-slaves, if one reflects that Fortune has equal rights over slaves and free men alike. That is why I smile at those who think it degrading for a man to dine with his slave.

            But why should they think it degrading? It is only purse-proud etiquette... All night long they must stand about hungry and dumb... They are not enemies when we acquire them; we make them enemies... This is the kernel of my advice: Treat your inferiors as you would be treated by your betters.

            'He is a slave.' His soul, however, may be that of a free man."
                -- Seneca the Younger (4 BC – 65 AD), Epistulae Morales, 47.

          • Ron Maimon

            You are confusing the form of the Jewish laws with their intended effect. If you read the text of the law, it is stupid and barbaric, obviously, as all written ancient laws are. But the point of the Jewish law is that it is not fixed secular law, but religious law, which means that it was designed to be interpreted by people with a teleological goal which is something like a communist utopia. Like modern Marxism-Leninism, it came with a lot of restrictions on individual liberty.

            The family exception was not a way to avoid releasing slaves, it wouldn't work anyway, as the slave would simply refuse to marry until the seven years were up. The point of this is to keep families which are dependent on the owner for subsistence together. The Jewish children of such unions would be free. The point of this "temporary regulated slavery" business is that it has the EFFECT of eliminating generational slavery, replacing it with a system of 7-year periods of indentured labor, where you pay off a debt, and then do something else. This release from debt over seven years is preserved in modern law in the periodic writing off of debt in all modern countries. Using these roundabout methods, the Jews successfully rid their society of the pestilence of ancient slavery, and the Christians did the exact same thing. The Jews also achieved universal literacy in ancient times, as attested by certain passages which don't make sense unless it was expected that everyone could read and write.

            The Christians had a debate regarding the elimination of slavery in the 3rd-6th, and there were several proposals during this period. One of them was to copy the Jews and have temporary slavery, and this was rejected. Instead it became an outright ban sometime in the 6th or 7th century, which is much better (by that point, of course, Jews also did not own slaves). This is the main social transformation from ancient economics to medieval economics, and it's why Christmas is celebrated all over Europe like a Juneteenth.

            Your misreading of the Epistle to Philemon is the usual one for both ancient and modern slaveholders. The Epistle is grappling with a serious problem--- a Christian slave has run away from a Christian slaveowner. The letter is extraordinary, because it says to Philemon's slave, Onesimus, "Go back to your master". It says to Philemon, the master, "accept him back, but you are no longer to view him as a slave, but as an equal." Then Paul says that Philemon must consider the debt of Onesimus in relation to the debt of Philemon to Paul, for saving his soul. Paul asks him to consider the relation of these debts, and asks him to do the right thing.

            Philemon accepts Onesimus back, and at some point, releases him from slavery. The free Onesimus becomes a Bishop of some large city (I think Antioch). This was the Paul method of dealing with slavery--- assert that it is wrong, assert that it is the law, demand that you obey the law as a slave, but demand that the Christian master recognize the evil and release the slave.

            The hewing to the letter of the law made Christianity less subversive than Spartacus. But the insistence on moral truth made it both more subversive and more successful. Modern anti-slavery movements point to the Epistle to Philemon as a emancipatory document (which it is), but it is a work of genius, in that it is written in such a way that a non-religious person will see it as justifying slavery. It is a remarkable document, the only one of its kind. It is doubly remarkable that it was canonized at a time when slavery was still around.

          • Greg G.

            The family exception was not a way to avoid releasing slaves, it wouldn't work anyway, as the slave would simply refuse to marry until the seven years were up. The point of this is to keep families which are dependent on the owner for subsistence together. The Jewish children of such unions would be free. The point of this "temporary regulated slavery" business is that it has the EFFECT of eliminating generational slavery, replacing it with a system of 7-year periods of indentured labor, where you pay off a debt, and then do something else. This release from debt over seven years is preserved in modern law in the periodic writing off of debt in all modern countries. Using these roundabout methods, the Jews successfully rid their society of the pestilence of ancient slavery, and the Christians did the exact same thing

            What is your source for this?

            Deuteronomy 15:12-17 (NRSV)12 If a member of your community, whether a Hebrew man or a Hebrew woman, is sold to you and works for you six years, in the seventh year you shall set that person free. 13 And when you send a male slave out from you a free person, you shall not send him out empty-handed. 14 Provide liberally out of your flock, your threshing floor, and your wine press, thus giving to him some of the bounty with which the Lord your God has blessed you. 15 Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God redeemed you; for this reason I lay this command upon you today. 16 But if he says to you, “I will not go out from you,” because he loves you and your household, since he is well off with you, 17 then you shall take an awl and thrust it through his earlobe into the door, and he shall be your slave forever.You shall do the same with regard to your female slave.

            Exodus 21:2-6 (NRSV)2 When you buy a male Hebrew slave, he shall serve six years, but in the seventh he shall go out a free person, without debt. 3 If he comes in single, he shall go out single; if he comes in married, then his wife shall go out with him. 4 If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master’s and he shall go out alone. 5 But if the slave declares, “I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out a free person,” 6 then his master shall bring him before God. He shall be brought to the door or the doorpost; and his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him for life.

            Your source seems to have led you astray on the seven years part. The indentured servitude is six years in Exodus 21:2 and Deuteronomy 15:12. Exodus 21:4 says the children of an indentured servant and a slave wife belong to the slave master. The decision to remain a slave permanently is the servant's choice. He must decide whether to go free without his wife and kids or become a slave to stay with them.

            The Jews also achieved universal literacy in ancient times, as attested by certain passages which don't make sense unless it was expected that everyone could read and write.

            You are making assumptions. If everyone was expected to be literate, then Deuteronomy 31:12 would not be necessary:

            Deuteronomy 31:9-13 (NRSV)The Law to Be Read Every Seventh Year9 Then Moses wrote down this law, and gave it to the priests, the sons of Levi, who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and to all the elders of Israel. 10 Moses commanded them: “Every seventh year, in the scheduled year of remission, during the festival of booths, 11 when all Israel comes to appear before the Lord your God at the place that he will choose, you shall read this law before all Israel in their hearing. 12 Assemble the people—men, women, and children, as well as the aliens residing in your towns—so that they may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God and to observe diligently all the words of this law, 13 and so that their children, who have not known it, may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God, as long as you live in the land that you are crossing over the Jordan to possess.”

            Then Paul says that Philemon must consider the debt of Onesimus in relation to the debt of Philemon to Paul, for saving his soul. Paul asks him to consider the relation of these debts, and asks him to do the right thing.

            No, he doesn't. Paul says:

            Philemon 18-19
            18 If he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. 19 I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand: I will repay it.

            Paul says he will pay for Philemon's losses.

            Philemon accepts Onesimus back, and at some point, releases him from slavery. The free Onesimus becomes a Bishop of some large city (I think Antioch). This was the Paul method of dealing with slavery--- assert that it is wrong, assert that it is the law, demand that you obey the law as a slave, but demand that the Christian master recognize the evil and release the slave.

            You are assuming. Was there only one person named Onesimus back then? Did Philemon die without heirs?

            but it is a work of genius, in that it is written in such a way that a non-religious person will see it as justifying slavery.

            Or a person with rose-colored glasses can read about biblical slavery as if it was a good thing.

          • Ron Maimon

            I don't think Biblical slavery is a good thing, it's terrible. I don't think the Bible is inerrant or infallible. I am trying to explain the main point of the text.

            I don't use secondary sources. Everything I write is 100% original, although in this case, I am sure that I am not the first to say these things. I read parts of the OT in Hebrew (I had to, in grade school), and the entire NT in English translation on my own time. For 6th and 7th century abolition of Christian slavery, I just did some googling around, the edicts are well known. The "7 years" is just a rough number, I don't care about the minutiae of Biblical law. The reference for universal literacy is in Kings somewhere (I learned it in grade school, I don't remember specifically), where a peasant boy is offhand asked to take down a message to some character or other. The implicit presumption is that the peasant boy can read and write. The reciting of the law is not a substitute for literacy, it is a formalized way of ensuring it, by requiring reading of a standard text as a process of socialization. It is clear that Peter and Paul are literate, as are poor essenes in the desert, etc, while by contrast almost all the gentile members of the early church are illiterate. The high rate of Jewish literacy is tied to the injunction to learn to read the texts, although, of course, today universal literacy is not something unusual.

            The Biblical injunctions on slavery are the start of a very slow process of reform, whose extremely long-term goal to get rid of the institution step by step. The observation that ancient Hebrews didn't have chattel slaves follows from the structure of the law, I didn't read it in a book, I noticed myself after reading Exodus. The law only recognizes slavery as a manner of paying off debts for a limited time, or else a voluntary submission, or for an enslaved person who has married a member of the household. While I don't know anyone who mentions it specifically in the literature other than me just now (although I am sure I am not the first to notice), under these limitations, you can't have a stable hereditary slave caste, everyone is effectively free, aside from those who voluntarily choose it. This does not apply to women, who were treated as property.

            Slavery is a very difficult thing to get rid of, as it is self-reinforcing, evolutionarily stable, and is viewed as a positive good by slave-owners and it embeds itself in the very foundations of society, much the same way that people today view capitalism as a positive good. Imagine, for an analogy, trying to get rid of the capitalists in modern society. That's what it means to get rid of slaveowners. In the ancient world. Common wisdom held that slavery was essential for society. The Christian reforms gradually got rid of slavery, and it wasn't all rosy, a lot of industries simply vanished as they couldn't exist without slaves. The whole ancient way of life vanished.

            Philemon didn't die without heirs, Onesimus becomes Bishop because he is freed by Philemon. You are misunderstanding Paul when he says "Charge the debts to my account." This is not a bank account he is talking about, nor is he talking about paying literal money for literal debts (not like Paul could pay any debts anyway, he wasn't so wealthy). He is talking about paying down Onesimus's slave debt with purely spiritual currency, the value of which is Philemon's soul.

            The Onesimus who was Bishop of Antioch (or whatever city) is certainly the same runaway slave fellow, in tradition, and in plain understanding. You don't understand the Epistle, because you don't understand the point of Christianity. It is creating a new society in which slavery becomes impossible. Much like Marxists try to create a society in which wage-labor becomes impossible.

          • Greg G.

            The reference for universal literacy is in Kings somewhere (I learned it in grade school, I don't remember specifically), where a peasant boy is offhand asked to take down a message to some character or other. The implicit presumption is that the peasant boy can read and write.

            Do you me this?

            Judges 8:13-14 (NIV)13 Gideon son of Joash then returned from the battle by the Pass of Heres. 14 He caught a young man of Sukkoth and questioned him, and the young man wrote down for him the names of the seventy-seven officials of Sukkoth, the elders of the town.

            It seems to me that a person who could think of seventy-seven leaders of city would have to be very familiar with the government, possibly working in the government, and literacy and such work would go hand in hand. It would be reasonable more than one person was captured and if one of them was dressed in fancier clothes than the rest of them, that would be the one to question. It does not imply universal literacy.

            I gotta go to bed but I couldn't before I found the passage. Good night.

          • Ron Maimon

            Wow!!! Thanks for finding it! I did learn it in grade 7 or so, and forgot the exact passage. I think that the most parsimonious assumption is to take it at face value, that it is not remarkable that the boy can read. That's consistent with the historical evidence of the literacy of otherwise random Jews, like Josephus, or Paul, or Peter (these didn't start off as high-up people). The same unremarkable literacy is assumed when you hear about random citizen Jews nitpicking over the meanings of obscure verses. This is not the case for random citizen Christians. The early Christian Church is underdocumented, because it is a largely illiterate society, and this is one of Carrier's major points regarding the fidelity of the Gospel narratives to history.

            I don't know the standard consensus among historians regarding ancient Hebrew literacy, but I think I am stating a mainstream position when I say it was universal. But again, I didn't read secondary sources for this.

          • Valence

            I remember reading about some new evidence (found this years) that supports relatively high literacy rates

            http://arstechnica.com/science/2016/04/ancient-shopping-lists-point-to-widespread-bible-era-literacy/

            It's just one piece of evidence, but such is rare for the time period. We extrapolate on what little we have.

          • Greg G.

            The Biblical injunctions on slavery are the start of a very slow process of reform, whose extremely long-term goal to get rid of the institution step by step. The observation that ancient Hebrews didn't have chattel slaves follows from the structure of the law, I didn't read it in a book, I noticed myself after reading Exodus.

            The long game for ending slavery shows no advancement centuries later. I think you are adding wishful thinking. You should read Leviticus 25 as it proscribes chattel slavery and allows the master to bequeath foreign slaves to their heirs.

            The law only recognizes slavery as a manner of paying off debts for a limited time, or else a voluntary submission, or for an enslaved person who has married a member of the household.

            Read Leviticus 25. Many Christians write about slavery in the Bible and get it wrong. There is a difference between temporary slavery (indentured servitude) and slaves bought with money. The following passages point out the differences between an indentured (bound) servant and a bought slave.

            Exodus 12:43-45 (NRSV)43 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron: This is the ordinance for the passover: no foreigner shall eat of it, 44 but any slave who has been purchased may eat of it after he has been circumcised; 45 no bound or hired servant may eat of it.

            Leviticus 22:10-11 (NRSV)10 No lay person shall eat of the sacred donations. No bound or hired servant of the priest shall eat of the sacred donations; 11 but if a priest acquires anyone by purchase, the person may eat of them; and those that are born in his house may eat of his food.

            While I don't know anyone who mentions it specifically in the literature other than me just now (although I am sure I am not the first to notice), under these limitations, you can't have a stable hereditary slave caste, everyone is effectively free, aside from those who voluntarily choose it. This does not apply to women, who were treated as property.

            Actually indentured servitude was available to females (see Deuteronomy 15:12, quoted before) and hereditary slavery was allowed (see Leviticus 25:46 and Exodus 21:2-6, quoted before), too.

            Philemon didn't die without heirs, Onesimus becomes Bishop because he is freed by Philemon. You are misunderstanding Paul when he says "Charge the debts to my account." This is not a bank account he is talking about, nor is he talking about paying literal money for literal debts (not like Paul could pay any debts anyway, he wasn't so wealthy). He is talking about paying down Onesimus's slave debt with purely spiritual currency, the value of which is Philemon's soul.

            Paul was receiving money from churches. He was complaining in 1 Corinthians 9 because someone had apparently suggested they cut him off. If Paul was trying to pay down a slave debt, wouldn't he have just asked Philemon to consider it paid in full? Paul seems to have thought that, perhaps spiritually, that the slavery wasn't a big deal, nor was Jew or Greek, or man or woman.

            Galatians 3:28-2928 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.

            The Onesimus who was Bishop of Antioch (or whatever city) is certainly the same runaway slave fellow, in tradition, and in plain understanding. You don't understand the Epistle, because you don't understand the point of Christianity. It is creating a new society in which slavery becomes impossible. Much like Marxists try to create a society in which wage-labor becomes impossible.

            It's funny that most Christians would disagree with you about the point of Christianity.

          • Ron Maimon

            What could you possibly mean about no advancement regarding slavery? Slavery in Christendom was abolished in the 7th century, reintroduced in the 11th century, became widespread in the colonial era, and reabolished in the 19th century, in large part due to the contributions of religious Christians. It was reintroduced by the Nazis, and you know how that turned out.

            Your examples are not the most brutal in Leviticus, I could show you much worse. In Leviticus 27, you can see that slaves could be pawned to the priesthood as collateral for a loan, and could be killed if the loan was not repayed. This is not obvious in most translations, the text is opaque in Hebrew. I did a translation myself found here: https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Translation:Leviticus#27._Loans_on_collateral

            Paul DOES ask Philemon to consider Onesimus's debts as charged to him in full. That's the point. There is no money changing hands, he is saying the slave debt is as nothing compared to the soul-debt. That's the point of the epistle, and it is 10 thousand times more clear about the goal of ending slavery than any Jewish law, which, in my opinion, is why Christianity is more popular than Judaism today.

            Regarding Paul's finances, he is recieving payments from the Church, probably like a salary. The Church had finances, and provided finacial relief and aid to members who were struggling. There are some verses which are mystifying regarding finances which become clearer when one understands this, like Jesus saying "He who shall not work, neither shall he eat", and a sentiment along the lines of "it is better to give your last penny to the church than to use it to buy bread".

            I know that Christians would disagree with me about the point of Christianity. I think Karl Marx would agree, but I am not sure, I have not read this in Marx. This is a hypothesis regarding the social forces that drove the acceptance of Christianity (and also Judaism to a lesser extent) in Rome. These religions had injunctions which prevented stratification of society along socio-economic lines.

            I am not saying this to argue that the Bible is written by supernatural forces, or that it is inerrant. I am trying to explain that there is a certain transcendent truth which it is trying to explain, that I think is more easily explained using modern game theoretic ideas, like superrational decision making.

          • meathouse56

            Ron I find your views about religion very interesting. As I understand from your views (correct me if I am wrong) that religion is important because it helps us make collective decisions which are good not just for us but also for the tribe or the society we live in, by thinking along the lines of "does god want me to do it?" and such. So it acts as a consistent but still flexible ethical systems.

            The only part which I don't get is how can you receive 'revelations' about things currently practiced in your religion which are actually immoral. Like slavery as you said. Or the violence Muslims have against people like Hindus (as we Hindus go against their God's wishes just by worshiping our own gods with Idols) and the fact that Koran (thus their God) allows them to have sex with Kaffir women who were captured in a righteous religious war. How can a religious guy know that god is not okay with these things?

            Also people now are rejecting religion altogether, why do you think that is?

          • Ron Maimon

            Yeah, that's about right. The notion of God here is an abstract disembodied "desire" which is constructed from the self-consistency of the universal ethics. This God is "one", because the ethics is universal. This God is "omniscient" by definition, because in order to construct a universal system of perfect ethical decision-making, you need to know every nitpicky detail about everybody. The omniscience is not necessarily omniscience of future events, by the way, it could be or not without changing the ethics, because God's knowledge of the future doesn't change the ethical decisions WE must make, when WE are ignorant of this future. So aren't required to say "God knows the future", but you could say that if you wanted to, as some Protestants do, it doesn't change anything practical. The two positions are only superficially different, they are equivalent in logical positivism. God is "omnipotent" in the sense that whatever God wants will get done when people get around to doing what they should, which they will eventually get around to doing (and they better hurry up!). That's about it, all the rest is exegesis with fanciful storytelling. This concept is found in Hinduism also, in the Brahma idea and monotheistic ethics, which is likely either originally Hindu, or an offshoot of Hinduism (Hinduism is still ethically monotheistic, despite the superficial polytheism of many manifestations and visual representations--- this is a point made by many religious Hindus who get annoyed with Muslims or Christians claiming the religion is less sophisticated than theirs).

            The way one recieves "revelations" is by your head extrapolating the will of God using your own experiences and intuitions, in an attempt to put them together into a consistent universal ethics. Your brain does this automatically, but it doesn't always do it right. If you tune in to this system with self-awareness, it can sound like a person "talking" to you from outside, about ethics. You can receive what appear to you to be revelations about immoral things because, unlike God, you are NOT omniscient, and have imperfect knowledge of absolute ethics, even in cases where your intuition is firm.

            The Muslim slavery codes are absurd, of course, like the Jewish slavery codes, but both were written at a time when much worse practices existed, which might explain why it is that otherwise kind and inspired people were led to consider them ethically superior. That's not to justify them, but to explain that the Koran was doing ethical reform the same way the Christians and Jews did earlier. You can argue that the Muslims didn't go as far as the rest in 600AD, but the argument is really stupid now that we are out of the middle ages and we have advanced so far over all these systems. The modern "Jihadist" nonsense is not Islamic in any modern sense of the religion, it is barbaric nonsense resurrected by secular people to gain power and money from foreign donors, and you can't say it belongs to religion really, it belongs to pure secular politics.

            The way to know that God is NOT ok with stuff like that is just the same way you come to understand that this stuff is immoral, as "being immoral" and "being against the will of God" is tautologically the same thing.

            One reason people reject religion is because it comes with a lot of nonsense anti-science stuff. I also reject this aspect. But the main idea is valid, and needs to be preserved. This is just the statement that the perfect ethics can and must be identified with the disembodied will of a unified perfectly omniscient being. You can't construct this abstract will perfectly in your meditation and cogitation, or having intuitive flashes (revelations), but you can do better with time, individually and collectively, and achieve a certain confidence that some things, like sexual slavery, or the caste-system, are absolutely completely unethical, while other things, like Hindu drawings of Ganesh, or Krishna Bhajans, are holy and beautiful. Most of the time, like regarding bigamy or weird sex, you just have no clear idea, and you have to not be so dogmatic, because we're all muddling through fog.

          • Doug Shaver

            A pious mythology as a proselytizing tool? How is that different from a lie?

            If the first Christians believed what they said, they weren't lying. Or do you think there is no difference between a lie and an error?

          • That is a key distinction many fail to make. Saying proselytizing tool does sound like an intentional falsehood or a lie. Yet many flip-flop on this because either answer causes unsolvable problems to their theory.

          • Doug Shaver

            Or do you think there is no difference between a lie and an error?

            That is a key distinction many fail to make.

            Yes, it is a very common error.

            Saying proselytizing tool does sound like an intentional falsehood or a lie.

            The negative connotations are unmistakeable. That is one reason I almost never use that expression.

          • So which is it? Did they know they were changing the core teachings of their religion or did they not? If they did then you are back at trying to explain why they lied. If they did not then you are alleging gross incompetence among all the major church leaders of at least one generation. Yet they all had to hide their incompetence very well. Then somehow they all land on one one coherent story.

          • Doug Shaver

            So which is it? Did they know they were changing the core teachings of their religion or did they not?

            I haven't offered any hypothesis about what Christianity's core teachings were during any particular historical period or how they got changed over time. I'm just objecting to the presupposition that whenever there was a change, the only possible explanation is that somebody had to be lying.

            If they did not then you are alleging gross incompetence among all the major church leaders of at least one generation.

            I think that objection presupposes the truth of Christianity's historically orthodox version of its origins. I don't think anybody was in a position to police what Christians everywhere were teaching until Christianity became the empire's official religion.

          • I just want any explanation. I call the explanation lying when it fits the definition. People get upset. To me that means they are playing with words and trying to say something without really defending it.

