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Why Paul’s Writings Do Not Support Mythicism

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Filed under Historicity

One of the core tenets of the Jesus myth theory (aka "mythicism") is that the first Christians got the Gospel from private revelations or reading Scripture rather than from the historical Jesus.

In one sense, this is a no-brainer. If Jesus never existed, then of course the Gospel didn’t really come from him. However, there is in fact more to this than simply a logical corollary of the theory itself.

Many mythicists believe that the New Testament actually contains traces of the real origin of the Gospel, and they think they can prove it. Specifically, they point to passages in the epistles that seem to affirm this.

In this article, I want to look at two of these passages, the two that I think present the best evidence for the theory of mythicism, and see if the argument holds up.

The Gospel from Revelation?

In the opening chapter of Paul’s Letter to the Galatians, he explicitly tells us that the Gospel he preached was given to him by direct revelation from Jesus Christ:

“For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 1:11-12)

On the surface, this looks like very strong evidence for the mythicist position, and the case becomes even stronger when we compare this passage with another one from Paul’s letters:

“Now I would remind you, brethren, in what terms I preached to you the gospel, which you received, in which you stand…For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures.” (1 Corinthians 15:1, 3-4)

Popular mythicist Richard Carrier points out several verbal parallels between these two texts. They’re both about the “gospel” that Paul “received” and then “preached,” implying that they’re referring to the same set of information.1 In other words, when we look at these two texts together, it seems that Paul is claiming to have received the Gospel about Jesus’ death and resurrection via direct revelation from Jesus Christ, not from human witnesses to those events.

What Was Paul’s Gospel?

At first glance, this may seem like an airtight case, but let’s take a closer look at Paul’s claim in Galatians. Is he really talking about the basic message about Jesus’ death and resurrection, or is “the gospel which was preached by me” something else? If we look closely at the surrounding context, it seems like it’s actually the latter.

To begin, the whole letter is about whether or not Christians need to be circumcised and follow the Jewish Law. Paul argues that we do not, and his opponents claim that we do. With this in mind, take a look at something Paul says a few verses earlier:

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and turning to a different gospel…If any one is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed.” (Galatians 1:6, 9)

What is this “different gospel” that Paul is writing about? Is it a denial of the death and resurrection of Jesus? No, in the context of the entire letter, it’s obviously a Gospel that requires its adherents to follow the Jewish Law. Paul is here contrasting this with the Gospel that he preached, which didn’t require such obedience.

Once we realize this, we can understand what he means when he says that he received the Gospel directly from Jesus. He’s not talking about the basic message of the death and resurrection of Jesus; rather, he’s talking about the point of contention between him and his opponents. He’s saying that Jesus revealed to him that Christians no longer need to follow the Jewish Law.

As a result, Carrier’s connection between the passages in Galatians and 1 Corinthians doesn’t hold up. Yes, they both use similar language, but they’re about two different things. One is about the basic message of Jesus’ death and resurrection, and the other is about the freedom from the Law that Christians enjoy. When Paul said in 1 Corinthians that he received the Gospel about Jesus’ death and resurrection, there is nothing to indicate that he received it directly from Jesus himself.

The Gospel from Scripture?

The second text I want to look at comes from Paul’s most famous letter, to the Romans:

“Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed and through the prophetic writings is made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— to the only wise God be glory for evermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.” (Romans 16:25-27)

Like the passage from Galatians, this one also tells us that the Gospel Paul preached came from somewhere other than historical witnesses, and again, mythicists sometimes argue that this supports their case.2 The one difference is that in this text, the Gospel comes from the Old Testament (what Paul calls “the prophetic writings”) rather than direct revelation.

However, like that previous passage, this one too is about the freedom of Christians from the Jewish Law, so in the context of the entire letter, that is most likely what Paul means by the phrase “my gospel.”

However, there is one other element in this passage that we need to look at as well. Paul says that “the preaching of Jesus Christ” is now “through the prophetic writings…made known to all nations,” which some take to mean that he learned about Jesus’ own preaching only from Scripture.3 Again, on the surface, that looks like strong evidence for the mythicist position, but it’s actually pretty innocuous. The Greek phrase translated as “the preaching of Jesus Christ” is ambiguous. It can mean the preaching that Jesus himself did, or it can mean the preaching of others about Jesus. On purely grammatical grounds, it could go either way, but in context, the latter is more likely. All throughout Romans, Paul describes the Gospel he preached about Jesus, but he doesn’t say anything about Jesus’ own preaching, so this phrase is almost certainly referring to the preaching of others about Jesus.

What Now?

At the end of the day, there is simply no evidence that any early Christians learned about Jesus’ death and resurrection solely from direct revelation or Scripture rather than from historical witnesses to those events.

Granted, this doesn’t prove that they did learn those things from historical witnesses or that Jesus even existed, but it does clear away some arguments for mythicism. As a result, the debate will have to move to other evidence. Simply put, Paul’s statements about the origin of his Gospel provide no evidence against the existence of Jesus.

Notes:

  1. Richard Carrier, On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt (Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2014), 536.
  2. Raphael Lataster, Jesus Did Not Exist: A Debate Among Atheists (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2015), 237-238.
  3. Richard Carrier, On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt (Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2014), 137-138.
JP Nunez

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JP Nunez has been a theology nerd since high school. He has master's degrees in both theology and philosophy (with a concentration in bioethics) from Franciscan University of Steubenville, and he spent three years in Catholic University of America's doctoral program in biblical studies before realizing that academia isn't where he wants to be. During his time in Steubenville, he worked for two years as an intern at the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology, where his responsibilities included answering theological questions and helping to format and edit their Journey Through Scripture Bible studies. He blogs at JP Nunez: Understanding the Faith Through Scripture.

Note: Our goal is to cultivate serious and respectful dialogue. While it's OK to disagree—even encouraged!—any snarky, offensive, or off-topic comments will be deleted. Before commenting please read the Commenting Rules and Tips. If you're having trouble commenting, read the Commenting Instructions.

  • The mythicists rightly point out that Paul never met Jesus in the flesh but relies on his own mystical experience on the road to Damascus. He clearly notes in Galatians 1:12 that his gospel was not received from men by directly from Jesus after his death and that he never spoke to any of them for years later, but knew his gospel without them. Obviously much of Paul's letters are directed at correcting what he found to be contrary practices to his revelation in some communities.

    The bigger point raised by mythicists is that given how much Paul writes, so soon after the crucifixion, and how much he eventually does communicate with the alleged eyewitnesses, he provides virtually no details of Jesus' life. They say this is conspicuous, given that the other writers gospels are filled with biography.

    The defeater is the one comment he makes about James the brother of Christ in Galatians 1:19. Non terrestrial cosmic beings don't have earthly brothers.

    Carrier's response that Paul meant the brotherhood of Christians or something does not add up in my view as he speaks of Peter in the preceding verse and does not refer to him as a brother. But to have a good view I think you need to read it in the original Klingon.

    • Richard Morley

      Non terrestrial cosmic beings don't have earthly brothers.

      Of course, neither would the son of a perpetual virgin, unless James was also miraculously conceived.

      • Rob Abney

        Or if he was a brother from another mother, as in a cousin.

        • Richard Morley

          So... as in not a brother, but a cousin. Or Joseph had a previous wife (or cheated on Mary for the sake of completeness) and James is legally but not actually Jesus' half brother, which I assume is also out.

          Or 'brother' as monks or fraternity members are brothers. Which is consistent with Jesus being a physical or spiritual being.

          • @disqus_gr7vG21UrE:disqus Please see my reply to @briangreenadams:disqus above, which should clear things up for you.

            James was likely a cousin of Jesus and not a biological brother.

          • Sample1

            likely a cousin

            This careful and honest uncertainty is well received.

            Mike

    • @briangreenadams:disqus Thanks for the comment. I'm sure you're aware that the Bible wasn't written in Klingon, so I can't see how you meant this line as anything but a snarky insult against the Christian Scriptures. Please cut it out. It only hurts your case and makes your arguments seem juvenile.

      You say:

      "The defeater is the one comment [Paul] makes about James the brother of Christ in Galatians 1:19. Non terrestrial cosmic beings don't have earthly brothers."

      There's so much confusion here, it's hard to know where to start.

      First, Jesus was not a "non-terrestrial" being. He was born on earth to a human mother. He has human DNA. He's a part of the human species. He's emphatically terrestrial.

      (I can only assume you're using this type of language to equate Jesus with some sort of alien or UFO, and if so, that's only more confirmation of your ignorance about who Jesus was. Even most of my atheist friends know that Jesus was born on earth.)

      Second, while it's true many English translations of the Bible render James' relation to Jesus as "brother," in Semitic usage, the terms translated as “brother” and “sister” are applied not only to children of the same parents, but to nephews, nieces, cousins, half-brothers, and half-sisters. (The specific Greek term used in Galatians, adelphos, has the same broad application.)

      For other examples in Scripture of the word "brother" not applying to full siblings, see Genesis 14:16 (the King James Version refers to Abram's "brother" Lot although Lot was actually his nephew), Genesis 29:15, and Leviticus 10:4.

      Also, in Mark 6:17, we read, "Herod was the one who had John arrested and bound in prison on account of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip, whom he had married." However, there is no doubt that Philip was actually the half-brother of Herod Antipas.

      Because of the Bible’s broad semantic range of “brother,” we can rest assured that although Paul writes, “[Jesus] appeared to more than five hundred…brothers at the same time” (1 Cor. 15:6), we need not infer from this verse that Mary gave birth to more than 500 children!

      From this semantic understanding alone, it's plausible that James was, in fact, the half-brother of Jesus, sharing only the same father (Joseph), which is what virtually all Christians believed (save for a few outliers) during the first 1,500 years of Christianity.

      But here's another problem with your insinuation, one I think is the ultimate defeater:

      James and Joseph (also called Joses), are admittedly called Jesus’ “brothers” (Mark 6:3) and are indeed the children of Mary....just not Mary, the mother of Jesus.

      James and Joseph were the sons of Mary of Cleophas (Mark 15:40), and Mary of Cleophas is described in the Gospel of John as the Virgin Mary's “sister” (John 19:25). This confirms that James was, in fact, a cousin of Jesus.

      The earliest explanation of the “brothers” of the Lord is found in a document known as the Protoevangelium of James, which was written around A.D. 150. It speaks of Mary as a consecrated virgin since her youth, and of Joseph as an elderly widower with children. Joseph, the text explains, was chosen to be Mary’s spouse for the purposes of guarding and protecting her while respecting her vow of virginity.

      There are several other confirmations of this in the first few centuries of the Church. Jerome, for example, affirmed that these children of Mary (James and Joseph) were, as explained above, from Mary of Clophas, Jesus’ aunt and his mother’s sister, making Jesus and James cousins.

      Hope that provides some clarity for you!

      • Richard Morley

        First, Jesus was not a "non-terrestrial" being.

        As I understand it, Carrier's thesis is that in the very early church stories Jesus was a celestial being, not a physical one, much like the Angel Gabriel in Islam and in contrast to the current literal reading of Jesus as a physical entity, to which you refer.

        Neither reading (Jesus as physical or celestial) work with James being a literal full-blooded brother, given Mary being a virgin all her life. Both are compatible with James being a 'brother' in the sense that monks or fraternity-mates are brothers, and only the bodily Jesus is compatible with James being a [half/step]brother or a cousin (or more distant relative) being referred to as a brother.

        • Dr Sarah

          Even the Gospels don't support a claim that Mary was a virgin all her life. That, as I understand it, was a later Catholic doctrine.

          • "Even the Gospels don't support a claim that Mary was a virgin all her life. That, as I understand it, was a later Catholic doctrine."

            It's true the Gospels don't explicitly say "Mary was a virgin all her life." But there are good implicit reasons to think this was the case, and this is what virtually all Christians believed for the first 1,500 years of the Church (and still what the majority believe today.) For the details, I'd encourage you to read Tim Staple's fine book, Behold Your Mother, or the Church Fathers' commentary on the issue.

          • Dr Sarah

            Is the latter this one? http://www.newadvent.org/summa/4028.htm#article3 (I'm going from the earlier version of your comment in which you named Aquinas, so I don't know if you had a different one in mind.)

          • Alexandra

            Hi Dr Sarah,

            The Church Fathers were leaders of the Church before the 8th century, known as the Patristic Era. (So it would not include Aquinas, from the 13th century.) Their writings give a remarkable insight into the early Church.

            There are numerous books on the subject of Mary and the Church Fathers like, Gambero's Mary and the Fathers of the Church The Blessed Virgin Mary in Patristic Thought :
            https://www.ignatius.com/Products/MAFC-P/mary-and-the-fathers-of-the-church.aspx

            Some of the Church Father's writings are available online:
            http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/

            And this is a small summary on the topic of what The Church Fathers said about Mary's virginity :
            https://www.catholic.com/tract/mary-ever-virgin

            Hope this helps.

            Edit: grammar and added words

          • Except that Christ had no less than six brothers and sisters. These included his brothers James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas along with at the very least two sisters. ( Matthew 13:54-56; Mark 6:3 ) Those siblings were natural offspring of Jesus’ mom, Mary, and her husband, Joseph. ( Matthew 1:25 ) The Bible refers to Jesus as “the firstborn” of Mary, meaning that she had other boys and girls .—Luke 2:7.

          • Arthur Jeffries

            Do you think that Brandon Vogt and Tim Staples have never read those verses?

          • Apparently ...

          • Arthur Jeffries

            They've read those verses and interpret them differently than you do.

          • And that's exactly where they go amiss. Our Creator provided us his Word for all of us to learn and then apply, not to interpret.

          • Arthur Jeffries

            Because the Bible is a collection of texts, it must be interpreted. To learn and apply Sacred Scripture, we must first interpret it.

            When you read a text, you interpret it. When you read the Bible, you interpret it. You've interpreted Daniel, and insisted that your interpretation is correct. You interpret everything else you read in Sacred Scripture too. Interpretation is a natural, necessary part of how we intellectually process texts.

          • Correction, I grasp the meaning of the Bible, I don't offer positions on the basis of my personal opinion.

          • David Nickol

            Those siblings were natural offspring of Jesus’ mom, Mary, and her husband, Joseph.

            While I believe the simplest assumption is that Jesus had true brothers and sisters, there is nothing in the Gospels to say that Mary had other children. Joseph could have had children from a previous marriage. There is nothing to indicate that he did, although there is nothing (but silence) to indicate that he didn't.

            Calling a son firstborn does not necessarily imply additional sons or daughters. The first son born to a woman is obviously the firstborn son. It is not necessary for her to have additional children to have a firstborn son.

            Do you imagine in the plague in Egypt, when every firstborn son died, that any boy or man who was an only child was spared death because he didn't count as "firstborn"?

          • there is nothing in the Gospels to say that Mary had other children.

            See https://disqus.com/home/discussion/strangenotions/why_paul8217s_writings_do_not_support_mythicism/#comment-3632749939

            Why do you keep trying to find the cat's fifth paw?

          • Gary Torkeo

            Simply because you said "always" which infers many or multiple. Remember, you said that. I am not a biblical scholar but I stand on the shoulders of giants and the biggest giant of them all is the Roman Catholic Church. Anything else is the bloody definition of "looking for the fifth paw." I am sure that will be seen as provocative by some but is just a simple truth. Again, just a response to something you brought up.

          • Actions prove why your rhetoric means nothing.

            So take 2000 years of Church witness, its wars, violence, abuse, strife, discord, animosity, hatred, bigotry, inequality, injustice, and depravity, take all of that evil fruit and compare it to the exceptionally fine fruit produced by these: <==== These are hyperlinks

            “They refuse any form of violence and without rebelling put up with the many trials inflicted on them because of their beliefs . . . How different the world would be if we all woke up one morning firmly decided not to take up arms again, whatever the cost or the reason, just like Jehovah’s Witnesses!” - “Andare Alle Genti”

            “[Jehovah’s Witnesses are] well known as very nice, kind, and meek people who are very easy to deal with, never put any pressure on other people and always seek peace in their relationship with others . . . There are no bribe-takers, drunkards or drug addicts among them, and the reason is very simple: They just try to be guided by their Bible-based convictions in everything they do or say. If all the people in the world at least tried to live according to the Bible the way Jehovah’s Witnesses do, our cruel world would be absolutely different.” - The Moscow Times

            “I am not a Witness. But I am a witness to the fact that the Witnesses witness to efficiency and proper behaviour. . . . If they were the only people in the world, we would not at night have to bolt our doors shut and put on the burglar alarm.” - Journal de Montréal in Canada

            “If all the religious denominations were like Jehovah’s witnesses, we would have no murders, burglaries, delinquencies, prisoners and atomic bombs. Doors would not be locked day in and day out.” - Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Former Governor-General of Nigeria

            “I have come to the conclusion that if Jehovah’s Witnesses were the only ones living on the earth, wars would cease to exist, and the only duties of the policemen would be to control traffic and to issue passports.” - “Gyűrű”

            “Suffice it to say that if all the world lived by the creed of the Jehovah Witnesses there would be an end of bloodshed and hatred, and love would reign as king!”- “The Sacramento Union”

            “The work of Jehovah’s Witnesses is the revival and re-establishment of the primitive Christianity practised by Jesus and his disciples . . . All are brothers.” - “The Encyclopedia Canadiana”

            If our biblical insights are not sound, how do you explain all of this fine fruit? Or are you suggesting Christ Jesus was in error?

          • Gary Torkeo

            Please. THE Roman Catholic Church is the greatest force for good the world has or ever will see. That is unarguable. The United States is a distant second. There are corrupt people in every single organization ever in existence. I'm sorry I had to go to a 6th grade level to even mention that.

            Abraham's "only begotten son" is a foretelling of Jesus so your one example supports Jesus having no siblings. Thanks.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Isn't it interesting that the Jehovah's Witnesses' translation of the Bible, which is the New World Translation, renders the verse John 1:1 as: “In the beginning the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god.”

            Whereas, every other scholarly translation listed among the recognized ones reads substantively like this: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." http://biblehub.com/john/1-1.htm

            Does it possibly have anything to do with the fact that everyone recognizes that "the Word" is Jesus?

          • Arthur Jeffries

            I've directed you to up to date research by Mark Riebling, and you've responded with a decade old article. You also seem to not have noticed what that article says about Protestantism.

            What did you think about the Riebling interview?

            What did you you think the debate between Richard Weikart and Richard Carrier?

            Do you intend to simple simply ignore the information provided in those two links?

          • I couldn't hear it over the millions of dead murdered at the hands of Catholic Nazis, sorry.

          • Arthur Jeffries

            What do you mean "it"? I posted two links.

            Is it reasonable for you to share links with me while you continue to ignore the links I shared with you?

            You continue to refer to "Catholic Nazis." Why did you ignore the portion of the Guardian article that spoke of Protestants? What about the photo you posted of the Lutheran head of the Reich church greeting Hitler?

            Why won't you say anything about Positive Christianity?

          • Because actions prove why rhetoric means nothing.

            Catholic Nazis slaughtered millions ... and there's nothing you can do to change that.

            The only thing you can do is recognize Catholicism's moral bankruptcy, abandon them and follow Christ Jesus. (John 14:6)

          • Arthur Jeffries

            Why should I believe that you are better informed on Hitler and the Nazis than the published authors who I mentioned?

          • Next, you're going to tell me that the Holocaust never happened, Blacks in America were never slaveowners and the moon landings were faked, right?

          • Arthur Jeffries

            Why should I believe that you are better informed on Hitler and the Nazis than the published authors who I mentioned?

          • Adversus solem ne loquitor!

          • Arthur Jeffries

            Do you mean to say that it is obvious that you are better informed than the authors I mentioned? How could that be obvious to you, when by your own admission you did not listen to either the interview or the debate that I linked to?

            I don't understand your reluctance to listen to an NPR interview. NPR is a secular news source. It is not known for Catholic apologetics. Do you believe that NPR has a pro-Catholic bias?

            The debate on Unbelievable is between an atheist and a Protestant, and it is hosted by a Protestant. Do you believe that those three non-Catholics are guilty of a pro-Catholic bias?

          • Arthur Jeffries

            That comment does not answer my questions. Are you incapable of answering my questions?

          • That's pretty rich coming from someone trying to defend their church's obvious and well-known collusion with Hitler and the Nazis ...

          • Sample1

            Off topic.

            Mike

          • Arthur Jeffries

            That is not an answer to any of my questions.

          • Because actions prove why rhetoric means nothing.

            Does that apply to all rhetoric, or just some rhetoric?

          • Because actions prove why rhetoric means nothing.

            Catholic Nazis slaughtered millions ... and there's nothing you can do to change that.

            The only thing you can do is recognize Catholicism's moral bankruptcy, abandon them and follow Christ Jesus. (John 14:6)

            I can never change anything, good or bad, that has already happened. But I have been seeing the actions of Catholic people my whole life. Those actions flatly contradict your rhetoric about the moral bankruptcy of their religion.

          • It says, "instead of a sound argument or compelling evidence." My life's observations are compelling evidence that what you say about Catholic morality is in error. If you think it's not, the burden of proof is on you to demonstrate its insufficiency.

          • ◇ All nine Crusades
            ◇ The Eighty Years’ War
            ◇ The Thirty Years’ War
            ◇ The German Peasants War
            ◇ The slaughter of 16th/17th century Huguenots
            ◇ Second War of Kappel
            ◇ The Inquisition
            ◇ The genocide of natives at the hands of Catholic Conquistadors
            ◇ WWI
            ◇ WWII
            ◇ Northern Ireland Conflict a.k.a The Troubles
            ◇ The Rwandan Genocide
            ◇ The Venezuelan Civil War

            And the list goes on and on and on and on and on ...

            Btw, why are predominantly Catholic countries some of the most corrupt in the world today?

          • An impressive list. Now all you have to do is prove, for each one of them separately, that Catholics were solely responsible, meaning that no person of any other religion or of no religion had anything to do with causing the conflict.

            And the list goes on and on and on and on and on ...

            I think the ones we're looking at will keep us busy enough for the time being. [Edited for typo.]

            Btw, why are predominantly Catholic countries some of the most corrupt in the world today?

            I can understand your wanting to change the subject right about now, but let's not do that just yet.

          • When did Christ Jesus ever espouse murder?

          • You've changed the subject. I'm done for now.

          • Hardly. I've simply cut to the heart of the matter since no Christian actively participated in any of those murderous conflicts.

          • If you are now raising the issue of whether Catholics are Christians, that is a change of subject.

          • Catholic historian E. I. Watkin wrote: “Painful as the admission must be, we cannot in the interest of a false edification or dishonest loyalty deny or ignore the historical fact that Bishops have consistently supported all wars waged by the government of their country. . . . Where belligerent nationalism is concerned they have spoken as the mouthpiece of Caesar.”

            When Watkin said that bishops of the Catholic Church “supported all wars waged by the government of their country,” he included the wars of aggression waged by Hitler. As Roman Catholic professor of history at Vienna University, Friedrich Heer, admitted: “In the cold facts of German history, the Cross and the swastika came ever closer together, until the swastika proclaimed the message of victory from the towers of German cathedrals, swastika flags appeared round altars and Catholic and Protestant theologians, pastors, churchmen and statesmen welcomed the alliance with Hitler.”

            Catholic Church leaders gave such unqualified support to Hitler’s wars that the Roman Catholic professor Gordon Zahn wrote: “The German Catholic who looked to his religious superiors for spiritual guidance and direction regarding service in Hitler’s wars received virtually the same answers he would have received from the Nazi ruler himself.”

            That Catholics obediently followed the direction of their church leaders was documented by Professor Heer. He noted: “Of about thirty-two million German Catholics—fifteen and a half million of whom were men—only seven [individuals] openly refused military service. Six of these were Austrians.” More recent evidence indicates that a few other Catholics, as well as some Protestants, stood up against the Nazi State because of religious convictions. Some even paid with their lives, while at the same time their spiritual leaders were selling out to the Third Reich.

          • Hitler was baptized as Roman Catholic in Austria.

            As Hitler approached boyhood he attended a monastery school. (On his way to school young Adolf daily observed a stone arch which was carved with the monastery’s coat of arms bearing a swastika.)

          • Hitler was a communicant and an altar boy in the Catholic Church.

            As a young man he was confirmed as a “soldier of Christ.” His most ardent goal at the time was to become a priest. Hitler writes of his love for the church and clergy: “I had excellent opportunity to intoxicate myself with the solemn splendor of the brilliant church festivals. As was only natural, the abbot seemed to me, as the village priest had once seemed to my father, the highest and most desirable ideal.” -Adolf Hitler (Mein Kampf)

          • Hitler was neverexcommunicated nor condemned by his church. Matter of fact the Church felt he was just and “avenging for God” in attacking the Jews for they deemed the Semites the killers of Jesus.