            Bishops have always been there to police what Christians were teaching. They had succession so they were very aware of what the previous generation taught.

          • Doug Shaver

            Bishops have always been there to police what Christians were teaching.

            So says the church. If I thought I could take the church's word for it, I'd still be a Christian.

          • The church has been saying this since the very early says. St Clement of Rome talks about it in a letter to the Corinthians around 96 AD. St Irenaeus talks about it at greater length in Against Heresies around 180 AD. What is your theory for how apostolic succession started and who originated this idea that is went back to Jesus?

          • Doug Shaver

            What is your theory for how apostolic succession started and who originated this idea that is went back to Jesus?

            I think my response to this query is implicit in https://disqus.com/by/disqus_fRI0oOZiFh/, my response to “What do you feel was the original story?” But do feel free to ask me any followup questions.

          • Doug Shaver

            I call the explanation lying when it fits the definition.

            By the usual definition, someone is lying when they utter a falsehood knowing it to be false and intending to deceive someone.

          • Yes, so changing the central story of the faith almost certainly qualifies.

          • Doug Shaver

            If the original story had been what you say it was, then perhaps only a liar could have changed it. If it had been a different story, it could have evolved into the orthodoxy story without anybody saying a single thing they didn't actually believe.

          • What do you feel was the original story? I am looking for a natural explanation and I keep getting weasel words. That is typical. Allegedly logical atheists keep saying something could have happened but never offer a coherent theory. That is because there isn't one.

          • Doug Shaver

            I keep getting weasel words. That is typical. Allegedly logical atheists keep saying something could have happened but never offer a coherent theory. That is because there isn't one.

            Your mind seems solidly made up, regarding not only the matter at issue but also the intellectual integrity of anyone who disagrees with you. And in that case, certainly nothing I say is going to change your mind. Fortunately, this discussion is not just about you and me.

            What do you feel was the original story?

            I’ll offer some comments for the lurkers’ benefit.

            Mythicists are unanimous only in their doubt of Jesus of Nazareth’s historical existence. The nonexistence hypothesis raises obvious questions about an alternative account of Christianity’s origins, and no consensus has emerged. This is not because there is no coherent alternative but because the evidence is insufficient to make any particular alternative uncontrovertibly superior to another. What we are agreed on is that the disjunction of all the alternatives is more probable than Christianity’s own account of its origins even if we disregard the supernatural elements of that account.

            The paucity of evidence for a particular alternative is often presented as an argument from silence against mythicism. It is true that absence of evidence can be evidence of absence, but only under certain conditions, and one of those conditions is that we reasonably expect the evidence to be currently available or at least known to have existed. We may reasonably doubt X if we have good reason to think we would have evidence but don’t have any; but, absent good reason to think we would have it, we need a better reason to doubt X, if any relevant evidence we do have is consistent with X and in some way inconsistent with its denial.

            While mythicists are divided on most of the particular details of an alternative origin, there is some convergence toward a general outline. To begin with, most of us reject the notion that there was ever a single religious sect that somehow morphed into the historically orthodox Christianity. We instead believe that orthodoxy was an amalgam of several related religious movements of the first and second centuries, one of them being the Christ cult of Paulinism, some others being one or more variants of the Logos Judaism of Philo, still others being various mystery religions of the sort that were prevalent in the first-century Middle East.

            I haven’t time to expound on all those movements, but the one most relevant to this discussion is Paulism. Most mythicists believe that the Christ figure in whom Paul and his coreligionists believed was a divine celestial being, a god or something like a god, inhabiting the heavenly realm above the material world, and it was in that realm that his crucifixion and resurrection occurred. Paul, and certain other of his sect’s leaders whom he called fellow apostles, taught that they obtained their knowledge of the Christ, and the salvific implications of his death and resurrection, by both direct divine revelation (including visions) and through their study of the Jewish scriptures.

            A few generations after Paul’s time, during the late first or perhaps the early second, somebody wrote a book allegorizing Paul’s story in terms of an itinerant sage who was unjustly executed and then vanished from his tomb. Some subsequent writers retold the story with various modifications and with various additions from other sources no longer extant. As the stories circulated during the second century, many readers came to believe that the stories were factual accounts about their religion’s historical founder. Some of these leaders held positions of authority, and so their beliefs, which might be termed “proto-orthodoxy,” became dominant in their communities. During this transition, apparently for reasons involving the conflict between proto-orthodoxy and the Marcionites, the former group came to believe that Paul was preaching about the same Christ Jesus that the gospel authors had written about.

            There were still several varieties of Christianity, as we know from the heresiologists’ writings if for no other reason. The sectarian disputes continued until one faction, now calling itself “Catholic,” won the doctrinal wars, probably with the assistance of an imperial endorsement. Around this time one of that faction’s scholars, named Eusebius, wrote a history of his religion, and until this day Western scholars, whether Christian or not, have assumed that his account was reliable at least in general outline.

            I have obviously omitted an abundance of relevant details. I will try to respond to specific requests for elaboration on specific omissions. But for those genuinely interested in better understanding where mythicists are coming from, there is no substitute for reading the handful of mythicist writers who have earned the most general respect among us. We don’t agree with everything any of them says, but we think they have made the best overall case both for doubting Jesus’ existence and for an alternative origin story similar to the one I have summarized. Those writers are Earl Doherty, Robert M. Price, and Richard Carrier. You don’t have to accept their conclusions, but if you want to understand us, you need to be familiar with their work.

            Everybody here knows about Carrier’s On the Historicity of Jesus. For Price I recommend his The Christ Myth Theory and its Problems. (Yes, he admits it has problems, but he argues that they are not insoluble.) For those unable or unwilling to spend any money, a version of Doherty’s first book on the subject, The Jesus Puzzle, is available online at http://www.jesuspuzzle.humanists.net/mainarticles-1.html.

          • Actually the intellectual ability and integrity of those who disagree is generally seen to be quite high. That is why I take their lack of a coherent response to be so significant. If there was a good answer people like this would give it.

            Anyway, thanks for the summary. I didn't know you were a mythicist. There is still a lack of a credible story but it is at least a good try. That is my point. That the natural explanation for the origin of Christianity is lacking and mythicists agree with that. They go in a different direction and assert an even more unusual explanation.

            Trying to get into details takes so much time. I might read those books if the mythicist thing catches on a bit more. I can see so many problems and I wonder if Doherty, Price and Carrier take them seriously or just ignore them. Right now it seems like it would take a lot of time.

          • Doug Shaver

            Anyway, thanks for the summary. I didn't know you were a mythicist.

            You're welcome.

            I usually don't make a big deal of it, unless the subject is brought up explicitly. Most of my objections to Christianity have nothing to do with whether its purported founder was a real man. I became an atheist many years before I began to suspect that Jesus of Nazareth didn't actually exist.

          • Brian Bowles

            One only has to look a the rapid spread of the so-called 'religion' of Scientology. There was a terrific will to make this work and look to where it grew in a very short space of time (without any spiritual basis to it whatsoever.)

          • Pofarmer

            "The idea that people just make stuff up and then preach it like it is the word of God"

            What about things like the Irish monks and the idea of daily confession? New ideas come into religion all the time.

          • Ron Maimon

            Carrier doesn't claim it was forgery. He claims the risen Jesus came first. The teachings of the risen Jesus are primary in Christianity, the historical narratives are simply proselyzing tools, and are written to illustrate the central tenets.

            There is nothing contradictory about this, nor does it make the documents "forgeries". They are parables, not forgeries, and they are no more historical than any other scriptural source that claims to take place in history.

            This hypothesis must be weighed on its merits, using as objective a methodology as possible, because of the biases of people coming in. This is not just the bias of religious dogma, it is the bias of superficial common sense, that when you see a document showing a historical figure doing works that you should believe the easiest way for this to get composed is if there were a historical figure doing works. When you see details, especially embarassing details, these are true details. Both these criteria fail miserably for Jewish religious sources, because the Jewish sources insert characters into history to make points, and do so often, writing consistent narratives for these people, and further the sources of Jewish myths are in a vast literature, which is enormous, and the motivation to reconcile conflicting myths is so large when producing pseudo-history, that reconciling them often produces embarassment without historical input (for example, Abraham and Sarah, two mythical beings, are embarassingly half-siblings in Genesis).

            Historicity is simply false in this case, because you can trace the development of the documents very thoroughly, and show that the mythicist position explains the evidence much much better than the historicist position. This is what Carrier does in a readable 617 pages. Carrier's thesis doesn't really argue that Christianity is a lie, simply that Jesus is not a historical character. It doesn't even argue that it is a false teaching, as the historical Jesus is not the risen Jesus of the congregation that Christians actually worship and experience.

            The main event in Christianity in this view is Paul seeing Peter's risen Jesus (same as modern Christians do), coming to Rome, founding the Gentile church, ignoring Mosaic law, and writing the Epistle to Philemon (among others). The resonance of the religion is that it treated everyone equally, slaves and freepersons, and it made the least first (as attested to in Philemon). The Church explodes because of these social forces, not because what it teaches is historically true.

            I'll put it this way--- if there was a person named Joshua who historically died and rose from the grave 3 days later, surrounded by actual supernatural events, we would never hear about it today. Nobody would believe it, nor would there be any motivation for anyone to preserve the witness of this experience. To demonstrate--- meteorites fell all over the world, but none of the experiences of rocks falling from the sky were thought to be particularly worth preserving, despite the supernatural-seeming event being so salient. True history is not enough, you need to have a political movement behind you.

            On the other hand, the spiritual experience of witnessing the risen Christ, a real event in people's lives which happens today, something which has nothing to do with the historical Christ, this is a solid foundation to build a religion on. This foundation is what Carrier is assuming, he is simply jettisoning the unnecessary and problematic historical interpretation of the Gospel narratives.

          • Neha

            "Carrier's thesis doesn't really argue that Christianity is a lie, simply that Jesus is not a historical character. It doesn't even argue that it is a false teaching, as the historical Jesus is not the risen Jesus of the congregation that Christians actually worship and experience.", his goal clearly is to discredit Christianity (unaware that it's already meaningless had he never rose from the dead, a fact Paul stresses), given his status as a relentless anti-theist and his constant anti-Christian rants.
            And apologies for forgetting which page we last discussed (I'll remember this one), but I just have one question: you describe yourself as an agnostic-atheist, yet you've "experienced Christ"? That doesn't make much sense for you to still be a nonbeliever after having experienced him, and acknowledging the fact that countless people do (rather than ignorantly dismissing it as "delusion" as many other atheists do). I don't get it. One might think you'd be (at best) an agnostic-Christian.

          • Ron Maimon

            Personally, I think that I am a full believer, except perhaps not in the exact same way you are, as I don't believe any scientifically impossible material events ever happened, nor do I think anyone needs to believe such things to fully understand religion. In fact, I think such a belief in supernatural nonsense is detrimental. Perhaps if you could read my mind, you would conclude I am still an atheist because of this, I don't know, but I do know you'd be wrong. Experience of spiritual communication with Jesus is simply not sufficient evidence for changing anyone's beliefs about what happens in the material world. It is, however, a good start to changing your beliefs about the structure of the Platonic world of ideas, especially ethics.

            Partly due to a personal experience, partly due to reasoning about its interpretation, I ended up accepting that Christian theology is a true religious system (appropriately interpreted, and there are other true religious systems also). But at no point did this experience suddenly compel me (or even suggest to me) to believe in materially impossible events. At one point during this revelation, I did ask myself "is it reasonable to lie about material events to get people to understand this revelation better?", but introspection said "heck no!" At least for me, the constant claims of impossible material events were the main barrier for me to understand this revelation business, and since there is no requirement to believe in nonsense that comes from this experience, why would I make it harder for other people who are scientific literate? Knowing science doesn't change the spiritual message one bit, one way or the other. It just gets you to be less obtuse about the stories you tell people to get them to understand it also.

            As a matter of fact, because I found it so easy to do, as I said, at no point was I even TEMPTED to change anything about my understanding of the material world, I don't believe that anyone could possibly have any difficulty either. There was nothing in the experience of communicating with Jesus which demands that I believe that a material human body rose from the dead. The communication only was about ethical and aesthetic things, relations of people and ideas, it was not about history or cosmology, or anything like that. In fact, whenever I tried to reason about history and cosmology or mathematics, the experience of communicating with God just went away, and I found myself alone again.

          • Scott

            Rediscovering the Historical Jesus: The Evidence for Jesus
            William Lane Craig
            Five reasons are presented for thinking that critics who accept the historical credibility of the gospel accounts of Jesus do not bear a special burden of proof relative to more skeptical critics. Then the historicity of a few specific aspects of Jesus' life are addressed, including his radical self-concept as the divine Son of God, his role as a miracle-worker, his trial and crucifixion, and his resurrection from the dead.

            "Rediscovering the Historical Jesus: The Evidence for Jesus." Faith and Mission 15 (1998): 16-26.

            Last time we saw that the New Testament documents are the most important historical sources for Jesus of Nazareth. The so-called apocryphal gospels are forgeries which came much later and are for the most part elaborations of the four New Testament gospels.

            This doesn’t mean that there aren’t sources outside the Bible which refer to Jesus. There are. He’s referred to in pagan, Jewish, and Christian writings outside the New Testament. The Jewish historian Josephus is especially interesting. In the pages of his works you can read about New Testament people like the high priests Annas and Caiaphas, the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, King Herod, John the Baptist, even Jesus himself and his brother James. There have also been interesting archaeological discoveries as well bearing on the gospels. For example, in 1961 the first archaeological evidence concerning Pilate was unearthed in the town of Caesarea; it was an inscription of a dedication bearing Pilate’s name and title. Even more recently, in 1990 the actual tomb of Caiaphas, the high priest who presided over Jesus’s trial, was discovered south of Jerusalem. Indeed, the tomb beneath the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem is in all probability the tomb in which Jesus himself was laid by Joseph of Arimathea following the crucifixion. According to Luke Johnson, a New Testament scholar at Emory University,

            Even the most critical historian can confidently assert that a Jew named Jesus worked as a teacher and wonder-worker in Palestine during the reign of Tiberius, was executed by crucifixion under the prefect Pontius Pilate and continued to have followers after his death.1

            Still, if we want any details about Jesus’s life and teachings, we must turn to the New Testament. Extra-biblical sources confirm what we read in the gospels, but they don’t really tell us anything new. The question then must be: how historically reliable are the New Testament documents?

            Burden of Proof

            Here we confront the very crucial question of the burden of proof. Should we assume that the gospels are reliable unless they are proven to be unreliable? Or should we assume the gospels are unreliable unless they are proven to be reliable? Are they innocent until proven guilty or guilty until proven innocent? Sceptical scholars almost always assume that the gospels are guilty until proven innocent, that is, they assume that the gospels are unreliable unless and until they are proven to be correct concerning some particular fact. I’m not exaggerating here: this really is the procedure of sceptical critics.

            But I want to list five reasons why I think we ought to assume that the gospels are reliable until proven wrong:

            1. There was insufficient time for legendary influences to expunge the historical facts. The interval of time between the events themselves and recording of them in the gospels is too short to have allowed the memory of what had or had not actually happened to be erased.

            2. The gospels are not analogous to folk tales or contemporary "urban legends." Tales like those of Paul Bunyan and Pecos Bill or contemporary urban legends like the "vanishing hitchhiker" rarely concern actual historical individuals and are thus not analogous to the gospel narratives.

            3. The Jewish transmission of sacred traditions was highly developed and reliable. In an oral culture like that of first century Palestine the ability to memorize and retain large tracts of oral tradition was a highly prized and highly developed skill. From the earliest age children in the home, elementary school, and the synagogue were taught to memorize faithfully sacred tradition. The disciples would have exercised similar care with the teachings of Jesus.

            4. There were significant restraints on the embellishment of traditions about Jesus, such as the presence of eyewitnesses and the apostles’ supervision. Since those who had seen and heard Jesus continued to live and the tradition about Jesus remained under the supervision of the apostles, these factors would act as a natural check on tendencies to elaborate the facts in a direction contrary to that preserved by those who had known Jesus.

            5. The Gospel writers have a proven track record of historical reliability.

            I don’t have enough time to talk about all of these. So let me say something about the first and the last points.

            1. There was insufficient time for legendary influences to expunge the historical facts. No modern scholar thinks of the gospels as bald-faced lies, the result of a massive conspiracy. The only place you find such conspiracy theories of history is in sensationalist, popular literature or former propaganda from behind the Iron Curtain. When you read the pages of the New Testament, there’s no doubt that these people sincerely believed in the truth of what they proclaimed. Rather ever since the time of D. F. Strauss, sceptical scholars have explained away the gospels as legends. Like the child’s game of telephone, as the stories about Jesus were passed on over the decades, they got muddled and exaggerated and mythologized until the original facts were all but lost. The Jewish peasant sage was transformed into the divine Son of God.

            One of the major problems with the legend hypothesis, however, which is almost never addressed by sceptical critics, is that the time between Jesus’s death and the writing of the gospels is just too short for this to happen. This point has been well-explained by A. N. Sherwin-White in his book Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament.2 Professor Sherwin-White is not a theologian; he is a professional historian of times prior to and contemporaneous with Jesus. According to Sherwin-White, the sources for Roman and Greek history are usually biased and removed one or two generations or even centuries from the events they record. Yet, he says, historians reconstruct with confidence the course of Roman and Greek history. For example, the two earliest biographies of Alexander the Great were written by Arrian and Plutarch more than 400 years after Alexander’s death, and yet classical historians still consider them to be trustworthy. The fabulous legends about Alexander the Great did not develop until during the centuries after these two writers. According to Sherwin-White, the writings of Herodotus enable us to determine the rate at which legend accumulates, and the tests show that even two generations is too short a time span to allow legendary tendencies to wipe out the hard core of historical facts. When Professor Sherwin-White turns to the gospels, he states that for the gospels to be legends, the rate of legendary accumulation would have to be "unbelievable." More generations would be needed.

            In fact, adding a time gap of two generations to Jesus’s death lands you in the second century, just when the apocryphal gospels begin to appear. These do contain all sorts of fabulous stories about Jesus, trying to fill in the years between his boyhood and his starting his ministry, for example. These are the obvious legends sought by the critics, not the biblical gospels.

            This point becomes even more devastating for skepticism when we recall that the gospels themselves use sources that go back even closer to the events of Jesus’s life. For example, the story of Jesus’s suffering and death, commonly called the Passion Story, was probably not originally written by Mark. Rather Mark used a source for this narrative. Since Mark is the earliest gospel, his source must be even earlier. In fact, Rudolf Pesch, a German expert on Mark, says the Passion source must go back to at least AD 37, just seven years after Jesus’s death.3

            Or again, Paul in his letters hands on information concerning Jesus about his teaching, his Last Supper, his betrayal, crucifixion, burial, and resurrection appearances. Paul’s letters were written even before the gospels, and some of his information, for example, what he passes on in his first letter to the Corinthian church about the resurrection appearances, has been dated to within five years after Jesus’s death. It just becomes irresponsible to speak of legends in such cases.

            5. The Gospel writers have a proven track record of historical reliability. Again I only have time to look at one example: Luke. Luke was the author of a two-part work: the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. These are really one work and are separated in our Bibles only because the church grouped the gospels together in the New Testament. Luke is the gospel writer who writes most self-consciously as an historian. In the preface to this work he writes:

            Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things which have been accomplished among us, just as they were delivered to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the truth concerning the things of which you have been informed. (Lk. 1.1-4)

            This preface is written in classical Greek terminology such as was used by Greek historians; after this Luke switches to a more common Greek. But he has put his reader on alert that he can write, should he wish to, like the learned historian. He speaks of his lengthy investigation of the story he’s about to tell and assures us that it is based on eyewitness information and is accordingly the truth.

            Now who was this author we call Luke? He was clearly not an eyewitness to Jesus’s life. But we discover an important fact about him from the book of Acts. Beginning in the sixteenth chapter of Acts, when Paul reaches Troas in modern-day Turkey, the author suddenly starts using the first-person plural: "we set sail from Troas to Samothrace," "we remained in Philippi some days," "as we were going to the place of prayer," etc. The most obvious explanation is that the author had joined Paul on his evangelistic tour of the Mediterranean cities. In chapter 21 he accompanies Paul back to Palestine and finally to Jerusalem. What this means is that the author of Luke-Acts was in fact in first hand contact with the eyewitnesses of Jesus’s life and ministry in Jerusalem. Sceptical critics have done back-flips to try to avoid this conclusion. They say that the use of the first-person plural in Acts should not be taken literally; it’s just a literary device which is common in ancient sea voyage stories. Never mind that many of the passages in Acts are not about Paul’s sea voyage, but take place on land! The more important point is that this theory, when you check it out, turns out to be sheer fantasy.4 There just was no literary device of sea voyages in the first person plural—the whole thing has been shown to be a scholarly fiction! There is no avoiding the conclusion that Luke-Acts was written by a traveling companion of Paul who had the opportunity to interview eyewitnesses to Jesus’s life while in Jerusalem. Who were some of these eyewitnesses? Perhaps we can get some clue by subtracting from the Gospel of Luke everything found in the other gospels and seeing what is peculiar to Luke. What you discover is that many of Luke’s peculiar narratives are connected to women who followed Jesus: people like Joanna and Susanna, and significantly, Mary, Jesus’s mother.

            Was the author reliable in getting the facts straight? The book of Acts enables us to answer that question decisively. The book of Acts overlaps significantly with secular history of the ancient world, and the historical accuracy of Acts is indisputable. This has recently been demonstrated anew by Colin Hemer, a classical scholar who turned to New Testament studies, in his book The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History. 5Hemer goes through the book of Acts with a fine-toothed comb, pulling out a wealth of historical knowledge, ranging from what would have been common knowledge down to details which only a local person would know. Again and again Luke’s accuracy is demonstrated: from the sailings of the Alexandrian corn fleet to the coastal terrain of the Mediterranean islands to the peculiar titles of local officials, Luke gets it right. According to Professor Sherwin-White, "For Acts the confirmation of historicity is overwhelming. Any attempt to reject its basic historicity even in matters of detail must now appear absurd."6 The judgement of Sir William Ramsay, the world-famous archaeologist, still stands: "Luke is a historian of the first rank . . . . This author should be placed along with the very greatest of historians."7 Given Luke’s care and demonstrated reliability as well as his contact with eyewitnesses within the first generation after the events, this author is trustworthy.

            On the basis of the five reasons I listed, we are justified in accepting the historical reliability of what the gospels say about Jesus unless they are proven to be wrong. At the very least, we cannot assume they are wrong until proven right. The person who denies the gospels’ reliability must bear the burden of proof.

            Link:http://www.reasonablefaith.org/rediscovering-the-historical-jesus-the-evidence-for-jesus

            I think William Lane Craig's arguments are more compelling than your assertion in the "impossibility" of supernatural events as a reasonable and supporting claim that the historical and revealed Jesus is mostly myth.

            Read more: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/rediscovering-the-historical-jesus-the-evidence-for-jesus#ixzz4MvlImwqB

        • SDG

          None of this is laid out in detail in Carrier's original post

          To the extent that whatever is not laid out at all can also be said to be not laid out "in detail," this is a true statement.

          If you care to look through his stuff…

          Which "stuff" would that be? The book that isn't available yet, paywall-protected content, or what? He was given space here to outline his case — a case that I, for one, would like to have read. I'm still not sure why he chose not to.

          The gist of it is that the 'brother' is a figurative phrase like 'brothers in Christ'

          "Brothers in Christ" and "brothers of Christ" are two very different expressions. Does Carrier, in the content he doesn't present here, offer any evidence that early Christians were ever called "brothers of" the Lord Jesus? Or any explanation why this phrase appears to have been applied only to a very select group (James being, I believe, the only named individual so identified outside the Gospels and Acts, where it is only applied to putative relations of the earthly Jesus)? Why was James the Lord's brother but Cephas wasn't? Why is there no apparent evidence of the transition of this usage from its spiritual roots to the later, mythologized familial use?

          the ideas of crucifixion and burial are borrowed from certain scriptural passages

          Does he offer any basis in actual Second Temple Jewish culture for imagining these events in a heavenly context? Is there any rationale for imagining that being "crucified, buried and resurrected" in the "lower heavens" would make any sense at all in that cultural context?

          Remember, the people in Jesus' day weren't just reading the Old Testament in a vacuum. Their cultural and symbolic world was as rich and complex as ours. If a theory of Christian origins can't explain itself in terms of what we know of the actual cultural context in which the first Christians lived, it's a non-starter.

          (I'm guessing here) 'killed by the Jews' is a proxy death for Jewish spiritual crimes

          It's generous of you to guess and supply what, as far as any of us knows, Carrier hasn't supplied himself. Yet the reference in question occurs in the immediate context of references to perfectly specific, concrete acts on earth: Jesus' death at the hands of the Jews is of a piece with the persecution of the prophets and of the Jewish Church and the apostles. What possible rationale could there be for

          What amuses me is his conclusion: "It gives the appearance of a castle built of shaky inferences that strain to get us away from the plain meaning of the texts..." I would expect that to kill a Catholic with a functioning sense of irony.

          I assure you my sense of irony is entirely functional (and so is Jimmy's)…yet not only am I still breathing, I'm not even entirely sure what you perceive as the potential cause of death in this case. It appears neither of us has yet succeeded in reconstructing the other's mental model.

          • josh

            SDG, it really shouldn't take you 10 inches of column to repeat that Carrier didn't give you a detailed argument in his first post. Like I said, read his blog or his various debates with other historians to get a sense of his case. Or don't, but stop whining. I'm not here to carry water for him, I'm just pointing out what I know of his position. You're not satisfied with what he wrote here, that's fine. Either get on with your life or go learn more.

            The irony comment was just a side-note. Catholic doctrine is chock full of shaky inferences that strain to get away from the plain meaning of the text, Protestants are of course the ones who asserted that the text was plain to all. Case in point: Akin above argues that James was plainly the brother of a historical Jesus, but by brother he means maybe a cousin or an unmentioned step-brother, because the Catholic doctrine of Mary's perpetual virginity contradicts the 'plain' meaning of the text.

          • SDG

            Josh,

            it really shouldn't take you 10 inches of column to repeat that Carrier didn't give you a detailed argument in his first post.

            I only took a few lines to repeat that. The rest of my comments (starting with "Brothers in Christ") were queries about the "stuff" you say Carrier has written elsewhere.

            You're entirely within your rights to decline to act as Carrier's mouthpiece here, though it's curious to me that, despite my reiterations on this point that you say weren't necessary, you continue to say that Carrier didn't give a "detailed argument," when the point I've been trying to make is that he hardly gave any argument at all, detailed or otherwise.

            I don't know why you feel the need to emotify my pointed but dispassionate critique as "whining." The only remotely emotive element of my comments was that I expressed interest in the arguments I would have liked to see Carrier make. If that qualifies as "whining" in your book, well, I suspect a bit of jaundice on your part, but I won't whine about it.

            I have no great quarrel with someone who says that the simplest and most direct explanation of Jesus' "brothers and sisters" in the Gospels is that they were other children of Joseph and Mary, and that, absent Catholic dogma, few would be inclined to read the text any other way. It's true that this otherwise simple reading creates some exegetical problems (such as why Christ crucified in John 19 found it necessary to entrust his mother to his beloved disciple, if Mary had other sons who would naturally have taken responsibility for her). However, if someone says finds these problems less daunting than the assumptions of the stepbrother or cousin hypotheses, as I said, I have no great quarrel with them.

            I take this, though, to be a fairly marginal case, not a case in point of something Catholic doctrine is "chock-full" of. There are not many Catholic doctrines for which it seems to be plausible to say that the Catholic exegete is required to "strain" to avoid the natural sense of the text. Catholic doctrine may often say far more than the first and most obvious senses of the texts it cites, but it is not, in my experience, often obliged to say that the text doesn't mean what might reasonably be thought to be the obvious, natural meaning.

          • josh

            SDG, I appreciate the response. My main point is that I agree that Carrier hasn't laid out his case here in a way that is likely to persuade committed Christians. There is a case to be found in his online writing which is easily Googleable. (Whether it is ultimately persuasive or not is a separate matter.) I don't know if he will choose to get into the weeds with people in his upcoming post here, but if you are sincerely interested do check out some of his available stuff and maybe read his book if and when it comes out. I don't know that there's much more to say.

            On the doctrine stuff: Well, Catholics and Protestants produced hundreds of years of bloodshed partly over the ability to decipher the 'plain meaning' of texts. Adding great dollops of shaky theological assertion onto the text does strike me as avoiding the plain meaning. But for examples that explicitly contradict the natural meaning, you might consider the modern Church's position on Genesis, Adam and Eve, Heliocentricity, slavery and genocide, etc., etc. Like I said, it struck me as funny that a Catholic was going to lecture us on 'the plain meaning' when a central part of Catholic doctrine has been that we need specially trained experts steeped in the esoterica of the tradition to explain things to us, like, you know, Dr. Carrier.

            No doubt the joke is only getting funnier as I explain it. :)

          • SDG

            Thanks, Josh. To clarify, I wasn't hoping for a case likely to persuade me (which I don't mind saying would be unlikely no matter what he wrong); I was hoping for more understanding of what Dr. Carrier's case was. But enough of that.

            On the subjects you mention: I think if we stick to actual Catholic teaching, as opposed to climates of opinion and theological, political or disciplinary jousting in various historical circumstances, we find very little to strain our plain reading of the scriptures — when and where the meaning is plain, I mean. (I would certainly never say that the proper interpretation of any and every scripture is the identification of its "plain meaning"!)

            I would prefer not to speak of "deciphering" the Bible. The Bible isn't a code; it's literature: in Catholic belief, divine revelation in human literature —— the Word of God in words of men, as fully human and literary as the Son of God, Jesus Christ, is fully human. Thus, the Bible must be approached and interpreted exactly as any other human literature to discern its meaning — which meaning, however, is understood by Catholics to be divinely intended.

            What this means is that, in principle and in the main, there shouldn't be a "Catholic interpretation" of the Bible, a "Lutheran intepretation," a "Jewish intepretation," an "atheist interpretation" — at least, not as a matter of primary meaning. In principle and in the main, there should be a literary interpretation, by which historiography is read as historiography, myth as myth, poetry as poetry, apocalyptic as apocalyptic, epistolary as epistolary and so on.

            Catholics and atheists should not (in principle and in the main) differ as such on the interpretation of a given text — or, if they do differ, their disagreements should (in principle and in the main) be of the same sort that could arise between two Catholics or two atheists, and subject to the same principles of debate and remediation.

            In that regard, should think you and I could agree that the plain, natural approach to the scriptural texts (as opposed to a Fundamentalist/literalist approach) is that while the Gospels appear to offer a species of historiography (albeit history interpreted and constructed from a religious perspective), Genesis 1-3 appears to offer a species of mythology (albeit, again, mythology communicating a worldview of Hebrew faith), and Christian exegetes such as Augustine, Origen, Thomas Aquinas and John Wesley entertained non-literal readings of these passages. Likewise, passages that speak in a geocentric mode can without strain be literarily understood as phenomenological language, etc.

          • josh

            I agree that we should read the Bible like any other piece of human literature and that is exactly what Christians don't do. Which is to say, that the meaning is the meaning the human author intended, which may be conveyed through various genres. Or we may speak of the meaning that various audiences throughout history have attached to a text. What we don't say is that the meaning is true regardless. The meaning of Mein Kampf is pretty clear but it isn't true. If you assume there has to be a true (or divinely intended) meaning then you aren't reading it as literature, you are behaving irrationally. This is just a different strain of fundamentalism, you and the people you call Fundamentalists simply choose different meanings to extract as clearly divine.

            So when we actually look at the Bible, we find that it is a collection of diverse works edited together over a long period of time for political and sectarian purposes. Genesis conveys an ancient worldview that includes an ancient cosmology and history of earth. It gets these things wrong, it is a mythological history. There is no reason to think that it got the timeline wrong but the creator God part right, these are both products of the ignorant culture that produced it. The gospels aren't historiography, they are religious propaganda. They exist to spread the religion and convey the opinions of their earthly authors with the appearance of divine sanction. Compare the legendary stories of the life of Buddha or Mohammed.

            Augustine, Origen, Aquinas and Wesley had their own views on the 'real' meaning of various passages but they held to literal views on many of them. The key point is that they had no qualification to interpret them, no valid method of literary or historical analysis. They didn't treat them as literary works, they treated them as divine revelations from which all important truths were to be distilled.

            Passages that 'speak in a geocentric mode' are that way because the authors thought in a geocentric mode. The ancient Jews pretty clearly thought the sun orbited the earth, which was a flat disk or bowl with a firmament dome over the top in which stars are fixed. There is no point in blaming them for being ignorant, but there is no reason to assert that that isn't what they meant, or that we should ignore that but look for the 'spiritual' truths that are 'really' there.

          • SDG

            I agree that we should read the Bible like any other piece of human literature and that is exactly what Christians don't do.

            I'm glad we seem to be clear, at least on an elementary level, where and how we disagree. That can be a major accomplishment in itself.

            The meaning of Mein Kampf is pretty clear but it isn't true. If you assume there has to be a true (or divinely intended) meaning then you aren't reading it as literature, you are behaving irrationally.

            Quite right, as regards Mein Kampf, and so a helpful analogy highlighting the point at issue.

            Caveat: Mein Kampf is an autobiographical socio-political manifesto, and while its value as autobiography is a question I've not looked into, its message as socio-political manifesto falls well short of the sort of truth that socio-political manifesto can offer. That is the standard by which every literary work can and should be judged: Does it offer the kind of truth that that sort of literature can offer?

            Genesis conveys an ancient worldview that includes an ancient cosmology and history of earth. It gets these things wrong, it is a mythological history. There is no reason to think that it got the timeline wrong but the creator God part right, these are both products of the ignorant culture that produced it.

            "Mythological history," as applied to the creation accounts in Genesis, may be something of a category mistake. What Genesis offers is mythological narrative, not mythological "history." In human oral and literary narrative history, myth is not a corruption of history, as if history came first; myth came first, and history — based on eyewitness accounts and community memory — came later.

            Of course the author of Genesis — and the historical community that produced the stories he adapted, redacted and wove together — had no conception of modern cosmology and the processes of the origins of the universe, life on earth, etc, nor did the communities and authors responsible for other ancient creation-myths. They had prescientific, mythic pictures of these things. If God had anything to do with the book of Genesis, He didn't set out to instruct the author in cosmology, astrophysics, evolutionary theory or any such thing.

            And, notably, nothing in Genesis 1 says that He did. We don't find a first-person narrative reading, "The word of the Lord came to me, Moses, saying, 'Write the words I tell you, for here is how I created the heavens and the earth,'" etc.

            What we have instead is a story — or rather, a pair of stories, that of Genesis 1 and Genesis 2, partially echoing and partially diverging from other similar creation-myths in nearby cultures. There's no reason to think that the redactor who first put together these two originally separate creation narratives was less aware of the tensions between them than we are, or of oddities like day and night preceding the creation of the sun. Many Hebrews would have been aware of the similarities to other ANE creation stories; they would also have been aware of the differences, and the extent to which their creation-stories offered a critique of the pagan stories.

            By the time Genesis was written, probably most educated Jewish belief affirmed that God was all-knowing, all-powerful, omnipresent and so forth. There are stories in Genesis of God coming and going, not knowing things and going to investigate, changing his mind and so forth, but there's no reason to think that the author of Genesis literally predicated any of these things of the Divine Nature. Ancient writers could be sophisticated in their use of mythic materials. The specific character of myth, as distinct from history, wasn't necessarily lost on them at all.

            Augustine, Origen, Aquinas and Wesley had their own views on the 'real' meaning of various passages but they held to literal views on many of them. The key point is that they had no qualification to interpret them, no valid method of literary or historical analysis.

            Philo, Augustine and Origen are useful witnesses to the range of premodern literary assumptions in the ancient world in which the biblical authors wrote, and thus to the reasonability of not insisting that the author of Genesis could only have meant to assert a literal six-day creation.

            They didn't treat them as literary works, they treated them as divine revelations from which all important truths were to be distilled.

            This is manifestly untrue.

            For instance, Augustine certainly didn't believe that "all important truths" were to be "distilled" from scripture; indeed, he strongly objected to this naive methodology, which he feared would make Christianity look ridiculous to educated pagans:

            There is knowledge to be had, after all, about the earth, about the sky, about the other elements of this world, about the movements and revolutions or even the magnitude and distances of the constellations, about the predictable eclipses of moon and sun, about the cycles of years and seasons, about the nature of animals, fruits, stones, and everything else of this kind. And it frequently happens that even non-Christians will have knowledge of this sort in a way that they can substantiate with scientific arguments or experiments. Now it is quite disgraceful and disastrous, something to be on one's guard against at all costs, that they should ever hear Christians spouting what they claim our Christian literature has to say on these topics, and talking such nonsense that they can scarcely contain their laughter when they see them to be toto caelo, as the saying goes, wide of the mark. And what is so vexing is not that misguided people should be laughed at, as that our authors should be assumed by outsiders to have held such views and, to the great detriment of those about whose salvation we are so concerned, should be written off and consigned to the waste paper basket as so many ignoramuses.

            Whenever, you see, they catch some members of the Christian community making mistakes on a subject which they know inside out, and defending their hollow opinions on the authority of our books, on what grounds are they going to trust those books on the resurrection of the dead and the hope of eternal life and the kingdom of heaven, when they suppose they include any number of mistakes and fallacies on matters which they themselves have been able to master either by experiment or by the surest of calculations? It is impossible to say what trouble and grief such rash, self-assured know-alls cause the more cautious and experienced brothers and sisters. Whenever they find themselves challenged and taken to task for some shaky and false theory of theirs by people who do not recognize the authority of our books, they try to defend what they have aired with the most frivolous temerity and patent falsehood by bringing forward these same sacred books to justify it. Or they even quote from memory many things said in them which they imagine will provide them with valid evidence, not understanding either what they are saying, or the matters on which they are asserting themselves. (The Literal Meaning of Genesis).

            Thus, Augustine argued,

            In matters that are so obscure and far beyond our vision, we may find in Holy Scripture passages which can be interpreted in very different ways without prejudice to the faith we have received. In such cases, we should not rush in headlong and so firmly take our stand on one side that, if further progress in the search for truth justly undermines this position, we too fall with it. We should not battle for our own interpretation but for the teaching of Holy Scripture. We should not wish to conform the meaning of Holy Scripture to our interpretation, but our interpretation to the meaning of Holy Scripture.

            Continuing, you conclude,

            Passages that 'speak in a geocentric mode' are that way because the authors thought in a geocentric mode.

            True, but that doesn't mean that their pictorial naivete is not distinguishable — in principle, even by them — from their legitimate use of the same sort of phenemenological language that we all use every time we talk about the sun rising or setting.

            Suppose we stretch time and credibility just a tad and imagine the author of 1 Chronicles somehow running into Aristarchus of Samos, and becoming convinced of heliocentrism. Then he revisits what he wrote in 1 Chronicles 16:30: "Tremble before him, all earth; yea, the world stands firm, never to be moved."

            Would he be obliged to say, "Oops, got that wrong. The earth does move; it doesn't stand firm"? Or could he reasonably say, "Yes, heliocentrism is all very interesting, and I'm glad to know that. But nevertheless, in the relevant sense, the earth does stand firm"?

          • josh

            "Quite right, as regards Mein Kampf, and so a helpful analogy highlighting the point at issue."

            Which, I'm afraid, you don't really address in what follows.

            "That is the standard by which the truth of any literary work can and should be judged: Does it offer the kind of truth that that sort of literature can offer?"

            Well, first note that 'truth' isn't the standard by which we have to judge all literature. Fiction and poetry can be enjoyable quite apart from imparting any truth. Which brings us back to the question of why you are trying to force truth to come out of some ancient work of what Christians have had to increasingly claim is poetry and myth. Moreover, there is no reason one can't use figurative language to convey some broad truth without misleading your readers for a couple millenia.

            '"Mythological history," as applied to the creation accounts in Genesis, may be something of a category mistake.'

            No, this is at best a semantic distraction. I was speaking of the book of Genesis (and subsequent books in the OT). It presents a history of the Jewish people beginning with the creation of the first people and leading up to the establishment and dynasties of Israel and Judah. The creation is presented as part of this history. The history is legendary and mythologized. We might reasonably conjecture that the earlier periods according to that history are the most mythic, which is to say the most unreliable. Myth doesn't come before history or vice verse, they cross-pollinate.

            "If God had anything to do with the book of Genesis, He didn't set out to instruct the author in cosmology, astrophysics, evolutionary theory or any such thing." Begging the question. If God existed and if he had anything to do with the Bible we wouldn't expect it to be so full of errors. What you are doing is assuming he exists, assuming he can't be wrong, assuming he had something to do with the Bible, and concluding that any apparent errors aren't the real meaning.

            Now we can speculate about a hypothetical human originator of some version or piece of the stories. It's possible that this or that unknown proto-story contained allegorical elements, or was intended only as a story to tell around the campfire. But somehow or other that story passed into religion. It was taken literally, or it was taken to reveal some divine truth by millions of people. Unknown redactors and compilers are trying to smooth tensions because they assume there is a singular 'true' version or meaning. Trying to sort out the history of the story is a job for historians, but searching for an interpretation that doesn't really have errors, or never really meant them, isn't a valid method.

            "Augustine and Origen are useful witnesses to the range of premodern literary assumptions in the ancient world in which the biblical authors wrote, and thus to the reasonability of not insisting that the author of
            Genesis could only have meant to assert a literal six-day creation."

            But that's not the point. How Origen and Augustine interpreted their texts doesn't tell us how Genesis authors intended them. You're just making the observation that people can have non-literal readings, which I'm not debating. Augustine of course maintained a literal Adam. He was making the same mistake you are, trying to fit things into a 'true' meaning, trying to fit scripture into his own idea of what theology should be, rather than the entirely human fiction it is. Thus a literal Adam but perhaps a symbolic six days for Augustine. But neither is particularly justified. (And let's remember that ancient authors often saw the physical world as literally expressing symbolic or spiritual truths, not one to the exclusion of the other.) Again, there is no reason to think that ancient authors got 'spiritual' truths any more correct than they got physical truths.

            "This is manifestly untrue."
            You are reading me too narrowly. I actually worried about this but hoped you would avoid this red herring. The church fathers and doctors looked primarily to scripture and attempted to extract or support their beliefs from that. The scripture was the important thing, the authority. Of course they thought other things could be known, but the scripture was sacred and right and concerned the important things in life. Your own quote confirms this. Just like you, if they thought there was a conflict between a clear reading of scripture and what they thought was known, they would argue that the scripture meant something else, that it only really conveyed things they were comfortable with.

            But we can look at history with more perspective. We can see that when they weren't aware of the conflicts with future discoveries and criticism, they made all sorts of mistakes based on the assumption that it must be true. We can also see that even when they made symbolic interpretations they got things wrong because they didn't know they were referencing a forgery, or a mistranslation, or they misunderstood the original context, etc. And the same thing is going on today. Your assumptions about specifically what is and isn't obviously non-literal or what the important points are differ, but it's the same irrational method.

            So, to recap, the issue is not that there can't be figurative language in the Bible. I literally can't think of anyone who believes that. The issue is that we shouldn't approach the book assuming it has a message or meaning that is true.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      I agree. Carrier should respond.

    • Ron Maimon

      Akin's arguments simply show that he didn't read Carrier's book. The emergence of Christianity is completely explained through revelation. The "brother of Christ" is simply a term for non-apostolic Christians, while the relation of Peter to Jesus is similar to that of Paul. The founding human figure of Christianity is Peter, and the "untimely born" one is Paul, who received the revelation late. The mythicist position is consistent with the evidence, while the standard story is not.

  • SDG

    Jimmy's citation from 1 Thes 2:14-15 is particularly important because of how it situates the killing of Jesus in a historical continuity from the deaths of the Old Testament prophets to the persecution of the early Christians, including Paul and his fellow evangelists. Jesus was killed, Paul says, by the same Jews who persecuted the prophets and are persecuting the early Christians. There is no slightest whiff of an event believed to have occurred "in the lower heavens"; on the contrary. And, as Jimmy says, this letter is commonly regarded as the very first extant Christian document of any kind!