          • Hitler, Franco and Mussolini were given veto power over whom the pope could appoint as a bishop in Germany, Spain and Italy. In turn they surtaxed the Catholics and gave the money to the Vatican. Hitler wrote a speech in which he talks about this alliance, this is an excerpt: “The fact that the Vatican is concluding a treaty with the new Germany means the acknowledgement of the National Socialist state by the Catholic Church. This treaty shows the whole world clearly and unequivocally that the assertion that National Socialism [Nazism] is hostile to religion is a lie.” Adolf Hitler, 22 July 1933, writing to the Nazi Party

          • Hitler worked intimately with Pope Pius in converting Germanic society and supporting the church. The Church absorbed Nazi ideals and preached them as part of their sermons in turn Hitler placed Catholic teachings in public education. This photo depicts Hitler with Archbishop Cesare Orsenigo, the papal nuncio in Berlin. It was taken On April 20, 1939, when Orsenigo celebrated Hitler’s birthday. The celebrations were initiated by Pacelli (Pope Pius XII) and became a tradition.

          • Each April 20, Cardinal Bertram of Berlin was to send “warmest congratulations to the Fuhrer in the name of the bishops and the dioceses in Germany with “fervent prayers which the Catholics of Germany are sending to heaven on their altars.” (If you would like to know more about the secret dealings of Hitler and the Pope I recommend you get a book titled: Hitler’s Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII, by John Cornwell)

          • Due to Hitler’s involvement with the Church he began enacting doctrines of the Church as law. He outlawed all abortion, raged a death war on all homosexuals, and demanded corporal punishment in schools and home. Many times Hitler addressed the church and promised that Germany would implement its teachings: “The National Socialist State professes its allegiance to positive Christianity. It will be its honest endeavor to protect both the great Christian Confessions in their rights, to secure them from interference with their doctrines (Lehren), and in their duties to constitute a harmony with the views and the exigencies of the State of today.” –Adolf Hitler, on 26 June 1934, to Catholic bishops to assure them that he would take action against the new pagan propaganda “Providence has caused me to be Catholic, and I know therefore how to handle this Church.” -Adolf Hitler, reportedly to have said in Berlin in 1936 on the enmity of the Catholic Church to National Socialism.

          • Gary Torkeo

            The reason your "denomination" wasn't involved in the trials and greatness The Church was involved in is...IT DIDN'T EXIST!! The Protestant revolution was the great scandal. Keep seeking and have a great life.

          • Hitler was Catholic. The Nazis were Catholic.

            The Rwandans who slaughtered each were Catholic.

            How is that greatness?

          • Gary Torkeo

            You have gone from JW silliness to Hitchens ridiculousness. You have officially lost all credibility.
            Tell me: what Roman Catholic Church did Hitler and his Nazis go to Mass to every Sunday, what priests gave them communion, how often did they go to confession??...I PROMISE you won't answer these because I KNOW you can't. You know it too.
            Your arguments are of the truly desperate.

          • Arthur Jeffries

            Hitler was not a believing Catholic or even an orthodox Christian. He was an adherent to what the Nazis called "Positive Christianity." Positive Christianity was officially endorsed by and promoted by the Nazis. Lisent to this debate on Hitler's faith: Unbelievable? Was Hitler anti-Christian? Richard Weikart vs Richard Carrier.

            "The Nazis were Catholic" is a bizarre statement. There were indeed Catholics in the Nazi party, but there were also Lutherans and other Protestants in the party as well as people from a secular background. In any case, Positive Christianity was irreconcilable with any form of Christian orthodoxy, including Catholicism.

            Mark Riebling’s Church of Spies: The Pope’s Secret War against Hitler definitively proves that the pope himself wanted Hitler dead and the Nazis to be removed from power. The pope is the head of the Catholic Church.

          • Arthur Jeffries

            Hitler shook a bishop's hand. Okay, now what part of my comment is that pic supposed to be a counterargument to?

          • Arthur Jeffries

            I decided to Google that pic. Pictured is Lutheran Bishop Ludwig Müller, leader of the Reich Church in Germany, shaking hands with Hitler. He wrote "What is Positive Christianity?" in 1939.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Perhaps Maxximillann would like to explain how it is that, if the Catholic Church was so in league with the Nazis, the former Chief Rabbi of Rome, Israel Zolli, became a Catholic at the end of the war?

            Even more striking, if Pope Pius XII was "Hitler's Pope," how is it that " Zolli chose to be christened "Eugenio Maria" in homage to Pope Pius XII, who was born Eugenio Maria Giuseppe Giovanni Pacelli."?

            See this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Israel_Zolli

          • NDAHIRO TOM, a Rwandan human rights commissioner, paints a picture of deep historical and political complicity and calls for the Church to restore its credibility by contributing to the process of justice.

            16 April 2005 - Ndahiro Tom (A Commissioner of Human Rights in Rwanda.)
            Source: PAMBAZUKA
            http://www.pambazuka.org/en/category/comment/27718

          • Miguel

            And what about Abraham calling his wife Sarah "sister", I think in the book of Genesis? What about both lovers calling each other "sister" and "brother"? Were all of them meaning actual soblings from the same parents?

            Some married couples call each other "mom" and "dad, but they aren't parents and children. In the same vein, it is very likely that the usage of those terms had, let's say idiomatic usages, in order to refer to beloved people.

          • Richard Morley

            Sure, I was considering only the two viewpoints of the Carrier-type mysticists and the orthodox catholic historicists. Other options exist.

        • Miguel

          From the point of view of several christian denominations, Jesus is, actually, both celestial and terrestrial, and there is support for that in the Canonic Gospels (to take seriously them is another issue): Jesus is described many times doing terrestrial things and experiencing terrestrial situations and limitations, even hunger, fear, he needs to sleep...

          But also he is claimed, in the very same textes, claiming that he is of divine nature, or origin; in Mathew and Mark, when he affirms that he has power to forgive sins -not mere offenses toward him. To forgive sins in the jewish religion is privative fo God alone. In the Gospel of John, all the times when he claims that he and the Father are one, or when he claims that he is before Abraham.

          Obviously, a desbielever isn't going to take biblical claims as the truth, but the problem here is different from that; it is what was originally claimed about Jesus, and the Canonic Gospels weren't redacted hundred of years after the events they try to tell, but in some cases a few decades.

      • I'm pretty sure that was a joke, like "You need to read this in the original Greek" (which you support by the translation of "brother").

        Anyway, doesn't the fact that "brother" had such broad usage undercut the idea this has to be some "earthly" brother of Jesus?

        Why do you cite an apocryphal work that wasn't composed until much later than the purported date of these events?

        • Oh! Thanks. I was really confused at why Brandon was trying so hard to show James was not a biological brother if Jesus. Wow. Why do they need Mary timber a virgin all her life.

          Do they really think sex between married parents is so dirty that it would taint the holy mom even after she gave birth to God?

          • Rob Abney

            Who are you referring to when you say "they"?
            Mary was a virgin because she had consecrated her life to God, it was part of her sacrificial self. It is similar to when we fast from food it is not because food is bad but because it is good but not as good as being with God.

          • Catholics. Ok.

          • "Oh! Thanks. I was really confused at why Brandon was trying so hard to show James was not a biological brother if Jesus. Wow. Why do they need Mary timber a virgin all her life."

            I'm not sure who you're referring to by "they," but it's incorrect to say that anyone "needs" Mary to remain a virgin all her life.

            It's certainly fitting, as Thomas Aquinas and others have shown, that Mary remained a Virgin even after birth, given that she was a consecrated Virgin to God before birth and had her body sanctified by the presence of the Living God in a dramatically unique way, but it certainly wasn't necessary that she remain a Virgin.

            The reason why the overwhelming majority of Christians throughout history believe she remained a Virgin is not because they need her to but because, to put it simply, she was.

            "Do they really think sex between married parents is so dirty that it would taint the holy mom even after she gave birth to God?"

            No, you'll be happy to know Catholics do not think sex between married parents is dirty.

            If nothing else, this is evidenced by the fact that according to studies, Catholic spouses have more sex, and more enjoyable sex, than virtually every other demographic--and this is considered wonderful by the Church.

          • By "they" I meant Catholics. But I think it is fair to say you need to argue Mary had no other children as you have been told infallibly that she never had sex. Irrespective of any evidence or argument you now encounter you must not dispute the infallible position of the church?

            So why did God need to deprive Joseph and Mary from doing it and having a big loving family and fulfilling enjoyable sex?

            This is quite a tangent now but I'd be interested in the theology.

          • "But I think it is fair to say you need to argue Mary had no other children as you have been told infallibly that she never had sex."

            No, I don't think that's fair, because you have things exactly backward. The Church has infallibly declared Mary never had sex because there are good arguments that she never had children, or sexual relations. The arguments came first; the infallible declaration after, only when the arguments were seriously questioned.

            "So why did God need to deprive Joseph and Mary from doing it and having a big loving family and fulfilling enjoyable sex? This is quite a tangent now but I'd be interested in the theology."

            Just framing the question this way leads me to think you're not really interested in the topic, just in cheap rhetorical points.

            As I explained in the comment right above yours (did you even read it?) God did not need Mary to be a virgin (or to deprive Mary from "doing it" in your juvenile language.)

            However, it was fitting that Mary remain a virgin given that Mary--like the Ark of the Old Testament, to which she's a fulfillment--be sanctified (i.e., set apart) from normally good human activities given her special status as the bearer of God, just as the Ark was not to be touched by human hands since it bore the very Word of God.

            If you're genuinely interested in this, there have been several great books on it and loads of online articles, only a Google search away. At the popular level, I'd recommend starting with Tim Staples' Behold Your Mother and Scott Hahn's Hail, Holy Queen.

          • David Nickol

            The Church has infallibly declared Mary never had sex because there are good arguments that she never had children, or sexual relations.

            I think it is fair to say that belief in the Perpetual Virginity of Mary as formulated by the Catholic Church (antepartum, in partu, post-partum) is a matter of faith and cannot be "proven" by appealing to the Bible. I'm going from memory here, but I believe both Raymond Brown and John P. Meier both conclude that from the biblical evidence alone, the more plausible reading is that Jesus had siblings. However, the Catholic Church considers "Tradition" as an important element in formulating doctrines about Mary. And Tradition is pretty much a religious concept, not a historical one.

            It would of course be unreasonable for Catholics to expect that atheists or adherents of religions other than Catholicism accept "infallible" pronouncements by the Church.

            However, it was fitting that Mary remain a virgin given that Mary--like the Ark of the Old Testament, to which she's a fulfillment--be sanctified (i.e., set apart) from normally good human activities given her special status as the bearer of God . . . .

            This is something that may make sense to believing Catholics, but of course to atheists it is hardly a compelling argument. I have a feeling that "conservative" Catholic biblical scholars take Marian doctrines to be historically realities, while "liberal" biblical scholars see them as metaphors.

            Getting into the details involved in the doctrine of the Perpetual Virginity of Mary is a touchy business, because many are easily offended. I have no intention of offending here, but I would merely point out the following:

            “Ever-Virgin” means conception while remaining a virgin (Virgin Birth), virginity during childbirth, and perpetual virginity after the birth of Jesus (no siblings of Jesus or sexual activity). The Church has interpreted Mary’s virginity during the birth (in partu) as an inviolability of the hymen; in other words, it was a physically miraculous birth rather than a natural one. This, too, is a dogma of the Catholic Church.

            Exactly why it has been considered important for Mary to have an intact hymen—to the extent that some miraculous and inexplicable birth process must be claimed—is beyond me. This is not the place to discuss hymens in any detail (and I am certainly not the one to do it!), but I don't think it is our idea in the 21st century that the perfect woman must have an intact hymen.

            The article I quoted above, which is from Patheos and is titled Mary’s Perpetual Virginity “In Partu” (a Miraculous, Non-Natural Childbirth), appears to be entirely "orthodox" and covers a lot of territory.

          • Rob Abney

            from the biblical evidence alone, the more plausible reading is that Jesus had siblings. However, the Catholic Church considers "Tradition" as an important element in formulating doctrines about Mary. And Tradition is pretty much a religious concept, not a historical one.

            What criteria do you use to determine that tradition is religious and non-historical but the bible is some sort of independent non-religious evidence?
            It seems that the most difficult part of the scriptures for un-orthodox biblical scholars to reconcile is the presence of miracles. So a reading of the bible without the mind of the Church results in incredulity, exactly the opposite of the purpose of the bible.

          • David Nickol

            What criteria do you use to determine that tradition is religious and non-historical but the bible is some sort of independent non-religious evidence?

            Please note that I capitalized the word Tradition. Surely, as an educated Catholic, you are aware that the Church gives a special, "religious" meaning to the word Tradition with a capital T:

            II. THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN TRADITION AND SACRED SCRIPTURE

            One common source. . .

            80 "Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture, then, are bound closely together, and communicate one with the other. For both of them, flowing out from the same divine well-spring, come together in some fashion to form one thing, and move towards the same goal." Each of them makes present and fruitful in the Church the mystery of Christ, who promised to remain with his own "always, to the close of the age".

            . . . two distinct modes of transmission

            81 "Sacred Scripture is the speech of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit."

            "And [Holy] Tradition transmits in its entirety the Word of God which has been entrusted to the apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit. It transmits it to the successors of the apostles so that, enlightened by the Spirit of truth, they may faithfully preserve, expound and spread it abroad by their preaching."

            For atheists and non-Christians, the Bible and tradition (with a lowercase T) are possible sources of historical information to be evaluated just like any other sources. But Tradition with a capital T, as the Catholic Church defines it, is "the word of God," and quite understandably, atheists and non-Christians do not believe in "the word of God."

            It seems that the most difficult part of the scriptures for un-orthodox biblical scholars to reconcile is the presence of miracles.

            You seem to be baffled by the fact that not everyone has the same religious beliefs as you do. Atheists don't believe in miracles.

          • Rob Abney

            I did understand how you were using the term Tradition, but I don't understand how the bible can be considered as anything but an equally religious source. Why do atheist biblical scholars believe the history that is found in the bible but not the miracles? So, I'm asking what criteria is used to select what parts are to be overlooked?

          • David Nickol

            Why do atheist biblical scholars believe the history that is found in the bible but not the miracles?

            Atheist biblical scholars (and historians in general) treat biblical documents in exactly the same way they would treat other ancient documents. It is not a matter of believing everything in, say, the Gospels but dismissing the miracle stories. Anything that might be historical in the Gospels is subjected to the same kind of scrutiny as similar material in other first-century documents. It is cross-checked against know history of the time. Multiple accounts of the same story in different Gospels are compared to see if there are significant differences. Caution is taken to distinguish between what might be metaphorical or symbolic and what the actual facts were. This is the kind of analysis even "orthodox" Catholic biblical scholars subject the Gospels to.

            As I said before, you seem to be baffled that not everyone has the same religious beliefs you do. Perhaps you need to read some good biblical scholarship. You seem to devote a great deal of your time to Aquinas and Thomism. There's nothing wrong with that, but you seem to be largely unaware of modern biblical scholarship.

          • Rob Abney

            It would be an understatement to say that Aquinas has a considerable amount of biblical scholarship, but who would you recommend otherwise?

          • David Nickol

            I would say that the writings of Aquinas are largely devoid of what I refer to when I talk about biblical scholarship (the historical/critical method and the search for the historical Jesus). Here's an excellent idea—if I do say so myself—for you or anyone else seriously interested in modern biblical scholarship. Go to Amazon and order a used copy of John P. Meier's A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus: Roots of the Problem and the Person, Volume 1. You can get a copy in good condition for less than $10, including free shipping. (So you don't forget, order before midnight tonight!) Reading the book cover to cover would be a fairly major undertaking, but I don't think it's necessary. First, read Chapters 1 and 6 (Basic Concepts: The Real Jesus and the Historical Jesus and Criteria: How Do We Decide What Comes from Jesus?). Then read whatever interests you. For example, you might check out pages 318-332, where Meier discusses the issue of the brothers and sisters of Jesus.

          • David Nickol

            Another excellent book is Raymond E. Collins's Introduction to the New Testament, which is written from a Catholic point of view.

          • Rob Abney

            I didn't get the book but I was able to read good summaries online, thanks for the recommendations.
            Here's a quote from Fr. Meier,

            The proper stance of a historian is, “I neither claim beforehand that miracles are possible, nor do I claim beforehand they are not possible.” https://www.franciscanmedia.org/finding-the-historical-jesus-an-interview-with-john-p-meier/

            And here is an assertion of a problem applying that approach from W.L. Craig,

            One cannot consistently on Meier's methodology deny to the historian the possibility of the judgement 'Jesus rose from the dead' on the grounds that such an event is so obviously miraculous, for this would involve the historian's rendering a verdict about the miraculous nature of the alleged event, which Meier insists is impossible for the historian as such....
            What is, of course, ironic about this is that Meier eschews theological commitments in his work as a historian, aspiring to approach questions from a theologically neutral stance. But it seems clear that the reason John Meier as a historian won't touch the Risen Lord is because his prior theological commitments preclude this. https://www.reasonablefaith.org/writings/scholarly-writings/historical-jesus/noli-me-tangere-why-john-meier-wont-touch-the-risen-lord/

            And here is M. Levering's opinion about the brothers and sisters,

            It seems clear that the early Church, as part of its doctrinal meditation on Jesus, pondered the whole of the biblical witness to Mary. As the Fathers came to know Mary, this knowledge also influenced their exegesis. They read the texts on the brothers and sisters of Jesus in light of what they learned through their meditation on Mary.

            This is clearly a different understanding of how the “burden of proof” is taken up exegetically. The burden does not fall to the individual exegete in any time period. Rather, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the burden is an ecclesial task that has as its object the entirety of the biblical witness. When the early Fathers shared in this burden, they concluded both that the New Testament offers no proof that Mary was the mother of the brothers and sisters of Jesus, and that the living Mary discerned through ecclesial contemplation of the biblical texts had no child but Jesus Christ. https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2007/11/the-brothers-and-sisters-of-jesus

            Levering's is more in line with a previous comment of mine about considering the mind of the church, since the early church scholars would not have concluded the truth of the perpetual virginity of Mary if they simply read scriptures which included such a "defeater" as siblings.

          • David Nickol

            I didn't get the book but I was able to read good summaries online, thanks for the recommendations.

            No, you didn't get the book, as I suggested. The point of my recommendation—which you asked for—was to give you an idea about what contemporary biblical scholarship was all about. Instead, you went looking for criticisms of Meier by a conservative Protestant (Craig) and a conservative Catholic (Levering). You seem to be largely interested in confirming what you already believe and shielding yourself from contemporary scholarship.

            As I have said before, you seem to be baffled that anyone could have ideas different from your own, and you will continue to be baffled until you gain some exposure to those who think differently than you do. You wrote to me the following:

            Why do atheist biblical scholars believe the history that is found in the bible but not the miracles? So, I'm asking what criteria is used to select what parts are to be overlooked?

            An excellent answer can be found in the book I recommended, but you are apparently only asking rhetorical questions rather than asking for information.

          • Rob Abney

            was to give you an idea about what contemporary biblical scholarship was all about

            and I was able to get a sense of that from reading a number of reviews of Meier's work and watching a lengthy youtube presentation of Meier himself, so you did help me out.

            you went looking for criticisms of Meier by a conservative Protestant (Craig) and a conservative Catholic (Levering)

            no, I wasn't looking for criticism and I don't even consider whether a writer is "conservative" or not, that is a subjective descriptor that you've added.

            You seem to be largely interested in confirming what you already believe and shielding yourself from contemporary scholarship.

            I'm not sure why you focus on my motivations, which you cannot know.

            until you gain some exposure to those who think differently than you do

            I am trying to gain that exposure by dialogue with you. So, if you try to avoid casting aspersions then we can make progress although your history with our discussions has been to imply that less discussion is better.

            I do think WLC's discussion about Meier's ability to assess history while remaining neutral on miracles is the crux of the matter. It points out a small assumption that leads to bigger assumptions. Can you specifically say that Craig's view on that one aspect is inaccurate?

          • Michael Murray

            I think it is a question of what historians are trying to do. It isn't actually finding out what happened in the past but what is the most plausible account of what happened that fits the facts we have. I guess they hope these are the same but they don't have to be. Miracles are just about by definition the least plausible account of anything. Bart Ehrman talks about this is in most of his books. You might like "Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth".

          • Rob Abney

            Thanks, I've read two Ehrman books before but not that one.

            I think it is a question of what historians are trying to do

            I agree with this, and it seems to me that the bible is a part of Tradition and both are solely for the purpose of worship, any other use seems to be secondary.

          • I don't know, but it seems to be a big deal.

        • "Anyway, doesn't the fact that "brother" had such broad usage undercut the idea this has to be some "earthly" brother of Jesus?"

          Yes, that's precisely my point.

          "Why do you cite an apocryphal work that wasn't composed until much later than the purported date of these events?"

          First, as I'm sure you realize, historians don't dismiss non-Biblical works (what you call "apocryphal") even though they're not part of a canonized Scripture. That's typically only a method employed by Fundamentalist Protestants ("if it's not in Scripture, I won't believe it!"). Biblical scholars regularly turn to extra-Biblical works to interpret and unpack the Biblical texts.

          Second, as I mentioned, the Protoevangelium of James was composed around 150 AD. This is extremely early, in terms of ancient dating. It means that when this text was circulating there would have been people still alive who likely KNEW James, or knew James' immediate relatives.

          However, with both those points in mind, my case didn't rest on the Protoevangelium of James. I only referred to that for additional support. Even when only looking at the four Gospels it's clear that James is not the biological sibling of Jesus.

          • Okay, but my point is it could support the mythicist interpretation too.

            I know historians don't. My thought was more that it's not an equal authority to the Gospel for believers, no? "Apocryphal" was the accepted term I thought.

            Isn't it pretty late, compared with the Gospel? I'm not sure when James is supposed to have lived or died.

            It isn't clear to me, however.

      • First, Jesus was not a "non-terrestrial" being.

        Of course not, if he really existed. The mythicist argument is that the first Christians, contrary to the historical orthodoxy, seem to have believed Jesus was non-terrestrial. While we grant that a handful of proof-texts seem to indicate the contrary, we think our overall case can handle those discrepancies.

        • Alec

          Mr. Shaver, you seem like a very reasonable and smart fellow, which is why it surprises me to know you've bought into the conspiracy theory of a non earthly Jesus.

          • Mr. Shaver, you seem like a very reasonable and smart fellow, which is why it surprises me to know you've bought into the conspiracy theory of a non earthly Jesus.

            Thank you for the kind words.

            I do not think, and never have thought, for one minute that there was any conspiracy. The same goes for every other mythicist for whose opinions I have any respect. I realize that there are people calling themselves skeptics who say there was a conspiracy, but the rest of us try to distance ourselves from them as much as we can.

          • Alec

            Mr. Shaver, the only people who take on the mythicist position are people who have ideological axes to grind and/or are so over zealous in their anti theism that they cling onto any argument, however unresolved it may be, against Christianity. You are correct that "Jesus mythiscism" does not neccesarily imply a conspiracy, but the general quality of the thesis is hardly above that of conspiracy theories.

          • There is an obvious appeal, in the eyes of anti-Christian bigots, to the notion that Jesus never existed. However, just as you don't have to hate rich people in order to believe that wealthy interests have rigged our government to their advantage, you also don't have to hate Christianity to see why there could be reasonable doubt about Jesus' existence.

            I have no idea how you have assessed the "general quality" of the mythicist thesis, but you can't do it by averaging the quality of every thesis out there that denies Jesus' historicity. Any particular thesis must be judged by its own treatment of the evidence, the logic it employs to infer its conclusion from that evidence, and the defensibility of its presuppositions.

            [Edited for clarification.]

          • Michael

            Mr. Shaver, the only people who take on the mythicist position are people who have ideological axes to grind and/or are so over zealous in their anti theism that they cling onto any argument, however unresolved it may be, against Christianity.

            That's objectively false.

            Fr. Thomas Brodie is a mythicist Catholic. Hermann Detering is a retired Protestant minister. In all, Vridar labels seven mythicists as "very positive towards Christianity."

      • It was a joke Brandon. It was a quote from Star Trek VI when Klingons said to truly appreciate Shakespeare one needs to read it in the original Klingon.

        It was me self-deprecating that I don't even know what language Paul wrote in.

        No I was using Carrier's terminology for what he thinks the original Christians considered Jesus to be. Now that I think of it, he probably used "celestial" being.

        My ignorance You need to re-read my post! I don't believe Jesus was an alien I believe he likely existed and was a human being. Its mythicists who think the first Christians believed he was a being from one of the crystal spheres.

        By "defeater" I meant defeater of the mythicist point of view. It's a weakness in Carrier's argument that Paul's writings are consistent with him considering Jesus to be a celestial being. Celestial beings don't have biological terrestrial brothers. Carrier's defense is that by "brother" Paul meant something like a brother in Christ. Like we call our fellow union members brother.

        I guess it does clarify a bit. So are you saying that James was a biological relation of Jesus? Or that Carrier may be right, that it could easily have meant some non-biological association?

        • "It was a joke Brandon. It was a quote from Star Trek VI when Klingons said to truly appreciate Shakespeare one needs to read it in the original Klingon.

          It was me self-deprecating that I don't even know what language Paul wrote in."

          In that case, I'm sorry! My apologies for misinterpreting! I'm not enough of a Trekkie to get those sorts of references :)

          "I guess it does clarify a bit. So are you saying that James was a biological relation of Jesus? Or that Carrier may be right, that it could easily have meant some non-biological association?"

          The honest answer is, "We don't know." But for the reasons I gave above, I think we have strong reasons to think James was not a biological sibling of Jesus, meaning they did not share the same mother (Mary).