    The fact that Paul emphasizes that Jesus was "buried" before rising from the dead (1 Cor 15:4) is also striking. Did this "burial" take place "in the lower heavens"? Is there any reason to think that being "buried in the lower heavens," or being buried anywhere but on earth, would have been conceptually cogent to Paul or his contemporaries?

    It's worth noting in this connection that the affirmation of Jesus' burial takes place in a passage that, like Paul's Last Supper account in 1 Corinthians 11, is widely regarded as a pre-Pauline ritual formula, solemnly introduced in both cases with the technical terms "received" and "delivered."

    One would think Carrier would have to argue that such Pauline material as the Last Supper account ("on the night he was betrayed"), references to Jesus' "brothers" (including his brother James), etc., if they didn't originally belong to a fairly well-established narrative of Jesus' earthly life more or less as later attested in the Gospels, were later seamlessly woven into the Gospel accounts of Jesus' earthly life, with no redactional irregularities that I can see.

    That would be a pretty incredible claim. I happen to think there are what appear to be redactional artifacts even moving from Mark to Matthew and Luke; so the idea of the scraps of Jesus' story as we have it in Paul being smoothly and seamlessly relocated from some supposed "heavenly" context to an earthly story without narrative bumps and bruises is hard to credit — particularly in the absence of any supporting argumentation to date.

    I would also be curious what support Carrier might marshal for the claim that "crucifixion" and "resurrection" were, in the world of Second Temple Judaism, concepts that could cogently be applied to narratives in the "lower heavens." What narrative precedents for such claims does he have?

    N. T. Wright in The Resurrection of the Son of God has argued pretty exhaustively (and, IMO, convincingly) that in the world of Jesus' contemporaries the word "resurrection" denoted only one thing: bodily return to this-worldly life. Later in the second and third centuries there is evidence of the word taking on additional, spiritual (from an orthodox Christian perspective, corrupted) senses, but no evidence of any such usage in the Second Temple era.

    The idea that the crucifixion of Jesus was a pious fiction originally imagined in some heavenly context is, for me, perhaps the most stunning element of Carrier's thesis. The mainstream historical view of the Jesus material is that the crucifixion of Jesus is the one most historically certain datum in the story, precisely because, per the criteria of double dissimilarity and embarrassment, it is the worst possible end for a putative messiah, and the one end that no messiah-cult would invent for their leader.

    It was absolutely discrediting: A crucified messiah was, by definition, a failed messiah. Such an end was an enormous obstacle both for potential Jewish converts and for Gentiles. It would have been like sending out missionaries wearing nametags saying "Don't Join Our Group." I am aware of no plausible account of such an invention ever being proposed, or even of any serious attempt to do so.

    Yet, at the same time, it's widely recognized that the passion narratives were the earliest portion of the gospel traditions to take shape. The crucifixion is central to every strand of NT tradition: Pauline, Mark, Q, special M, special L, Johnannine, Hebrews, etc. It is almost the only notable element of Jesus' biography (other than his ancestry and a few other points) that appears in Paul at all — along with the Last Supper account, which uniquely ties together Paul and the Synoptics and is essentially bound to the passion narrative. Furthermore, the crucifixion is central to the two most notable fragments of potentially pre-Pauline Christianity in the NT, i.e., the Christological hymn of Philippians 2 as well as the confessional formula of 1 Corithians 15:3ff.

    The passion narrative is also far and away the area of i) most exact and extensive harmony among the synoptics as well as ii) greatest overlap between the synoptic and Johnanine traditions. Mark's Gospel, the first to be written, is widely characterized as "a passion narrative with an extended introduction." Foreshadowings of the crucifixion likewise infuse the narratives of Jesus' career, including the infancy narratives. Taken together, these points constitute the strongest argument that could be hoped for that the crucifixion not only belongs to the earliest strata of Jesus tradition, but is central to it from the start.

    I thus have grave doubts that any critical attempt to reconstruct a primordial Jesus tradition, or even to propose threads of such a tradition, while excluding the historical crucifixion of Jesus could ever offer a plausible explanation of the data.

    • Christian Stillings

      Steven, I just want to tell you that you're consistently one of my favorite apologetic writers- and it's not even your day job, haha. :-) Your insights are splendid, and you perfectly balance thoroughness, conciseness, and clarity. I wish my writing was more like yours sometimes, haha.

      I was recently reconciled to the Church from a Protestant (Evangelicalish Anglicanish) upbringing, and I'm presently writing twin apologias: one for Protestant friends and one for curious "secular" friends. I'm toying with a few arguments for Jesus' divinity for the latter apologia, and I'd be interested to hear your thoughts about one of my ideas.

      The first obvious one is William Lane Craig's "Four Facts" argument for the Resurrection- death by crucifixion, burial in the tomb, empty tomb, and post-empty-tomb appearances; as Craig claims, a solid majority of historians agree to the authenticity of these events. The other obvious choice is the "Liar-Lunatic-Lord Trilemma," but His splendid moral teachings are historically better-accepted than His supposed Divine claims. I want to use early Eucharistic theology to up the "lunatic" factor and demonstrate Jesus' certain claims to Divinity or very-near-Divinity.

      As you note, the Last Supper is next to the Crucifixion in terms of early attestation and wide attestation. I'd first argue for the authenticity of Jesus' "Bread of Life" speech in John 6 wherein He said "He who does not eat my flesh and drink my blood does not have life within him." I find it absurd to think that someone might've invented such a statement in a Jewish context, and I may borrow from J.A.T. Robinson's "Redating the New Testament" to argue for an early date for the Gospel of John. I'd then argue for the historicity of the Last Supper from early and wide attestation and focus on how "this is my body, this is my blood..." would be absurd as a Jewish fabrication but fulfills Jesus' implicit promise in John 6 (to make His body and blood available to eat and drink). I'd finish by pointing out how Paul directly equates the bread and cup with Jesus' body and blood, which suggests that the Eucharistic ritual was carried on in early Christian communities. Jesus' promise to "transubstantiate" bread and wine into His body and blood is something only a Being with Divine power could do; because the earliest Christian witness suggests that He did so, they clearly believed that he was God, or at least an extraordinarily similar being- perhaps Arius' superman?

      The short version: early Christian witness indicates that Jesus (implicitly) promised to make His body and blood available for consumption, fulfilled said promise at the Last Supper, and early Christian communities believed that they continued to consume His body and blood. The only reasonable source of this belief is Jesus' own words, and the Promise of continued miraculous sacramental action could only be made by someone with consistent access to Miracle Power, ie God. This demonstration should falsify the "legend" thesis often tacked on to the "Trilemma," because the clear claim of Lordship is demonstrably authentic.

      It's not a totally finished line of reasoning, but I think it has promise, and I'll continue to hone it. Do you have any thoughts or suggestions for how I might work with it?

      Strange Notions Catholic forum folk, do y'all have any critique or suggestion for this idea? I'd love to hear some perspectives!

      Christian

      • SDG

        Hi Christian,

        Thanks so much for your kind words.

        I like your approach. It has much in common with my own thought on these questions.

        I like to begin with the fulfillment of Jewish expectation: that preposterous, age-old hubris of the Hebrews that not only was their covenant god, the god of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the true God before who the gods of the pagan nations were but lies and shadows, but the expectation that the day would come when this god of theirs would vindicate himself before all the pagan nations as the one true creator and the lord of all, that the pagans would come to Israel to learn wisdom, etc.

        It seems an insane conceit for this paltry backwater nation: not unlike the Duchy of Grand Fenwick in The Mouse that Roared declaring war not only on the USA, as they do in the film, but on the rest of Europe as well — and actually expecting to win into the bargain. (In the film the war is a strategm; they intend to lose, but win by mistake.)

        Yet this was part and parcel of the notion of the kingdom of God that Jesus seems to have announced -- and his life and career actually wound up bringing it about. If this massive coincidence was itself an accidental consequence of his life and career being completely misrepresented, this must surely rank among the most staggeringly ironic twists in history.

        Yet along came Jesus of Nazareth, proclaiming the kingdom of Israel's god, and his life and career actually had the stunning historical effect of apparently vindicating this Hebrew expectation. Within an astonishingly short time, the god of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was proclaimed throughout the Gentile world as the one true God. Goyim in every corner of the Roman empire pored over the Torah and the prophets. And from there this faith became, and remains, the world's largest religion.

        From there, I follow a path much influenced by N.T. Wright's Christian Origins and the Question of God series.

        The main fulcrum of Wright's approach is the question, "Why did Christianity begin and why did it take the shape it did?"

        Wright argues at length that early Christian belief and praxis makes no sense historically unless the earliest Christians believed that Jesus had been raised from the dead.

        He argues that this belief was central to the earliest Christianity to which we have any kind of historical access -- and that it is accompanied by striking alterations in the nature of resurrection-belief vis-a-vis existing Jewish belief also in need of historical explanation.

        Neither the discovery of an empty tomb nor the experience of postmortem encounters with Jesus alone suffice as historical explanations of belief in Jesus' resurrection. (Meeting a man after his death, in the absence of an empty tomb, would have been interpreted as spectral or spiritual phenomena, not resurrection. And of course the empty tomb by itself would only suggest that the body had been moved.)

        Rather, both the discovery of the empty tomb (where Jesus was known to have been laid) and postmortem encounters with Jesus together are a necessary and sufficient explanation for this belief. Rival hypotheses lack comparable explanatory power.

        Therefore it is historically highly probable that the tomb where Jesus was buried was found empty, and that his followers did experience meeting him alive after the crucifixion. And the best historical explanation of these two phenomena is that Jesus really was raised from the dead.

        It's important to note that neither of this lines of thought proves that Christianity is true. The early Christians might have been right about Jesus being raised from the dead, but wrong about why. The mere fact of Jesus rising from the dead doesn't prove that he was raised by God, or that God raising him vindicated his teaching or established him as the true Son of God or the Savior of the world. These are interpretations of the resurrection-event. Other interpretations are in principle possible. (He could have been raised by space aliens, or by mischievous beings of some sort: elves or demigods or demons. Or perhaps God raised him, but for imponderable reasons we can't begin to imagine.

        Likewise, the apparent vindication of the Hebrew expectation doesn't prove that God is actually revealing himself in history through the spread of Christianity. This is an interpretation of the facts, just as the belief that the resurrection means the vindication of Jesus by God is an interpretation of the resurrection. Taken together, though, they offer a plausible interpretation of the realities in question and a challenge to rival theories.

        From there, I would go on to work some kind of aut deus aut homo malus argument ("either God or a bad man"). I agree with you that the Eucharistic themes you cite have promise in this connection.

  • Timothy Reid

    I obviously do agree with this article more than yesterday's post,
    but that aside. I felt some of the same confusion about how one cannot just simply say that all these other people don't believe Jesus was real, therefore Jesus was not real and in time everyone will agree with me.
    I don't know if the desire to prove Jesus didn't exist comes from sound and legitimate historical and scientific research, or if is merely focused on a dislike of Christianity and a wishful thinking that the central figure be an invention of clever 1st and 2nd century outlaws.
    What's the motivation?
    Is it that new type of atheism where it's not enough to opt out of religious belief, but one must (in a sense) proselytize their atheism upon everyone? Granted, Christians did that for centuries and still continue to be missionaries, but being an atheist missionary is trying to take away a person's core belief, but replacing it with nothing. What is then at our core if not our beliefs?

    • josh

      Hopefully, being some kind of decent person is at your core. Maybe your love for friends and family is core, or maybe an interest in music, or art, or science, or your job. These all seem like core things. On the other hand, specific beliefs about absolute loyalty to magical authoritarians seems like the sort of thing that shouldn't be at your core. If it is it seems rotten. Atheism is the same as it has ever been; some atheists (like myself) think the world would be a better place if people in general were less religious. Hence the 'proselytizing'.

      I'm sure some of the attention paid to mythicism stems from atheists eager to have a handy knock-out blow. After all, if Jesus didn't even exist at all then there is no need to bother with explaining why an obscure 1st century itinerant holy man probably didn't actually work magic. But the level of interest doesn't tell you all that much about the merits of the case one way or another. Ideally, people would realize that it is not the strength of the case for strict mythicism that matters, but the complete weakness of the case for Jesus as a foundation for your 'core'.

      • SDG

        Hopefully, being some kind of decent person is at your core. Maybe your love for friends and family is core, or maybe an interest in music, or art, or science, or your job. These all seem like core things. On the other hand, specific beliefs about absolute loyalty to magical authoritarians seems like the sort of thing that shouldn't be at your core.

        "Absolute loyalty to magical authoritarians" is so far from being a helpful description of how I understand my position as to be essentially worthless.

        Here is how I would put it: My absolute loyalty is to the Good, the True and the Beautiful, which I understand to be, not abstractions, but "refractions, as it were, across the prism of consciousness, of the boundless realm of being, which extends beyond man, in whom they actuate an ever more extensive participation in Being itself" (Pius XII).

        In other words, God is absolute Being and the ground of all being, the fullness and source of all goodness, truth and beauty. God's will, God's judgments are right and true as necessarily as math necessarily works. There is nothing arbitrary or accidental about the goodness of God, any more than it is arbitrary or accidental that ten is not only five times two, but also two times five. For reason itself is ultimately rooted in the Divine Reason (Logos).

        So, when you talk about being "a decent person," behind your concept of "decency" is some idea of goodness which, from my point of view, is a reflection or approximation of God. Believing what I do, I know of no way to "try to be a decent person"—no meaning I can ascribe to those words—that mean anything other than "strive to be in harmony with God, to conform myself to Him" (just as you try to live up to your idea of "decency" or goodness) in the manner befitting my nature and vocation.

        • josh

          '"Absolute loyalty to magical authoritarians" is so far from being a helpful description of how I understand my position as to be essentially worthless.'

          Then I'm afraid you don't understand your position. Unfortunately, I don't know any sure way to help you, but you need to move off dead center to the point where you can consider being wrong.

          "My absolute loyalty is to the Good, the True and the Beautiful, which I understand to be, not abstractions, but "refractions, as it were, across the prism of consciousness, of the boundless realm of being, which extends beyond man, in whom they actuate an ever more extensive participation in Being itself"

          It would be hard to find a more explicit example of abstraction. Rather than considering concepts like true, beautiful, and good as they are used in human experience, you are reifying them, just look at the capitalization! You are promoting subjective judgments like good and beautiful to objective qualities that lose all connection with the real world, and then trying to mix everything together into one meaningless whole. When you watch a beautiful sunset do you really think to yourself "I am actuating the hell out of my ever more extensive participation in Being Itself"? What a load of metaphysical garbage to drop on a pleasant evening. The truth does not need your loyalty.

          "In other words, God is absolute Being and the ground of all being, the fullness and source of all goodness, truth and beauty. God's will, God's judgments are right and true as necessarily as math necessarily works. There is nothing arbitrary or accidental about the goodness of God, any more than it is arbitrary or accidental that ten is not only five times two, but also two times five. For reason itself is ultimately rooted in the Divine Reason (Logos)."

          Being does not need Absolute Being to 'ground' it, even the concept of Being itself is a needless abstraction. 'Being' is not the source of things that be. Goodness and beauty and truth don't have to spring from some singular source, they don't need a 'fullness', they are descriptions of the way (some) things are. Moreover if we were going to say that they 'sprang' from some whole, we would have to say that it is the source of all evil, falsity and ugliness as well. The universe just isn't here to be good or bad for you. Similarly, we don't need to root reason in Divine Reason any more than you would root Divine Reason in Super Reason. You are either being reasonable or you are not, and if you assume that reason itself has to be justified in terms of your religious beliefs then you are in the not category.

          Incidentally, math doesn't necessarily work. 2X5=5X2 is a mathematical model of certain features of reality, handy for describing things like how many apples you have. But other features of reality are described by non-commuting numbers, where aXb does not equal bXa. Two and five are symbols with a set of rules we use to model reality where applicable, they don't determine reality.

          And the problem we have is that your model of 'God' doesn't fit reality at all. It makes no sense to speak of the 'ground of Being' as having a will, or making judgments. These are things a vanishingly small sample of existing beings might be said to do, not 'being itself'. If you were just trying to force everything into some Platonic 'the Good' and such that would be one thing. But you are trying to graft that dubious metaphysical abstraction on to the parochial God of Israel, and then onto the even more unsuitable figure of Jesus. Being itself doesn't choose a tribe to offer it sacrifices, it doesn't have a son who walked around 1st century Palestine, it doesn't write commandments. That's the magic part.

          Moving on, there is no argument that your God necessarily makes right judgments, you are just trying to define him as such. And this is where the authoritarianism comes in. You have an identical mindset to, say, a North Vietnamese who literally believes that Kim Il Sung and his family are incapable of error. You are refusing to evaluate your authority figure, opting to believe by definition that he is legitimate. And because of beliefs like that we get people arguing that biblical genocides just must be justified. That's textbook authoritarianism.

          "Believing what I do, I know of no way to "try to be a decent person"—no meaning I can ascribe to those words—that mean anything other than 'strive to be in harmony with God, to conform myself to Him' ..."

          First of all, my concept of decency acknowledges that it is subjective. I'm not trying to elevate the way I want the world to be to some kind of transcendental absolute. Now as established above, the issue is that 'Believing as you do' isn't a reasonable thing to do. But I don't think the quoted sentence is even true. I'll wager you do have ideas about what a decent person would do that are quite independent of your God conception. You (presumably) don't go around arbitrarily harming people because you actually care about other people, not because you made some abstract evaluation of what God is like and are trying to emulate him. Rather, you are trying to conform your idea of God to your ideas of good and decent, etc. God has become your imaginary exemplar of goodness, love, whatever.

          I'm trying to get you to understand that that person doesn't really exist. That the jumbled conception of this ideal person mixed with the backwards tribal mythology of Judeo-Christian legends, mixed with the mistaken metaphysics of pre-scientific Greeks is an unworkable mess. One that is not only unnecessary and mistaken but actually a hindrance to being the decent person I think you want to be.

          • SDG

            Then I'm afraid you don't understand your position. Unfortunately, I don't know any sure way to help you, but you need to move off dead center to the point where you can consider being wrong.

            Wow. The irony of sentence 2 following upon the breathtaking hubris of sentence 1 is killing me.

            Honestly, I'm surprised, Josh. I was gratified by our amicable and, I thought, reasonable exchange yesterday. While I've taken a strong position above that God, as I've defined him, can't be wrong, nothing in what I've said suggests the slightest confusion between God and myself!

            I take for granted that to be human, and therefore finite, necessarily entails uncertainty — for unbelievers, believers, everyone. I can, I assure you, consider being wrong. I do it all the time.

            It would be hard to find a more explicit example of abstraction.

            That you say that suggests that you haven't yet come to grips with what is, in fact, my position.

            We think of the Good, the True and the Beautiful as abstractions, but my thesis is that the Reality that is the Source and basis for all these is utterly concrete. My capitalization denotes not reifying, but the opposite: speaking abstractly about the utterly concrete. Think of Carl Sagan's famous sentence "The Cosmos is all that is or was or ever will be." I am saying that beyond the cosmos there is Something — a concrete Something, not an abstraction, from which the cosmos has its existence, and that when we abstract concepts like "truth" and "beauty" we are, in fact, approximating this Reality.

            When you watch a beautiful sunset do you really think to yourself "I am actuating the hell out of my ever more extensive participation in Being Itself"?

            You have no idea. :-)

            I'm sure you've heard people use "seeing God" as a metaphor for a transcendent experience. The metaphor loses nothing for being taken more seriously than many intend when they say it.

            It is precisely my experience that every beautiful sunset, every transcendent bit of music, every happy evening with friends or family, lifts me up to God. I can't say I take seriously the idea that you somehow get more out of sunsets than I do by not finding this. :-)

            And I have, in fact, made this exact point, regarding sunsets specifically — and in particular one sunset I'll always remember, and the profound effect it had on a coworker — in dozens of CCD classes over the years.

            The truth does not need your loyalty.

            Indeed not! But I need to be loyal to the truth. If I don't, I lose out, not the truth, just as the sunset doesn't lose out if I fail to appreciate it.

            It makes no sense to speak of the 'ground of Being' as having a will, or making judgments.

            It would certainly shock a neo-Platonist. Identifying the "ground of Being," the Absolute or the One, with the covenent god of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is a mind-blowing move. But that's what many Second Temple Jews and later Christians did. I am saying that the neo-Platonists were right, and that the Jews and Christians were right, and they were both right about the same thing.

            Being itself doesn't choose a tribe to offer it sacrifices, it doesn't have a son who walked around 1st century Palestine, it doesn't write commandments.

            Because you say so? Because I say it does.

            Incidentally, math doesn't necessarily work...

            Yeah, I'm familiar with this type of response, but it doesn't change the fact that there's nothing arbitrary about five people with two apples apiece having the same number of apples as two people with five apples apiece.

            Moving on, there is no argument that your God necessarily makes right judgments, you are just trying to define him as such. And this is where the authoritarianism comes in.

            No, I'm saying fact can't be non-fact, being can't be non-being, fullness can't be privation, truth can't be false. It's not authority, it's reality.

            First of all, my concept of decency acknowledges that it is subjective.

            I know it. What I'm saying is that I believe it's a subjective approximation of something objective. If it were wholly subjective, there would be nothing to say that your subjective preferences are any better or worse than a pedophile's or a serial killer's.

            But I don't think the quoted sentence is even true. I'll wager you do have ideas about what a decent person would do that are quite independent of your God conception.

            This is true in a sense, but fatally wrong in another sense. Of course my ideas of right and wrong aren't conclusions derived from my idea of God. I have a conscience same as you. But I understand my conscience, to the extent that it's properly formed, to be directing me to conform myself to God.

            If I didn't believe that, it seems to me I would regard my conscience in an entirely different light. Beliefs affect experience and feelings. For instance, I'm arguing with you now because I take you seriously, and I take you seriously because I believe that on the other end of this discussion is a human being with a mind like my own.

            If for some reason I became convinced otherwise — if I came to believe that you were actually a sophisticated chatbot that might be able to pass the Turing test but wasn't really conscious and didn't have opinions or beliefs — I would not be nearly as invested in this discussion.

            And if somehow I became a convinced strong solipsist — if I literally believed that I was the only mind in the world, and everyone around me was a projection of my own mind — I have a hard time believing I would find it compelling or reasonable to continue to take seriously ideals like "Do as you would be done by" or "Love your neighbor as yourself."

            Likewise, when I think of the times in my life when I've come the closest to seeing a universe around me with no God in it, it has been very clear to me that in that world my moral affections would appear to me as a set of instincts and responses with some survival (and thrival) value for myself and society, useful certainly, and worth following most of the time, but by no means absolute (which might be what you mean by "subjective," although I'm not sure).

            And, for me at least, when and where my idea of decent behavior comes into conflict with other things I want badly enough, absent something more for my idea of "decency" to be about, I can't for the life of me see that my idea of decent behavior should always win, even in principle. Given sufficient incentive, the sensible thing to do might well be the "indecent" thing.

            Hint: This is where unbelievers who don't grok the relevant concepts say that this is really shockingly immoral of me, since I'm only doing good or avoiding evil because the bully in the sky has bribed or threatened me, etc. But it has literally nothing to do with reward or punishment. (I'm sure you'll correct me if you understand my beliefs better than I do.)

          • josh

            "Wow. The irony of sentence 2 following upon the breathtaking hubris of sentence 1 is killing me."

            Pointing out that you haven't justified your position and don't acknowledge the criticisms that it entails hardly qualifies as hubris. I'm not asserting that I have access to some absolute truth, you are. You've said that God can't be wrong, how does that not indicate an unwillingness to consider where you can be wrong about the existence of God?

            "That you say that suggests that you haven't yet come to grips with what is, in fact, my position.

            We think of the Good, the True and the Beautiful as
            abstractions, but my thesis is that the Reality that is the Source and basis for all these is utterly concrete."

            I understand your position, it's just that your thesis isn't supportable. We agree that the Good is an abstract thought and you are reifying it by saying it is something concrete. You have no basis for your assertion. If the abstract category Cosmos is 'all there is' then it literally makes no sense to say there is 'Something' beyond.

            You are moved by sunsets, and you feel that it 'lifts you up to God'. But that is because the sunset is beautiful to you and you want God to be beautiful too, not because you are 'being' more.

            "But I need to be loyal to the truth." You are missing the point. There is no question of loyalty involved.

            "I am saying that the neo-Platonists were right, and that the Jews and Christians were right, and they were both right about the same thing." "Because I say it does." Again, this is gibberish. Not because I say so, but because we can always conceive of a being without mind or judgment, therefore any 'ground of Being' can't have mind as a fundamental property, much less can it have a son performing parlour tricks at weddings. It is as irrational as saying that God literally has a white beard.

            "Yeah, I'm familiar with this type of response, but it doesn't change the fact that there's nothing arbitrary about five people with two apples apiece having the same number of apples as two people with five apples apiece."

            Then I'd ask you to think harder about the response because you still haven't got the point. The apples are an approximation your mind makes to describe reality as it encounters it. That reality is described more accurately by the laws of physics and we don't know any necessary principle that sets those laws as they apparently are. The world as it actually is is arbitrary to our knowledge. The way we describe it depends on our minds. But the map in our minds doesn't determine the world outside. That's why it's bad to define God as infallible. We don't need more descriptions and derivations from your map, we need to see if it is a useful guide to the world we encounter.

            "No, I'm saying fact can't be non-fact, being can't be non-being, fullness can't be privation, truth can't be false."

            Which is a binary categorization that we all use when reasoning. But the danger is to think that your understanding of these categories is absolute. Experience tells us that they will break down when pressed beyond their domains of applicability. Hence the LIar's Paradox, for example. But you are still trying to lump everything into one. If Good and Evil really were absolutes then they would both be Truth. Beauty and Ugliness are equally real. And the truth can very much be that both beauty and goodness are subjective experiences. But again, even if there is some sort of objective Good, it isn't a god and it isn't necessarily true that any putative god acts for the good. The Good can't have judgments anymore than The Spherical, or the Cockroach-like can, if we must dabble in Platonic silliness.

            "If it were wholly subjective, there would be nothing to say that your subjective preferences are any better or worse than a pedophile's or a serial killer's."

            It is wholly subjective, 'better' and 'worse' are subjective judgments. That's why there are pedophiles and serial killers, but not people who break the laws of relativity. The former is subjective, the latter is not.

            "But I understand my conscience, to the extent that it's properly formed, to be directing me to conform myself to God."

            But 'properly formed' is a judgment of your conscience itself. As I keep saying, I'm asking you to question your understanding.

            "If I didn't believe that, it seems to me I would regard my conscience in an entirely different light."
            Yes. The rest of your comment is an argument from consequences. In effect, 'If I realized that my conscience isn't absolute then I'd have to admit that my conscience isn't absolute.'

            Here's the thing: to the extent that you decide your actions, you do it based on desire. Your different desires compete, you weigh long vs short term, etc. and you come to a decision. Your conscience is part of your desires. Your desire not to hurt someone competes with your desire to have the money in their wallet. You can have the meta-desire that your conscience desires always win out. That doesn't have to change if you unseat your religion. The question is, why do you want it to be the case that God set up your desires? It's no less arbitrary than any other mechanism. But if you desire to seek truth then it behooves you to realize that it's not the case.

          • SDG

            Josh:

            Pointing out that you haven't justified your position and don't acknowledge the criticisms that it entails hardly qualifies as hubris.

            If you'd only said I "hadn't justified my position," I would have cordially welcomed your challenge. If you'd said I "don't acknowledge criticisms," I would have equably argued the point.

            What it seems to me you said was that I don't understand my own position — that you understand my position better than I do. A statement like that is very nearly a discussion-killer. If that's really what you think, especially at this early stage, then I'm confident we're both wasting our time. I hope you misspoke, or I've misunderstood.

            If the abstract category Cosmos is 'all there is' then it literally makes no sense to say there is 'Something' beyond.

            The syllogism is formally valid…but I reject the implicit first premise. Sagan's definition of "the Cosmos" is not acceptable to me. I only cited it as an example of anti-reification.

            But that is because the sunset is beautiful to you and you want God to be beautiful too, not because you are 'being' more.

            Our interpretations of the experience differ. I'm just pointing out that your unpleasant idea of "dropping a load of metaphysical garbage on a pleasant evening" corresponds to nothing in my experience.

            At any rate, it strikes me as clearly untrue to my experience and outlook to say that I "want God to be beautiful too." That is precisely not what "I want" ("what I want" being something I persist in thinking I have more insight into than you).

            It would surely be somewhat less inadequate and misleading, if you insisted on psychologizing my experience, to say that for some reason — as powerful as I find these experiences, or even precisely because I find them powerful — I seem unsatisfied with accepting the experience of beauty as a stimulation of the pleasure centers of my brain, just as I'm unsatisfied with the idea of decency and indecency rooted in cerebral and emotional positive and aversive moral responses.

            For some reason I insist on perceiving or imposing a category of meaning onto these experiences — and if you try to talk to me about "creating my own meaning," I become frightfully tiresome and say that I honestly have no idea what what that would mean. In that context, "God" is not something I would like to see as having attributes similar to rainbows and moral goodness; "God" is my name for what I believe is the source and standard of what we call beauty and goodness, as excellences we perceive in the created order.

            The apples are an approximation your mind makes to describe reality as it encounters it. That reality is described more accurately by the laws of physics…

            Physics can describe phenomena more precisely; I'm not sure I see that it describes them more accurately. Calling the word "apple" a symbol makes sense to me; calling it an "approximation" seems odd, though I don't see the point in quibbling about such words. If words like "faith," "God," "skepticism" and "undirected processes" are approximations, they're helpful ones.

            …and we don't know any necessary principle that sets those laws as they apparently are.

            Which raises whole other kettles of fish about how remarkably convenient those laws happen to be, to allow us to sit here thinking about them. A discussion for another time.

            If Good and Evil really were absolutes then they would both be Truth.

            Indeed. Which is why dualism is false, and why I don't believe that Good and Evil are equal, opposite absolutes, or Truth and Falsehood. Only Good and Truth.

            But 'properly formed' is a judgment of your conscience itself. As I keep saying, I'm asking you to question your understanding.

            I'm always questioning my understanding. I hope you are too.

            "'Properly formed' is a judgment of your conscience" is true in a sense, in the same way that "My reason when working properly" is a judgment of my reason. But both judgments in fact appeal to a standard beyond my own judgment, and allow for the possibility that, in principle, I could be wrong. I thought "a valid proof" meant a proof I agreed with, I wouldn't check and recheck my work; and in the same way if I thought "a morally good act" meant "an act my conscience approved of," I wouldn't struggle over moral decisions.

            The rest of your comment is an argument from consequences.

            Not an argument from consequences, only an exploration of consequences. I didn't argue, even implicitly, "and therefore X is true and Y false." I simply pointed out that your idea that my idea of decent behavior is in principle detachable from my idea of God doesn't correspond to my own experience of belief and doubt — and I can't see why it should. That doesn't tell us what's real. It's just a fact about me.

            You can have the meta-desire that your conscience desires always win out. That doesn't have to change if you unseat your religion.

            But why would I want to? What sense would that make?

            The question is, why do you want it to be the case that God set up your desires? It's no less arbitrary than any other mechanism.

            If God set up my desires arbitrarily, that would be true. But if He set them up in accordance with His own necessary, non-arbitrary nature, then it would not be arbitrary. I believe I'm biased toward love over hate because God is Love, and God is Love as necessarily as A is not non-A. I know, non-Aristotelian logic. God isn't arbitrary anyway.

          • josh

            "What it seems to me you said was that I don't understand my own position — that you understand my position better than I do."

            You know how you think about your position, but it doesn't follow that you understand its ramifications and contradictions, or your internal motivations for holding it. You don't think of your position as 'magical authoritarianism', but I showed why it can be understood as such.

            On Cosmos, a definition is a definition, but maybe you are taking it to mean the sum of the physical world? I don't know the exact context of the quote. Regardless, you are still reifying things, just insisting that the reification is correct, sans argument.

            "I'm just pointing out that your unpleasant idea of "dropping a load of metaphysical garbage on a pleasant evening" corresponds to nothing in my experience." You don't agree that it is garbage, but that's not an argument. I assert that you can enjoy a sunset without trying to fit it into a metaphysical scheme. I'm betting you did at some point in your life before you got into religious metaphysics.

            "At any rate, it strikes me as clearly untrue to my experience and outlook to say that I "want God to be beautiful too." "

            Why? You will find the sunset beautiful with or without a belief in God. But you insist on trying to identify Beauty with your God (and Ugliness with absence). You seem to want god to be beauty. But we don't need beauty to be a god.

            This goes hand in hand with trying to make Beauty into a god, and thereby (in your mind) somehow elevating your sense of beauty above the subjective. But your dissatisfaction with beauty's subjectivity isn't an argument otherwise.

            "...I become frightfully tiresome and say that I honestly have no idea what what that would mean." And yet you can't say how God would solve this problem.

            "In that context, "God" is not something I would like to see as having attributes similar to rainbows and moral goodness; "God" is my name for what I believe is the source and standard of what we call beauty and goodness, as excellences we perceive in the created order."

            How can something be a standard for an attribute without having an attribute? But what you are perceiving is your enjoyment or appreciation for something. The standard is you and the 'source' is the structure of the universe that determines how 'you' react to the rest of it. But the same structure means that other people will react differently, so it makes no sense to externalize your reaction into some universal feature.

            An 'apple' is an approximation. It is an incomplete and non-fundamental heuristic your mind uses to describe reality. Useful indeed, but one can't push ones heuristics beyond their bounds. So we can casually speak of beauty and goodness but we shouldn't imagine they can be extrapolated to fundamental aspects of the universe. And 'God' is a useful description of a character in some people's beliefs, but not, as it turns out, a useful description of reality.

            "Which is why dualism is false, and why I don't believe that Good and Evil are equal, opposite absolutes, or Truth and Falsehood. Only Good and Truth."

            That's... not what dualism usually means. Anyhow, if Good is absolute (whatever that means) and Evil is not Good then Evil is also absolute. If A is absolutely true then 'not A' is absolutely False. If only Good and Truth exist then you have robbed the words of all meaning.

            "But both judgments in fact appeal to a standard beyond my own judgment, and allow for the possibility that, in principle, I could be wrong."

            I'm afraid you can't escape your own judgment. In the end, it is still the decider. What it can do is try to hold itself to its own standards, that's why you re-check your 'work'. That's why you allow that you might change your mind in principle. So when we talk about truth and reason, ultimately, one is trying to organize an understanding of your experiences that is as coherent, non-contradictory, and non-arbitrary as possible (by your own judgment). That entails for instance matching up our internal models of the 'world' with our external experiences of that 'world'. (That it is external is part of the model.) So when I examine my 'moral' experiences I find that ascribing them to an 'external standard' isn't consistent. You presumably aren't aware of an inconsistency in your model and I'm trying to get you to re-check it, based on the idea that our internal reasoning at it's fundamental levels isn't so different.

            But this is perhaps too much digression. Even allowing that there could be some objective notion of good and beauty, it simply doesn't make sense to identify them with a god.

            "...that my idea of decent behavior is in principle detachable from my idea
            of God doesn't correspond to my own experience of belief and doubt ...It's just a fact about me."

            Have you stopped believing in God and become a murderer? If not then I don't see where you have any relevant experience, or know these facts about yourself. Your stance on contraception or homosexuality for instance might change, but I don't think you want to argue that you believe in God in order to avoid changing any moral stance you currently hold.

            Why would you want to unseat your religion? Because you care about truth, or you care about ethics and therefore you care about truth. What sense does it make that you want your conscience to conform to God? That's what I mean when I say it is as arbitrary as anything else. If your conscience is a necessary product of God then it's fine with you? Then why not the much more plausible idea that it is a necessary product of evolution?

            You keep saying what you believe but not supporting it. One doesn't need abstract logics to point out that 'God is Love' is clearly not necessary in the way that 'A is not not A' is. All you have to do is realize that you can hold one concept in your mind without the other, and you can't get from one to the other by a set of necessary steps.

          • josh

            Jesus I'm getting long winded. Have a good night.

          • SDG

            Jesus I'm getting long winded. Have a good night.

            Long-winded, I can deal with. This, not so much:

            "What it seems to me you said was that I don't understand my own position — that you understand my position better than I do."

            You know how you think about your position, but it doesn't follow that you understandits ramifications and contradictions, or your internal motivations for holding it. You don't think of your position as 'magical authoritarianism', but I showed why it can be understood as such.

            The discussion-killing crisis mounts. My hope in the possibility of productive discussion wanes.

            Each of us believes that we are, in fact, right. What's more, each of us believes that the other is fundamentally mistaken, not only about the implications of our own worldview, but about the other person's worldview as well.

            I hope each of us holds these views critically, in a spirit of epistemological humility, and considers at each step the possibility of being in error — though so far only one of us (me) has owned this method for himself, while the other has only urged the first one to practice it.

            My assumption is that the appropriate method is dialogue toward better understanding of both positions and of the implications and arguments around them.

            Your assumption from the outset seems to be that you understand the implications and arguments before I make them, and any confusion is mine.

            I willingly admit that knowing how I think about my position doesn't mean I understand its ramifications or my internal motivations for holding it — and I think my language from the outset ("How I understand my position") has reflected this epistemological humility.

            The same is, of course, true of you regarding your own position and motives — let alone my position and motives. For some reason this doesn't seem to figure in your language the same way, though.

            In a word, I begin to fear that whatever misunderstandings you bring to the table (certainly regarding me, possibly regarding yourself) may be incorrigible.

          • felixcox

            Very good points, Josh. Nail on the head regarding the combining of abstract (amusingly rebranded as "concrete something") deism with iron age parochialism. sorry i'm late to this party.

    • Doug Shaver

      I don't know if the desire to prove Jesus didn't exist comes from sound and legitimate historical and scientific research, or if is merely focused on a dislike of Christianity

      You ought to know if you've read enough mythicist writing. Some of it obviously is motivated by anti-Christian bigotry. But plenty of it is sound and legitimate historical and scientific research, and we ought to take that kind of research seriously regardless of the researcher's personal motivations.

      and a wishful thinking that the central figure be an invention of clever 1st and 2nd century outlaws.

      I have read bunches of stuff written by mythicists -- several books and enough material on the Internet to fill a few more books. I have never seen anybody allege that Jesus was an invention of clever 1st and 2nd century outlaws.

  • C.J. O’Brien

    The problem I have with this kind of proof-texting from Paul is two-fold. On one hand, taking the genuine epistles more or less at face value, we can see that he was crashing the party, so to speak; there was a movement already underway, with leaders and some diversity of belief and practice, and Paul was introducing his own innovations which were unwelcome to some (many? most?) of the Jewish sectarians who were professing the risen Christ before Paul's arrival on the scene. So we don't know: a) What that movement was like -- though we can possibly make out the shape of an outline from the letters, that's taking the word of a polemicist who was antagonistic to it: do we trust Paul to characterize it truthfully?; or b) Which elements in Paul's gospel were the innovations he introduced? This matters for the history/myth debate because, even supposing that it it can be shown without a shadow of a doubt that Paul believed Jesus had been a real historical individual, that doesn't necessarily mean that he did so because that was the earliest belief. And it's identifying the ultimate origin of the entire Christ myth that is the object of such "minimalist" inquiry into the Christian texts. (Even if there was a man, there was also a Christ myth.)
    On the other hand, I don't take the epistles at face value. Nominally secular and critical scholarship has shown that the bulk of the epistolatory literature in the NT was forged, in Paul's or some other apostle's name, and yet seems curiously resistant to the idea that any of the material in the "seven genuines" originated in any way other that straight from the mouth of Paul. I find this unlikely, that there was some point after which basically everything is a theological argument between literary puppets, but before that point everything is "authentic". Especially once you consider that the Pauline texts were the primary battleground in the struggle between the Marcionites and the proto-Catholics, and that Marcion explicitly asserted that his opponents were adding to the letters. Several of these proof-texts look to me like exactly what an anti-docetist would want to put in Paul's mouth: "born of a woman under the law" for instance skewers two Marcionite beliefs with an admirable economy of words.
    Now, I'm aware that bringing up forgery and interpolation without manuscript evidence will leave the argument open to the charge of special pleading: call any passage you don't like a forgery and you can make the text read however you want. But that's not what I'm doing. What I would like to see is an anti-mythicist set these proof-text passages aside for long enough to engage with arguments like Doherty's, which point to the other 99% of the same literature from which the proof texts come, and say, okay, you've got this handful of passages, which are somewhat troubling for the mythicist case, but how do they stack up against the overall trend, which is cosmic in orientation, charismatic in practice, and awfully light on even incidental biographical and historical specifics. But no, it's always the same proof texts, case closed, move along now.

    2 specific points on the article:
    "betrayed" is a terrible translation of paredidoto in 1 Cor 11:23, an iconic case of importing gospel plot points into a literary context that can't support them. It could mean "betrayed" within the broader sense of "handed over, delivered to" but it is only given this translation in Paul in the specific cases where it might support the implication of a meaning from the narrative gospels. Most often Paul just means "given up" as is obvious in e.g. Gal 2:20 where it is the Christ who has given himself up for the believer. Using "betrayed" only when it doesn't obviously contradict the sense of the text is as tendentious as the worst argument of the most obtuse internet mythicist, and it's nearly ubiquitous in English translations of 1 Cor 11:23, which should tell you something about how reflexive and unconsidered this proof texting business is in the historicity debate.

    Paul didn't write the pastorals, and I'm sorry but I can't even have a conversation about this with anyone who can't just come out and admit it.

    • SDG

      C.J. O'Brien,

      The problem I have with this kind of proof-texting from Paul…

      "Proof-texting" is a rather silly charge in this context. Jimmy has cited passages from Paul precisely as indications of what Paul thought, over against the claim that the Gospels were "the first attempts to place Jesus in history as an earthly man," and by implication that Paul, writing before this "first attempt," would have understood Jesus differently, not as an "earthly man" in "history."

      When one reads Paul to find out what Paul thought before the Gospels were written, that's not "proof-texting," that's reading.

      On one hand, taking the genuine epistles more or less at face value, we can see that he was crashing the party, so to speak; there was a movement already underway, with leaders and some diversity of belief and practice, and Paul was introducing his own innovations which were unwelcome to some (many? most?) of the Jewish sectarians who were professing the risen Christ before Paul's arrival on the scene.

      This is a strange usage of "taking the genuine epistles more or less at face value." Taking at face value the epistle that deals most directly with the conflict in question, Galatians, while Paul emphasizes on the one hand that he received his Gospel not from men but from God, he also describes how he went twice to Jerusalem to see Peter and (on the second occasion) others, and "laid before them (but privately before those who were of repute) the gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, lest somehow I should be running or had run in vain."

      In other words, Paul was concerned to be sure that his gospel was in continuity with that of Peter and others who were "of repute." That's the opposite of "innovation."

      Nothing in his subsequent account of his conflict with Peter and the "circumcision party" indicates innovation on Paul's part; on the contrary, he indicates that Peter's original practice, until swayed by the circumcision party, was the same as Paul's. We can speculate that Paul may have been misrepresenting the facts and in reality Peter had never been on his side, but at that point we are no longer taking the epistle "more or less at face value."

      even supposing that it it can be shown without a shadow of a doubt that Paul believed Jesus had been a real historical individual, that doesn't necessarily mean that he did so because that was the earliest belief. And it's identifying the ultimate origin of the entire Christ myth that is the object of such "minimalist" inquiry into the Christian texts. (Even if there was a man, there was also a Christ myth.)

      The best historical theory will be the simplest theory that best accords with the known facts, with the greatest explanatory power and the fewest unsupported assumptions. To set out to explain the figure of Jesus as we find him in the Gospels and even in the epistles of Paul -- a Jewish man, a descendant of David, who was betrayed, crucified by the same Jews who later persecuted the early Christians, buried, and rose again -- by positing a celestial figure undergoing some sort of death and resurrection in the lower heavens -- does not seem to fit this criteria.

      • No Way

        "buried, and rose again -- by positing a celestial figure undergoing some sort of death and resurrection in the lower heavens -- does not seem to fit this criteria."

        this is the crux, if you say, "rose again," then any other possibility is more likely. As long as that is part of your argument then it is no more likely than the poisoned Hercules rising to heaven on a Nemedian lion skin.