          However, it does seem clear James was some sort of close relative. In the earliest centuries of the Church, as today, there circulated several theories about this relationship. Some suggested, as in the Protoevangelium of James, that James was the biological son of Joseph, whose wife died and who, in old age, wedded Mary. This would make James a step brother to Jesus.

          Others, like Jerome, were convinced that James was the son of the Virgin Mary's sister (Mary of Clophas), thus making him a cousin to Jesus. This seems to be the more prominent, majority position among the Church Fathers.

          In either case, the one thing nearly every Christian agreed on for the first 1,500 years was that Mary was a perpetual virgin.

          I didn't mention this in my earlier post because I didn't think it was necessary, but of course the Catholic Church has infallibly taught that Mary remained a perpetual virgin from the beginning to end of her earthly life. Since Catholics are convinced the Church has the power to speak infallibly on this issue, this doctrine is another line of support for thinking that Jesus had no biological siblings. Now, obviously a non-Catholic would not find this reason compelling, which is why I didn't mention it before. I also don't think it's necessary to show why James was not a biological sibling to Jesus--you can make that case without relying on Church doctrine.

          I should also point out that some Protestant translations of the Bible use the word "brother" when translating adelphos in what seems to be an attempt to undermine the Catholic doctrine of Mary's perpetual virginity. There are countless examples of this sort of "undermining-through-translation." Every translation of the Bible is affected by theological bias, including Catholic translations. Scholars don't translate books in vacuums. Every word choice hinges on prior beliefs and convictions. So because adelphos can be translated as "brother" in many cases, and because most Protestants reject the perpetual virginity of Mary, it was very easy for Protestant translators to use this word in relation to James.

          This explains why many people today, especially in America, read these passages in their Protestant translations of the Bible, and sensibly conclude that James was the biological brother of Jesus. On the surface, it says "James, the brother of Jesus." What could be more obvious? It's only when you step back and examine all the passages in context that you realize that's not a plausible conclusion, and it's at best a confusing translation.

          • Ok. So I guess I Carrier's counter to historicists is a little stronger than I thought.

      • Miguel

        If memory serves me well, Abraham calls his wife Sarah "sister" at a certain moment. And in "The Chant of Chants", the two lovers -besides of the meaning granted to those characters- call each other "brother" and "sister", leaving the immpression that terms related to siblings were directed to any one dear to someone else´s heart.

    • The defeater is the one comment he makes about James the brother of Christ in Galatians 1:19.

      He doesn't call James "brother of Christ." He calls him "brother of the lord." Mythicists think it reasonable to doubt that Paul's intended meaning of "brother of the Lord" was "sibling of Jesus."

      • What do mythicists think Paul intended? Paul's previous use of "Lord" is Galatians 1:3, where he says "the Lord Jesus Christ".

        • What do mythicists think Paul intended?

          It depends on the mythicist. I would say we just don't know what he meant. The relevant evidence just isn't sufficient to establish any particular meaning.

          Paul's previous use of "Lord" is Galatians 1:3, where he says "the Lord Jesus Christ".

          It's obvious that Paul considered Jesus Christ to be a lord of some kind. It's just as obvious, so far as I'm aware, that he also consider Yahweh to be a lord of some kind. So, Paul could have been saying that James was a brother of God, in some sense that Paul and his readers would have understood but about which we, 2,000 years later, have no clue.

          • Rob Abney

            in some sense that Paul and his readers would have understood but about which we, 2,000 years later, have no clue.

            But the Church has understood what he meant on a continuous basis for those 2,000 years; now if you discount or eliminate the continuous and consistent view by ignoring the mind of the Church then it is very difficult to ascertain the meaning. Even if you don't agree with the Church you should be able to use the historical understanding that has always been there.

          • But the Church has understood what he meant on a continuous basis for those 2,000 years;

            Or it has misunderstood what he meant.

            now if you discount or eliminate the continuous and consistent view by ignoring the mind of the Church then it is very difficult to ascertain the meaning.

            I am not prepared to regard the church's mind as any more infallible than my own.

            Even if you don't agree with the Church you should be able to use the historical understanding that has always been there.

            The church's historical understanding is one relevant datum. I don't consider it the most important datum.

          • Rob Abney

            It is amazing how much research you can do from your home office over the internet, but it will never compare to what the Church has and has known continually. You can decide the Church has misunderstood but you would still need to trace that misunderstanding back to it's source.

          • It is amazing how much research you can do from your home office over the internet, but it will never compare to what the Church has and has known continually.

            To say that the church knows what it says about its origins begs a few questions. To assert that anybody knows that some X is a fact presupposes the truth of X.

          • God (theos in Gal 1:3) is described as 'Father'; Jesus is described as 'Lord'. Paul once again says "Lord Jesus Christ" in Gal 6:14. There is simply no textual warrant whatsoever to connect 'Lord' in "brother of the Lord" (Gal 1:19) to anyone but Jesus. James would not be brother of God (theos), but son of God.

          • There is simply no textual warrant whatsoever to connect 'Lord' in "brother of the Lord" (Gal 1:19) to anyone but Jesus.

            OK, but that doesn't get us any closer to knowing what Paul meant by calling someone a brother of the lord. We are textually warranted in saying that Paul did not always use "brother" to mean what we mean by "sibling." In fact, it seems to me that in his writings, he usually meant something else. But that's just my impression. I haven't done the relevant statistical analysis.

          • Let's just be clear that you're saying the following use of adelphos is not obvious:

            Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother. (Galatians 1:18–19)

            But suppose you're right. Can you point to a single other instance where Paul uses 'brother' to refer to a being not constituted of flesh and blood? No statistical analysis needed.

          • Let's just be clear that you're saying the following use of adelphos is not obvious:

            I will stipulate for the sake of discussion that, on the historicist assumption, it is obvious. Absent that assumption, I maintain that Paul's specific intended meaning is not obvious.

            Can you point to a single other instance where Paul uses 'brother' to refer to a being not constituted of flesh and blood?

            No, and I'm not sure why I need to. To be a brother in any sense, one needs to belong to a group, a brotherhood. The group can be called "brothers of X" without X itself being a person of flesh and blood. I just googled "brothers of freedom" and got 307,000 hits.

          • LB: Can you point to a single other instance where Paul uses 'brother' to refer to a being not constituted of flesh and blood?

            DS: No, and I'm not sure why I need to. To be a brother in any sense, one needs to belong to a group, a brotherhood. The group can be called "brothers of X" without X itself being a person of flesh and blood. I just googled "brothers of freedom" and got 307,000 hits.

            Can you point to a single other instance where Paul uses adelphos in this way? And can you justify that Paul would have used 'adelphos' like the expanded use of 'brother' you articulate here? Additional semantic range does not always translate.

          • ?Can you point to a single other instance where Paul uses adelphos in this way? And can you justify that Paul would have used 'adelphos' like the expanded use of 'brother' you articulate here?

            I’ve made the best argument I can, given my nearly total ignorance of ancient Greek. I leave to the lurkers any further judgment of its plausibility.

    • I think the reason that Paul doesn't refer to Peter as "the brother of the Lord" is the same reason he doesn't refer to Peter as "Simon Peter": there was only one "Peter" and no further information was needed to identify him. On the other hand, there were a number of men named "James" in the early church and some further designation was needed so the reader would know which James it was that Paul met on his first visit to Jerusalem.

      As a result, I question how much can be read into Paul’s use of this designation. Later that same James was known as "James the Just," but people who referred to him by that name need not have thought him any more just than any other Christians. They wouldn’t even have needed to know how he had come by that name. All that would be necessary was that the hearer knew which James the name designated. By the same token, Paul could have used the designation “the brother of the Lord” simply because that is how that particular James was commonly designated without thinking that he was a brother in any different sense than Peter or any other Christian.

      • Yes. I think experts on both sides of the mythicist position suggesr the translation to "brother" may very well not indicate a biological relation ship. Though I do note he distinguishes Peter in the line just before. Peter is not called brother of any kind, but just Peter, though this may be because Peter was well known.

        • James was a very common name and the New Testament identifies several.

    • The defeater is the one comment he makes about James the brother of Christ in Galatians 1:19.

      Let's stipulate for the sake of argument that there is no reasonable interpretation of "brother of the lord" except "sibling of Jesus of Nazareth." Many mainstream scholars, most of whom agree that mythicism is an absurdity, are convinced that the extant Pauline corpus contains at least some material that Paul never wrote, added to make it more consistent with what became the historic orthodoxy. Some of those scholars, again including many who would never question Jesus' existence, think those interpolations are numerous. That being so, I don't think we mythicists are engaging in special pleading if we suggest that "brother of the lord" was another of those interpolations, consider the absence of any other defeater of mythicism in all the rest of what Paul wrote.

  • Ken Scaletta

    Paul says he got all his info about Jesus from personal revelation, There isn;t one thing he claims to have gotten from a person and he vehemently denies having learned anything from people and says he never even met a disciple until three years after his own epiphany (hallucination)/ I do not buy your attempt to define gospel to being about Jewish law. That is plainly asinine. The gospel was that the resurrection of the dead had begun.

    I am not a mythcist, but this is a stupid argument,

    • JP Nunez

      I'm not defining "the Gospel" as anything. Rather, I'm saying that in the contexts in which these two passages appear, Paul is talking about salvation in Christ apart from the Law. When he talks about "a different Gospel" that clearly means salvation in Christ with the Law, and when the entire letter is about Christians' freedom from the Law, it's perfectly reasonable to conclude that when he talks about the Gospel that he preached, he's referring specifically to salvation apart from the Law.

      And if he does this in Galatians, it's perfectly possible for him to do so again in Romans, a letter that is also all about salvation in Christ apart from the Law.

      • When I was in law school, I way discouraged from using words like "clearly." If a point was clear, then the argument should make it clear. If the argument was insufficient to demonstrate the clarity of the point, using words like "clearly" made it look like you were just blowing smoke.

        It is possible that the only difference Paul was referring to in Galatians was observance of Jewish law and that he meant something different by the word "gospel" in Galatians than he did in 1 Corinthians, but it is far from clear.

        • JP Nunez

          Have you read Galatians? I'm sorry if that sounds like I'm insulting your intelligence. Since I don't know anything about you, I have to ask. If you haven't, then I suggest reading it (it's a short letter). You'll see that the entire letter is about whether or not Christians need to follow the Jewish Law. That's the only disagreement the letter gives any evidence of, so that has to be what he's talking about when he contrasts the Gospel he preached with the "different Gospel" that's threatening the Galatian Church.

          And if you have read it, then how can Paul mean anything else in this context? Why would Paul begin the letter by talking about one thing but then immediately change course and make the entire rest of the letter about something else?

          At the very least, as much as I think I'm right, it's at least 50/50. My interpretation is at least just as plausible as the mythicist interpretation, so the passage in Galatians doesn't provide any support for mythicism. And at the end of the day, that was my main point, even if you're not 100% convinced of my interpretation of the passage.

          • Yes. I have read Galatians (although only in English translations), and I think it gives evidence of a more significant disagreement..

            I don't think that it is merely about whether Christians need to follow the Jewish law; it is about the very nature of salvation and the effect of Jesus' death and resurrection. Paul believes that people get right with God by grace through faith while the different gospel is one where people get right with God by their works.

            I also think it possible that Paul was the one who came up with this interpretation of Jesus' death and resurrection and that he did not, in fact, learn it from any of his predecessors. I think he may be telling the truth when he says that he was not taught it by any man, although I'm doubtful that it was actually the product of divine revelation.

            I think that this passage is consistent with some versions of mythicism, but I think it can also fit with a historical Jesus.

          • JP Nunez

            When I say that Galatians is all about the Jewish Law, I'm just simplifying it to make the argument easier to follow. If I were being more thorough, I would say that it's about the nature of salvation and the effects of Jesus' death (as you rightly point out) and how that all relates to the question of whether we need to follow to Jewish Law.

            So when Paul talks about "a different Gospel" and then contrasts it with the Gospel he preached, that's what he's talking about. He's not saying that he disagreed with his opponents about the bare (alleged) facts of Jesus' death and resurrection. Rather, he's saying that he disagreed with them about the interpretation and significance of those events. So when he says that he got his Gospel from revelation, that's what he means. He's saying that he got his understanding of salvation and the exact significance of Jesus' death through a revelation, not that he learned that Jesus died and rose solely from revelation rather than from historical witnesses.

            And if that's what Paul means, then it doesn't provide any evidence for mythicism. Sure, it's compatible with mythicism, but it's also just as compatible with historicism. The point of the article, as I said at the end, was not to provide evidence for the historical Jesus. Rather, my point was simply to show that these passages don't provide any support for mythicism, and if you think the passage in Galatians can fit with a historical Jesus, then it seems you agree with the main thrust of my argument, regardless of our disagreements on some of the details.

          • Paul only cites scripture and revelation as sources for his knowledge, and he never says anything about there being any historical witnesses or anyone whose knowledge came from any source other than scripture or revelation.
            From Paul's writings, I would conclude that nothing a historical person said or did during his life on earth had anything to do with his message. Paul's message was based only on what God had done through the risen Christ.

            I don't think that you have really cleared away anything. While I cannot preclude sources of information other than revelation and scripture, those are the only ones that my earliest source identifies.

          • JP Nunez

            Of course he only mentions Scripture and revelation as his specific sources, but they're sources for his understanding of the precise significance of Jesus' death and resurrection, not of the (alleged) facts of Jesus' death and resurrection. And that's the key distinction. The mythicists I cite in the article use the passages in Romans and Galatians to try to show that Paul learned about the events from Scripture and revelation, but he's only saying that he learned about the precise nature of the salvation they won for us from those sources.

            And that's a huge distinction. If he said he learned that Jesus died and rose from Scripture and revelation, that would be a huge problem for historicity. However, what he actually said isn't a problem at all. There's nothing weird or surprising about the historical Jesus (if he existed, of course) not explaining every detail about salvation to his followers. It's entirely possible that he simply didn't tell them whether they would have to follow the Jewish Law or not.

            Now, as for the bare (alleged) facts of Jesus' death and resurrection, Paul simply doesn't lay out where he got those from, so his silence on the matter doesn't favor mythicism or historicity. The fact that he says he got other information (namely, his understanding of the significance of those events) from Scripture and revelation doesn't make it any more likely that he also got the facts of Jesus' death and resurrection from those same sources. That conclusion simply doesn't follow. So while I obviously haven't proven that Jesus existed or that Paul believed in a historical Jesus, I think it's safe to say that Paul's statements in Romans and Galatians about getting his Gospel from Scripture and revelation don't support mythicism over historicity. And that's all I was trying to show in my article.

          • In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul indicates that others believed in the death and resurrection of Jesus before he did. While not conclusive proof, I think that is enough to make it more likely than not that they were his source for those bare alleged facts. On the other hand, Paul doesn't tell us where his predecessors got their knowledge, i.e., whether it was by revelation or observation.

            Paul's silence about the existence of sources other than revelation and scripture doesn't preclude the possibility that such sources existed. However, if we might reasonably have expected Paul to indicate the existence of such sources had he known of them, we can infer from his silence that they did not.

            I tend to think that we should have expected more indication that Paul thought of Jesus as a historical person if in fact that is what he thought. I don't think that this factor settles the question by any means, but I would say it is better for mythicism than historicism.

            By the way, Carrier doesn't buy Paul's claim that he received the gospel by revelation. He thinks that Paul got both his message and his facts from his predecessors. He simply thinks that the message and facts he got concerned a celestial being rather than an earthly one.

          • JP Nunez

            You bring up a fair question about where Paul's sources got their information from, but that's beyond the scope of my article. The point still stands that Paul's statements in Romans and Galatians that he got his Gospel from Scripture and revelation don't support mythicism. And that's all I was trying to show.

            As for Carrier, his view is a bit more nuanced than simply saying either that Paul got his Gospel solely from revelation/hallucination or that he he just lied and really got it from other people. I just had to simplify the argument a bit to make it more manageable for a short article.

          • I think that you may be splitting hairs here. Paul's silence on the existence of any sources other than revelation and scripture does permit the inference that no such sources existed, which is helpful to the mythicist case. It is not decisive, and I think that it may be outweighed by other factors, but I cannot deny that it is helpful.

          • JP Nunez

            I still disagree. I don't deny that Paul's silence about other sources can be helpful to the mythicist case, but I don't think you can jump straight from "Paul got some things from revelation and Scripture" to "Paul got other things from those same sources simply because he doesn't explicitly say where he got them from." We may suspect that he might've gotten those other things from Scripture and revelation, but that's different from believing that he really did. I'd even go so far as to say that if we had absolutely no evidence of other sources that he might've gotten them from, then we would be able to tentatively make that inference. However, given that we can easily posit other very plausible sources (namely, other Christians), I don't think that jump is warranted.

            See, I don't think Paul had much of a reason to mention where he learned about Jesus' death and resurrection, just like I don't feel the need to mention where I learned about them every time I talk about them. It's easy to imagine that it was so obvious and well known to everyone that he just didn't need to spell it out. And if that could be the case, then Paul's silence about those sources doesn't allow us to infer that he got them from revelation and Scripture just because he got other ideas from those sources.

          • I haven't made any jump. I've merely suggested that the simplest explanation for Paul citing only scripture and revelation is that he did not know of any information that came from eyewitnesses to historical events.

            As I've said, I don't think this settles any question. There are other explanations, which I generally consider to be less plausible but still possible. These necessarily make the simpler explanation far from certain. Moreover, there is other evidence that points in other directions, which may weigh more in the balance than this one factor.

            I agree that Paul had little reason to specifically state where he learned of Jesus death and resurrection; however, I think that there were multiple times where he might have mentioned something that Jesus said or did during his life, which would indicate pretty clearly that Paul did indeed have a source that was rooted in eyewitness accounts rather than revelation. That he never does so suggests to me that Paul didn't think that anyone he knew had been a disciple of Jesus' during his earthly ministry; indeed, I don't think that Paul thought Jesus had an earthly ministry. However, contrary to the mythicists, I think that Paul still may have thought that Jesus was a historical person.

            Personally, I find it very hard to imagine that everything was so well known and obvious that Paul never needed to touch on anything Jesus said or did. I don't find that hypothesis at all convincing.

          • JP Nunez

            Sorry it's taken me so long to respond. I got a bit distracted, then I forgot about this conversation. So if you're still interested, here's my reply to your comment.

            I actually disagree that the simplest explanation is that Paul didn't know anything that came from eyewitnesses. He only cites Scripture and revelation for a few things (namely, his understanding about what Jesus' death and resurrection mean for Gentiles), but he never says that he got the mere facts of that death and resurrection from revelation. So the hypothesis that he learned about Jesus' death and resurrection from revelation has to add something to what we already know. In other words, while we know that he learned things from Scripture and revelation, this hypothesis still has to add the claim that he got that specific information (that Jesus died and rose) from those sources.

            And the hypothesis that he learned about Jesus' death and resurrection from other people is at least as simple as that. We know that Christianity existed before Paul's conversion and that he spoke with people who were Christians before him, so this hypothesis also has a lot of groundwork laid for it. We simply need to add the claim that he got this specific information from those sources, which is exactly what we need to do with the hypothesis that Paul learned about Jesus' death and resurrection from Scripture and revelation alone.

            In other words, both hypotheses have a bunch of groundwork laid for them: we know that Paul got information from both other people and Scripture/revelation. Furthermore, both your hypothesis and mine add that he learned about Jesus' death and resurrection from a specific source (whether it's other people or Scripture and revelation). When we look at it that way, it seems like both hypotheses are equally simple: they both require that we posit the same amount of new claims that aren't corroborated elsewhere.

            So while it's certainly theoretically possible that Paul learned about Jesus' death and resurrection from Scripture and revelation alone, the information we have in his epistles doesn't favor that hypothesis over the hypothesis that he learned about those events from other people. So at the end of the day, what Paul says about the things he learned from Scripture and revelation don't support mythicism; at best, they still leave it 50/50.

            As for the question of why Paul didn't include more information about Jesus' earthly life, that's interesting, but I think it's a bit off topic. Like I said in other discussions in these comments, I'd rather stay on the specific topic of this article rather than talk about 5,000 different things so that our comments balloon to unmanageable proportions. I will say this, though. The fact that Paul mentions Jesus' brother provides evidence that he did in fact know people who knew Jesus during his earthly life, so whether or not Paul thought Jesus had any sort of public ministry before he died, we still have good reason to think that Paul could have learned about Jesus' death and resurrection from eyewitnesses.

          • I agree that Paul got information from those who believed in the resurrection before he did, but I don't think he gives us any basis to conclude that they were eyewitnesses to the earthly Jesus rather than, like Paul, recipients of visions and revelations of the risen Christ.

            I can appreciate your desire to avoid tangents, but Paul's silence concerning the historical Jesus is a big part of the mythicists' case.

          • Unless you believe Paul's letters contain fictions, it is clear that Paul met Peter/Cephas (e.g., Galatians 2:11-14).

          • I don’t doubt that Paul met someone named Peter, but I don’t see anything to suggest that he thought this person had been a disciple of the earthly Jesus.

          • I don't know how you can read Paul's own account in Galatians 2 and claim that Paul did not meet Peter the Apostle, unless you maintain that Cephas and Peter are not the same person, and even then, it is clear that Paul met James (the Brother of Jesus) whom I think we can safely assume knew Jesus in his earthly life!

          • I don’t know how you can read what I just wrote and think that I am claiming that Paul did not meet Peter.

          • I don't understand. Is your point that there is no evidence Peter the Apostle (and James the Brother of Jesus) knew Jesus in his lifetime? I took you to be saying that Paul may have met someone named Peter, but that did not mean he met Peter the Apostle.

          • Paul says he met Peter the Apostle, but he does not say anything about Peter, or anyone else for that matter, being a disciple of Jesus during his earthly ministry. Indeed, Paul gives us no reason to think that Jesus had an earthly ministry or disciples.

          • JP Nunez

            Fair point that the people that Paul learned information from don't necessarily have to be eyewitnesses. I was being a bit imprecise. My point was simply that the hypothesis that Paul learned about Jesus' death and resurrection from revelation and Scripture is no more simple than the hypothesis that he got that information from other people, so Paul's statements about learning certain things from revelation and Scripture don't lend any support to the mythicist position. Sure, it's possible that those other people could've gotten the information from revelation and Scripture, but we have no indication that they did, so this issue doesn't really get us anywhere. It doesn't support either side, so the discussion has to move on to other issues.

            Of course Paul's silence about the historical Jesus is a big part of the mythicist case; my point was simply that I prefer to use comment sections to talk about the specific issues talked about in the articles we're commenting on rather than bringing in a bunch of other related issued as well. In my experience, it's a lot easier to make progress if we keep the comments focused on what the article actually discusses; otherwise, we end up having too much to talk about, which forces us to condense certain things a bit too much in the interests of space. So while I'd be happy to talk about Paul's silence concerning the historical Jesus somewhere else, I'd rather keep this discussion focused on the issues that my article deals with.

          • BCE

            Carrier says, as a criticism, that Paul mentions no disciples(SN)
            Note though, a follower can be called.. a disciple, an apostle.
            Who might too be called teacher, deacon, priest or bishop.
            Then too a followers might be called, brother or beloved.
            Carrier seems to create some intrigue around the omission of the word disciple. There is none.
            He goes even further over "brother"

            He also sites missing scriptures, so powerful was the church to be able to deliberately destroyed all but what served them. That is so.

            However he never argues how omitting or destroying the works ascribed to Paul, might have served the Roman church, as much or better then some of those that were.
            Or the church could have amended Paul's writings, or any, by finding a lost letter.
            such as one describing a meeting with Peter, where Mary appears.

            And the church could have omitted any reference to other sects, rather then leaving it in, so as to raise doubt.

            Carrier ignores what Paul preaches, he thinks instead Paul should have been occupied with making himself credible; with documenting.
            However Paul seems more than any, to speak of wanting to be credible, but not if it means it must be by appointment or proof.
            Not that he preaches against Priesthood or church.
            He preaches adoption, so that gentiles knew they need not be brothers to Christ by birth or as fellow Jews, such as himself could claim, or as seeing Christ with eyes only (as he was once blind, and spiritually so)

            Paul emphasizing the law, reminding that it is written in the heart, that all might have hope in their adoption.
            not that the law given to Jews had or has no purpose, but Gentiles share the same heart, where the law resides. And what is unseen is as glorious as what is seen.

            Not that any of that matters to Carrier, but Paul's defense of himself speaks of his close relationships to those in authority and the church, if not for that, he wouldn't have been so defensive.
            Nor would he have described the tension he felt by explaining what he taught and that it was true gospel ( not a fundamental conflict )but one of truth, abiding to the spirit. His defense actually shows the knowledge he has of the others, and his desire to inform them how (his method)
            of spiritual brotherhood is in keeping with the church.

          • A follower can be called by many different names, but the names have different meanings and may indicate the manner in which someone becomes a follower. An apostle is one who is sent while a disciple is one who his taught. Paul says that he is an apostle because he saw the risen Christ, and it is reasonable to infer that this is how he thought the others had become apostles. On the other hand, the fact that he never uses the term disciple suggests that he didn't think that anyone had been taught by the earthly Jesus.