  • Miguel Adolfo.

    To my knowledge, most modern historicians, whether they believe or not in Jesus Christ, support the theory of Jesus of Nazareth being a real person. From the end of the fifties, the then western historicians -which means, those in the States and Western Europe- dropped the mythical theory. At least the core of proffesional historicians in the Soviet Union followed them soon in the sixties.

    • No Way

      The theory has been picked up so it could not have been dropped. No one has ever thoroughly examined it. There is a reasonable case for doubt.

    • Doug Shaver

      most modern historicians, whether they believe or not in Jesus Christ, support the theory of Jesus of Nazareth being a real person.

      Yes, but why? Nobody is disputing the existence of a consensus. A few of us just think the consensus is not well supported by the evidence.

      • Because the evidence over-whelming supports it. When Bart Ehrman, Bible skeptic and agnostic, claims that the "mythist" ideas are so extreme and unreasonable that no serious scholar in an accredited institution holds to them, that tells you a lot. Carrier's rhetoric suggests he's not serious either but has an agenda.

        • Doug Shaver

          the evidence over-whelming supports it.

          Lots of people say so. That doesn't make it so.

          When Bart Ehrman, Bible skeptic and agnostic, claims that the "mythist" ideas are so extreme and unreasonable that no serious scholar in an accredited institution holds to them, that tells you a lot.

          I've read his book. It tells me plenty about how Bart Ehrman's mind works when he studies this subject.

          • Bruce Grubb

            "Lots of people say so. That doesn't make it so." Right. In fact, there is a 1994 peer reviewed scholarly published paper that flat out states "There is not a shred of evidence that a historical character Jesus lived" and that very statement is even in the abstract.

          • Doug Shaver

            In fact, there is a 1994 peer reviewed scholarly published paper that flat out states "There is not a shred of evidence that a historical character Jesus lived" and that very statement is even in the abstract.

            Could I trouble you for a citation?

          • Doug Shaver

            I don't have access to issues of that journal published before 2008. Whether Fischer's statement is correct, though, depends on his intended meaning of the word "evidence." As I define it, the falsehood of any statement does not rule out the possibility of its having evidence. I don't believe Jesus of Nazareth was a historical person. I do believe that there is evidence for his having been a historical person. I don't believe I contradict myself when I say that.

          • Bruce Grubb

            The abstract of Fischer's article can be found on Wiley Online Library and AnthroSource.

            "There is not a shred of evidence that a historical character Jesus lived, to give an example, and Christianity is based on narrative fiction of high literary and cathartic quality."

            Carrier, Richard (2014). On the Historicity of Jesus. Sheffield Phoenix Press. ISBN 978-1-909697-49-2. is the first (and AFAIK the only) peer reviewed published by a recognized academic publisher work on the Jesus Myth theory, It shows that the evidence for Jesus existing is at best 1 in 3 and that the evidence has a lot of problems.

          • Doug Shaver

            I've read Carrier's book, I have some quibbles with his analysis, but I think he's generally on the right track.

            Yes, the evidence has a lot of problems. That is why some of us think it's not good enough to justify belief in a historical Jesus. But it couldn't have any problems if it didn't exist.

            Concerning Fischer's statement, "Christianity is based on narrative fiction of high literary and cathartic quality." I'm going to assume that he's referring to the gospels. The earliest extant copies of those writings were produced in the early third century. Those documents exist, and they are evidence of something. What they are evidence of depends on what we can infer about the original authors' intentions, taking into consideration all of the other evidence we have that is pertinent to any investigation of Christianity's origins. For some of us, such an investigation leads to the conclusion that the gospels were originally intended as works of fiction. In saying that they are not evidence of Jesus' historicity because they are works of fiction, Fischer is assuming that conclusion.

          • Lazarus

            Works of fiction? How would that work? Would pagans turn to this new religion if they were works of fiction? A church, breaking away from Judaism, based on works of fiction? Then rather bite the bullet and call them lies.

            If you read the Gospels, do they really have the feel of fiction to you? How does Paul's early work (say conservatively from the middle '50s) fit in with the fiction theory?

            I understand that not everyone (as in the majority of mankind) does not accept the Gospels as true, and I understand rejecting them as lies, or misunderstood and theologically inspired religious tracts, but I have some difficulty in seeing how they (all) can be "works of fiction".

          • Doug Shaver

            How would that work? Would pagans turn to this new religion if they were works of fiction?

            It would not have been the only time some people treated a work they knew to be fictional as if they really believed it, but that isn’t what had to happen. All that had to happen was for some people to read the gospels and think they were telling a story about real people and real events. The original authors wouldn’t have been around to tell them anything different.

            People reading fiction and taking it as fact is not an unusual occurrence. Most Christians seem to think something like that was how the Mormon church got started. I happen to think that the Book of Mormon was more likely a lie than a fiction, but Joseph Smith's knowledge and intentions are beside the point I’m trying to make. Nothing in the Book of Mormon is true, but some people thought it was true and nothing more was needed to get a new religion going.

            A church, breaking away from Judaism, based on works of fiction?

            I think Christianity’s break from Judaism happened before the gospels were written, and so before most Christians had heard any of the stories in them.

            If you read the Gospels, do they really have the feel of fiction to you?

            Yes, they do. And besides, good fiction always feels like real history. That’s what makes it good fiction. The word is “verisimilitude,” and to me, the gospels don’t have much of it.

            How does Paul's early work (say conservatively from the middle '50s) fit in with the fiction theory?

            The authentic portions of the Pauline corpus support the theory by giving us reason to doubt Jesus’ historical existence. This forces the conclusion that the gospel authors (working a few generations after Paul's time) either were writing fiction, or believed incorrectly that they were writing history, or were just lying through their teeth. The last hypothesis is, in my judgment, entirely unwarranted. Some of the redactors who put the gospels into their final form might have thought they were dealing with historical documents, but I think the original authors didn’t think they were writing history and didn’t expect their readers to think so, either.

          • Bruce Grubb

            I have expressed in Carrier's old blog that based on Guiart, Jean (1952) "John Frum Movement in Tanna" Oceania Vol 22 No 3 pg 165-177 ( http://horizon.documentation.ird.fr/exl-doc/pleins_textes/pleins_textes_5/b_fdi_16-17/22920.pdf ) you could have had someone (or several someones) could have taken the name "Jesus" and preached their own view.

            John Frum had three such figures (as well as a bunch of "sons") in a space of seven years. So you could have this middle ground between Carrier's minimal historical Jesus and his minimal mythical Jesus. Jesus oculd have been a celestial figure that several preachers assumed the name of and tried to preach their own version.

          • Lazarus

            Three "could have's" in two brief passages.

            Why would these various Jesuses see the need to preach a celestial Jesus? Why would these three gentlemen have their presumably disparate efforts collected in four gospels that essentially track the story of one individual?

            Why do people strive so hard to get rid of Jesus if all they need to do is walk away?

          • Doug Shaver

            you could have had someone (or several someones) could have taken the name "Jesus" and preached their own view.

            There are a few mythicists going around saying that Jesus of Nazareth's real existence isn't even possibility. Carrier is not one of them, and neither am I. All we are claiming is that the evidence warrants a belief that he probably never existed.

            Jesus oculd have been a celestial figure that several preachers assumed the name of and tried to preach their own version.

            The extant evidence indicates that, from the beginning of the cult's movement, that celestial figure was said to have been crucified. No living preacher could have claimed to be that person -- unless he was also claiming to have been resurrected.

            Let's assume for the sake of discussion that somebody could have made that claim and been believed by enough people to get a new religion going, and that that religion evolved into orthodox Christianity. Such a person might qualify as the historical Jesus by Carrier's definition, but now we're getting into a semantic argument. Is it useful to regard any man as the historical Jesus if he was never actually executed by Roman or Jewish authorities? I'm inclined to think not. Carrier, it seems, is willing to say yes, as long as the religious movement he founded said he was.

            But there is another problem that I don't think even Carrier would cut you any slack on. (I have not yet read whatever conversation you had with him on the blog.) Under your hypothesis, this person came along after Paul, or at least after the founding of whatever Christ cult Paul was associated with. (We know from his letters that Paul himself wasn't its founder.) But the historicity issue is whether the Jesus about whom Paul was preaching was himself the man whose disciples founded Christianity. If there was such a man, then he had to have lived before Paul or anybody else starting saying, "This man was crucified and resurrected."

          • Bruce Grubb

            This gets into the tarbaby that is just what is meant by the term "Christ Myth Theory" As the Jesus Myth Theory article over on Rationalwiki ( http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Jesus_myth_theory ) points out the term had two tracks in its modern incarnation: Jesus was totally mythical (Dupuis) or an obscure would be messiah plugged himself into an already existing mythos (Volney).

            Heck even Ehrman in 2012 stated that the CHrist myth theory was the idea that "no single identifiable person lay at the root of the Galilean preaching tradition." In simpler terms, the historical Jesus did not exist. Or if he did, he had virtually nothing to do with the founding of Christianity."

            Then you get things like George Walsh's definition:

            "The theory that Jesus was originally a myth is called the Christ-myth theory, and the theory that he was an historical individual is called the historical Jesus theory."

            But as the previously mentioned Guiart article shows there may have been the myth of John Frum long before Manehevi took up the name and getting the movement enough traction to get noticed by nonbelievers.

            Take this merging of Carrier's Mythical and Historical Jesus:

            1) At the origin of Christianity, Jesus Christ was thought to be a celestial deity much like any other.

            2) Like many other celestial deities, this Jesus 'communicated' with his subjects only through dreams, visions and other forms of divine inspi­ration (such as prophecy, past and present).

            A) An actual man [inspired by these stories and visions] at some point named Jesus acquired followers in life who continued as an identifiable movement after his death

            B) This is the same Jesus who was claimed by some of his followers to have been executed by the Jewish or Roman authorities

            C) This is the same Jesus some of whose follower soon began worshiping as a living god (or demigod)

            Here we have "Jesus was originally a myth" (points 1 and 2) AND "he was an historical individual" (points A-C) but since "Jesus was originally a myth" even if points A-C matched the Gospels exactly you would STILL have a Christ Myth theory!

            So per Walsh's definition if the Gospel Jesus was inspired by a preexisting mythical Jesus then it would STILL be a Christ Myth theory and the HJ crowd looses its shirt because we can show would be messiahs before Jesus and John Frum shows people will take up the name of their cult's supposed founder...and perhaps his sons as well.

          • Doug Shaver

            Those who won't accept orthodox Christianity's own version of how the religion got started have an unlimited number of alternatives to choose from if they don't mind trashing Occam's razor. When I say I support mythicism, I have only one hypothesis in mind. It might be vague, but I think it's parsimonious.

          • Bruce Grubb

            To be fair there are many pro-historical positions that think Occam's razor si something you shave with.

          • Bruce Grubb

            As Carrier correctly points out there are as many Pro Historical Jesus theories that seem to think Occam's razor is something you _shave_ with as is true of the Christ Myth side of things.

        • Bruce Grubb

          Considering Carrier's "rhetoric" pasted peer review and was published by an academic publisher your claim he is not series is worthless.

        • Bruce Grubb

          The "evidence over-whelming supports it" claim is total BS. "There is not a shred of evidence that a historical character Jesus lived". - Fischer, Roland (1994) "On The Story-Telling Imperative That We Have In Mind" Anthropology of Consciousness. Dec 1994, Vol. 5, No. 4: 16

          That is a peer reviewed paper by a group recognized by American Anthropological Association and whose journal is published by Wiley

          The secular world knows that by the normal standards of the historical method the "evidence" for Jesus is a bad joke and is no more reliable that that for Robin Hood or King Arthur; the apologists don't want to admit that.

          • HoosiersH8ProgressiveRetards

            And the secular world has been deceived by the Devil, whose greatest deception is to convince us he does not exist.

            Cornelius Tacitus, A.D. 55-120
            Thallus, A.D. 52
            Julius Africanus
            Suetonius, A.D. 120
            Pliny the Younger, A.D. 112
            Phiegon - 'Chronicles'
            Josephus ben Mattathias

            Talmud.....Mishnah....clearly states Jesus of Nazareth was a real man, but that he was born of mysterious circumstances (unclean)....alludes that he was born out of wedlock as Mary was not wed at the time, ergo he was an illegitimate child and thus 'unclean'

            Sure, there is no physical proof that Jesus of Nazareth was real, just as there exists no proof that Moses, Abraham, and hundreds of other historical and Biblical persons ever existed.....except via written accounts, most 'after' they lived.

            But the fact that there exist hundreds of non-eye witness accounts of Jesus of Nazareth's existence and that ALL these accounts accept that he was a real man, was born to a woman named Mary, was born in Nazareth and was crucified under Pilate are irrefutable. The first accounts claiming Jesus was not real don't arise until the 18th century.

            So, please feel free to believe all you secular, anti-Christian attackers......I don't.

          • William Davis

            Interesting name you have there. Blame criticism of your religion on "the devil" is an incarnation of a logical fallacy used to exploit cognitive biases. It's informally referred to "poisoning the well", and is a special case of argumentum ad hominem.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poisoning_the_well

            Politicians love this one (including progressive ones), and the founders of the Church knew something about politics. All that said, I find it more probable that Jesus was an actual person than not. Note that Romulus and Remus (founders of Rome) were born of a God via a virgin in a legend much older than Jesus

            http://serene-musings.blogspot.com/2007/01/romulus-remus-lesson-for-christianity.html

          • HoosiersH8ProgressiveRetards

            Actually, I'm ok with criticism of my faith and religion. I actually agree that 'the devil' is in incarnation of fallacy as 'it' has no Biblical reference and is only referred to as the 'unclean one', 'the serpent'....Satan, Devil and the red faced, horned demon are constructs of fantasy. So, nor argument there. But I do believe in a God and what I perceive to be the reality of Good and Evil, as being more than just 'constructs of human intelligence'.... that Good and Evil are driven by forces beyond our understanding.

            I simply refuse to believe that the Universe is 'random' and instead choose to believe that there is a single Creator and not 'Intelligent Designers' and that the Christian Holy Scripture comes the closest to explaining that which I believe to be true. I'm fully aware that the Bible is a collection of man's writings that attempt to comprehend and explain why we are here and how we came to be here, just as any secular philosophical writer does.

            If a secular philosophical writer comes to the conclusion, through his/her own thought process, that there is a God, is he/she any more correct or incorrect than a Christian philosophical writer coming to the conclusion that God does not exist?

            I have never found concrete proof that God does exist, but I have also found no concrete proof that God does not exist.

            So you attacking those who reach a different conclusion than you and secularists is a fallacy in and of itself, for you also have NO PROOF that God does not exist. Would this not make you a hypocrite?

            Science can explain the Big Bang and the mechanics that resulted, but it can not explain the cause or where 'matter' originates and never will be able to do so.

            The First Law of Thermodynamics, based on the Conservation of Energy Theory, states that matter can be neither created nor destroyed.

            So, my question to you? Where did the 'matter' that was present at the Big Bang, come from? Something can not come from nothing yet something, 'matter', can be neither created nor destroyed.

            As for the 'Virgin Birth', I am not 100% sure about this as I know history. The only way to be 100% sure of something is to personally witness said event, and even then, over time, human memory has proven to be unreliable.

            I am aware that Constantine commenced the first Christian Ecumenical Council in 325 A.D., where many 'pagan' religious symbology was folded into the Christian faith Constantine adopted as the official faith of the Roman Empire: includes virgin birth, halo over Jesus, Mary, and many other symbols and concepts.

            But the reality is: I choose to believe that Jesus of Nazareth was a real man, was God's Word made flesh and that he died for my sins.

          • William Davis

            So, my question to you? Where did the 'matter' that was present at the Big Bang, come from? Something can not come from nothing yet something, 'matter', can be neither created nor destroyed.

            I'm actually more of a deist who leans agnostic, so I think this is a good question that deserves an answer (obviously this rules me out for attacking someone just because they believe in God). Perhaps someday science will be able to answer it, perhaps not. Of course even if there is a being that's anything like what we call "God" nature does not seem to resemble the a "good" God that Christianity teaches. Personally I think the problem of natural evil disproves that, but people vary on their position with regard to that for intuitive reasons (don't bring up Original Sin, that just makes God look worse to me).
            As far as a telos, I think it's our job to give the universe one. Perhaps that's been the plan all along. We continue to be increasingly able to shape the world with technology, and we've only be at that for 200 years tops (at any advanced level at least). It will be interesting to see where it all goes, but we do need to be careful with resources :)

          • HoosiersH8ProgressiveRetards

            Then you obviously have more faith in science than do I. Perhaps you believe that a finite mind, as humans obviously possess, is capable of understanding the infinite universe. However, if parallel universes exist OR our universe is one in a string of infinite collapses/condensing/Big Bangs/Expansions/Collapses.... then I simply can't see humans ever having a clue as to what is really out there.

            Even if we figure out 99.99999999999% of our universe, the next 'Universe Collapse-Big Bang Cycle' will erase all our progress and were simply existing in a Universal Laundromat.... Soak, Wash, Rinse, Dry, Repeat...

            As for 'shaping the world'.... sure, I agree with that. But this has nothing to do with the Creation VS Random debate. Another law of physics is that all energy within a system is fixed....it can neither be added to or loose energy....... all we can do is transform energies from one form to another....as you said, 'Rearrange that which already is'.

            Unlike you, I wouldn't exactly call this process 'Scientific Advancement', when in my opinion, it is really 'Scientific Restructuring OR Scientific Realignment..... like a kid with a set of Legos that has 10,000 unique pieces....... you can keep building new shapes, tearing them down and creating new shapes, but you are stuck with the same number of Legos and mathematically you will eventually run out of permutations.

            Sure, the number of permutations in our 'Fixed Universe' is mind-boggeling..... but as a science lover, would you not agree that if our Universe remained constant, humans could, given an infinite amount of time, eventually realign every atom/sub-particle in our Universe to the point where 'AINT NOTHING NEW'? And then what.... sit around sipping Cosmic Whiskey and ponder........ well, ponder what? At that point, we'd have the answers for everything.

            As a diest/agnostic, why worry about 'resources'? All humans are doing is following natures own process of moving matter from one state to another (Forced Entropy, etc.).
            If Nature randomly chose homo sapiens to become the new Alpha Predator/Species, perhaps we are meant to 'destroy' certain species and ecosystems....

            Whenever any organism dies, its physical body is returned to the earth and its 'matter' is realigned and in time, becomes a different permutation. Life, as it most probably exists elsewhere in the Universe, has been undergoing this process for billions of years and will most likely do so for billions more.....and perhaps billions of trillions of years in an infinite cycle.

            So, what does it matter what I believe in? For in the end we will both return to the Earth and our 'matter' will be redistributed. Believing in God and Jesus Christ is simply my way of dealing with what I believe to be my insignificant relevance in an infinite Universe.

            As a Christian Conservative, and I mean a real Christian Conservative, I will disagree with you, perhaps 'rage on you and insult you', be petty, self-righteous....basically, on occasion be a human jerk, but I will never, and I mean never, demand that you believe what I believe for as Thomas Jefferson once quipped (paraphrased)

            It matters not whether YOU believe in 10 gods or ZERO gods, as long as your beliefs neither picks my pocket or breaks my legs.

          • William Davis

            In general you're making a whole bunch of unwarranted assumptions about me, but I'll try to deal with them more specifically tomorrow (no time today). In the mean time, consider the fact that Thomas Jefferson is one of my favorite people in history, and he was a deist. If God has a plan, it seems he carries it out deterministically as opposed to intervening in history though I prefer not to rule out miracles a priori, I reserve the right to be deeply skeptical of them like Jefferson and Franklin. "God helps those who help themselves" - Ben Franklin

            “Is it more probable that nature should go out of her course or that a man should tell a lie? We have never seen, in our time, nature go out of her course. But we have good reason to believe that millions of lies have been told in the same time. It is therefore at least millions to one that the reporter of a miracle tells a lie. ” - Thomas Paine

            Of course, I consider the fact that miracle stories can develop over time, and thus are not always intentional fabrication. Errors in perception can also play an important roles. Note that all evidence of miracles comes from people's mouths or their writing.

          • Ladolcevipera

            "Personally I think the problem of natural evil disproves that"
            Nature is never "evil". "Natural evil" only exists in a anthropocentric universe. The universe unfolds according to its own laws. Sometimes this is inconvenient for us, humans, but then we are perhaps not the centre of the universe.

          • William Davis

            I'm guessing you didn't specialize in philosophy of religion:

            http://www.philosophyofreligion.info/arguments-for-atheism/the-problem-of-evil/the-argument-from-natural-evil/

            In general I agree with you of course, but when you observe nature for evidence of a God that cares about humans, the anthropocentric view is necessary.

            I'm pretty familiar with cognitive biases from both neurology/psychology and philosophy, so in a sense you're preaching to the choir (not a complaint just a note). Even when you understand them, biases can still be difficult to account for unless you make a point to intentionally do it. I still have more to learn on this subject however, and once I'm done with "Superintelligence"; I'm going to read Nick Bostrom's book:

            http://www.anthropic-principle.com/?q=anthropic_bias

            I'm sure I'll have more to say on that topic once I'm done ;)

          • Ladolcevipera

            Actually I had my share of philosophy of religion. I reacted on the spur of the moment without putting the problem of evil in the broad context of proofs for the existence of God. I think that is a fascinating problem but I cannot go into that for lack of time (I want to read "Laudatio si'"). Maybe I'll react later.

          • Bruce Grubb

            I heard a good analogy one time about a bunch of bacteria who pray to the 'god-scientist' in the sky. Back in the days of AD&D1 where as a Dragon #101 article called "For King and Country" which said "In the real world, good and evil are invented concepts. Societies label their own values as good, and those of the enemy (or the threatening or the unknown) as evil."

            Read Irenaeus' _Against Heresies_ c. 180 CE where EVERY version of Christianity that didn't fit a certain view is the product of an "evil mind". In Taoism good and evil are part of the "illusion' that keep us on the wheel of life and as Carl Sagan so rightly quoted "It is said that men may not be the dreams of the gods, but rather that the gods are the dreams of men."