          • BCE

            The apostles were all disciples(even if not all disciples are apostles)
            and are brothers. That Paul uses Apostle and brother, rather then disciple is not suspect, his audience may have had a better appreciation
            for those words. And as obvious he wished to convey their adoption
            (where in, they were adopted into the Christian community)
            Being described as students wouldn't convey the same assimilation, to a former pagan, as being called brother.
            Acts describes Pauls commission as Apostle,
            Paul doesn't just ordain himself, nor does it mean Paul thinks only those who saw a *risen* Christ are.
            Again I think Carrier is imaging something not there
            not that I am saying one must believe Christ, Paul, Luke...existed
            but that Carrier is pressing his face so hard he can't see

          • We can of course imagine all sorts of reasons why Paul didn't refer to the apostles as disciples, but the simplest and most obvious one is that he didn't think that they were.

          • BCE

            Paul calls Peter ...an apostle to the Jews(circumcised)
            You apparently find that suspect, had he called him a disciple what say you then? What would Carrier make of that?
            No matter, I'm not responding to you, but for others to see how failed his argument; insisting Paul needed to use the word disciple. What once, thrice?

            What stands stark is Carrier makes no attempt at scholarship.
            No discussion of linguistics, no discussion of regional dialect, Greek vs Latin, or the geopolitical climate that effects language, rhetoric then as now.
            Once Carrier insists Paul must use "disciple" he himself
            forfeits being taken seriously.

          • I don't know what you are talking about.

            The question isn't what Paul needed to write or didn't need to write. I cannot see how that is even a meaningful question.

            I am simply talking about the meaning of words he did use and what those words indicate about what Paul thought about the people to whom he applied them.

          • David Nickol

            It seems possible to me your are getting hung up on issues of translation. The Greek word usually translated disciple can quite reasonably be translated as pupil or student. Disciple has become, over the centuries, because of English translations, to sound like some kind of official title of the followers of the historical Jesus. If I were to stand on the street corner and ask random passersby, "Who were the disciples?" no doubt many would say, "The followers of Jesus." But if I asked, "Who were the students (or the pupils)?" no one would connect that with Jesus.

            It is true that Paul says next to nothing about the followers of Jesus during the latter's lifetime. But it seems difficult to read Paul as not knowing or believing Jesus had followers.

          • I think it is very easy to read Paul that way. I see next to nothing in Paul to indicate that he thought that anyone he knew had been a follower of Jesus during his earthly ministry or to indicate that he thought Jesus even had an earthly ministry. Paul’s message is based on the risen Christ with little interest in anything that happened prior to the crucifixion. Romans 1:4 seems to suggest that Jesus only became the Christ upon his resurrection, which would be consistent with Paul’s indifference to the earthly Jesus.

            Unlike the mythicists, I still think that Paul may have thougt that Jesus was a historical person, but it is hard for me to read Paul as thinking that he bore much resemblance to the Jesus portrayed in the gospels.

  • In this article, I want to look at two of these passages, the two that I think present the best evidence for the theory of mythicism, and see if the argument holds up. . . . At the end of the day, there is simply no evidence

    There is an inconsistency here. If there is no evidence, then none of it can be the best of evidence. There is no best unicorn if there are no unicorns. But perhaps, by “no evidence,” Nunez means “not sufficient evidence.”

    Having made that quibble, I will address the rest of the OP after stating exactly what I mean by evidence. Any disputed proposition can have evidence both for and against it, and it probably will, or else it would not be disputed. By evidence for the proposition, I mean any fact or set of facts, not themselves in dispute, that is inconsistent with a denial of the proposition. Likely, evidence against the proposition is any fact or set of facts, not themselves in dispute, that is inconsistent with the proposition itself. And the consistency that I’m talking about is probabilistic: A fact is inconsistent with a proposition if we have good reason to believe that it is improbable that the fact would have obtained if the proposition were false.

    (From this it follows that it’s possible for there to be evidence for a false proposition. This is contrary to what some people seem to believe.)
    Moving on now . . . .

    In one sense, this is a no-brainer. If Jesus never existed, then of course the Gospel didn’t really come from him. However, there is in fact more to this than simply a logical corollary of the theory itself.

    Well, of course it would be circular to argue: Jesus didn’t exist, therefore Paul didn’t get his gospel from Jesus. But no sensible mythicist has ever made such an argument.

    But a historicist can sensibly ask: If Jesus didn’t exist, then where did Paul get his Gospel? And the historicist response is: Paul tells us where he got it, and it wasn’t from any itinerant Galilean preacher or that preacher’s disciples.

    This realization (among other considerations) is what led me to mythicism before I’d ever heard of Richard Carrier. For some 30 years after I became an atheist, I thought historicity was the no-brainer, until I read Earl Doherty’s The Jesus Puzzle some 18 years ago. I perceived that Paul’s writings, and every other Christian writing of undisputed first-century provenance, considered in their entirety, are inconsistent with the supposition that they were produced by advocates of a religion founded by the disciples of a martyred charismatic preacher, and it was for that reason that I came to doubt the historicity of that preacher.

    but let’s take a closer look at Paul’s claim in Galatians. Is he really talking about the basic message about Jesus’ death and resurrection, or is “the gospel which was preached by me” something else?

    Good question. But what did first-century Christians usually mean when they talked about “the gospel,” and how do we know that that was what they meant? Whatever it was, it accomplishes little to speculate on what alternative meaning Paul might have had in mind on this particular occasion. The issue is what any person bringing a minimal set of presuppositions to the inquiry can reasonably infer about what Paul was most likely thinking when he said he didn’t get his gospel from any man.

    But let’s suppose he was referring only to Christians’ freedom from the obligation to obey Jewish law. It seems improbable to me that he would have needed a special revelation to learn that particular bit of good news, and also unlikely that a substantial number of Christians would have believed him if he had claimed such a revelation. On the historicist hypothesis, Jesus would have made it clear enough to his disciples whether compliance with Jewish law was necessary for salvation, and it was those disciples with whom Paul was disagreeing on that very issue. Whatever Jesus’ teaching was, Paul didn’t need a special revelation to learn it, and no one would have believed him if he had said, “Peter and the other disciples got his teaching wrong, and I know this because Jesus himself told me so in a revelation.”

    When Paul said in 1 Corinthians that he received the Gospel about Jesus’ death and resurrection, there is nothing to indicate that he received it directly from Jesus himself.

    Neither is there anything to indicate unambiguously that he got it anywhere else. He does not say he got it from Jesus’ disciples. Nowhere in his writings does he indicate that Jesus even had any disciples. He refers to some apostles and numbers himself among them, clearly implying that there was no difference either in their authority or the source thereof. Whatever he said about the gospel — God’s plan of salvation — was as reliable as what they said, which he could hardly have claimed if the others had walked and talked with Jesus during his earthly ministry.

    Paul describes the Gospel he preached about Jesus, but he doesn’t say anything about Jesus’ own preaching

    Right. And we mythicists think this is inconsistent with any credible historicist hypothesis.

    so this phrase is almost certainly referring to the preaching of others about Jesus.

    Whether it was Paul’s own preaching or the preaching of others, the question is: Where did it come from? Where did Paul and the other preachers get their ideas about Jesus? Paul says they got them from the Jewish scriptures. Or, at the very least, Paul says that was where he got his ideas when he wasn’t getting them by direct revelation, and he gives no hint that any of the other preachers got any of their ideas any other way.

    At the end of the day, there is simply no evidence that any early Christians learned about Jesus’ death and resurrection solely from direct revelation or Scripture rather than from historical witnesses to those events.

    Nevertheless, there is some evidence. Whether it is sufficient to make the case for mythicism can be debated, but the evidence exists.

    • Thanks for that Doug. I too want to keep an open mind about this but I find when I hear mythicist claims they are never as compelling as what you wrote.

      Would you say Doherty is a good read? I have Carrier's books. I honestly couldn't get far into the mythicist one as I found his argument hard to follow, highly dependent on expert interpretation of ancient texts and I find him personally very coy. (I also think that getting into a flame war with Bart Ehrman was pretty stupid, even if Ehrman us wrong.)

      Your post has made me think I'm not getting the best argument for mythicism.

      • Would you say Doherty is a good read?

        Yes. He is a good writer, and while I don’t agree with everything he says, I think his first book on the subject, The Jesus Puzzle, is as good a summary of the evidence against historicity as one will find anywhere.

        Your post has made me think I'm not getting the best argument for mythicism.

        You’re not, if Carrier’s book is the only one you’ve read so far. I agree with what he says about the indispensability of Bayesian analysis to effective historiography, but the way he applies it to Christianity’s origins is, in my judgment, misguided.

        There is a free online version of Doherty’s book at http://www.jesuspuzzle.humanists.net/mainarticles-1.html.) Also better than Carrier’s, if you don’t mind spending a few bucks, is Robert M. Price’s The Christ-Myth Theory And Its Problems (https://www.amazon.com/Christ-Myth-Theory-Its-Problems-ebook/dp/B00771ZPZA/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1510154172&sr=8-1&keywords=price+mythicism). And yes, although he accepts it, he really does admit that it has problems.

        • Thanks. I'll check it out.

          I'm on the same page as you on Carrier.

          Might you be up to sending Brandon a post on your thoughts on mythicism?

          • Might you be up to sending Brandon a post on your thoughts on mythicism?

            I might be, if he's interested.

          • Mike

            Do it!

            btw how do you counter the objection that most myths develop over 100s if not many 100s of years whereas this one is supposed to have basically coalesced in much much less time?

          • Richard Morley

            Or John Frum. Or for that matter any number of recent religions, cults or odd movements such as Ufologists and so on.

          • Alien abductions are a great example! There are 100's of people one could speak to today who claim to have had these experiences. Having them in anonymous writings from a pre-scientific civilization would make them less convincing, not more.

          • Mike

            elvis existed ;)

          • Richard Morley

            So you think that myths form faster when they involve some real figures? Or you think Elvis sightings are real?

            For that matter, on what do you base your assertion that "most myths develop over 100s if not many 100s of years"?

          • btw how do you counter the objection that most myths develop over 100s if not many 100s of years whereas this one is supposed to have basically coalesced in much much less time?

            Partly and only partly for that reason, I have wished since the day I discovered this hypothesis that its early advocates had called it something besides the Jesus myth. For a while I tried advocating “ahistoricism,” but almost nobody paid any attention. Raphael Lataster has used it, but so far as I’m aware, he doesn’t know I exist.

            The rationale, so far as I can figure out, for calling Jesus a myth is by analogy with all the other divinities and quasi-divinities that the ancients believed in. We call them myths because they weren’t real, and the divine Christ about whom Paul wrote wasn’t real, and so Paul’s Christ Jesus was just another myth. The obvious problem is the simple equation of “myth” with “story about gods that people in the old days used to believe in.” But the current label, for whatever reason it was adopted, has stuck, and we who wish to defend the story are stuck having to use it. It’s too late now for a campaign to call it something else.

            But here is what matters to the debate. The debate isn’t just about whether Jesus of Nazareth really existed. It is about whether, in order to account for the origin of the religion now called Christianity, we must assume the existence of the central character of the canonical gospels. The mythicist hypothesis is that the original Christians — the members of the communities to whom Paul was addressing his epistles — had never heard of any man fitting that description, i.e. a Galilean preacher who was executed by Pontius Pilate and whose disciples founded their religion. Our hypothesis is that the Christ Jesus preached by Paul and believed in by his congregations was an entirely different kind of entity, and it doesn’t matter whether you call that kind of entity a myth, a superstition, a figment of their imagination, or whatever. We believe that when all the textual evidence of Christianity’s earliest history is examined — not just a handful of proof texts but all of it — that hypothesis or something similar to it is the most parsimonious explanation for how Christianity got started and then evolved into its historically orthodox version. There could be some really good counterarguments, but “Myths don’t develop that fast” isn’t one of them.

          • Mike

            hmmm. i don't know sounds like you're hypo is that some jewish guy named paul made up Jesus or maybe something like some jewish guy who wrote and spoke greek had some kind of funky experience and decided to make up this figure maybe based on snippets he'd heard about random poor folk being executed by the romans.

            so then how did the gospels with all their detail get put together? did he also manage that process? seems like alot of work.

            if i put my atheist cap on i think the best alt explanation is that Jesus existed died etc but he didn't actually rise from the dead. his followers just really really wanted him to and so began to make up a story in which he rose but in a spiritual sense.

            anyway seems like alot of your theory rests on paul being a really extraordinary person who was either a devious liar or a gullible schmuck who nevertheless got REALLY lucky or a guy who had a profound exp of some sort and set out to share it w/o telling ppl that it was mostly of his own conjuring (which makes him into a charlatan i suppose).

            i once i think heard a jewish friend say he always figured it was made up by greeks/romans.

          • sounds like you're hypo is that some jewish guy named paul made up Jesus

            I said nothing of the sort. I said that the Jesus about whom Paul wrote was not real. People believe in all kinds of unreal things without having made those things up. They do it because they're reasoning incorrectly, not because they're being inventive.

            so then how did the gospels with all their detail get put together? did he also manage that process?

            Paul had nothing to do with the gospels. The gospel authors, I believe, were writing allegories. Then, sometime after the books began to circulate within the Christian community, some people came to believe that the stories were about the founder of their religion.

            if i put my atheist cap on i think the best alt explanation is that Jesus existed died etc but he didn't actually rise from the dead. his followers just really really wanted him to and so began to make up a story in which he rose but in a spiritual sense.

            That is still what most atheists believe. Even within the skeptical community, we mythicists are very much a minority.

            anyway seems like alot of your theory rests on paul being a really extraordinary person who was either a devious liar or a gullible schmuck who nevertheless got REALLY lucky or a guy who had a profound exp of some sort and set out to share it w/o telling ppl that it was mostly of his own conjuring (which makes him into a charlatan i suppose).

            I don't think he was a charlatan. I have no doubt that he believed every word he wrote.

            The notion that if Christianity isn't true, it must have been a fraud of some sort is very popular, and very wrong. Most ideas that aren't true are just mistakes.

          • Mike

            ok can you name me 1 mistake that became HUGE that spread among a group that wasn't already predisposed to it?

            i put it this way bc christ was first preached to greeks who had no historical reasons to kind of want to believe in Jesus whereas perhaps jews did. to my mind the big obstacle was a massive greco roman world that didn't give 2 hoots about loser jewish peasants rising from the dead.

            i would say islam is a christian heresy anyway and eastern religions are not mistakes in the way you're thinking even if they are technically not true.

            maybe scientology is a good candidate but it still seems to have piggy backed on christianity and american thirst for novelty anyway.

            btw as a catholic my worst fear is this: that jesus did live die and rise from the dead but that the rest of the miracles are TOTALLY made up to make him out to be more spectacular; oh and same goes for most OT miracle stories.

          • ok can you name me 1 mistake that became HUGE that spread among a group that wasn't already predisposed to it?

            I see no reason to assume there was no predisposition. Allegory is just a particular type of fiction, and there seems always to have been a tendency among some people to confuse fiction with history.

            i put it this way bc christ was first preached to greeks who had no historical reasons to kind of want to believe in Jesus whereas perhaps jews did.

            The preaching was: If you believe, you can have eternal life. Who doesn’t want eternal life?

            eastern religions are not mistakes in the way you're thinking even if they are technically not true.

            What I’m thinking is that if you believe something is true when it’s not true, you’re making a mistake. Perhaps you define “mistake” differently than I do.

            maybe scientology is a good candidate but it still seems to have piggy backed on christianity and american thirst for novelty anyway.

            When I reject fraudulent origins for religion, I’m inclined to make an exception for Scientology. My jury is still out, but I suspect that L. Ron Hubbard really was a charlatan.

            btw as a catholic my worst fear is this: that jesus did live die and rise from the dead but that the rest of the miracles are TOTALLY made up to make him out to be more spectacular;

            I can understand that. Early Christians, initially convinced only that he rose from the dead, would surely have thought that that couldn’t have been the only miracle he had anything to do with.

          • Mike

            ok why pick a loser peasant jewish carpenter's son from a remote part of the empire if you're going to make up a story. or is your contention that paul believed it bc of some hallucination say or mystical experience and so in a sense he didn't make it up just began with what was 'revealed' to him. so bc he say 'dreamed' up this figure he thought to himself yeah this is the truth so i'll go with that no matter what even if he seems to ppl like a loser poor jew it's my truth so there.

            btw the gospels on your theory came after but so were those ppl aware that they were making stuff up? i mean they must've been. but i suppose you think they thought they were in some way 'doing it for the right reasons'?

            also what about the richness of the gospels the parables etc on your theory those would have been invented by some naive greeks right?

            PS are you saying you think scientology might be real or just that it may have been founded by hubbard w/o any intent to deceive?

          • ok why pick a loser peasant jewish carpenter's son from a remote part of the empire if you're going to make up a story.

            The original version of the story apparently said nothing about Jesus’ origins. He just walks onto the stage and starts preaching about how everybody needs to repent. In later versions, the authors wanted to make a point about humble origins being no obstacle to living a life of righteousness.

            or is your contention that paul believed it bc of some hallucination say or mystical experience

            My contention, if you read it carefully, is that Paul had nothing to do with the stories about Jesus of Nazareth. He never heard of any man like the one portrayed in the gospels, because his Christ Jesus was never a man who lived in this world.

            As for what Paul did believe, he believed it because he had an experience of some kind that he interpreted as a revelation from God. I don’t feel competent to describe the experience in any particular detail, but if it included a hallucination, I would not be surprised.

            the gospels on your theory came after but so were those ppl aware that they were making stuff up?

            As I said, they were writing fiction. That means two things. (1) They knew their narratives were not historically factual. (2) They were not expecting their readers to think they were historically factual. In other words, the authors had no intention of deceiving anyone.

            on your theory those would have been invented by some naive greeks right?

            I have said nothing to imply that the gospel writers were naive about anything.

            PS are you saying you think scientology might be real or just that it may have been founded by hubbard w/o any intent to deceive?

            I called Hubbard a charlatan. What do you think I could have meant by that? I’m beginning to wonder about your reading comprehension.

          • Mike

            interesting theory you have but i think it still has alot of problems that i can't get into right now. anyway have a blessed weekend.

          • anyway have a blessed weekend.

            Thanks. You too.

      • Michael

        Have you tried Jesus Did Not Exist: A Debate Among Atheists? If you read that before OHJ as a kind of introduction, OHJ will be much easier to follow.

      • Michael

        I also think that getting into a flame war with Bart Ehrman was pretty stupid, even if Ehrman us wrong

        Carrier is a bit of a polemicist. Speaking of Ehrman, Doherty wrote a valuable 34 part response to Did Jesus Exist? over at Vridar.

    • JP Nunez

      Thanks for the response! You're right that I was a bit unclear when I said at the end of the article that there was no evidence that the early Christians learned about Jesus' death and resurrection from Scripture or direct revelation. I meant that there's no convincing evidence.

      You say that Paul wouldn't have needed any special revelation to learn about Christians' freedom from the Jewish Law, but I disagree. It seems that Jesus never said anything about it. The Gospels don't record any sayings freeing his followers from the Law, and in Acts and the epistles, where this is clearly a big issue, nobody ever brings up any sayings of Jesus to settle the matter. As a result, it seems that if Jesus existed, he didn't say anything about this, so yes, the first Christians would've needed to get their points of view on this matter from other sources, such as revelation and Scripture.

      You ask towards the end where Paul and other early Christian preachers got their ideas about Jesus, implying that my explanation of the second passage, the one from Romans, is inadequate. Again, I think I was a bit unclear here. In the context of Romans, Paul is most likely referring to the message of salvation in Christ apart from the Law, so since Jesus didn't say anything about that, Paul would've had to get that understanding from somewhere other than the historical Jesus.

      You also rightly point out that none of this means that Paul or any other early Christian did in fact learn the Gospel from historical witnesses to Jesus' death and resurrection. As I said in my article, my point wasn't to prove that they did. Rather, I was simply arguing against the position that these passages provide strong evidence that they didn't. When we read them in context, there are other ways to understand them, and I would contend that these other ways actually fit those contexts better. At the very least, I think these alternative interpretations are at least equally plausible. As a result, the debate simply needs to move on to other questions and issues.

      You made a few other comments that don't directly deal with what I was writing about (like the absence of information in Paul's letters about Jesus' own teaching), and I'd rather keep the discussion focused on what the article was about. If another opportunity comes up to discuss those issues, I'd be more than happy to do so there.

      • You say that Paul wouldn't have needed any special revelation to learn about Christians' freedom from the Jewish Law, but I disagree. It seems that Jesus never said anything about it.

        But he did, according to the canonical gospels. Considering the way in which he endorsed the Law, he in effect denied that his followers (or anybody else) had any such freedom.

        And having noted that, I must confess that part of my argument was in error. Paul would indeed have needed a special revelation. But apparently, the revelation was not also given to any of the leaders of the Jerusalem church. It is not apparent to me how else to explain their opposition to Paul’s message.

        and in Acts and the epistles, where this is clearly a big issue, nobody ever brings up any sayings of Jesus to settle the matter.

        Which is why Acts and the epistles are, on the whole, inconsistent with historicity. If real, Jesus either said something or else said nothing on the subject. If he said something, then the advocates for at least one side would have quoted him. If (contrary to the gospels) he said nothing, then at least one side would have claimed that he had. (And no, I’m not claiming they would have lied. They’d have said it because they’d have believed it.) The lack of any such attribution by any party to that dispute is best explained, it seems to me, by rejecting the assumption that Jesus of Nazareth was a real person.

        At the very least, I think these alternative interpretations are at least equally plausible.

        I concede their plausibility on the assumption of Jesus’ historicity. Absent that assumption, they start to look, at least to me, something like special pleading.

        You made a few other comments that don't directly deal with what I was writing about (like the absence of information in Paul's letters about Jesus' own teaching), and I'd rather keep the discussion focused on what the article was about. If another opportunity comes up to discuss those issues, I'd be more than happy to do so there.

        Works for me.

        • JP Nunez

          When I said that Jesus didn't say anything about his followers' freedom from the Jewish Law, I simply meant that he never said that his followers would be free from it. Sure, you can interpret some sayings in the Gospels to mean that we actually do need to follow the Law, but that's not what I'm talking about. Rather, I'm just saying that Paul's Law-free Gospel didn't come from the historical Jesus, not that Jesus never said anything about the Law.

          And you're right about the leaders of the Jerusalem Church not getting that same revelation. However, since Paul also says in Romans 16:25-27 that his Law-free Gospel comes from Scripture as well, they had access to it as well.

          I disagree with your assessment of whether or not people would have appealed to a saying of Jesus if he actually existed, but that's one of those things that go beyond the point of my article.

          And finally, I don't think my interpretations of the passages in Romans and Galatians are plausible only on historicist assumptions. I'm simply reading them in context. For example, in Galatians, when Paul talks about "a different Gospel," he's clearly using the word "Gospel" to mean an interpretation or understanding of exactly how Jesus' death and resurrection save us and what we need to do in response. His opponents didn't deny that Jesus had died and risen; they simply disagreed with Paul's understanding of the significance of those events. So when he then talks about his own Gospel a few verses later, clearly contrasting it with the different Gospel he mentioned above, it's at least reasonable to conclude that he's talking now about his understanding of the significance of Jesus' death and resurrection, not the bare (alleged) facts that Jesus died and rose. So to use Carrier's Bayesian reasoning, I think at worst it's 50/50. My interpretation is at least just as likely as the mythicist one, so they don't make mythicism any more likely than historicism. And I'm not assuming anything about Jesus' existence. I'm simply reading these passages in context and trying to understand what exactly Paul is talking about in these specific instances. And when we do that, we realize that he's not talking about the bare (alleged) facts of Jesus' death and resurrection; rather, he's talking about his understanding of their significance.

          • His opponents didn't deny that Jesus had died and risen; they simply disagreed with Paul's understanding of the significance of those events. So when he then talks about his own Gospel a few verses later, clearly contrasting it with the different Gospel he mentioned above, it's at least reasonable to conclude that he's talking now about his understanding of the significance of Jesus' death and resurrection, not the bare (alleged) facts that Jesus died and rose. So to use Carrier's Bayesian reasoning, I think at worst it's 50/50. My interpretation is at least just as likely as the mythicist one, so they don't make mythicism any more likely than historicism.

            I appreciate your taking the time for this clarification. I cannot think of a cogent objection off the top of my head, so I'll concede the point for the time being.

          • JP Nunez

            Cool. Thanks for being a charitable dialogue partner! It was a pleasure.

          • You're welcome. My pleasure as well.

    • But what did first-century Christians usually mean when they talked about “the gospel,” and how do we know that that was what they meant? Whatever it was, it accomplishes little to speculate on what alternative meaning Paul might have had in mind on this particular occasion.

      I don't have a statistical answer to your "usually", but you could look at 1 Cor 15:1–5 for Paul's answer. I know of no reason to suspect that he was being wildly inconsistent and preaching one thing to the Galatians and another to the Corinthians. After all, Paul claims to have checked with "those who seemed influential" in Jerusalem and they agreed with his understanding of the Gospel (Gal 2:1–10). The NT is quite clear that there were alternative gospels being preached; this is also clear in the Didache. To those who would spread the Gospel: "If he asks for money, he is a false prophet."

      On the historicist hypothesis, Jesus would have made it clear enough to his disciples whether compliance with Jewish law was necessary for salvation …

      What precise disagreement are you positing as evidence that Jesus did not make things clear enough? I know there was debate about circumcision, eating food sacrificed to idols, eating non-Kosher food, and eating with Gentiles (which may reduce to the former two). But this hardly constitutes the kind of wild uncertainty that your words allow. Instead, we could realize that Jesus completely rocked the world of his disciples and they would not have snapped to 100% correctness in a day.

      Whatever [Paul] said about the gospel — God’s plan of salvation — was as reliable as what they said, which he could hardly have claimed if the others had walked and talked with Jesus during his earthly ministry.

      This doesn't follow in the slightest. Paul interacted with those who claimed to have walked with Jesus in the flesh; he checked his understanding against theirs. What more do you want for 'reliability'? I could also point out that in the Gospels, Jesus' disciples are described as not understanding what Jesus was doing. They were nigh clueless until Jesus' resurrection.

      • Paul interacted with those who claimed to have walked with Jesus in the flesh

        We don't have Paul's word for that. We have the word of other people, living at least several decades after Paul died, that some folks whom Paul interacted with had walked with Jesus in the flesh.

        • Really?

          For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. (1 Corinthians 15:3–8)

          +

          When we had come to Jerusalem, the brothers received us gladly. On the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present. (Acts 21:17–18)

          • Really?

            Yes, really. In neither passage you quote does Paul say that anybody of his acquaintance had walked with Jesus.

          • Ahh, you're picking the second option of:

            LB′: Paul interacted with {those who claimed to have walked with Jesus in the flesh (according to the author of Acts)}

            LB″: Paul interacted with {those who claimed to have walked with Jesus in the flesh (according to Paul)}

            I guess it's just too bad that Paul didn't foresee that people would consider Jesus a myth, and write more explicitly.

          • Ahh, you're picking the second option of:

            LB′: Paul interacted with {those who claimed to have walked with Jesus in the flesh (according to the author of Acts)}
            LB″: Paul interacted with {those who claimed to have walked with Jesus in the flesh (according to Paul)}

            No, I'm rejecting the second option. It was not according to Paul that any of his acquaintances had walked with Jesus in the flesh.

            I guess it's just too bad that Paul didn't foresee that people would consider Jesus a myth, and write more explicitly.

            Nobody can fault him for failing to address arguments that nobody in his own time was making. If Jesus of Nazareth was a real man, nobody in the mid-first century would have suspected that some people someday would think otherwise. If he was not a real man, they would not have suspected that some people someday would think he was.

          • No, I'm rejecting the second option.

            I meant that what I said was consistent with LB′ and LB″; you choose to interpret it as LB″. I realize you chose and rejected LB″.

            LB: I guess it's just too bad that Paul didn't foresee that people would consider Jesus a myth, and write more explicitly.

            DS: Nobody can fault him for failing to address arguments that nobody in his own time was making. If Jesus of Nazareth was a real man, nobody in the mid-first century would have suspected that some people someday would think otherwise. If he was not a real man, they would not have suspected that some people someday would think he was.

            Then what is the relevance of pointing out that Paul did not say things which would refute an argument nobody in his time was making? As to reasons for thinking the Gospels historical (which themselves do make clear that Jesus was historical), you could consult Richard Bauckham's Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony. One argument Bauckham makes is that the distribution of common names post-destruction of Jerusalem was quite different from before. The distribution of common names in the NT matches the pre-destruction distribution, not the post-destruction.

          • Then what is the relevance of pointing out that Paul did not say things which would refute an argument nobody in his time was making?

            For one, to rebut claims that he did say those things.

            More generally, logical consistency is one thing and probability is another. No sensible mythicist is saying “If X had been the case, then Paul would have certainly have said X.” What we’re saying is that it seems improbable to us that Paul did not, anywhere in the writings attributed to him, say certain things that we would expect anyone in his position to said about the human founder of his religion, regardless of whether anyone was disputing the existence of that founder. And this is not a uniquely mythicist observation. At least a few Christian scholars who would not give mythicism the time of day have commented on Paul’s silence about the man Jesus as an anomaly that demands some explanation.

            As to reasons for thinking the Gospels historical (which themselves do make clear that Jesus was historical), you could consult Richard Bauckham's Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony.

            I have seen a slew of arguments for the gospels’ historical reliability. No one has yet told me of an argument Bauckham makes that I haven’t seen before.

            One argument Bauckham makes is that the distribution of common names post-destruction of Jerusalem was quite different from before. The distribution of common names in the NT matches the pre-destruction distribution, not the post-destruction.

            OK, that is one I haven’t seen elsewhere. But does he also demonstrate how that would be unlikely to have happened if the gospels not been historically reliable? And does he also present a statistical defense of whatever data he uses to reach that conclusion?

          • LB: Then what is the relevance of pointing out that Paul did not say things which would refute an argument nobody in his time was making?

            DS: For one, to rebut claims that he did say those things.

            Ok, but I didn't say those things. (That's why I distinguished between LB′ and LB″.) This all seems like a distraction from the last quote-response of my initial reply to you.

            What we’re saying is that it seems improbable to us that Paul did not, anywhere in the writings attributed to him, say certain things that we would expect anyone in his position to said about the human founder of his religion, regardless of whether anyone was disputing the existence of that founder.

            Like what? What the NT preserves are 'occasional' letters written from Paul to groups of people who almost certainly shared a great deal in common with him, where said commonality can be largely taken for granted. It seems rather prudent for Paul to leave historical details of Jesus to those who had first-hand experience or at least interviewed those who did have first-hand experience (I'm not sure how many of Jesus' disciples could write).

            At least a few Christian scholars who would not give mythicism the time of day have commented on Paul’s silence about the man Jesus as an anomaly that demands some explanation.

            What's the most compelling example of something Paul could have said about Jesus but didn't, which would have strengthened his purposes in writing the 'occasional' letters we have?

            LB: One argument Bauckham makes is that the distribution of common names post-destruction of Jerusalem was quite different from before. The distribution of common names in the NT matches the pre-destruction distribution, not the post-destruction.

            DS: OK, that is one I haven’t seen elsewhere. But does he also demonstrate how that would be unlikely to have happened if the gospels not been historically reliable? And does he also present a statistical defense of whatever data he uses to reach that conclusion?

            I would have to review the book to give you details. What standards would Bauckham have to satisfy for you to take what he says really seriously, rather than dismiss his argument like you have pretty much every other one I've seen advanced in the OP and comments?

          • but I didn't say those things.

            You clearly implied that I was being illogical when I contradicted your assertion that “Paul interacted with those who claimed to have walked with Jesus in the flesh.”

            Anyway, I don’t post to this forum to communicate only with those with whom I am responding directly. This thread is about a particular argument from the Pauline corpus against Jesus’ historicity. Related arguments for historicity from the same corpus are not irrelevant to our conversation, I think.

            It seems rather prudent for Paul to leave historical details of Jesus to those who had first-hand experience or at least interviewed those who did have first-hand experience (I'm not sure how many of Jesus' disciples could write).

            The issue is relevance, not rhetorical prudence. Some details about Jesus’ life and ministry, and particular things he said during that ministry, could not have been irrelevant to whatever point Paul wanted to make about the significance of his death and resurrection. How he learned about those details might not have mattered, but it’s reasonable to expect him to (a) have known them and (b) have mentioned them at least once in a while.

            Plenty of facts about Abraham Lincoln’s life are common knowledge among Americans today. But if someone were to write a book expounding on the significance of his assassination, it would be considered odd beyond measure if the author had nothing to say about Lincoln’s life except that he died from an assassin’s bullet, was born of a woman, and was of English descent.

            What's the most compelling example of something Paul could have said about Jesus but didn't, which would have strengthened his purposes in writing the 'occasional' letters we have?

            Your response will be an argument that it’s a bad example. The mythicist argument does not depend on Paul’s failure to say any particular thing. It depends on his having said nothing at all, and my point was that we mythicists are not the only ones who have found that silence to be an anomaly. Historicists have found their own resolutions to it. Mythicists think they’ve found a better resolution.

            What standards would Bauckham have to satisfy for you to take what he says really seriously

            The standards of a proper Bayesian analysis.

            rather than dismiss his argument like you have pretty much every other one I've seen advanced in the OP and comments?

            In my lexicon, to dismiss an argument is to refuse to address it. I have not done that. I have explained why I don’t find them cogent. That is not what I consider dismissal.

          • You clearly implied that I was being illogical when I contradicted your assertion that “Paul interacted with those who claimed to have walked with Jesus in the flesh.”

            Yes, because you did not distinguish between whether Paul claimed they walked with Jesus in the flesh, whether they claimed they walked with Jesus in the flesh, or whether someone else claimed they walked with Jesus in the flesh. If you choose to atomize every author in the NT via evaluating each with zero reference to any others and zero expectation of any consistency whatsoever with any others, that should be something explicitly stated, not presupposed from the outset. It is my experience that historians do not default to such atomization.

            The issue is relevance, not rhetorical prudence.

            When you talk about what Paul would have done, rhetorical prudence seems like precisely the right thing. We ought to expect Paul to do what would have furthered his purposes. Not what would further the mythicist's purposes (nor what would thwart them).

            Plenty of facts about Abraham Lincoln’s life are common knowledge among Americans today. But if someone were to write a book expounding on the significance of his assassination, it would be considered odd beyond measure if the author had nothing to say about Lincoln’s life except that he died from an assassin’s bullet, was born of a woman, and was of English descent.

            Bad analogy: Paul was writing 'occasional' letters to people to address specific things. We have no general treatises from him.

            DS: At least a few Christian scholars who would not give mythicism the time of day have commented on Paul’s silence about the man Jesus as an anomaly that demands some explanation.

            LB: What's the most compelling example of something Paul could have said about Jesus but didn't, which would have strengthened his purposes in writing the 'occasional' letters we have?

            DS: Your response will be an argument that it’s a bad example.

            Irrelevant; in this very post you said "I don’t post to this forum to communicate only with those with whom I am responding directly." If you cannot provide even a single compelling instance where talking about Jesus in a way a mythicist could not explain away would have served Paul's purposes better than what we have, then Paul's silence isn't much of an anomaly. I highly doubt I am the only one who would judge this way.

            The standards of a proper Bayesian analysis.

            Ahh, so we can expect to be able to do "a proper Bayesian analysis"—replete with high confidence priors? Or are you really suggesting that we probably cannot do such a thing, and since we [probably] cannot put reasonable bounds on the prior probabilities, the line of evidence I indicated is [probably] worthless? After all, one can always cinch up one's standards of evidence so high that nothing will suffice. (I think that's exactly what you accused me of doing, directly above.)

            In my lexicon, to dismiss an argument is to refuse to address it. I have not done that. I have explained why I don’t find them cogent. That is not what I consider dismissal.

            When a judge dismisses a case, [s]he doesn't [always?] provide no reasons at all. Instead, [s]he considers there not to be enough of a case for serious treatment. Hence why we have the phrase "dismiss out of hand", which means there was no processing before dismissal whatsoever.

          • you did not distinguish between whether Paul claimed they walked with Jesus in the flesh, whether they claimed they walked with Jesus in the flesh, or whether someone else claimed they walked with Jesus in the flesh.

            Given the context of your statement, I thought you considered the distinction irrelevant. If I thought incorrectly, I apologize.

            We ought to expect Paul to do what would have furthered his purposes.

            We should expect Paul to have done what he believed would have furthered his purposes. But we can know nothing about his purposes, or what he have might have thought would further them, except from his writings and the reasonable assumption that he was a more or less normal human being subject to all the constraints and impulses of a normal human nature.

            Paul was writing 'occasional' letters to people to address specific things. We have no general treatises from him.

            Then I’ll revise my hypothesis thus: “But if someone were to write a book several letters expounding on the significance of his assassination . . . .”

            Irrelevant . . . . If you cannot provide even a single compelling instance where talking about Jesus in a way a mythicist could not explain away would have served Paul's purposes better than what we have, then Paul's silence isn't much of an anomaly.

            Strawman. The mythicist argument is not there would be any such single compelling instance if historicism were true.

            But if there were any such instance . . . . Let’s suppose that Paul had said, somewhere in his letters, that Jesus was crucified on the order of the Roman governor Pontius Pilate after being tried by a Jewish tribunal. If everything else in the Pauline corpus were the same as what we have now, I would believe that that passage was inauthentic. That is, I would believe it, if all the other known evidence about Christianity’s origins was unchanged. Now, add some compelling evidence that that passage had to have been actually written by Paul, and I’d probably go back to being a historicist. Probably. Hard to sure about such counterfactuals.

            Ahh, so we can expect to be able to do "a proper Bayesian analysis"—replete with high confidence priors?

            I doubt that you’d expect it. I would.

            Or are you really suggesting that we probably cannot do such a thing, and since we [probably] cannot put reasonable bounds on the prior probabilities, the line of evidence I indicated is [probably] worthless?

            Without examining the evidence myself, I cannot know what it’s worth. But I do know the worth of an apologist’s unsupported assertion, “This is compelling evidence.”

            After all, one can always cinch up one's standards of evidence so high that nothing will suffice.

            Yes, one can always do that. And, one can always accuse one’s interlocutor of doing it. Any accusation that someone has done it on a particular occasion needs its own argument.

            When a judge dismisses a case, [s]he doesn't [always?] provide no reasons at all. Instead, [s]he considers there not to be enough of a case for serious treatment.

            If you perceive us to be engaged in a metaphorical judicial proceeding, I’ll try to remember that.

          • LB: We ought to expect Paul to do what would have furthered his purposes.

            DS: We should expect Paul to have done what he believed would have furthered his purposes. But we can know nothing about his purposes, or what he have might have thought would further them, except from his writings and the reasonable assumption that he was a more or less normal human being subject to all the constraints and impulses of a normal human nature.

            Your correction is noted. As to what we can deduce, I doubt historians restrict themselves to writing and current conceptions of normality. But I'm happy for you to suggest how Paul would have been better served to write other than he did, such that a side effect would be to provide [additional!] evidence contra mythicism. Better served from his own perspective, or better served from yours.

            Then I’ll revise my hypothesis thus: “But if someone were to write a book several letters expounding on the significance of his assassination . . . .”

            I don't see why I should believe that. I do think the treatise version of your argument makes sense.

            DS: At least a few Christian scholars who would not give mythicism the time of day have commented on Paul’s silence about the man Jesus as an anomaly that demands some explanation.

            LB: What's the most compelling example of something Paul could have said about Jesus but didn't, which would have strengthened his purposes in writing the 'occasional' letters we have?

            DS: Your response will be an argument that it’s a bad example.

            LB: Irrelevant . . . . If you cannot provide even a single compelling instance where talking about Jesus in a way a mythicist could not explain away would have served Paul's purposes better than what we have, then Paul's silence isn't much of an anomaly.

            DS: Strawman. The mythicist argument is not there would be any such single compelling instance if historicism were true.

            I thought I was making the case easier for you by asking for but a single compelling instance. Feel free to produce enough instances to make your point remotely credible. As it is, it is completely reasonable to suppose that all of Paul's recipients were well-aware that Pontius Pilate had Jesus crucified, and thus it was not necessary to communicate in an 'occasional' letter. (Again, things would be different if it were a treatise.)

            I doubt that you’d expect it. I would.

            Well, I just looked at the relevant section in Jesus and the Eyewitnesses and we don't have nearly as much data on name distribution from the diaspora as in pre-diaspora Palestine. So while one can see that the name frequencies are very different, my expectation has been met: there probably isn't enough to do that rigorous Bayesian analysis you want. So I guess the default is mythicism?

            But I do know the worth of an apologist’s unsupported assertion, “This is compelling evidence.”

            Given that I haven't used that phrase, I'm not sure the relevance of this observation. If I replace "apologist" with "mythicist" in your statement, it seems more apropos to the contents of this page (comments included).

          • I doubt historians restrict themselves to writing and current conceptions of normality.

            Absent relevant archeological artifacts, they have no other evidence to work with. I get it that many things we now consider normal were not so considered in past times, but I’m not talking about that kind of normality. I saying we should assume, absent clear evidence to the contrary, that Paul was a normal person for his time, and that he shared whatever characteristics have been part of human nature for as long as there have been human beings. And one part of that invariant human nature is a tendency to accept ideas that are prevalent in one’s society.

            I don't see why I should believe that. I do think the treatise version of your argument makes sense.

            Believe what? I’m offering an analogy. You said my analogy didn’t work as first formulated, so I reformulated it. Now, you seem to be saying that the original version did work.

            I thought I was making the case easier for you by asking for but a single compelling instance.

            I’ve tried to explain why a single instance could not make my case at all, because it is supposed to be a cumulative case.

            it is completely reasonable to suppose that all of Paul's recipients were well-aware that Pontius Pilate had Jesus crucified, and thus it was not necessary to communicate in an 'occasional' letter.

            That’s what I mean. Taken one at a time, any omission can be plausibly explained. The plausibility problem lies in the omission of Jesus’ entire lifetime. If all we had were Paul’s writings, we would know nothing about his Christ Jesus except that he was crucified, buried, and resurrected, and arguably that he shared a meal with some people (unidentified by Paul) before his crucifixion. We would have no clue as to where or when he lived, or was born (or to whom), or died (or at whose hands), or what he taught or to whom he taught it.

            So while one can see that the name frequencies are very different, my expectation has been met: there probably isn't enough to do that rigorous Bayesian analysis you want. So I guess the default is mythicism?

            If the data on name frequencies are insufficient for a Bayesian analysis, then they are insufficient to prove anything. And if there were no other data relevant to Jesus’ historicity, then the default would be a plea of simple ignorance.

            But I do know the worth of an apologist’s unsupported assertion, “This is compelling evidence.”

            Given that I haven't used that phrase, I'm not sure the relevance of this observation.

            I wasn’t talking about you. I was talking about the authority to whom you appealed.

          • LB: We ought to expect Paul to do what would have furthered his purposes.

            DS: We should expect Paul to have done what he believed would have furthered his purposes. But we can know nothing about his purposes, or what he have might have thought would further them, except from his writings and the reasonable assumption that he was a more or less normal human being subject to all the constraints and impulses of a normal human nature.

            LB: … I doubt historians restrict themselves to writing and current conceptions of normality. …

            DS: Absent relevant archeological artifacts, they have no other evidence to work with.

            We have the writing of people other than Paul. But you seem to want to atomize authors so that one cannot guess at what Paul was saying here by consulting what's in the Gospels or Book of Acts over there. On the other hand, if the appeal is to Middle Platonic writing which could justify mythicism, that's ok.

            And one part of that invariant human nature is a tendency to accept ideas that are prevalent in one’s society.

            I see, so the extensive Jewish education Paul received doesn't conflict with Middle Platonism in any interesting ways that are relevant for the mythicism discussion?

            DS: Plenty of facts about Abraham Lincoln’s life are common knowledge among Americans today. But if someone were to write a book expounding on the significance of his assassination, it would be considered odd beyond measure if the author had nothing to say about Lincoln’s life except that he died from an assassin’s bullet, was born of a woman, and was of English descent.

            LB: Bad analogy: Paul was writing 'occasional' letters to people to address specific things. We have no general treatises from him.

            DS: Then I’ll revise my hypothesis thus: “But if someone were to write a book several letters expounding on the significance of his assassination . . . .”

            LB: I don't see why I should believe that. I do think the treatise version of your argument makes sense.

            DS: Believe what? I’m offering an analogy. You said my analogy didn’t work as first formulated, so I reformulated it. Now, you seem to be saying that the original version did work.

            Some review is in order. I agreed with your expectation of a treatise; it just happens that Paul didn't write any treatises. I don't agree when you apply your expectation to 'occasional' letters.

            If all we had were Paul’s writings, we would know nothing about his Christ Jesus except that he was crucified, buried, and resurrected, and arguably that he shared a meal with some people (unidentified by Paul) before his crucifixion.

            Fortunately, we don't have only Paul's 'occasional' letters. Why the obsession about atomizing writers?

            If the data on name frequencies are insufficient for a Bayesian analysis, then they are insufficient to prove anything.

            Bauckham presents two lists: counts of names in pre-diaspora Palestine and counts of names in post-diaspora Egypt (IIRC among Jews). The popularity of names is very different. What kind of Bayesian analysis do you want to see? The probability that one could randomly sample from the post-diaspora Egypt name distribution and happen to hit on something as close to the pre-dispora Palestine sample as the NT gets?

            Also, I'd love to see how much historical knowledge you have discarded because either it wasn't sufficient for a Bayesian analysis or it just wasn't put in that form for you.

            I wasn’t talking about you. I was talking about the authority to whom you appealed.

            Do you know of where Bauckham says "This is compelling evidence." as an unsupported assertion? If not, then your comment continues to appear gratuitous.

          • We have the writing of people other than Paul. But you seem to want to atomize authors so that one cannot guess at what Paul was saying here by consulting what's in the Gospels or Book of Acts over there.

            I don’t want to assume that the relationship between the gospels and Acts is what the church has been saying it was ever since Eusebius.

            On the other hand, if the appeal is to Middle Platonic writing which could justify mythicism, that's ok.

            Middle Platonist thinking is well documented before Paul’s lifetime. Nothing about Jesus as an unambiguously human being shows up until decades after Paul’s lifetime.

            so the extensive Jewish education Paul received doesn't conflict with Middle Platonism in any interesting ways that are relevant for the mythicism discussion?

            You tell me. Without presupposing anything that the church has always said about Paul, what do we know about his Jewish education and how do we know it?

            I don't agree when you apply your expectation to 'occasional' letters.

            What’s wrong with my analogy with the Lincolnist zealot? Would it, or would it not, be anomalous for him to make no mention, in any of numerous occasional letters, of any event in Lincoln’s life before his assassination, excepting only his having been born of a woman and his English descent?

            Fortunately, we don't have only Paul's 'occasional' letters.

            And the case for mythicism does not rest only on Paul’s writings. Some of us think it starts there. None us of thinks it ends there.

            What kind of Bayesian analysis do you want to see?

            The kind that offers a defensible prior probability for the hypothesis at issue, a defensible probability of the evidence obtaining given the truth of the hypothesis, and a defensible probability of the evidence obtaining given the negation of the hypothesis.

            Also, I'd love to see how much historical knowledge you have discarded because either it wasn't sufficient for a Bayesian analysis or it just wasn't put in that form for you.

            Calling it “historical knowledge” begs the question. Knowledge by definition (among philosophers, at least) is true belief. I have learned throughout my lifetime that many commonly held beliefs about history are, if not demonstrably wrong, too poorly supported by extant evidence to count as real knowledge. And any proper judgment of sufficiency of evidence is a Bayesian analysis.

            Do you know of where Bauckham says "This is compelling evidence." as an unsupported assertion?

            No, I’m just going by what you have told me so far about what he says. You imply that he thinks it’s good evidence (assuming that he wouldn’t have used it if he hadn’t thought so). You have not told me whether or how he supports the claim that it’s good evidence.

            If not, then your comment continues to appear gratuitous.

            It was more than I had to say to make my point, but it has been my observation that defenders of eyewitness authorship of the gospels invariably do make unsupported assertions about their evidence.

          • I don’t want to assume that the relationship between the gospels and Acts is what the church has been saying it was ever since Eusebius.

            That reasonable position does not explain your words ("can know nothing"). Also, it's really hard to check details on Jesus' life that Paul even possibly provides, without making reference to other writings on Jesus' life. But your strategy seems to be to deny that we have any other such reliable sources, and then find ways to mythically interpret anything Paul says which nicely matches those historical-seeming documents. It's really a nice gig mythicists have. Their position appears nigh unfalsifiable.

            Middle Platonist thinking is well documented before Paul’s lifetime. Nothing about Jesus as an unambiguously human being shows up until decades after Paul’s lifetime.

            I see, so it goes back to your clarification from "a more or less normal human being""a normal person for his time". I'll throw in more thinking well documented before Paul's lifetime: the debate between Pharisees and Sadducees about whether the dead are raised. I don't believe this debate has anything to do with Middle Platonism. So, why do you have high confidence that e.g. Paul's question "how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?" (1 Cor 15:12) is best understood with Middle Platonism as a background rather than Jewish thought? (We have Paul's own words on his training and we can make inferences based on the arguments he makes; no need to rely on that church tradition you give approximately zero credibility.)

            What’s wrong with my analogy with the Lincolnist zealot? Would it, or would it not, be anomalous for him to make no mention, in any of numerous occasional letters, of any event in Lincoln’s life before his assassination, excepting only his having been born of a woman and his English descent?

            Again, you have to show where it would serve his purposes. For example, Paul does make specific reference to the Lord's Supper in 1 Cor 11:17–33, because it's directly relevant to the issue he's addressing. Where else is something Jesus did or said directly relevant, where Paul could have referenced it but didn't?

            LB: Bauckham presents two lists: counts of names in pre-diaspora Palestine and counts of names in post-diaspora Egypt (IIRC among Jews). The popularity of names is very different. What kind of Bayesian analysis do you want to see? The probability that one could randomly sample from the post-diaspora Egypt name distribution and happen to hit on something as close to the pre-dispora Palestine sample as the NT gets?

            DS: The kind that offers a defensible prior probability for the hypothesis at issue, a defensible probability of the evidence obtaining given the truth of the hypothesis, and a defensible probability of the evidence obtaining given the negation of the hypothesis.