            Take the Manifest destiny where "marauding savages" preventing the white man from realizing his god given destiny to "civilise" the western part of American and contrast it with the noble Native American defending his land from the encroachment of invaders. Who is "good" and who is "evil" there?

            Take Vlad III of Wallachia who has become the embodiment of everything evil under his last name Dracula. Yet in his native land he is revered in a manner on par with Abraham Lincoln in the US. Is Vlad good or evil?

          • Bruce Grubb

            There is the idea that 'born of a virgin' was the ancient equivalent of being born with a silver spoon in one's mouth and signified the "extraordinary personal qualities exhibited by an individual" as well as being an "attempt to explain an individual's superiority to other mortals. Generally Mediterranean peoples looked at one's birth or parent-age to explain one's character and behavior" and "veneration of a benefactor." Caesar Augustus, Alexander the Great, Plato were all stated as being born of virgins and we know they were actual historical people; so the term 'born of a virgin' was never meant to be taken literally.

            In fact, Paul in Romans 1:1-3 states that Jesus came "from the seed of David, according to the flesh" (the belief at the time was that women were the earth into which men planted their seed so here Paul expressly states that Jesus link to David is through the male line ie Joseph) and in Galatians 4:4 “God sent his Son, born of a woman” using the word gune (woman) rather than parthenos (virgin). Both these points show that Paul not only did not know of a virgin birth but expressly denied it.

            The problem is when we CAN check the Gospel-Act account against history it either cannot be confirmed or spectacularly blows up:

            * Herod's Slaughter of the Innocents (Matthew 2:16-18) is not recorded in any other history (or Gospel) — not even by Josephus, who really didn't like Herod and meticulously catalogued his other misdeeds.

            * Luke 2:1-4 claims Jesus was born in the year of a universal tax census, but the first such census did not occur until 74 CE - and it is not in the other gospels.

            * Luke 2:2 KJV specifically states "And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria." Cyrenius is the Greek name for Publius Sulpicius Quirinius, who came to this position in 6 CE.

            * Luke 3:1 KJV references a "Lysanias the tetrarch of Abilene" but the only Lysanias ruling Abilene that can clearly be identified in secular sources was killed by Mark Antony in 36 BCE.

            * Luke 3:2 KJV talks about "Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests" but there are a manor problem with that: according to Josephus, Annas and Caiaphas were NEVER high priests together. Annas was high priest c 6 CE - c 15 CE while Caiaphas was high priest c 18 - c 36 CE with a priest called Eleazar the son of Ananus between them.

            * Jesus preaches in the open so there is no need for the whole Judus betrayal. A real Roman official would have sent a modest group of soldiers and got the guy as what happened with John the Baptist. In fact, base on what Josephus writes even this would have been subtle by Pilate's standards which can be summed up as being on par with the Silver Age Incredible Hulk ie 'puny people annoy Pilate, Pilate smash'.

            * The Sanhedrin trial account is totally at odds with the records on how that court actually operated in the 1st century. In fact, a little quirk of the Sanhedrin court was that a unanimous verdict for conviction resulted in acquittal.

            * Pontius Pilate is totally out of character based on other accounts. Josephus relates two accounts where Pilate's solution to mobs causing a disturbance was brutally simple--have Roman soldiers go out and kill them until they dispersed. Moreover it is never really explained in the Bible why, if Jesus' only crime was blasphemy, Pilate would need to be involved. If Jesus' crime has been sedition, then there would be no reason for Pilate to involve Herod Antipas--or for the Sanhedrin to be involved for that matter.

            * The crucified were left to rot as a warning to others unless there was intervention on the behalf of an important person per The Life of Flavius Josephus

            * Given Jesus' short time on the cross and reports of him being out and about afterwards, certainly the Romans might have wondered if they had been tricked. Never mind that theft of a body was a capital crime. Yet there is nothing in the reports about the Romans acting on either possibility. Carrier describe how the Romans would have handled the situation and it is totally at odds with the account in Acts.

          • Bruce Grubb

            This is garbage and ignores reality.

            Tacitus - clearly tampered with and from the 11th century and so useless. Older German version does NOT have the section this appears in.
            Julius Africanus - 3rd century so totally useless.

            Thallus - unknown reference ASSUMED to be

            Suetonius and Pliny the Younger AT BEST simply shows the Christian movement exist and NOTHING else.

            Phiegon - His works no longer exist so we have NOTHING from him.

            Josephus ben Mattathias - the Testimonium Flavianum is a clear forgery as it totally breaks the section it appears in. Given Christians were claiming James the Just died c 69 CE until the Mythers pointed out Josephus' died 62 CE which is clearly anotehr forgce the date to the view BS.

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

            This indicates that there were some in the 2nd century CE who questioned if Jesus even existed. Historian Michael Grant in his 1977 and 1995 editions of _Jesus: An Historian's Review of the Gospels_ clearly connected docetism with "the argument that Jesus as a human being never existed at all and is a myth"

  • ContraBullshit

    "Brethren, it has come to my attention that you expect me to be a human sacrifice for your sins. May I asketh, who in the goddamn hell came up with that Neanderthal bullshit!!!!????

    What are we, living in the fucking Stone Age!!???

    Blood sacrifice!!!!!!!?????? You can take that pile of disgusting donkey shit and shove it straight up thy fucking asses!!!!"

    ------Jesus Christ, the Gospel of Sane Thought

  • disqus_59KZkHgegx

    The doubts about Jesus’ historical existence probably peaked in the late 19th
    century. Literature, quotations, life events and personal accounts about Jesus occur in great quantity within a generation of His death. No purely mythical figure would generate such details that could be easily refuted by contemporaries if fabricated. The evidence for the physical existence of Jesus of Nazareth is far stronger than that for (e.g) King Arthur or Robin Hood.

    • No Way

      The first information we have about an earthly Jesus is the Gospel of Mark from about 70 CE. The argument against this is that Mark was writing fiction. Paul, whose letters predate Mark, never reliably places Jesus in a historical context. When you add to this that everyone thinks that there is historical evidence, it makes an interesting case for Jesus not being a historical figure.

      • Doug Shaver

        The first information we have about an earthly Jesus is the Gospel of Mark from about 70 CE.

        What do you think is the best argument for supposing that it was written that early?

        • No Way

          Doug, I am just citing current opinion by scholars. I am open to the idea that it was written much later, but haven't found many people putting that argument out there. I know that we have, the longer ending referenced around the middle of the second century, so it can't be later than that.

          Do have evidence for a later date? And if so, are you pushing the other gospels back or changing the priority? I'm always open to new ideas regarding this. Dr. Carrier has not convinced me of his hypothesis, but I find it compelling nonetheless.

          • Doug Shaver

            Do have evidence for a later date?

            Nothing conclusive, but it seems very anomalous to me that their existence is not clearly attested until near the end of the second century. (No, I don't regard Papias as clear attestation, and I don't think the paleography of P52 is as undisputable as most people think it is.) More to my point, though, even if first-century authorship cannot be disproven, it also should not treated as beyond reasonable doubt.

          • No Way

            "it also should not treated as beyond reasonable doubt."

            I agree. P52 is an incredibly small amount of data to draw conclusions from. You have Marcion at 140 (ish?) CE being the first peson trying to collect the documents into a book, so I would think that it would have to be before that.

            Papias argues that Mark and Matthew were written in Hebrew which we can pretty much discredit based on Matthew's mistranslation of Isaiah.

          • Doug Shaver

            You have Marcion at 140 (ish?) CE being the first peson trying to collect the documents into a book, so I would think that it would have to be before that.

            All we know about Marcion is what we're told by people who hated him. As best I recall, what they tell us about his canon was that it included several letters attributed to Paul and a version of Luke's gospel, which did not include some material that showed up in the orthodox version.

          • Doug Shaver

            Papias argues that Mark and Matthew were written in Hebrew

            He doesn't say that about Mark.

          • No Way

            General scholarship thinks that none of the gospels are written in Hebrew or Aramaic, correct? Bart Ehrman cites a passage where there is wordplay that doesn't make any sense except in Greek. I forget which passage off the top of my head, but I don't think that anyone (credible at least) thinks that any of the gospels were written in anything but Greek.

          • Doug Shaver

            I forget which passage off the top of my head, but I don't think that anyone (credible at least) thinks that any of the gospels were written in anything but Greek.

            That is correct, so far as I'm aware.

          • Papias, writing in about AD 100, reports on all four of the canonical gospels (and only those 4) thus demonstrating that they were widespread and accepted by that time.

          • Bruce Grubb

            Problem is Papias' actual works are lost so what we have are what later writers claimed he said. NO existent work before the 130s so much as quotes form a Gospel.

        • Not true. We have allusions to Jesus, such as those cited above in Galatians 1 (particularly about James being "the Lord's brother") in letters of Paul written in the 50s AD.

          • Doug Shaver

            I believe you intended this to be a response to No Way.

          • No Way

            "We have allusions to Jesus"

            All of these are explained by Carrier. The "brother of the lord" quote is easily explained by the fact that all christians are considered brothers of the lord. That's not how I read it, but many people who are much better versed in this do read it that way.

          • Bruce Grubb

            There is also the view based on the strange wording of
            Galatians 1:19 taht this is nor part of Paul's original writings but

    • David Butler

      Saying that Jesus has more physical evidence than King Arthur or Robin Hood isn't saying much.

    • Bruce Grubb

      John Frum shows otherwise and he wasn't known until the 1950s and the evidence for Jesus is WEAKER then that for King Arthur or Robin Hood. The oldest Bible are far older they any copy of supporting work of which only one dates form the 5th century...everything else is 11th century or later.

  • Bruce Grubb

    I like to point out that arguments like the above fall apart when compared to the real world example of the John Frum cargo cult.

    According to the cult, John Frum was a literate white US
    serviceman that appeared to the village elders in a vision in the late
    1930s.

    However as early as 1949 there were people saying the "origin of the
    movement or the cause started more than thirty years ago" ie putting
    "John Frum" in the 1910s

    The problem is the closest thing actual recorded history shows is not one but
    three illiterate natives taking up the name John Frum and being exiled
    or thrown into jail for the trouble they stirred up in the 1940-1947
    period:: Manehivi (1940-41), Neloaig (1943, inspired people to build an airstrip), and Iokaeye (1947, preached a new color symbolism)

    The John Frum cult caused so many problems that in 1957 there was
    effort made to prove John Frum didn't exist--it totally failed.

    By the 1960s, the natives were carrying around pictures of men
    they believed to be John Frum. In 2006, when asked why they still
    believed in his coming after some 60 years of waiting, the Chief said
    “You Christians have been waiting 2,000 years for Jesus to return to
    earth, and you haven’t given up hope.”

    "Unlike the cult of Jesus, the origins of which are not reliably
    attested, we can see the whole course of events laid out before our eyes
    (and even here, as we shall see, some details are now lost). It is
    fascinating to guess that the cult of Christianity almost certainly
    began in very much the same way, and spread initially at the same high
    speed. [...] John Frum, if he existed at all, did so within living
    memory. Yet, even for so recent a possibility, it is not certain whether
    he lived at all."

    Everything the Christian apologists claim couldn't have happened
    regarding Christianity appears to have happened with the John Frum cargo
    cult – it evolved from the preexisting beliefs without a clear
    definitive founder. Moreover in a seven year period we see various
    believers taking up the mantel of "John Frum" despite being totally
    difference in terms of literacy, nationality, and race not even a decade
    later. There is a hint in Paul's own writings (2 Corinthians 11:3-4)
    that this had happened with Jesus as he warns against other Jesuses
    other Gospels other then the ones he and his followers were preaching.

    Furthermore, as seen with the Prince Philip Movement, there are
    variants of the cult that connect the mythical John Frum to real living
    people (Prince Philip is the brother of John Frum in this variant even
    though Prince Philip has no brothers), something the Christian
    apologists claim couldn't have happened with Jesus.

    Carrier on his blog (July 1, 2013's "Hey, Free eBook! Christian vs. Atheist Intellectual Cage Match") was asked why the cargo cults with so many seemingly ready made examples were not used and his reply was "They are. Robert Price has been making the comparison for years, and I
    will be as well, extensively citing the scholarship, in my book on the
    subject (On the Historicity of Jesus)."

    • No Way

      We have at least two Jesus' running around right now. Alan John Miller in Australia and Sergey Anatolyevitch Torop in Russia.

  • No Way

    Wow, this just confirms that Dr. Carrier's best case is in the disingenuousness of the arguments against him.

    "Carrier appears to misunderstand the reference to “the earliest accounts” to mean “the early Christian documents we have.”"

    No, he doesn't. What I mean here is that it clearly does not look like Carrier is referring to christian documents or misunderstanding anything. He is referring to the letters of Paul which, according to general consensus, predate the gospels. Paul's genuine epistles are the earliest christian writings that we have. The gospels and Acts come later with Luke and Acts usually being dated approximately 90 CE. You know this, so why the smoke screen?

    You reference 1 Cor. 15:8 here without getting to the meat of what is being said. 15:8 just says that Jesus appeared to Paul last. If we go back, as you assumed your readers would not, and read from the beginning of the chapter, we see that Paul is talking about non physical appearances.

    "[H]e appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters"

    These are exactly the kind of revelations that Carrier is talking about! This seems to be intentionally deceitful on your part.

    Brothers of an Unreal Man?

    See the quote from 1 Corinthians above. Did Jesus have five hundred brothers and sisters? From a virgin mother no less! You go on to say,"So Jesus had “brothers” who were distinct from the apostles." The verse you cite here does not show anything of the kind. It lists apostles, brothers [note the plural] of the lord, and Cephus. Is Peter not generally considered to be both an apostle and a brother of the lord in the spiritual sense?

    "[T]he early sources indicate that [the brothers of the lord] were familial relations of Jesus," not a scholar myself, but, this seems like an absolute cherry place for a citation. Which sources?

    Born of a woman means absolutely nothing. Hercules was born of a woman. The ancient world was rotten with the children of gods. Every Roman soldier's bastard was sired by some kind of divinity.

    Other Indications

    1 Thess. 2:14-16 is considered by Dr. Carrier (and other scholars?) to be an anti semitic interpolation. The reasons being, to my understanding, is that it contradicts what Paul taught about the jews in other places (Romans 11:25-28) and references the destruction of the temple which happened after Paul's death.

    1 Cor. 11:23-25 Paul claims to have gotten his knowledge here from the lord. The problem with that is that Paul never met Jesus. This is another revelation. The kind Carrier constantly points out whenever talking about Paul.

    The Islam Analogy

    You intentionally misrepresent the analogy here. In Richard's analogy Paul is the parallel to Joseph Smith and Muhammad, not Jesus. Carrier is making Jesus the mythical figure like Michael in islam or Moroni [giggles] in mormonism. Joe and Mo received revelations from a heavenly being. This is exactly what Paul says happened to him whether Jesus was a real person or not. Carrier, and many people who are not mythicists, see Paul as the founder of christianity not Jesus. I cannot believe that you misunderstood this without some willfulness on your part.

    Ultimately, I find Carrier’s arguments unconvincing, though not implausible. As you started arguing, christianity appears to have been founded by a messianic figure. Jesus fits the Koresh/Jones/Manson cult leader mold much better than he fits the celestial deity (Thor/Bacchus/Zeus) mold. The best case for mythicism though, is how no one ever deals seriously with the idea that Jesus didn’t exist. We have no credible evidence for a historical Jesus. Using the gospels is like using Homer to argue for a historical Hercules. The historical references are either over represented when they are brought up or are christian forgeries or interpolations. Jesus, IMO, probably existed, but there is a very good case for him being entirely mythological.

  • spin

    I would like to correct a few issues.

    It’s true that Paul acknowledged that his own contact with Jesus was through revelation (Gal. 1:12), but Paul acknowledges that his relationship was different than that of the other apostles, that he related to Jesus as “one untimely born” (1 Cor. 15:8)—that is, out of the normal sequence that governed how the others related to Jesus.

    1) Paul doesn't actually say that he had contact with Jesus in Gal 1:12. The text says that he was given a revelation of Jesus and 1:15-16 clarifies that the revelation was from God. It is important to note that Paul says he got his gospel through revelation, not from people. That means that Paul needed no-one to relate gospel events to him for him to proclaim Jesus. The revelation was sufficient. And he was set aside by God before birth for the job.

    2) 1 Cor 15:8 certainly does not mean "out of the normal sequence that governed how the others related to Jesus." The word underlying "untimely birth" is εκτρωμα, which actually indicates "abortion". See, eg LXX Lev 12:12. The sentiment indicates faux self-effacement.

    Paul indicates that some of them were his brothers. Later in Galatians 1..., Paul writes that once when he went to Jerusalem, “I saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord’s brother” (Gal. 1:19).

    There are two problems in the common attempts to use Gal 1:19 to assert that Jesus had a real brother so Jesus must have been real.

    1) Paul overwhelmingly uses the word αδελφος ("brother") to indicate a member of his community or a fellow believer. He doesn't use it to indicate a literal brother. When dealing with literal family relations he is seen to add κατα σαρκα ("according to the flesh"). Abraham is Paul's father "according to the flesh" (Rom 4:1). Jesus is descended from David "according to the flesh" (Rom 1:3). The Jews are Paul's brothers "according to the flesh" (Rom 9:3).

    2) Paul's use of κυριος (lord) when it is used alone as a substitute for a name is generally held for God when its referent can be discerned, as is expected in the LXX, eg "the lord said...". The other use of "lord" is as a title, eg "our lord", "lord Jesus", etc. The use in Gal 1:19 is as a name substitute. It is therefore not reasonable to assert that the phrase τον αδελφον του κυριου indicates Jesus. There is no reason in either αδελφος or κυριος or their combination to believe that Jesus is indicated.

    Appeals such as "what else could it mean?" I would normally leave to the reader for them to read something into a text that is opaque to us moderns, but I have encountered such incredulity that I usually end up offering a suggestion that calling James "the brother of the lord" may have been an honorific title: he was a brother, ie believer, who was held in such respect as to be seen by the community as the Lord's, ie God's. Looking at its plural use in 1 Cor. 9:5, we can see a group of people who have a position within the Christian community. (You have to conjure up some notion of those brothers who rejected Jesus having a change of heart and suddenly becoming important in the Jesus community, though there's no sign in the gospels.)

    Now, given that Paul expressly says his gospel came via revelation from God Gal 1:11-12, he needed no human sourced information about his Jesus to proselytize. However, for his Jesus to be what he considered the messiah, there were conditions: he had to be a Jew and therefore born of a Jewish woman. That means in Paul's mind Jesus had to be real. To die in place of sinners he had to be able to die, ie real flesh and blood. These things are logical necessities for Paul's theology. How can a non-real non-Jew be a suitable surrogate for sinners? How can you die if you are not real? Paul's theology had clear needs, which in no way had to represent reality. Ebion had to be real in Tertullian's mind despite the fact that he didn't exist. People can believe that non-real people were real. That means arguing from what Paul believed about his messiah has no historical weight.

  • John

    Well, I am an atheist who just so happens to accept a historical Jesus according to all available evidence. I am about as close to being a historian as one can get without actually going to a university, since I have studied religious history for almost 20 years now. There's not much I haven't seen, and not much I haven't learned.

    Carrier's position as a mythicist is simply not tenable. In fact, none of the arguments from any mythicist I have debated over the years has ever managed to explain away the obvious evidence. From Tacitus to Josephus, from the non-canonical texts to the bible, the only logical, reasonable and HONEST explanation is this:

    A man named Jesus came from a town called Nazareth. He had a religious philosophy that many of the common Jews found attractive. He gained fame in certain areas of 1st century Judea, but this fame did not bide him well. The Jewish Sanhedrin feared Jesus because many of the common people were claiming this Jesus to be the Messiah, and to be proclaimed as a Messiah literally means that they were claiming him to be a king; King of the Jews.

    The Sanhedrin feared a war with the Romans would break out if they supported Jesus of Nazareth as being a Messiah. They therefore determined that "one man must die for the nation," and set in motion a plan to capture Jesus and have him put to death. Since they couldn't do it themselves because of their laws during the Passover, they brought him to Pilate.

    It was when Jesus was in the custody of Pilate that members of the Sanhedrin pressed for the execution of Jesus of Nazareth. When Pilate resisted, those Sanhedrin members then proceeded to blackmail Pilate by sasing something to the effect of, "If you let this Jesus go free, will will tell Caesar that you let a rival king go free in Caesars kingdom."

    Pilate's hands were tied, and forced by blackmail he crucified Jesus and wrote on the cross, "This is Jesus, King of the Jews."

    And that is history.

    • David Butler

      Your sources are....??? Carrier's position isn't that Jesus is entirely a myth. He's pointed out that we simply have little or no history for him to rule it out. You're making several historical assumptions here btw.

  • CoF89

    You may not believe in what Jesus did, or his ressurection, but, deny that he existed is lack of knowledge.

    • David Butler

      He or his legend may be a compilation of the deeds of several individuals or even the compilation of beliefs about what somebody may have done. This is little different from some semi-mythical figures in American history. Quite a few people today believe some of the tall tales associated with Davy Crockett, Wyatt Earp and other western legends, despite the fact that there are detailed records and such of these men's lives that could easily counter them. And that's just the effect of barely 150 years since these men lived. It's pretty safe to say too, that the actual history of those two particular men will continue to fade in favor of the legends. A very similar thing may have happened with Jesus. It could also be that some of the writings or actual history recorded of Jesus was destroyed or even hidden away, lest the new movement suffer from a reality that the new followers wouldn't likely accept. We can see this with a whole range of hero worship with regard to some celebrity and political figures today.

      • Doug Shaver

        Quite a few people today believe some of the tall tales associated with Davy Crockett, Wyatt Earp and other western legends, despite the fact that there are detailed records and such of these men's lives that could easily counter them.

        And some of those tall tales, contra certain apologists, arose and were believed while those men were still alive.

    • Doug Shaver

      You may not believe in what Jesus did, or his ressurection, but, deny that he existed is lack of knowledge.

      Lack of what knowledge? What undisputed fact is inconsistent with his nonexistence?

      • CoF89

        A lot of things, the gospels are reliable historical sources, they corroborate many things historically corrects, they're very consistent with the reality of Palestine of 1st century
        ...But just for reply you quickly, there're non-biblical sources that mentions Jesus and his followers...