            Why don't you suggest how one would determine the prior probability that one would get a name distribution which doesn't match any known geography now, but does match a particular geography in the past? I gave it a shot and you flatly ignored that attempt.

            I have learned throughout my lifetime that many commonly held beliefs about history are, if not demonstrably wrong, too poorly supported by extant evidence to count as real knowledge. And any proper judgment of sufficiency of evidence is a Bayesian analysis.

            I see, so do you believe that the Trail of Tears and/or the Bataan Death March happened? I myself never saw a Bayesian analysis of either. Please don't do any extra searching on the internet to answer this question.

            It was more than I had to say to make my point, but it has been my observation that defenders of eyewitness authorship of the gospels invariably do make unsupported assertions about their evidence.

            Ok; let's see by how you deal with what would make for a proper Bayesian analysis of the name distribution matter what you might mean by "unsupported assertions". And let's see how much history you don't think we can really know because the amount of explicit Bayesian inference is tiny and the generation of priors is fraught with difficulty.

          • I don’t want to assume that the relationship between the gospels and Acts is what the church has been saying it was ever since Eusebius.

            That reasonable position does not explain your words ("can know nothing").

            It wasn’t supposed to. I explained those words in the same post where I said them.

            Also, it's really hard to check details on Jesus' life that Paul even possibly provides, without making reference to other writings on Jesus' life.

            I agree with that.

            But your strategy seems to be to deny that we have any other such reliable sources,

            Calling it a strategy suggests that I deny it just because I need to in order to make my case. I was questioning the reliability of those other sources long before I entertained any doubts about Jesus’ historicity. I started questioning their reliability some years before I stopped calling myself a Christian. Questioning their reliability was what got me out of a Protestant fundamentalism that had me believing, among other things, that all Catholics were going to burn in hell.

            It's really a nice gig mythicists have. Their position appears nigh unfalsifiable.

            It’s not. It would be unfalsifiable if, by stipulation, no imaginable evidence could contradict it. The improbability of anybody finding such evidence is irrelevant.

            The historicists’ problem is their thinking that the evidence they already have for Jesus’ historicity suffices beyond reasonable doubt to falsify mythicism. A key disagreement between historicists and mythicists is over the reasonableness of doubting the sufficiency of that evidence.

            We have Paul's own words on his training

            Maybe. Are you referring to Philippians 3:4-6?

            Would it, or would it not, be anomalous for him to make no mention, in any of numerous occasional letters, of any event in Lincoln’s life before his assassination, excepting only his having been born of a woman and his English descent?

            Again, you have to show where it would serve his purposes.

            That doesn’t answer my question.

            Why don't you suggest how one would determine the prior probability

            He’s referring to a particular data set that he thinks favors the proposition that the gospels are historically reliable. That data set is his evidence, and the gospel’s historical reliability is his hypothesis. My prior probability for that hypothesis must be based on everything I thought I knew about it before examining that evidence. That would include everything I think I reasonably believe about the gospels’ date of composition, authorship, and the authors’ source materials. Considering all that, I would assign a prior probability in the neighborhood of 0.2 to 0.3.

            I see, so do you believe that the Trail of Tears and/or the Bataan Death March happened?

            Yes. The evidence for both seems incontrovertible.

            I myself never saw a Bayesian analysis of either.

            Nor have I, but I have no doubt that if one were done, it would validate the historians’ consensus, and that’s all that matters. Bayes’ Theorem is just a mathematical formalization of the reasoning that gets done when historiography is done properly. Whether the historian uses any explicit mathematics is beside the point.

            Please don't do any extra searching on the internet to answer this question.

            Didn’t need to.

            let's see by how you deal with what would make for a proper Bayesian analysis of the name distribution matter what you might mean by "unsupported assertions".

            What I mean is any assertion whatsoever that is made without any accompanying argument to support it. What I don’t necessarily mean is “unsupportable assertions.” An assertion may be made, unproblematically, without support if the claimant is prepared, upon challenge, to provide the support or refer to support from other sources.

            And let's see how much history you don't think we can really know because the amount of explicit Bayesian inference is tiny and the generation of priors is fraught with difficulty.

            I don’t have time for a general response. I could deal with some specific cases if you have any in mind.

          • I was questioning the reliability of those other sources long before I entertained any doubts about Jesus’ historicity.

            I see. So in any instance whatsoever that Paul talks about Jesus—whether it be having a brother, appearing to people in an order strongly reminiscent of documents which present Jesus as historical, or creating a ritual at a meal—because there are zero historical referents for comparison, we can spiritualize them all with aplomb.

            Supposing that Paul did write "that Jesus was crucified on the order of the Roman governor Pontius Pilate after being tried by a Jewish tribunal", I can see the mythicist arguing that the historical Pontius Pilate is merely a symbolic representative of the spiritual Pontius Pilate who really executed Jesus.

            It would be unfalsifiable if, by stipulation, no imaginable evidence could contradict it.

            On this definition of 'unfalsifiable', no conspiracy theory is unfalsifiable. And yet, we know that conspiracy theories enjoy a de facto unfalsifiability via the constant addition of ad hoc hypotheses. Such as an interpretation of "adelphos of X" as meaning not flesh-and-blood brother, but something like "the brotherhood of freedom".

            The historicists’ problem is their thinking that the evidence they already have for Jesus’ historicity suffices beyond reasonable doubt to falsify mythicism.

            Perhaps, but I haven't seen you present any reasonable doubts. Your best one was that someone writing a treatise on Abraham Lincoln's assassination would almost certainly give a number of details portraying Lincoln as a historical person; sadly, we have no treatises from Paul. We have 'occasional' letters and those are the sorts of things which will take many things for granted. It's not like writing materials were cheap back then.

            Maybe. Are you referring to Philippians 3:4-6?

            That and Acts 22:3–5. But perhaps you will dismiss the latter because while the text portrays it as Paul speaking, it just isn't reliable?

            DS: What’s wrong with my analogy with the Lincolnist zealot? Would it, or would it not, be anomalous for him to make no mention, in any of numerous occasional letters, of any event in Lincoln’s life before his assassination, excepting only his having been born of a woman and his English descent?

            LB: Again, you have to show where it would serve his purposes. For example, Paul does make specific reference to the Lord's Supper in 1 Cor 11:17–33, because it's directly relevant to the issue he's addressing. Where else is something Jesus did or said directly relevant, where Paul could have referenced it but didn't?

            DS: That doesn’t answer my question.

            First of all, your characterization of what Paul mentions is wrong—Galatians 1:19 has an adelphos of Jesus and 1 Cor 11:23–26 has a ritualized dinner. I forget if there are others. Second, one has reasons for being thorough and taking much less for granted when writing a treatise than when writing 'occasional' letters in a time when writing materials were precious. (Do we need to break this down into numbers and do some Bayesian crunching? I bet you we could each get the numbers to turn out the way we want. I doubt the introduction of numbers would enhance the analysis.)

            Considering all that, I would assign a prior probability in the neighborhood of 0.2 to 0.3.

            That's one of the prior probabilities; we also need the prior probability that in manufacturing the gospels out of thin air, one would just happen upon a name distribution that doesn't exist where you live, but did exist in Jesus' time & place up to about 35 years after his death—plenty of time for eyewitnesses to still be alive.

            Bayes’ Theorem is just a mathematical formalization of the reasoning that gets done when historiography is done properly.

            According to how many credible historians? The reason I ask is because as far as I know, there is very little agreement on what priors to use, making it very easy to obtain a great variety of results from Bayesian inference with the same evidence. But because we were raised from the crib to respect the Almighty Number, when claims are quantified we trust them more.

          • So in any instance whatsoever that Paul talks about Jesus—whether it be having a brother, appearing to people in an order strongly reminiscent of documents which present Jesus as historical, or creating a ritual at a meal—because there are zero historical referents for comparison, we can spiritualize them all with aplomb.

            Not with aplomb. After a careful non-conclusion-assuming examination of the entire body of relevant evidence.

            I can see the mythicist arguing that the historical Pontius Pilate is merely a symbolic representative of the spiritual Pontius Pilate who really executed Jesus.

            If all the other evidence were unchanged? Some mythicists would probably go that route. I’d argue that it was an interpolation. This isn’t about proof-texting Paul. It’s about making a reasonable inference from the first three centuries of Christianity’s historical paper trail.

            On this definition of 'unfalsifiable', no conspiracy theory is unfalsifiable.

            Exactly. Which is why conspiracy theories are nearly always not worth taking seriously.

            Such as an interpretation of "adelphos of X" as meaning not flesh-and-blood brother, but something like "the brotherhood of freedom".

            I haven’t stipulated that no evidence could falsify it. I’ve only said we don’t have such evidence.

            But perhaps you will dismiss the latter because while the text portrays it as Paul speaking, it just isn't reliable?

            Yes, I don’t think it’s a reliable historical account of Christianity’s origins.

            I haven't seen you present any reasonable doubts. Your best one was that someone writing a treatise on Abraham Lincoln's assassination would almost certainly give a number of details portraying Lincoln as a historical person; sadly, we have no treatises from Paul.

            I revised my analogy to address that specific objection when you raised it the first time. I then asked you the same question about it that I asked about the original, and you have not answered it.

            DS: That doesn’t answer my question.

            First of all, your characterization of what Paul mentions is wrong—Galatians 1:19 has an adelphos of Jesus and 1 Cor 11:23–26 has a ritualized dinner. I forget if there are others. Second, one has reasons for being thorough and taking much less for granted when writing a treatise than when writing 'occasional' letters in a time when writing materials were precious. (Do we need to break this down into numbers and do some Bayesian crunching? I bet you we could each get the numbers to turn out the way we want. I doubt the introduction of numbers would enhance the analysis.)

            That still doesn’t answer my question.

            we also need the prior probability that in manufacturing the gospels out of thin air, one would just happen upon a name distribution that doesn't exist where you live, but did exist in Jesus' time & place up to about 35 years after his death—plenty of time for eyewitnesses to still be alive.

            Wrong. We would need the conditional — not prior — probability that they would have used those names on any hypothesis other than that they were writing reliable history. Making the gospels up out of thin air would be one such alternative hypothesis. It isn’t the only one.

            Bayes’ Theorem is just a mathematical formalization of the reasoning that gets done when historiography is done properly.

            According to how many credible historians?

            Most historians probably wouldn’t know Bayes’ Theorem from Bell’s Theorem. My point is that you don’t have to know the theorem in order to reason consistently with it.

            as far as I know, there is very little agreement on what priors to use, making it very easy to obtain a great variety of results from Bayesian inference with the same evidence.

            Once that becomes obvious in any given debate, then the discussion needs to shift to the issue of whose priors are better justified. I’m not claiming that Bayes can settle all arguments. What it can do is reveal and clarify the (usually unstated) assumptions on which we are basing our arguments.

            And as for how easy it is to manipulate the probabilities to get one’s preferred result, that depends in part on one’s motivations and the rigor of their thinking. But if they’re making a good-faith effort, then they will be prepared to defend their priors with the best arguments they think they have. Arbitrary priors will of course produce arbitrary results.

          • Not with aplomb. After a careful non-conclusion-assuming examination of the entire body of relevant evidence.

            What examination? When it came to adelphos in Galatians 1:19, you showed no interest in looking at the NT usages of the word to see if it is remotely plausible that Paul could have meant it in the sense of "brothers of freedom".

            I revised my analogy to address that specific objection when you raised it the first time. I then asked you the same question about it that I asked about the original, and you have not answered it.

            I answered it multiple times. I said the analogy works for treatises, not for 'occasional' letters where one can take the historicity of Jesus for granted among one's hearers, where talking about details of Jesus' [historical] life is not important for the points being made. I most recently added that writing materials were expensive, providing further pressure to only said what needs to be said.

            Wrong. We would need the conditional — not prior — probability that they would have used those names on any hypothesis other than that they were writing reliable history.

            Ahh, so you're not insisting on a late date of authorship of the Gospels, such that it is unreasonable any eyewitnesses could have contributed? Instead, you're perfectly content with those authors inventing a myth as well? Despite the fact that their myth has lots of details about Jesus' life while Paul has precious few? But in that case, of what relevance is it that Paul doesn't mention more than a few details about Jesus' life?

            Most historians probably wouldn’t know Bayes’ Theorem from Bell’s Theorem. My point is that you don’t have to know the theorem in order to reason consistently with it.

            Ok, well in the discussion about Palestine name distributions pre- and post-diaspora, you are welcome to show how the use of Bayes' theorem would help. I stand by my claim that we have to ask how likely it would be to reproduce a name distribution which existed historically but not where & when the myth-makers are currently living. Unless, that is, you are willing to put a pretty early date on the Gospels such that they could easily be the result of eyewitness testimony.

          • Not with aplomb. After a careful non-conclusion-assuming examination of the entire body of relevant evidence.

            What examination?

            For some 18 years now, I have spent much of my spare time examining all the data relevant to Christianity’s origins that I could find on the Internet and in a handful of books I’ve been able to purchase without irritating my wife. (She classifies books under the category “luxuries we can’t afford.”) I cannot summarize all that research in a forum post.

            When it came to adelphos in Galatians 1:19, you showed no interest in looking at the NT usages of the word to see if it is remotely plausible that Paul could have meant it in the sense of "brothers of freedom".

            I glanced at it. I just didn’t have any useful comment to make about it at the time. And I still don’t.

            I answered it multiple times. I said the analogy works for treatises, not for 'occasional' letters

            My question was: “Would it, or would it not, be anomalous for him to make no mention, in any of numerous occasional letters, of any event in Lincoln’s life before his assassination, excepting only his having been born of a woman and his English descent?” You have not answered that question. Are you claiming that it’s such a bad analogy that any answer you could give would be irrelevant?

            Ahh, so you're not insisting on a late date of authorship of the Gospels, such that it is unreasonable any eyewitnesses could have contributed?

            I haven’t insisted on it yet. It’s coming up in my response to another question you asked in a previous post.

            Instead, you're perfectly content with those authors inventing a myth as well?

            No, I don’t think they were writing mythology.

            But in that case, of what relevance is it that Paul doesn't mention more than a few details about Jesus' life?

            It would be of no relevance. If I thought the gospel authors were writing myths, I’d be obliged to the prove that, not that Paul was doing it.

            I stand by my claim that we have to ask how likely it would be to reproduce a name distribution which existed historically but not where & when the myth-makers are currently living.

            Of course. I’m not claiming we don’t have to ask that question. I’m just talking about how we should defend whatever answer we propose, and I’m saying that I have no idea how, or even whether, Bauckham defends his answer.

          • DS: Not with aplomb. After a careful non-conclusion-assuming examination of the entire body of relevant evidence.

            LB: What examination?

            DS: For some 18 years now, I have spent much of my spare time examining all the data relevant to Christianity’s origins that I could find on the Internet and in a handful of books I’ve been able to purchase without irritating my wife.

            Ok, but then you're destabilizing what I thought you meant by "careful" and "entire body of relevant evidence", because you clearly haven't investigated the use of adelphos in Galatians 1:19, and that is clearly a candidate for Paul referring to Jesus as a flesh-and-blood being. And when you cannot say with any detail how Paul would have adapted Middle Platonism to support mythicism, it seems like you haven't done your homework. And given that you apparently haven't encountered Richard Bauckham's Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony (2006), your use of "entire body of relevant evidence" seems dubious.

            P.S. I suggest seeing if a library near you has an interlibrary loan system.

            My question was: “Would it, or would it not, be anomalous for him to make no mention, in any of numerous occasional letters, of any event in Lincoln’s life before his assassination, excepting only his having been born of a woman and his English descent?” You have not answered that question. Are you claiming that it’s such a bad analogy that any answer you could give would be irrelevant?

            In a situation comparable to Paul's, no it would not necessarily be anomalous. (I thought that was obviously derivable from what I've said; apparently not.)

            No, I don’t think they were writing mythology.

            Ahh, well hopefully a future comment of yours will help explain.

            LB: I stand by my claim that we have to ask how likely it would be to reproduce a name distribution which existed historically but not where & when the myth-makers are currently living.

            DS: Of course. I’m not claiming we don’t have to ask that question. I’m just talking about how we should defend whatever answer we propose, and I’m saying that I have no idea how, or even whether, Bauckham defends his answer.

            It appeared that you were under the impression that the name distribution facts Bauckham claims indicate anything other than, "With high probability, those who provided the names to the writers of the Gospels lived in Palestine before the fall of Jerusalem in AD 68." Given that clarification, do you want to continue the matter? Apparently you thought that Bauckham or I were advancing something much stronger. I hadn't considered such a thing, because it would be flatly illogical to reason that "name distribution" ⇒ "Gospels are reliable history".

          • Ok, but then you're destabilizing what I thought you meant by "careful" and "entire body of relevant evidence", because you clearly haven't investigated the use of adelphos in Galatians 1:19

            I never meant to imply that I myself had directly examined every last piece of extant evidence. I meant only to suggest that after nearly two decades of going at this topic, I think I’m justified in thinking I have a good idea of what comprises the complete body of evidence, the range of opinions that have been formed by scholars of relevant expertise who have looked closely at it, and the reasoning they have used to defend those opinions.

            As for investigating Galatians 1:19, you have no idea how much I’ve read by how many people arguing over what Paul must have meant, could have meant, or couldn’t have meant by adelphos tou kuriou.

            and that is clearly a candidate for Paul referring to Jesus as a flesh-and-blood being.

            I’m quite aware of its candidacy, having noticed how desperately historicists cling to it. Some seem to think their whole argument for Jesus’ existence would collapse if Paul hadn’t used that expression on that occasion.

            And given that you apparently haven't encountered Richard Bauckham's Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony (2006)

            That depends on what you mean by “encountered.” I haven’t read it, but I heard about it when it was published and have read comments about it since then.

            And when you cannot say with any detail how Paul would have adapted Middle Platonism to support mythicism, it seems like you haven't done your homework.

            The details are unknowable from his surviving writings, and I don’t need them. It suffices for a plausibility argument, absent clear evidence for implausibility, that the relevant notions were in the intellectual air during his lifetime and that what he said about the Christ of his religion was consistent with them.

            In a situation comparable to Paul's, no it would not necessarily be anomalous.

            I didn’t mean necessarily anomalous. Indulge me while I clarify: “Would it, or would it not, be prima facie anomalous for him to make no mention, in any of numerous occasional letters, of any event in Lincoln’s life before his assassination, excepting only his having been born of a woman and his English descent?”

            You see, an anomaly doesn’t stop being an anomaly just because someone has found or suggested a possible reason for it. An anomaly that has explained is still an anomaly.

            Apparently you thought that Bauckham or I were advancing something much stronger. I hadn't considered such a thing, because it would be flatly illogical to reason that "name distribution" ⇒ "Gospels are reliable history".

            If it’s not evidence for reliability, then I don’t think it’s relevant to this discussion.

          • I never meant to imply that I myself had directly examined every last piece of extant evidence.

            What I said is unaffected by this qualification.

            As for investigating Galatians 1:19, you have no idea how much I’ve read by how many people arguing over what Paul must have meant, could have meant, or couldn’t have meant by adelphos tou kuriou.

            Amount of time spent is irrelevant; that you have not explored all the uses of adelphos in the NT or at least the Pauline epistles is telling.

            LB: And when you cannot say with any detail how Paul would have adapted Middle Platonism to support mythicism, it seems like you haven't done your homework.

            DS: The details are unknowable from his surviving writings, and I don’t need them. It suffices for a plausibility argument, absent clear evidence for implausibility, that the relevant notions were in the intellectual air during his lifetime and that what he said about the Christ of his religion was consistent with them.

            Such vagueness actively hurts your case that you've done "a careful non-conclusion-assuming examination of the entire body of relevant evidence".

            I didn’t mean necessarily anomalous. Indulge me while I clarify: “Would it, or would it not, be prima facie anomalous for him to make no mention, in any of numerous occasional letters, of any event in Lincoln’s life before his assassination, excepting only his having been born of a woman and his English descent?”

            It depends on the cost of writing materials, whether such details would be relevant for the purposes of the letters, and whether the author could simply take the details for granted vs. need to explicitly state them. C'mon, I'm repeating myself again and again now.

            If it’s not evidence for reliability, then I don’t think it’s relevant to this discussion.

            "evidence for" ⇏ "⇒"
            ¬"⇒" ⇏ ¬"evidence for"

          • Amount of time spent is irrelevant;

            That depends on how I spent the time. You’re accusing me in effect of having done an inadequate investigation because I missed one data point that you have just now brought to my attention. But if that’s the case, then every one of the sources that I consulted missed it, too, and those sources included staunch defenders of the argument that Paul could not plausibly have intended any meaning for “brother of the lord” other than “sibling of Jesus.”

            Such vagueness actively hurts your case that you've done "a careful non-conclusion-assuming examination of the entire body of relevant evidence".

            So be it. The only alternative to such vagueness would be a post at least as long as a 10-page book chapter.

            C'mon, I'm repeating myself again and again now.

            Repetition won’t turn a non-answer into an answer.

            If it’s not evidence for reliability, then I don’t think it’s relevant to this discussion.

            "evidence for" ⇏ "⇒"
            ¬"⇒" ⇏ ¬"evidence for"

            I can parse the first. I can’t parse the second without inserting some parentheses that you seem to have omitted. Bottom line: I have no idea what objection you’re trying to make, except that it seems to have something to do with the relationship between evidence and the logic of material implication.

            It is true that “is evidence for,” in ordinary usage, does not mean what logicians usually mean by “implies.” But that is why logicians invented the concept of inductive logic. Philosophers ever since Hume have argued about how to justify inductive logic, and they haven’t gotten close to a consensus yet as far as I know, but pretty much everybody agrees that it seems, somehow, to do something that we need it to do.

            In ordinary discourse, to say that some fact F is evidence for some proposition P is just to say that F gives us some reason to believe P. If you mean something else, then you’re going to say what you mean in terms I can understand, but in that case we’re already talking past each other and we should probably just end this particular discussion.

            This discussion is supposed to have something to do with whether we’re justified in thinking the gospels are reliable sources of certain historical data. In that context, you have raised the point about name distributions, and so you need to show the relevance of that point. The only relevance it could have would be if it provides some reason for us to think the gospels are historically reliable. Now, my position is that the only reason any fact F can provide us for believing any proposition P would be the unlikelihood of that fact’s having obtained if the proposition were not true. But that is just to say that the conjunction of F and not-P is improbable. In other words: probably ~(F ∧ ~P). But that is just to say: probably F → P.

          • You’re accusing me in effect of having done an inadequate investigation because I missed one data point that you have just now brought to my attention.

            No, I'm taking your words (second <blockquote>) to mean that you've spent a considerable amount of time discussing what Paul may have meant with "adelphos tou kuriou", all without examining Paul's other uses of adelphos. That's not merely "miss[ing] one data point", that's a major error in trying to understand the meaning of the Greek—if you have spent considerable time on the meaning that Greek.

            But if that’s the case, then every one of the sources that I consulted missed it, too, and those sources included staunch defenders of the argument that Paul could not plausibly have intended any meaning for “brother of the lord” other than “sibling of Jesus.”

            You're conflating the referent of kuriou with the meaning of adelphos.

            The only alternative to such vagueness would be a post at least as long as a 10-page book chapter.

            Not if you summarize with a few paragraphs and provide citations with page numbers for further reading.

            LB: Apparently you thought that Bauckham or I were advancing something much stronger. I hadn't considered such a thing, because it would be flatly illogical to reason that "name distribution" ⇒ "Gospels are reliable history".

            DS: If it’s not evidence for reliability, then I don’t think it’s relevant to this discussion.

            LB: "evidence for" ⇏ "⇒"
            ¬"⇒" ⇏ ¬"evidence for"

            DS: I can parse the first. I can’t parse the second without inserting some parentheses that you seem to have omitted. Bottom line: I have no idea what objection you’re trying to make, except that it seems to have something to do with the relationship between evidence and the logic of material implication.

            Negating the underlined in what I said does not logically imply the underlined in what you said. All I said was that if the name distribution plays out as Bauckham claims, that does not in and of itself yield a "Gospels are reliable history" conclusion. In other words, "name distribution" is not a sufficient condition for "Gospels are reliable history".

            If you want a conditional probability:

            P(historically reliable | name distribution) > P(historically reliable)

            However, this does not immediately mean that "name distribution" is evidence for "historically reliable"; it could be that for some other X:

            P(X | name distribution) ≫ P(X)

            In that case, it may be better to say that "name distribution" is evidence for "X".

            This discussion is supposed to have something to do with whether we’re justified in thinking the gospels are reliable sources of certain historical data. In that context, you have raised the point about name distributions, and so you need to show the relevance of that point. The only relevance it could have would be if it provides some reason for us to think the gospels are historically reliable.

            You haven't articulated your position nearly well enough for me to know just how to state the matter to your satisfaction. For example, you could believe that Gospels are (a) not historically reliable; and yet (b) were composed within a decade or three of the Diaspora. If you believe this, then the name distribution matter would appear to be 100% irrelevant to your position.

          • I'm taking your words . . . to mean that you've spent a considerable amount of time discussing what Paul may have meant with "adelphos tou kuriou", all without examining Paul's other uses of adelphos.