        At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus. His conduct was
        good, and [he] was known to be virtuous. And many people from among
        the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned
        him to be crucified and to die. And those who had become his disciples
        did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to
        them three days after his crucifixion and that he was alive; accordingly, he
        was perhaps the Messiah concerning whom the prophets have recounted
        wonders.
        Josephus - Antiquities of the Jews.

        Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted
        the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called
        Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin,
        suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of
        one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition,
        thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea,
        the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous
        and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become
        popular.57 (Tacitus - Annals, 15:44)

        If you have any doubts, I strongly recommend a book for you, Cold Case Christianity.

        • Doug Shaver

          When I said "undisputed," I did not mean "undisputed by you." Many competent scholars dispute your assertion that the gospel are reliable historical sources, and there is still some dispute about the authenticity of the Testimonium Flavianum. As for Tacitus, you have not demonstrated how his mention of Jesus is inconsistent with Jesus' real existence.

          • CoF89

            Due of all the historical evidence and quotes from the New Testament, which altogether exceed 25,000, more than any ancient document, for example Homer wrote the Iliad in 900 BC We have the oldest copy in 400 BC, that is, 500 years after the original. In all, at hand, we have 643 manuscripts of the Iliad. Plato wrote between 427-347 BC, the oldest copy we have of his work is 900 AD, a difference of 1,200 years. We have seven manuscripts of his own. The New Testament was written between 40-100 AD The oldest manuscript we have is AD 125, a difference between 25-50 years of the original. We have reliable historical references to attest that the Gospels were written before 70AD, because of the fall of Jerusalem and the deaths of Peter, James and Paul. The quote made by the church fathers , for example Ignacius, Polycarp, Clement, and Papias, we have several letters written by them in the first and second centuries stating all the content of the Gospels about Jesus. What is more reasonable to think when you look at all evidences? We need to check and see where it leads, without prejudice. I have eyewitness testimony, early writtings, thousands of reliable copies,historical, geographical and archaeological accuracy...all evidences supports the claims that Jesus existed, and the accounts of the gospels are true.
            If you have any doubts please take a look in those books
            Cold-Case Christianity- J.Werner Wallace
            The Historical Reliability of the New Testament - Darren Hewer
            The Historical Jesus - Gary Habermas

          • Doug Shaver

            If you have any doubts please take a look in those books

            I'm not a newcomer to this conversation. I have seen all those arguments a hundred times. They do not demonstrate that any of your alleged facts is undisputed. They demonstrate only that evangelical Christians do not dispute them.

          • CoF89

            first, what would you consider "undisputed"?
            When I was an atheist, I looked at the evidences that atheists gave me, they didn't seem quite reasonable, when I've decided to check the christians evidences, they seem quite reasonable for me.
            If you can't consider the bible as a reliable historical document, you cannot trust any other ancient document.
            If "undisputed" for you means 100% of scholars of that field to agree on that matter, you have to discredit evolution, big bang for instance.
            Only evangelical Christians? I think you're mistaken...

          • Doug Shaver

            When I was an atheist, I looked at the evidences that atheists gave me, they didn't seem quite reasonable, when I've decided to check the christians evidences, they seem quite reasonable for me.

            Whether something is reasonable is a matter of judgment. Whether it is disputed is a matter of fact. It is a fact that a substantial number of competent scholars dispute every one of your alleged facts.

            If "undisputed" for you means 100% of scholars of that field to agree on that matter, you have to discredit evolution, big bang for instance.

            No, I don't need 100% agreement. I'll take 98%. That gets evolution and the big bang under the wire.

          • CoF89

            Substancial numbers? Well, they all assume that the naturalistic wordview is the one correct, and nothing supernatural is able to occur, they begin with this principal even though they don't have how to prove it.

            "I'll take 98%"..This is a matter of judgment too?? Why not 99%? or 95%?

            Evolution is a matter of judgment...Scientific method is the collection of data through observation and experiment, and the formulation and testing of hypotheses. Do you have any observed and tested and repeatable evidence of macro-evolution?

          • Doug Shaver

            Do you have any observed and tested and repeatable evidence of macro-evolution?

            I thought we were discussing the historical reliability of the gospels. Do you wish to change the subject?

          • CoF89

            Was just a matter if comparison to show how biased your presuposition is.
            I already realise that doesn't matter what I might say...You already have a opinion based on your own beliefs, and is not willing to change. Atheists are not open minded as they say...they believe in what's more comfortable to them.

          • Doug Shaver

            Was just a matter if comparison to show how biased your presuposition is.

            What presupposition? I'm not the one claiming that whatever I believe is undisputed no matter how many competent authorities do dispute it.

          • Bruce Grubb

            "The oldest manuscript we have is AD 125"

            BZZZZ WRONG.

            "Paleography is a last resort for dating" and, "for book hands, a period of 50 years is the least acceptable spread of time" with it being suggested that "the "rule of thumb" should probably be to avoid dating a hand more precisely than a range of at least seventy or eighty years." (Nongbr, Brent (2005) "The Use and Abuse of P52: Papyrological Pitfalls in the Dating of the Fourth Gospel." Harvard Theological Review 98:24.)

            In an 2005 e-mail addendum to his 1996 "The Paleographical Dating of P-46" paper Bruce W. Griffin stated "Until more rigorous methodologies are developed, it is difficult to construct a 95% confidence interval for NT manuscripts without allowing a century for an assigned date."

            So P-46 SHOULD be dated 125-225 and this is EXACTLY what Nongbr states in his paper: " any serious consideration of the window of possible dates for P52 must include dates in the later second and early third centuries"

            The 125 CE date in fact come from 1935 and even scholars in the Paleographical field of that time said Paleographical Dating wasn't up to task of claiming such an exact date. So in typical Bermuda Triangle manner the HJ "scholars" are quoting old OUT OF DATE material as it it is brand spanking new.

  • frank featherstone

    As a Catholic, Akin's arguments for Christ and Christianity are of needs desperate and it shows.

  • On your Islam analogy you seem to completely miss the point, as you count the hypothetical Jesus as both the movement's historical founder (Jesus, Muhammad, and Joseph Smith) and its spiritual inspiration (i.e., a purely spiritual Jesus, Gabriel, and Moroni).

    Carrier is saying that Paul is the founder of Christianity, not Jesus. Paul got revelation from an imaginary Jesus, just like Mohammad got revelation from an imaginary Gabriel, according to Carrier.

    I don't know if he's right or not, but that would explain why Paul claims he didn't receive the gospel "from any man", but spent several years alone in Arabia hearing it through revelation. You'd think he'd want to spend as much time as possible learning from the apostles who knew Jesus in the flesh.

  • William Davis

    Some herbal remidies are 5,000 years old and still going strong while some last a few years if not days.

    Some really work. Green tea and curcumin from tumeric come to mind. Tumeric specifically seems to have tremendous anti-inflammatory and even anti-cancer properties, not to mention the ability to protect neural tissues. Progressive idealists make the mistake of thinking there is no value in tradition --- something that flies in the face of facts. Conservative idealists (not to be confused with your average conservative) often make the mistake of not considering new propositions and assume that the current status quo is the best possible world. Ironically, climate change alarmists make a conservative assumption when presuming there is one perfect temperature for earth, and that's the current temperature. They also fail to consider the problems of global cooling (often more related to famine than warming), though any sensible person should agree that run away warming would be highly problematic. There is currently no evidence of run away warming, but that doesn't mean it can't happen.

    Considering both sides of an argument is one of the keys to having a balanced perspective, and if we model a country as a collective intelligence (sort of a combined mind) the need for both progressives and conservatives becomes apparent. We need progressives to propose new ideas, and we need conservatives to criticize those ideas and only allow the best ideas to get through. Combining "if it ain't broke don't fix it" with continual innovation and improvement is a tall order that requires multiple minds. It's messy as hell but it seems to work better than anything we've had in the past...at least so far.

    With regard to something from nothing, it's almost impossible to approach this without bias. Common sense says you are right, but I don't know how common sense would necessarily apply to the origin of the universe. Obviously this is not a common event (making common inference from everyday experience problematic). I tend to side with you, but there are some decent philosophical arguments that show that existence could simply be thought of as a property of a substance. This was sort of the view of Albert Einstein (another one of my favorite people in history) who developed the theory of relativity and father modern cosmology. You were just mentioning it and you demonstrate you might not understand it very well but I won't go into that right now. I will submit Spinoza's proof of monism, that God is the single substance that exists. Einstein believed in "Spinoza's God" so it's quite relevant to your comment. Like everything in philosophy, the logic is good, but many might have problems with the premises:

    In propositions one through fifteen of Part One, Spinoza presents the basic elements of his picture of God. God is the infinite, necessarily existing (that is, uncaused), unique substance of the universe. There is only one substance in the universe; it is God; and everything else that is, is in God.

    Proposition 1: A substance is prior in nature to its affections.

    Proposition 2: Two substances having different attributes have nothing in common with one another. (In other words, if two substances differ in nature, then they have nothing in common).

    Proposition 3: If things have nothing in common with one another, one of them cannot be the cause of the other.

    Proposition 4: Two or more distinct things are distinguished from one another, either by a difference in the attributes [i.e., the natures or essences] of the substances or by a difference in their affections [i.e., their accidental properties].

    Proposition 5: In nature, there cannot be two or more substances of the same nature or attribute.

    Proposition 6: One substance cannot be produced by another substance.

    Proposition 7: It pertains to the nature of a substance to exist.

    Proposition 8: Every substance is necessarily infinite.

    Proposition 9: The more reality or being each thing has, the more attributes belong to it.

    Proposition 10: Each attribute of a substance must be conceived through itself.

    Proposition 11: God, or a substance consisting of infinite attributes, each of which expresses eternal and infinite essence, necessarily exists. (The proof of this proposition consists simply in the classic “ontological proof for God's existence”. Spinoza writes that “if you deny this, conceive, if you can, that God does not exist. Therefore, by axiom 7 [‘If a thing can be conceived as not existing, its essence does not involve existence’], his essence does not involve existence. But this, by proposition 7, is absurd. Therefore, God necessarily exists, q.e.d.”)

    Proposition 12: No attribute of a substance can be truly conceived from which it follows that the substance can be divided.

    Proposition 13: A substance which is absolutely infinite is indivisible.

    Proposition 14: Except God, no substance can be or be conceived.

    This proof that God—an infinite, necessary and uncaused, indivisible being—is the only substance of the universe proceeds in three simple steps. First, establish that no two substances can share an attribute or essence (Ip5). Then, prove that there is a substance with infinite attributes (i.e., God) (Ip11). It follows, in conclusion, that the existence of that infinite substance precludes the existence of any other substance. For if there were to be a second substance, it would have to have someattribute or essence. But since God has all possible attributes, then the attribute to be possessed by this second substance would be one of the attributes already possessed by God. But it has already been established that no two substances can have the same attribute. Therefore, there can be, besides God, no such second substance.

    If God is the only substance, and (by axiom 1) whatever is, is either a substance or in a substance, then everything else must be in God. “Whatever is, is in God, and nothing can be or be conceived without God” (Ip15). Those things that are “in” God (or, more precisely, in God's attributes) are what Spinoza calls modes.

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/spinoza/

    • HoosiersH8ProgressiveRetards

      Well then, I guess I am not a 'Conservative Idealist' then because I am completely open to new concepts and paradigms, especially where medicine is concerned. My father worked for DOW Chem for 29 years and my mother has a PhD in Chemistry, so I understand 'medicine origin'....... that the vast majority of modern, chemical medicines are based on the research of traditional, long standing medicines.

      And we are in agreement that America, and humanity in general, needs the existence of opposing forces/views, although I will disagree with you on the Progressive/Conservative comparison.

      I do not view current 'Progressives and Progressivism' with the 'Progressives' like Einstein, Fermi, Pasteur, Galileo, Curie, Michelangelo, and other great innovators who have advanced human understanding and improved our lives. Today's American Progressivism is about control, suppression of adversity and Fascist in its purpose.
      So, my counter is the traditional competition between true Conservatives and the Moderate Liberal, both not far from the Center....today America is becoming extremely polarized, with the Left racing towards Fascism/Socialism/all 'ism's while the Right is trying to keep pace by going further Right.....with only Anarchy as the destination. And I think this is intentional by those in power on BOTH sides.....from adversity comes the ability to wield power.

      If everyone was content and happy, those in power would be irrelevant. LOL

      Yes, it is impossible to approach the 'create something from nothing' without bias. That is the whole point of the exercise.......you have to use language, concepts, etc., already known to man in order to even take the first step, which means you have already failed.....but the exercise creates a dilemma for the hard-core 'Everything is Random' believer...... where does language come from, our perception of God and everything that is not tangible? Who had that First original thought of making a word......

      Did man invent Fire or did he see Fire created and simply copy Nature? If so, did man invent God or did he see God and simply copy that which IS?

      I love Proposition 13: A Substance which is absolutely infinite is indivisible. First, ALL things infinite are 'absolutely infinite' otherwise they would be finite. I know, a bit of semantics, but very important when engaging in a literal conversation.
      But the funny part is I answered that 'Infinity + 1' is a mathematical impossibility on a high school math test one time and was told I was wrong.
      I couldn't understand....so I asked, 'if you subtract from, add to, divide into or multiply by' any finite number or numbers, the string of 'infinite' numbers being affected must first be made finite in order to proceed.

      Sure, I understand that you can take 2 strings of infinite numbers and multiply them agains one another by picking a starting point on each string, but that produces an infinite potential of outcomes, so the entire process is meaningless if there is no beginning or end.

      I'll have to ponder Spinoza's argument later.... but it sounds rational. I personally believe that you can no more PROOVE God's existence than you can DISPROVE God's existence, for God exists as everything and Spirit. Proving or disproving something that is self-determinant, in that it can choose to allow itself to be revealed/understood/proved to exist, is to me, impossible.

      This is why I always refer to my Christian Faith as....well, FAITH.

      let me ask you a question:

      If you did not believe in God or any supernatural deity OR in a final accountability of your actions, that this life is all we have and when we die, we simply cease to exist, WOULD YOU LIVE A MORAL AND GOOD LIFE AND IF YES, WHY?

  • Bruce Grubb

    And this is the EXACT kind of mindset that gives you groups like Heaven's Gate.

    • HoosiersH8ProgressiveRetards

      Exactly! I someday hope to stand at Heaven's Gate, along with David Koresh and Jim Jones, my heroes.

      But I want to keep my nuts...

    • HoosiersH8ProgressiveRetards

      And someone who has far less up votes than comments tells me everything I need to know about that person.....that they are on the fringe of what most Americans believe and that they are irrelevant. :=)

  • jeffhalmos

    I think Carrier's book, "On the Historicity of Jesus" clears up most or all the issues in the 5 writings in this series, without the W L Craig-style tactics Akin exhibits here.

  • Bruce Grubb

    No smart comebacks I see.

  • Dennis Bell

    Dr. Carrier and others have pretty conclusively demonstrated that virtually all the material about Jesus in the New Testament is just recycled from the deity stories of other cultures. Whether there was ever a real person lurking behind the Christian versions is almost irrelevant.

  • Nishu

    Can Christians teach me how to convert a glass of water into a glass of wine,? No?
    Is it possible to suspend natural laws of physics chemistry, etc, for 1 single guy? Or is it more probable that this guy is a fake, especially when i have only heard or read from a person, who has heard and read about it... ?
    Do you think proving a person was alive 2000 years ago, proves his divinity, or he was son of god, or he had virgin birth, or he converted water to wine?
    Thus even if we assume that a person or few people lived in a parched land and were called Jesus, it doesnt prove the jesus of bible ever existed!!!
    Besides this biblical jesus was immoral person. He advocated vicarious redemption, original sin , validated the vile old testament etc and was responsible for Murder and Slaughter, Pain and suffering, and all sorts of superstitious non sense, which made good people do bad things in his name. In his absence, good people would have been good and bad people would have been bad, he alone is reappnsible to make evil things as good on the power of authority only.

  • Nishu

    Get a life people!!! Go and help some one just for the sake of it, and not for any god or his son. You will feel so liberated and good, that you may discover your own self. Even if you do something good in the name of jesus or his whimsical god, it wont give the above result, it will only give you delusions and paranoia.
    Just see what happened with the evil mother teressa, inspite of sincerely trying to pretend, eventually she died an atheist.

  • Hayden Scott

    I totally agree. We need to "unite". Unite around the values of freedom and equality, together with our obligation to support those things. We need to unite around democracy, secularism, the rule of law, freedom of expression, gender equality, respect for different sexual orientation, and pluralism.

  • Persuasive

    Some one pointed me toward the Youtube video of Carrier talking about germs and his reasoning that therefor God isn't real and certainly not the Christian God according to him. I felt I was listening to some child and not a college educated individual. It was hard to sit through 9 minutes of a person crying over spilt milk so to speak. And people listen to this sort of thing? In this day and age? Childish indeed. http://www.couragetolaugh.com

  • disqus_5T2jXBEN10

    It is important to challenge those who challenge the veracity of Scripture and the truth in Christ Jesus, however, as it is written, in Romans 1 the unbeliever is not faithless because of intellect, proof or reason but the contrary their reason and intellect is so darkened by sin and death that they can not behold the obvious proof and existence of God revealed in the glory of creation. It is also good to remember that even those of us who are redeemed from sin and death by our glorious savior are still rebellious and hard hearted and only continue in the faith and because of the grace, patience and kindness of our wonderful Savior. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

    • Will

      Why are you rebelling against Allah, and his prophet Mohammed? Your rebellion against the insights in Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism seems nothing short of evil and hard hearted ;)

      What a ridiculously silly argument you there...

      • disqus_5T2jXBEN10

        Yes, those who call good evil and evil good are the most evil.

        • Will

          Define good and evil.

          • disqus_5T2jXBEN10

            if you need to be told then you dont know

          • Will

            Lol! I have definitions that I think work quite well, I'm trying to see how well they match up to yours. It is foolish to debate a topic if those doing so are defining words differently. I can already tell, however, that you are not a person who engages in rational debate, of course.

          • disqus_5T2jXBEN10

            How can I have a rational debate about God when you believe faith in God is not rational? How do I know you dont believe in God? You think that good or evil is a matter of relevance and not a matter of divine determination by a just and righteous God. Is that a rational understanding?

          • Doug Shaver

            if you need to be told then you dont know

            If you think you don't need to be told, that doesn't mean you do know.

      • Sample1

        is so darkened by sin and death that they can not behold the obvious proof and existence of God revealed in the glory of creation

        Being "darkened by sin and death" is one person's understanding of a book and for whatever reason, mapping it to their surroundings. It strikes me as just bizarre, though understandable I suppose from an anthropologic POV.

        The obvious proof to me, however, is that people largely tend to get along just fine, forming civil societies and generally taking care of one another, if not directly, then at least indirectly. "Darkened by sin and death" my arse.

        Mike

        • Will

          This is the kind of bullshit I had to put up with all the time growing up. Surprised I'm sensitive?

          • Sample1

            Yeah, pretty speechless right now. People like us have just been told that we don't harbor the intellect, the proofs, or the reasons to be who we are but rather owe our skepticism to darkness.

            As much as a comment like that turns me off to sites like these, the solution is visibility. I'll try to stick around. Maybe there is a martial arts philosophical corollary?

            Mike

    • Doug Shaver

      their reason and intellect is so darkened by sin and death that they can not behold the obvious proof and existence of God revealed in the glory of creation.

      Only wicked people can disagree with you. Is that your point?

  • Bob Apposite

    Earliest "independent" accounts, perhaps? Gospels and Acts (being parts of the Bible), obviously, would not be independent accounts.

  • Bob Apposite

    I'm no Biblical expert, but it seems like people on all sides of the issue agree that there are a ton of Biblical texts with authenticity problems. Shouldn't the presumption then become they all are probably inauthentic? I mean, at what point does it simply become ridiculous to say, well - all of these are known to be inauthentic, but these are surely authentic?

    • Doug Shaver

      I mean, at what point does it simply become ridiculous to say, well - all of these are known to be inauthentic, but these are surely authentic?

      It depends on the specifics of the argument being advanced. We are never entitled to infer "surely authentic" from "not provably inauthentic." But guilt by association doesn't work, either. Every document needs to be assessed on its own merits with a minimal set of presuppositions. We're entitled to use our background knowledge, but "The whole Christian story is a pack of lies" is not part of our knowledge. It is a bias.

  • Bob Apposite

    Even in Galatians, Paul is fast and loose with the terms "brothers and sisters". What can you really read into him calling someone the Lord's brother? He calls everyone brother (and sister) - many times. It's meaningless. Clearly, everyone is the Lord's brother or sister. "and all the brothers and sisters with me", "I want you to know, brothers and sisters", etc. Heck, most Bibles have a footnote explaining that the Greek word for brother and sister (adelphoi) refers to believers. Your analysis here is so cursory it's hard to believe you're any kind of Bible scholar. In two seconds I can see you don't have any idea what you're talking about.

  • Bob Apposite

    Obviously, by "earliest accounts" Carrier means the earliest -independent- accounts (other than the Bible itself).

  • Bob Apposite

    Your Islam point is a fair one though. Of everything you've written here, that's the only thing that makes any sense to me.

  • Patrick James Bayham

    grasping at straws….the history of religion.
    the willfully ignorant have no chance when the internet shows them their falsehoods to be cheap myths with which people are basically being lied to …

    heres a book title jimmy …."don't worship illusions and delusions"
    it isn't snark or insult when the truth uncovers your lies is it? jimmy.

  • Rusty Writer

    Jimmy, you seem sincere, but you really only proved that Christianity existed. You gave not a single word written about Jesus during the time he allegedly lived.

  • Emily Thorne

    This is the most clear demonstration that christians are incapable of clear rational thought. He's misquoted out of context everything Carrier said and failed to understand the Bayesian logic he outlined as his approach to the material. It's like if someone wrote "Don't touch, you'll get burned. If you can avoid that you'll be ok." Then, the reader touched, got burned and complained the author said "you'll be ok."

  • Steve C.

    What do you think of Carrier's argument that the triadic structure of the gospel of Matthew indicates that it was fiction? Please email me the response to this question as I have asked it before, but cannot find it on this website in the place where it should have appeared. Thank you. mrburns618@aol.com

  • Freethinker