            I wasn’t talking just about discussion time, unless you count an hour of reading as an hour of discussion with the author.

            It wouldn’t have done me a bit of good to scour a Greek text of the Pauline corpus side-by-side with an English translation. I’m at the mercy of people who can do the translation for themselves, and I have sought the opinions of a few of them about what Paul must have meant or could have meant by adelphos tou kuriou. Some of them agree with you and some don’t.

            You're conflating the referent of kuriou with the meaning of adelphos. The subject of this argument is the meaning of the entire phrase. Those who argue that “brother of the lord” means “sibling of Jesus” are assuming both a particular meaning for adelphos and a particular referent for kuriou.

            The only alternative to such vagueness would be a post at least as long as a 10-page book chapter.

            Not if you summarize with a few paragraphs

            My own opinion of my writing skills is not exactly modest. I don’t believe I can summarize my thoughts on this particular topic in a few paragraphs without being too vague to convince anyone not already convinced — at least, not in less time than it would take me to write it all out in complete detail. Maybe you’ve heard an anecdote about a writer who apologized for writing a long letter, pleading that he didn’t have time for a short one? https://quoteinvestigator.com/2012/04/28/shorter-letter/

            All I said was that if the name distribution plays out as Bauckham claims, that does not in and of itself yield a "Gospels are reliable history" conclusion.

            And all I’m saying is that, if that is so, then the name distribution has no direct relevance to this discussion. If it neither makes your case nor breaks mine, why are you devoting so much of your attention to it?

            For example, you could believe that Gospels are (a) not historically reliable; and yet (b) were composed within a decade or three of the Diaspora. If you believe this, then the name distribution matter would appear to be 100% irrelevant to your position.

            I believe the gospels probably did not exist in a form we would recognize before the second century. Or at least not all of them.

          • I wasn’t talking just about discussion time, unless you count an hour of reading as an hour of discussion with the author.

            Now I have no idea why you made a big deal about me not knowing how much time you spent on the matter.

            It wouldn’t have done me a bit of good to scour a Greek text of the Pauline corpus side-by-side with an English translation.

            Why can't you make a first pass to see if there is a single other instance of adelphos which even possibly could be understood in the sense of "brothers of freedom"? You don't need to "scour a Greek text", you could just look at usages. How are you assigning this [approximately] zero utility?

            I’m at the mercy of people who can do the translation for themselves, and I have sought the opinions of a few of them about what Paul must have meant or could have meant by adelphos tou kuriou. Some of them agree with you and some don’t.

            Do any of them interpret adelphos in a non-flesh-and-blood manner? (Whether 'brother' or 'cousin' is irrelevant for present purposes.) If so, what is the rationale?

            Maybe you’ve heard an anecdote about a writer who apologized for writing a long letter, pleading that he didn’t have time for a short one?

            Sorry, I thought you were more passionate about and had invested more time in mythicism than now appears to be the case. It does take time to write a shorter letter.

            LB: All I said was that if the name distribution plays out as Bauckham claims, that does not in and of itself yield a "Gospels are reliable history" conclusion.

            DS: And all I’m saying is that, if that is so, then the name distribution has no direct relevance to this discussion.

            So if it isn't a sufficient condition, it's irrelevant?

            I believe the gospels probably did not exist in a form we would recognize before the second century. Or at least not all of them.

            Your use of "in a form we would recognize" leaves wide open whether the names would have made it in such that they wouldn't later be altered.

          • Now I have no idea why you made a big deal about me not knowing how much time you spent on the matter.

            I gave you my reason when I made a big deal of it.

            Why can't you make a first pass to see if there is a single other instance of adelphos which even possibly could be understood in the sense of "brothers of freedom"?

            I told you why: I am not competent to know when I am looking at its being used in such a sense.

            Do any of them interpret adelphos in a non-flesh-and-blood manner?

            I wasn’t taking notes, but if I remember correctly, all agreed that any member of a brotherhood was a human being.

            And all I’m saying is that, if that is so, then the name distribution has no direct relevance to this discussion.

            So if it isn't a sufficient condition, it's irrelevant?

            Nope. Not what I said.

            Your use of "in a form we would recognize" leaves wide open whether the names would have made it in such that they wouldn't later be altered.

            Yes, it leaves open all kinds of possibilities. I'd rather I didn't have to do that, but what I'd rather be the case doesn't matter. I don't think I'd be justified in denying the possibility that at least one of the gospels could have existed in some form during the late first century.

          • I told you why: I am not competent to know when I am looking at its being used in such a sense.

            But you're competent enough to suggest that it could be used in such a sense?

            I wasn’t taking notes, but if I remember correctly, all agreed that any member of a brotherhood was a human being.

            Ok, but surely you'd just argue that "adelphos tou kuriou" doesn't have Jesus being a "member of a brotherhood". Which leaves us back at square one.

            LB: All I said was that if the name distribution plays out as Bauckham claims, that does not in and of itself yield a "Gospels are reliable history" conclusion.

            DS: And all I’m saying is that, if that is so, then the name distribution has no direct relevance to this discussion.

            LB: So if it isn't a sufficient condition, it's irrelevant?

            DS: Nope. Not what I said.

            Ummm, the phrase "in and of itself" as I used it indicates the notion of a sufficient condition. Rephrased:

            LB′: All I said was that if the name distribution plays out as Bauckham claims, that does not in and of itself yield a is not a sufficient condition for "Gospels are reliable history" conclusion.

            Do I need to spell the rest out, or can you take it from there?

            Yes, it leaves open all kinds of possibilities. I'd rather I didn't have to do that, but what I'd rather be the case doesn't matter. I don't think I'd be justified in denying the possibility that at least one of the gospels could have existed in some form during the late first century.

            Sorry, but your habit of making the vaguest/​widest possible statement has left me wondering what you mean by your last sentence. Are you saying that given what you believe, entirely apart from the name distribution thing, you don't think you'd be justified in denying the possibility …? Or is that if the name distribution thing plays out as Bauckham suggests?

          • But you're competent enough to suggest that it could be used in such a sense?

            I have examined the arguments of people with relevant expertise who say it could not have been used in such a sense, and I am competent to evaluate the logic of their arguments.

            Ok, but surely you'd just argue that "adelphos tou kuriou" doesn't have Jesus being a "member of a brotherhood". Which leaves us back at square one.

            Yep. And square one was where you were convinced that the evidence was on your side and I was convinced that the evidence was on mine.

            Ummm, the phrase "in and of itself" as I used it indicates the notion of a sufficient condition.

            I stand corrected. At this point, I haven’t the foggiest idea whether Bauckham’s name distribution data are relevant to our discussion.

            Are you saying that given what you believe, entirely apart from the name distribution thing, you don't think you'd be justified in denying the possibility …? Or is that if the name distribution thing plays out as Bauckham suggests?

            I mean that I’m not aware of any undisputed fact that is inconsistent with late first-century authorship of some version of at least one of the canonical gospels. Until I read Bauckham’s argument in his own words, I haven’t a clue what relevance it might have to my thinking on that issue.

          • LB: Why can't you make a first pass to see if there is a single other instance of adelphos which even possibly could be understood in the sense of "brothers of freedom"?

            DS: I told you why: I am not competent to know when I am looking at its being used in such a sense.

            LB: But you're competent enough to suggest that it could be used in such a sense?

            DS: I have examined the arguments of people with relevant expertise who say it could not have been used in such a sense, and I am competent to evaluate the logic of their arguments.

            So why do you appear confident that it is plausible that adelphos could be used in the sense of "brothers of freedom" when it comes to Galatians 1:19?

            And square one was where you were convinced that the evidence was on your side and I was convinced that the evidence was on mine.

            No, square one is me not being convinced that adelphos in "adelphos tou kuriou" could be used in the sense of "brothers of freedom". You've provided nothing but your own opinion that it could be used in that way, and when pressed to justify that opinion, you have claimed lack of relevant expertise. How can you possibly have justified belief that "brothers of freedom" is plausible?

            At this point, I haven’t the foggiest idea whether Bauckham’s name distribution data are relevant to our discussion.

            Well, you know your own position on what you think the various possibilities are with respect to authorship and transmission of the Gospels. You know that Bauckham claims to show that one couldn't get the name distribution in the NT right unless one lived in pre-Diaspora Palestine. He could be wrong on this, but if you cannot integrate such a fact into your thinking about the Gospels' provenance, I doubt you have much of a grasp on the Gospels' provenance in the first place.

            I mean that I’m not aware of any undisputed fact that is inconsistent with late first-century authorship of some version of at least one of the canonical gospels.

            As opposed to … a second-century authorship or an earlier-first-century authorship?

          • I mean that I’m not aware of any undisputed fact that is inconsistent with late first-century authorship of some version of at least one of the canonical gospels.

            As opposed to … a second-century authorship or an earlier-first-century authorship?

            They couldn’t have been written any later than when Irenaeus wrote about them and stated his belief as to who wrote them. It’s reasonable to assume that they were written some time earlier than the year in which Irenaeus was writing, which apparently was around 180 CE. The question then is: How much earlier? I think it unlikely that they would have gone unmentioned in any surviving document for more than a few decades, unless the earliest versions failed to support certain doctrines integral to what eventually became the historical orthodoxy.

          • I think it unlikely that they would have gone unmentioned in any surviving document for more than a few decades …

            Do we have enough surviving documents for this to work out, statistically? I mean, surely not every surviving document had to refer to written Gospels.

          • Do we have enough surviving documents for this to work out, statistically?

            I don't think there are enough surviving documents to do a statistical analysis of the probable content of all documents that were produced by the Christian community at that time. We have a make a judgment, based on whatever we think we know about human nature, about the likelihood that if the gospels had all been produced during the first century, no pre-Irenaean reference to them would have survived.

          • Ok, what are some of the judgments of that likelihood and how were they arrived at?

          • what are some of the judgments of that likelihood and how were they arrived at?

            I've already stated my judgment. I arrived at it by observation of how true believers treat any document they regard as authoritative.

            If the gospels had existed during much of the first century, and if Christians had generally understood them to be factual narratives about the founder of their religion, then I would judge it reasonable to assume that literate Christians of the time would have made frequent reference to them, and that some of their writings would have been preserved by subsequent generations over a long enough period to make some appearance in the historical paper trail.

          • If you're right about what writings would have been created and preserved, surely you can point to some other situation in history where what you describe happens, such that it is analogous to Jesus' time. One would need to ensure at least three elements are in play:

                 (1) expensive writing materials
                 (2) copying of manuscripts required for preservation
                 (3) Diaspora-like event

            If you cannot do this, then how on earth do you establish the various probabilities for your judgment to hold?

          • One would need to ensure at least three elements are in play:

            (1) expensive writing materials
            (2) copying of manuscripts required for preservation
            (3) Diaspora-like event

            OK, (1) and (2) were the case in every literate society before the mid-15th century, without any exception of which I am aware. The relevance of (3) is not apparent to me.

            If you're right about what writings would have been created and preserved, surely you can point to some other situation in history where what you describe happens, such that it is analogous to Jesus' time.

            I believe it will happen in any situation involving a group of people with an idea that they are highly motivated to propagate, if the idea itself or its ostensible justification is derived from or supported by any text that the group regards as authoritative. People are almost universally attracted, it seems to me, to arguments from authority.

          • The relevance of (3) is not apparent to me.

            You don't think it would have been hard for the Jews in Palestine to preserve documents during the Diaspora? Actually, I should included persecution events of Christians outside Palestine, but I could see an argument being made that surely some document somewhere would have survived. But that would need justification, not assuming.

            LB: If you're right about what writings would have been created and preserved, surely you can point to some other situation in history where what you describe happens, such that it is analogous to Jesus' time.

            DS: I believe it will happen in any situation involving a group of people with an idea that they are highly motivated to propagate, if the idea itself or its ostensible justification is derived from or supported by any text that the group regards as authoritative. People are almost universally attracted, it seems to me, to arguments from authority.

            On that logic, the Oral Torah ought never have existed in isolation from written versions.

            I will also note that you haven't produced any hard evidence whatsoever for your position. I'm not sure if this is intentional or not.

          • You don't think it would have been hard for the Jews in Palestine to preserve documents during the Diaspora?

            I don’t see why it would have been harder for them than for anyone else, and I don’t see why, if it was, it would matter to any hypothesis about Christianity’s origins. Even if Christianity originated as a sect within Judaism, it didn’t stay that way for long.

            Actually, I should included persecution events of Christians outside Palestine

            I don’t think the evidence justifies believing that Christians suffered any significant persecution during the time in question.

            I will also note that you haven't produced any hard evidence whatsoever for your position.

            It’s an argument from silence. Absence of evidence is the point.

          • LB: You don't think it would have been hard for the Jews in Palestine to preserve documents during the Diaspora?

            DS: I don’t see why it would have been harder for them than for anyone else …

            You don't see why even the first two paragraphs of WP: Siege of Jerusalem (AD 70) would be relevant to the preservation or lack thereof, of manuscripts?

            LB: Actually, I should included persecution events of Christians outside Palestine …

            DS: I don’t think the evidence justifies believing that Christians suffered any significant persecution during the time in question.

            The following doesn't count as "significant persecution during the time in question":

            Non-Christian historian Tacitus describes Nero extensively torturing and executing Christians after the fire of 64.[6] Suetonius also mentions Nero punishing Christians, though he does so because they are "given to a new and mischievous superstition" and does not connect it with the fire.[112]

            Christian writer Tertullian (c. 155–230) was the first to call Nero the first persecutor of Christians. He wrote, "Examine your records. There you will find that Nero was the first that persecuted this doctrine".[113] Lactantius (c. 240–320) also said that Nero "first persecuted the servants of God".[114] as does Sulpicius Severus.[115] However, Suetonius writes that, "since the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, the [emperor Claudius] expelled them from Rome" ("Iudaeos impulsore Chresto assidue tumultuantis Roma expulit").[116] These expelled "Jews" may have been early Christians, although Suetonius is not explicit. Nor is the Bible explicit, calling Aquila of Pontus and his wife, Priscilla, both expelled from Italy at the time, "Jews".[117] (WP: Nero § Christian tradition)

            ?

            LB: I will also note that you haven't produced any hard evidence whatsoever for your position.

            DS: It’s an argument from silence. Absence of evidence is the point.

            That's not what I'm talking about. You're making a claim about (i) what people would have done; and (ii) what documents they would have left behind; and (iii) what documents would have been preserved. If you're right, you should be able to find similar examples in history where we do have such documents. Because any of your (i)–(iii) could just be wrong; they could be a bad model of human nature and/or the societal outworkings thereof. An obvious way you could be wrong is that people might not have valued written records over eyewitness testimony; today that certainly seems to be the case, but I suspect there is reason to believe our memory today is not as good as it was back then, because remembering things correctly today is not as crucial to survival as it was back then.

          • An obvious way you could be wrong is that people might not have valued written records over eyewitness testimony

            I would be wrong if such an attitude toward written records was practically universal within the early Christian community. But if it had been, then none of Paul’s writings would have survived. Some Christians, in some places, must have thought that some writings were worth preserving.

            A preference for eyewitness testimony over documentary evidence makes good sense, at any time and in any place, but it’s irrelevant for people who don’t have ready access to eyewitnesses. If eyewitnesses are not available, then you either believe the documents or you don’t believe. (And oral tradition, by the way, is not eyewitness testimony. It is at most a claim that eyewitness testimony once existed. It won’t convince anyone who really does want to hear it from the horse’s mouth.)

            According to the orthodox version of Christianity’s origins, the witnesses to Jesus’ ministry and resurrection were going all over the Middle East telling people what they had seen and heard, but they could not have been so omnipresent that every potential convert could have met at least one of them while they were still alive. From the middle of the first century, Christianity grew only because its advocates had some means of persuasion other than eyewitness testimony. I’m not claiming that they all had copies of one or more of the canonical gospels, just that those who did have them would have used them and would, at least occasionally, have mentioned them if they were doing any writing of their own.

            today that certainly seems to be the case, but I suspect there is reason to believe our memory today is not as good as it was back then, because remembering things correctly today is not as crucial to survival as it was back then.

            “Book learning” has been disparaged, especially but not only by illiterates, ever since writing was invented. People who can write effectively don’t let that stop them. If they have something to say to people whom they cannot talk with in person, they will put it in writing. That would have included at least some of the literate first-century Christians who believed that the whole world needed to know about few things about a martyred Galilean preacher called Jesus of Nazareth.

          • I would be wrong if such an attitude toward written records was practically universal within the early Christian community. But if it had been, then none of Paul’s writings would have survived. Some Christians, in some places, must have thought that some writings were worth preserving.

            Paul's letters are not eyewitness testimony, so why is reasoning which applies to eyewitness testimony being applied to his writings?

            A preference for eyewitness testimony over documentary evidence makes good sense, at any time and in any place, but it’s irrelevant for people who don’t have ready access to eyewitnesses. If eyewitnesses are not available, then you either believe the documents or you don’t believe. …

            According to the orthodox version of Christianity’s origins, the witnesses to Jesus’ ministry and resurrection were going all over the Middle East telling people what they had seen and heard, but they could not have been so omnipresent that every potential convert could have met at least one of them while they were still alive.

            Of course not. But neither could every potential convert read. And it is not clear that sending a document around for various people to interpret (and you know how words can be interpreted in a variety of ways) would be superior to sending non-eyewitness converts around. Note that as long as eyewitnesses were alive, they could serve to correct mistakes which arose.

            All this threatens to obscure the understanding of Christianity whereby God "joins" with each and every human in a way more intimate than the best of marriages. You see a sad distance arise between God and human in Deut 5:22–33 and 1 Sam 8; the hope of the New Covenant in Jer 31:31–34 and Ezek 36:22–32 was that this distance could be closed again. Once such a union is strong enough, eyewitness testimony becomes less important because truth has been embodied. This is in fact one reason that Catholics hold Tradition to be so important; mere documents simply aren't stable enough. Perhaps one way to say this is that documents alone are like 'fact' sundered from 'value'. Such sundering destroys any notion of 'religion' I've encountered.

            So, the need for eyewitnesses had to fade (else God just screwed up in how he designed reality) and I say you overestimate the importance of documents. What you gain in reliability of specific wording, you lose in variability of interpretation. If the OT teaches anything, it teaches that people are very good at obeying the letter of the law while violating the spirit. That is, they do evil by playing with the interpretive flexibility of natural language. This is almost certainly why, for example, Twitter is vague on what justifies bans. If people knew the specific rules and how they were applied, they could game the system. Vague fears that the Powers that Be will stamp them out of existence is a more effective way of keeping people in line.

            LB: An obvious way you could be wrong is that people might not have valued written records over eyewitness testimony; today that certainly seems to be the case, but I suspect there is reason to believe our memory today is not as good as it was back then, because remembering things correctly today is not as crucial to survival as it was back then.

            DS: “Book learning” has been disparaged, especially but not only by illiterates, ever since writing was invented. People who can write effectively don’t let that stop them. If they have something to say to people whom they cannot talk with in person, they will put it in writing. That would have included at least some of the literate first-century Christians who believed that the whole world needed to know about few things about a martyred Galilean preacher called Jesus of Nazareth.

            Umm, I didn't mean to disparage book learning in any way. It has weaknesses and strengths. I have no problem with the idea that literate Christians would have written each other soon after Jesus' death, or even during his ministry. The question is whether we can justifiably expect that such writings would be preserved. That is what I want you to justify with evidence. Since you are a mythicist, you obviously cannot point to evidence of this happening with Jesus. But surely you can point to evidence in some other similar situation, matching as many as the ostensible details of the Gospels as possible. It has to be a backwater place (we're not talking about imperial historians), there has to be persecution and book-burning, etc.

            P.S. I can't believe you haven't mentioned Philo of Alexandria yet.

          • Paul's letters are not eyewitness testimony, so why is reasoning which applies to eyewitness testimony being applied to his writings?

            My reasoning does not apply only to eyewitness testimony. It applies to any document that Christians would have regarded as authoritative sources regarding their beliefs about Jesus of Nazareth.

            But neither could every potential convert read.

            Right, and until the modern era, most of them couldn’t. That doesn’t stop literate people, writing to other literate people, from saying where they got whatever information they’re sharing. It’s also unlikely that every member of any Christian community was illiterate, and the literate ones would have understood the value of authoritative documents.

            All this threatens to obscure the understanding of Christianity whereby God "joins" with each and every human in a way more intimate than the best of marriages.

            I am not resting my argument on any particular theological notion about the relationship between God and humanity. If it rests on any theological notion, it is the notion (if we can even call it theological) that reasonable people may doubt that there is a God for humanity to have any relationship with.

            and I say you overestimate the importance of documents.

            My estimation is based on my observation of how religious people treat documents that they find supportive of their religious beliefs.

            I didn't mean to disparage book learning in any way.

            No, you implied that most first-century Christians would have disparaged it.

            I have no problem with the idea that literate Christians would have written each other soon after Jesus' death, or even during his ministry. The question is whether we can justifiably expect that such writings would be preserved.

            That would depend on who wrote them and what was in them.

            But surely you can point to evidence in some other similar situation, matching as many as the ostensible details of the Gospels as possible.But surely you can point to evidence in some other similar situation, matching as many as the ostensible details of the Gospels as possible.

            That only detail of the gospels that is relevant to my argument is that their subject is the ostensible founder of a religion ostensibly based on his teachings. I find it hard to believe that every literate Christian would have ignored them for nearly a century after they were first written.

            It has to be a backwater place (we're not talking about imperial historians), there has to be persecution and book-burning, etc.

            If we’re to believe the Pauline corpus, Christianity was alive and well in plenty of non-backwater places by the middle of the first century. There was a congregation in Rome, wasn’t there. I’ve already addressed the persecution issue, and there is less evidence of book-burning than of persecution during the time in question.

            I can't believe you haven't mentioned Philo of Alexandria yet.

            I haven’t done much research about him, and what little I have done doesn’t suggest any way he could be relevant to what we’ve been discussing.

          • LB: An obvious way you could be wrong is that people might not have valued written records over eyewitness testimony …

            DS: I would be wrong if such an attitude toward written records was practically universal within the early Christian community. But if it had been, then none of Paul’s writings would have survived. Some Christians, in some places, must have thought that some writings were worth preserving.

            LB: Paul's letters are not eyewitness testimony, so why is reasoning which applies to eyewitness testimony being applied to his writings?

            DS: My reasoning does not apply only to eyewitness testimony. It applies to any document that Christians would have regarded as authoritative sources regarding their beliefs about Jesus of Nazareth.

            Your reference to "such an attitude" was to my "valued written records over eyewitness testimony"; I then pointed out that Paul's writings were not eyewitness testimony and so "such an attitude" would be irrelevant to the preservation of Paul's writings.

            Right, and until the modern era, most of them couldn’t. That doesn’t stop literate people, writing to other literate people, from saying where they got whatever information they’re sharing.

            Sure. Now compare receiving a document which only a select few can read and interpret, to receiving a person—eyewitness or other convert—who can be equally accessible to all. You're drumming up a superiority of the written document which I just don't see as compelling.

            … the literate ones would have understood the value of authoritative documents.

            But that's a very point under contention: documents were not necessarily seen as more authoritative than eyewitnesses. In the scheme of things, a document is not necessarily so much more important that we could expect to have such documents preserved to today. And your argument falls to pieces if you cannot produce a sufficient enough posterior probability that we would have such documents, had Jesus existed (perhaps existed + a few more conditions).

            My estimation is based on my observation of how religious people treat documents that they find supportive of their religious beliefs.

            Which religious people? Again, see WP: Oral Torah.

            No, you implied that most first-century Christians would have disparaged it.

            Wrong. To prefer eyewitness testimony over documents is not to disparage book learning.

            That only detail of the gospels that is relevant to my argument is that their subject is the ostensible founder of a religion ostensibly based on his teachings. I find it hard to believe that every literate Christian would have ignored them for nearly a century after they were first written.

            That only makes sense if you believe it very likely that such documents (or reliable copies thereof) would have survived until today. And yet you have not established this very point as likely.

            If we’re to believe the Pauline corpus, Christianity was alive and well in plenty of non-backwater places by the middle of the first century.

            Ok, so the eyewitnesses from the backwater place would, in your estimation, be interviewed or something and such interviews would have survived to this day in sources other than the NT? Again, I want to see evidence that this happened in other circumstances. I want to see the documents that have survived.

            I haven’t done much research about him, and what little I have done doesn’t suggest any way he could be relevant to what we’ve been discussing.

            http://www.jesusneverexisted.com/philo.html

          • I then pointed out that Paul's writings were not eyewitness testimony and so "such an attitude" would be irrelevant to the preservation of Paul's writings.

            And then I tried to explain why the non-eyewitness nature of Paul’s writing was irrelevant to my argument. Documents were preserved or not according to the importance placed on them by Christians who were familiar with them. Documents judged to be important would have been preserved, no matter what was in them, and I can’t think of a credible argument for the proposition that the canonical gospels would ever have been judged unimportant.

            You're drumming up a superiority of the written document which I just don't see as compelling.

            I’m not claiming superiority for anything. I’m just disputing your apparent claim that first-century Christians would have been indifferent to the canonical gospels just because they were in writing.

            But that's a very point under contention: documents were not necessarily seen as more authoritative than eyewitnesses.

            I haven’t said they were seen as more authoritative.

            And your argument falls to pieces if you cannot produce a sufficient enough posterior probability that we would have such documents, had Jesus existed (perhaps existed + a few more conditions).

            I’m not offering late gospel authorship as an argument against historicity per se. I’m offering it as one justification among others for doubt about the gospels’ reliability as historical documents.

            Which religious people?

            All the ones I’ve known.

            Again, see WP: Oral Torah.

            The Oral Torah is irrelevant to my argument.

            you implied that most first-century Christians would have disparaged it.

            Wrong. To prefer eyewitness testimony over documents is not to disparage book learning.

            If written sources were not disparaged, then there is no reason to think they would have been ignored if they had existed.

            That only makes sense if you believe it very likely that such documents (or reliable copies thereof) would have survived until today. And yet you have not established this very point as likely.

            We know about lots of writings that didn’t survive, because they were discussed in writings that did survive. If the canonical gospels existed during the first century and were discussed by first-century Christian writers, nobody before Irenaeus whose writings have survived indicates any awareness of either the gospels themselves or any discussions about them.

            Ok, so the eyewitnesses from the backwater place would, in your estimation, be interviewed or something and such interviews would have survived to this day in sources other than the NT?

            I have said nothing about who would have been interviewed or where.

            I haven’t done much research about him [Philo], and what little I have done doesn’t suggest any way he could be relevant to what we’ve been discussing.

            http://www.jesusneverexiste...

            I know about that. It has nothing to do with when the gospels could have been written. It would be relevant to a complete argument for mythicism, but I’m not trying to present the entire case for mythicism. I started out addressing some points that the OP made in response to one particular argument for mythicism (to which argument Philo is also irrelevant), and now we’re off on a sidetrack about the provenance of the canonical gospels.

          • LB: An obvious way you could be wrong is that people might not have valued written records over eyewitness testimony …

            DS: I would be wrong if such an attitude toward written records was practically universal within the early Christian community. But if it had been, then none of Paul’s writings would have survived. Some Christians, in some places, must have thought that some writings were worth preserving.

            DS: And then I tried to explain why the non-eyewitness nature of Paul’s writing was irrelevant to my argument. Documents were preserved or not according to the importance placed on them by Christians who were familiar with them. Documents judged to be important would have been preserved, no matter what was in them, and I can’t think of a credible argument for the proposition that the canonical gospels would ever have been judged unimportant.

            Ah, perhaps you do not realize that an implication of eyewitness accounts being judged superior to written documents is that the canonical gospels may not have been written until the last eyewitnesses were dying. So, there is justification for gospel documents to not exist at the time Paul wrote his letters. Or if they did, for them to be of a fragmentary nature which did not merit the preservation you insist people would have carried out.

            I haven’t said they were seen as more authoritative.

            To insist that early documents, written while there were still plenty of eyewitnesses, would have been preserved, is to claim an authority for those documents. If not more authoritative than eyewitness testimony, plenty authoritative to qualify for the expense of preservation.

            LB: And your argument falls to pieces if you cannot produce a sufficient enough posterior probability that we would have such documents, had Jesus existed (perhaps existed + a few more conditions).

            DS: I’m not offering late gospel authorship as an argument against historicity per se. I’m offering it as one justification among others for doubt about the gospels’ reliability as historical documents.

            In that case, how do we avoid you Gish Galloping me and others?

            DS: My estimation is based on my observation of how religious people treat documents that they find supportive of their religious beliefs.

            LB: Which religious people? →

            DS: All the ones I’ve known.

            Does that mean your judgment is based exclusively on 20th and 21st century ways of thinking about written documents vs. oral tradition?

            LB: ← Again, see WP: Oral Torah.

            DS: The Oral Torah is irrelevant to my argument.

            That's odd, because your argument requires material to be written down when there's plenty of religion which has instead preserved material in oral tradition.

            We know about lots of writings that didn’t survive, because they were discussed in writings that did survive. If the canonical gospels existed during the first century and were discussed by first-century Christian writers, nobody before Irenaeus whose writings have survived indicates any awareness of either the gospels themselves or any discussions about them.

            And how much writing has survived where we would expect such references?

            LB: The question is whether we can justifiably expect that such writings would be preserved. That is what I want you to justify with evidence. Since you are a mythicist, you obviously cannot point to evidence of this happening with Jesus. But surely you can point to evidence in some other similar situation, matching as many as the ostensible details of the Gospels as possible. It has to be a backwater place (we're not talking about imperial historians), there has to be persecution and book-burning, etc.

            DS: If we’re to believe the Pauline corpus, Christianity was alive and well in plenty of non-backwater places by the middle of the first century.

            LB: Ok, so the eyewitnesses from the backwater place would, in your estimation, be interviewed or something and such interviews would have survived to this day in sources other than the NT?

            DS: I have said nothing about who would have been interviewed or where.

            Then feel free to explain how and why there would be written documents outside of backwater Palestine before the last eyewitnesses were nearing death. You felt it important to say that there were Christians outside of the backwater by the middle of the first century; feel free to explain its significance. I guessed and failed, so I'll let you articulate your reasons—or not. This discussion is getting long in the tooth.

            I know about that. It has nothing to do with when the gospels could have been written.

            Is it not your position that people would have been writing about Gospel-related history well before you think they did write about it? Or have you been exclusively focused on the canonical gospels this whole time?

          • there is justification for gospel documents to not exist at the time Paul wrote his letters.

            According to everything I’ve read, the number of responsible scholars who think they did exist while Paul was writing is miniscule. Nor am I claiming that historicism demands they would have been written that early.

            It would be fascinating to see, however, if incontrovertible proof were discovered that they were indeed written before Paul had finished writing his letters, how many Christian apologists would be carrying on about how that discovery contradicted everything they thought they knew about the early Christian community and its attitude toward written sources. I’m guessing we skeptics would be hearing a lot more “Told you so!” than “How strange!”

            To insist that early documents, written while there were still plenty of eyewitnesses, would have been preserved, is to claim an authority for those documents.

            Not necessarily authority. Just relevance to whatever Christians were talking about in those days. Plato didn’t seem to think he was wasting his time putting Socrates’s defense speech in writing while a few hundred witnesses to that speech were still alive.

            how do we avoid you Gish Galloping me and others?

            Ask me again when you have good reason to think I’m about to do it. It should be obvious to anyone who knows what you’re referring to that my present strategy is the antithesis of a Gish gallop. Even if I wanted to try it, there is no way I could pull it off in this format. It requires severe time constraints that can’t be applied to written exchanges.

            Does that mean your judgment is based exclusively on 20th and 21st century ways of thinking about written documents vs. oral tradition?

            No, it’s based on my thinking about human nature, which has not changed significantly in the past few thousand years.

            your argument requires material to be written down when there's plenty of religion which has instead preserved material in oral tradition.

            The Oral Torah did not exist instead of the written Torah. It existed alongside the written Torah. It was a supplement, not a substitute.

            And how much writing has survived where we would expect such references?

            I’d expect Ignatius and Clement of Rome to have mentioned them.

            Then feel free to explain how and why there would be written documents outside of backwater Palestine before the last eyewitnesses were nearing death.

            Because the eyewitnesses could not be everywhere all the time.

            You felt it important to say that there were Christians outside of the backwater by the middle of the first century; feel free to explain its significance.

            You explain it. You’re the one who raised the backwater issue as if it had something to do with what I’ve been saying.

            Is it not your position that people would have been writing about Gospel-related history well before you think they did write about it?

            My position is that they would have been writing about an unequivocal Jesus of Nazareth during the first century. Any history related to the gospels that doesn’t mention him is beside the point.

            Or have you been exclusively focused on the canonical gospels this whole time?

            I thought that was what we were discussing, but if you think it would help your case to argue that there were others, go ahead.

          • LB: Is it not your position that people would have been writing about Gospel-related history well before you think they did write about it? Or have you been exclusively focused on the canonical gospels this whole time?

            DS: I thought that was what we were discussing …

            Well that's news to me; I thought the following was the topic:

            DS: This discussion is supposed to have something to do with whether we’re justified in thinking the gospels are reliable sources of certain historical data.

            The two matters are related, but by no means identical. There are more ways to have reliable canonical gospels than to have them exist in some recognizable form by the time that Ignatius and Clement died. Oh and by the way, I sense a subtle oscillation in the following:

            DS: I believe the gospels probably did not exist in a form we would recognize before the second century. Or at least not all of them.

            DS: I mean that I’m not aware of any undisputed fact that is inconsistent with late first-century authorship of some version of at least one of the canonical gospels.

            I’d expect Ignatius and Clement of Rome to have mentioned them.

            It's just not clear to me how much Ignatius and Clement's failure to explicitly reference the documents sufficiently related to the canonical Gospels is a problem—if it is a problem at all. For future reference: Pope Clement I lived AD 35–99; Ignatius of Antioch lived AD 35–108. Ignatius says a number of things aligned with the Gospels and Paul's epistles; we have exactly one genuine writing from Clement, which is about church governance matters.

            Oh, and your trust in Ignatius is curious, because he wrote this:

            There is one Physician who is possessed both of flesh and spirit; both made and not made; God existing in flesh; true life in death; both of Mary and of God; first passible and then impassible, even Jesus Christ our Lord.

            (WP: Ignatius of Antioch)

            I guess when it comes to mythicism, what Ignatius doesn't say is important and what he does say can be dismissed or rationalized away?

          • There are more ways to have reliable canonical gospels than to have them exist in some recognizable form by the time that Ignatius and Clement died.

            Sure. They can be reliable because the church says they’re reliable.

            It's just not clear to me how much Ignatius and Clement's failure to explicitly reference the documents sufficiently related to the canonical Gospels is a problem

            It’s a judgment call. I get it that you think my judgment is unfounded.

            your trust in Ignatius is curious

            The observation that he didn’t say something requires no trust in him or anyone else. However, the relevance of that omission requires a stipulation that the letters attributed to him were actually written sometime around 107 by the bishop of Antioch while he was traveling under arrest to be tried and executed in Rome.

            I guess when it comes to mythicism, what Ignatius doesn't say is important and what he does say can be dismissed or rationalized away?

            If he says it, I can believe it or disbelieve it, without or without justification. If he doesn’t say it, there is nothing to believe and justification is irrelevant.

          • Is it generally believed that any of the gospels were written in Egypt? On what grounds should we believe that the post-diaspora name distribution in Egypt is representative of the name distributions in the places where the gospels were written?

          • I don't know if anyone (historicists or mythicists) hold that the Gospels were written in Egypt. Buackham doesn't think that the particular distribution of Jewish names among Jews in Egypt is representative of all the places which anyone has suggested as a location of Gospel authorship; instead he thinks that all locations post-Diaspora will have very different name distributions, for reasons he goes into.

            But yes, better data sets would be appreciated. Bauckham could well be wrong. As it stands, It think there is enough here to generate useful discussion. Suppose, for example, that many mythicists decided that were more data to be collected and fit Bauckham's model, it would be a severe problem for them. This could then spur the very research into such data.

          • It has been a long time since I looked at Bauckham's book and my interest at the time wasn't the distribution of names.

            Does he consider the possibility that there may have been places where the pre-Diaspora names were preserved?

            In America, you have a wide variety of naming practices among immigrants who came from the same country. In one community of Italian Americans you might find many Giuseppes and Giovannis while in another you find all Joes and Johns.

            It seems plausible to me that you would have found the same thing in the Diaspora. Some communities would have preserved their traditional names while others would have changed in response to their new surroundings.

          • Bauckham argues that the reasons for the name distribution in pre-Diaspora Palestine vanished after the Jews were expelled. One major reason which became obsolete was the hope that a Messiah would rescue the Jews from pagan oppression in the style of the Hasmoneans; after the Diaspora naming one's children after them was no longer attractive.

          • That sounds like a reason why the earlier name distribution might have vanished, but I question whether there is enough data to establish that it did in fact vanish.

            My recollection of Bauckham’s book was that he reached conclusions of great certainty based on data that was insufficient to do much more than raise possibilities.

          • Richard Morley

            Apart from anything else, given the confusion of how many Marys, James or even Jesus there were, how can you have a definite frequency count?

          • It's like I wrote a second paragraph. :-)

          • Notwithstanding previous comments, my curiosity has been aroused. I have ordered Bauckham's book and will start reading it as soon as it arrives.

          • Cool. BTW, I'm not sure if you watch for @ mentions of your name (I generally don't, myself), but David Nickol picked out two more passages from Paul which seem problematic for mythicists.

          • I'm not sure if you watch for @ mentions of your name

            Isn't that a Twitter function? I don't Twitter.

          • Nope, it's a Disqus thing; see my comment where I use it. You might see that I used it if you go to disqus.com/home/comments/.

          • I see in that comment where you used it. I see nothing on the home/comments page that has anything to do with you or with following usernames.

          • The way the comment which has @disqus_fRI0oOZiFh:disqus but is not in reply to you might show up is in the listing of comments at home/comments, not in some special place. But I haven't nailed down exactly how @ works with Disqus.

          • No problem. I'd like to keep this activity as simple as possible. I've always thought I was pretty tech-savvy (the Navy had me doing maintenance on a computer 50 years ago), but I just got my first smartphone about a month ago and still haven't figured out how to make it do everything it's supposed to do.

          • No worries; I don't rely on @ notifications. I was going to ping you via direct reply if I didn't see you respond. That's cool that you worked on computers 50 years ago; my father used punch cards in the Navy and would take my mother to … I think it was UNIVAC concerts.

          • My Navy years were wonderful. By the time they ended, I'd have reenlisted in a heartbeat, but I was married to my first wife and she swore she'd divorce me if I shipped over, so I took my discharge and tried to do something else with my life. We got divorced anyway not long afterward, and my efforts to make a good civilian life didn't work out very well.

          • I'm sorry to hear that post-Navy life turned out poorly for you. The US did not do well by those who served their country in the Vietnam years. I worry that the same is true for the more recent wars which many in the populace think are wrong-headed. I met one homeless guy at the coffee shop I frequent who would help stack chairs at the end of the day. He said he was a sniper in Afghanistan and could not find a place in civil society. I found the story believable. But I digress …

          • I'm not denying the horror stories about how our country has treated some of its veterans, but my own problems have been due for the most part to some bad decisions I made, both during my service and afterward.

            For many years I blamed my first wife, because I decided as I did because I was trying to please her. In the final analysis, though, they were still my decisions to make.

          • David Nickol picked out two more passages from Paul which seem problematic for mythicists.

            Every mythicist has proposed a resolution to the bare handful of Paul's statements that seem inconsistent with mythicism. Obviously, historicists reject them as implausible if not ludicrous.

            Plausibility aside, I would note that Bart Ehrman and others have demonstrated, to the satisfaction of many historicists as well as mythicists, that the New Testament writings underwent considerable revision before they reached their present form, no matter where, when, or by whom the originals were produced, in order to make them consistent with the body of doctrines that became the historical orthodoxy. Assuming that Ehrman et al are correct, I would argue that although we have a good idea of the general outlines of Paul's thinking, we're justified in supposing that any particular statement, if inconsistent with that general outline, could be inauthentic.

          • Where does Ehrman demonstrate the kind of revision which would justify the mythicist model? I read Misquoting Jesus and I found his statements of revision to be rather hyperbolic. If you think others make a better case, where (it'd be nice to get page numbers if you're going to reference a book)?

            BTW, it would make mythicists appear more honest if they laid out all the remotely plausible instances which would appear to militate against their case—or at least referenced them with a hyperlink. Maybe they do; if so, I suggest you follow that practice. The side that is more confident that it is right is the side which will be more willing to try to paint the other side in a good light, only to show that it is mistaken.

          • Where does Ehrman demonstrate the kind of revision which would justify the mythicist model?

            I didn’t say that his demonstration was so specific. I’m just saying that if, out of all the writings that conventional scholarship agrees are really Paul’s, there are two or three lines that seem prima facie inconsistent with the mythicist hypothesis, then we are justified in suspecting they might be orthodox interpolations, if Ehrman is right.

            I read Misquoting Jesus and I found his statements of revision to be rather hyperbolic.

            I haven’t gotten around to reading that one. For my remarks, I was relying on his The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture.

            If you think others make a better case, where (it'd be nice to get page numbers if you're going to reference a book)?

            I don’t know of another book addresses that specific issue. I can provide page numbers if you want to address discuss some particular arguments that he makes in Orthodox Corruption.

            BTW, it would make mythicists appear more honest if they laid out all the remotely plausible instances which would appear to militate against their case—or at least referenced them with a hyperlink.

            I would do that if I were attempting to present the entire case. But if I did, I’d be reinventing the wheel. Doherty has responded to several defenses of historicity from Shirley Jackson Case’s to Robert Van Voorst’s. His responses are in three parts on his website, starting here: http://www.jesuspuzzle.humanists.net/CritiquesRefut1.htm.

            The side that is more confident that it is right is the side which will be more willing to try to paint the other side in a good light, only to show that it is mistaken.

            I’ve been watching others carry on the debate as much as I have participated in debates myself. In my observations, I have seen historicists misrepresent the mythicist position, or persistently ignore key parts of mythicist arguments, more often and more consistently than I have seen mythicists do the same with their adversaries.

          • I didn’t say that his demonstration was so specific. I’m just saying that if, out of all the writings that conventional scholarship agrees are really Paul’s, there are two or three lines that seem prima facie inconsistent with the mythicist hypothesis, then we are justified in suspecting they might be orthodox interpolations, if Ehrman is right.

            When I read Ehrman's Misquoting Jesus, he drummed up the expectation that the ways that the Gospels had been edited was doctrinally devastating. I mean, at least one central doctrine, I thought, would be shown to just be outright false. Ehrman never delivered on this. Maybe I misinterpreted, but I doubt it. Anyhow, without evidence that major aspects have been altered, the mere fact that some aspects of the text might have been changed is woefully insufficient grounds for just dismissing those parts which don't fit your theory of what happened.

            I don’t know of another book addresses that specific issue. I can provide page numbers if you want to address discuss some particular arguments that he makes in Orthodox Corruption.

            Sure, I'll give it a shot.

            But if I did, I’d be reinventing the wheel.

            Curious; on more than one occasion, my quoting a scholar on some matter has been dismissed by you as relying on authorities. And yet here, you don't want to reinvent the wheel already invented by authorities you apparently trust.

            Thanks for the link, but it dumps me into the middle of things and makes it rather hard to get a systematic overview. For example, in that article Dougherty writes:

            But how could Paul leave out the requirement for faith that the human man, Jesus of Nazareth, was the Son of God; or fail to speak of faith that was generated in his apostles by Jesus, or of an appointment of missionaries by Jesus to spread the gospel? (Responses to Critiques of the Mythicist Case)

            This is in response to Romans 10:14, which connects 'faith' to 'gospel'. But Romans starts out by defining 'gospel' and includes that Jesus was flesh-and-blood. And it says that Jesus gave grace and apostleship. Am I supposed to discount the beginning of Romans for some reason? Earlier, Dougherty deals with the beginning of Romans; I'll include the passage and what he says:

            Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ, To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 1:1–7)

            The phrase does declare a descent from David, but what the “existence” of Jesus entails, as announced in scripture, is the issue to be established: was it an historical Jesus, or a spiritual one? I have pointed out that it very much seems to be the latter, because the word of God in the prophets has prophesied, the way Paul puts it, his own gospel, not the life of Jesus, suggesting that in his mind no historical Jesus had intervened between the two. (See Article No. 8, noted above, and The Jesus Puzzle, p.82.) (Responses to Critiques of the Mythicist Case)

            Dougherty doesn't seem to be claiming that the beginning of Romans was fabricated, so how are his claims in the first bit I excerpted from him not plainly refuted?

            LB: The side that is more confident that it is right is the side which will be more willing to try to paint the other side in a good light, only to show that it is mistaken.

            DS: I’ve been watching others carry on the debate as much as I have participated in debates myself. In my observations, I have seen historicists misrepresent the mythicist position, or persistently ignore key parts of mythicist arguments, more often and more consistently than I have seen mythicists do the same with their adversaries.

            Well, you have more experience with that matter than I do. I've only dealt with this matter a tiny bit, and was mostly keying off of how you've presented mythicism in this thread.

          • Ehrman never delivered on this. Maybe I misinterpreted, but I doubt it. Anyhow, without evidence that major aspects have been altered, the mere fact that some aspects of the text might have been changed is woefully insufficient grounds for just dismissing those parts which don't fit your theory of what happened.

            I cannot defend what Ehrman says in one book that you have not read by responding to your comments about what he said in another book that I have not read.

            Anyhow, without evidence that major aspects have been altered, the mere fact that some aspects of the text might have been changed is woefully insufficient grounds for just dismissing those parts which don't fit your theory of what happened.

            My argument is not “There were alterations, therefore this passage is inauthentic.”

            But if I did, I’d be reinventing the wheel.

            Curious; on more than one occasion, my quoting a scholar on some matter has been dismissed by you as relying on authorities.

            The legitimacy of any argument from authority depends on what you’re trying to prove. All I was trying to prove was that at least one mythicist has responded to historicist arguments, contra your apparent suggestion that this seems never to have happened.

            but it dumps me into the middle of things and makes it rather hard to get a systematic overview.

            I had no intention of endorsing anything Doherty says there. He addresses historicist arguments with his own counterarguments, and I intended to prove nothing else. Whether or how well his rebuttals succeed is a separate issue.

            What’s more, I cannot critique his responses to books I have not myself read, which is most of the ones he discusses. I’ve read only two of them, Case’s The Historicity of Jesus and Van Voorst’s Jesus Outside the Gospels. I’ve put my own commentary on Case’s book on my website at http://dougshaver.net/religion/ahistor/Case_Historicity.pdf, along with a response to some of Van Voorst’s comments at http://dougshaver.net/religion/ahistor/vanvoorst.html.

          • I cannot defend what Ehrman says in one book that you have not read by responding to your comments about what he said in another book that I have not read.

            No, but you could say, "In the book I did read, I did not see any hyperbole", or, "In the book I did read, I saw some exaggeration but I didn't think it was that bad".

            My argument is not “There were alterations, therefore this passage is inauthentic.”

            No you didn't; you haven't really developed an argument, but just hinted at one while pointing to Ehrman for support. I expressed skepticism that Ehrman provides such support.

            LB: BTW, it would make mythicists appear more honest if they laid out all the remotely plausible instances which would appear to militate against their case—or at least referenced them with a hyperlink. Maybe they do; if so, I suggest you follow that practice.

            DS: All I was trying to prove was that at least one mythicist has responded to historicist arguments, contra your apparent suggestion that this seems never to have happened.

            First, responding to historicist arguments is a weaker condition than what I wrote. Second, I allowed for the possibility that they've done what I requested. I think I've made it rather clear that I'm not very well-acquainted with mythicist literature, so I couldn't possibly know that no mythicist has done that.

            I had no intention of endorsing anything Doherty says there.

            Ok, but then he doesn't seem to be an example of what I described.

            I’ve put my own commentary on Case’s book on my website at http://dougshaver.net/relig..., along with a response to some of Van Voorst’s comments at http://dougshaver.net/relig....

            Interesting; you really think nobody has improved upon Case 1912? Is this an opinion shared by many mythicists?

          • but you could say, "In the book I did read, I did not see any hyperbole", or, "In the book I did read, I saw some exaggeration but I didn't think it was that bad".

            I did say that he made his case “to the satisfaction of many historicists as well as mythicists,” and the point I was trying to make was that mythicists are not the only people who are convinced that we can reasonably doubt that the canonical writings in their present form are substantially identical to their original versions, and can reasonably believe that some of the alterations were made in order to make the writings more consistent with doctrines that became part of the historical orthodoxy. To that point, it doesn’t matter how effectively Ehrman makes his case.

            you haven't really developed an argument, but just hinted at one while pointing to Ehrman for support. I expressed skepticism that Ehrman provides such support.

            You can believe he’s full of crap, for all the difference it makes to my observation that many historicists agree with him.

            responding to historicist arguments is a weaker condition than what I wrote.

            What you wrote was, “it would make mythicists appear more honest if they laid out all the remotely plausible instances which would appear to militate against their case.” I wasn’t sure what you intended “instances” to mean, so I had to guess, and the easiest guess was that you meant historicist arguments. And now that you’ve told me what you didn’t mean, I have no idea what you did mean.

            you really think nobody has improved upon Case 1912? Is this an opinion shared by many mythicists?

            Yes, that is what I think. I have no idea how many other mythicists have read his book, and so I can have no idea how many would agree.

      • I could also point out that in the Gospels, Jesus' disciples are described as not understanding what Jesus was doing. They were nigh clueless until Jesus' resurrection.

        I see no reason, aside from a commitment to Christian orthodoxy, for thinking Paul must be interpreted so as to be consistent with anything asserted in the gospels.

        • I see, so historians never try to render one person's account consistent with another, except for dogmatic commitments you [edit: would] eschew.

          • I see, so historians never try to render one person's account consistent with another, except for dogmatic commitments you [edit: would] eschew.

            What a historian will do with the accounts depends on who they think wrote the accounts, why they wrote them, and what their sources would likely have been.

          • I'm having a bit of difficulty reconciling these two statements of yours:

            DS: I see no reason, aside from a commitment to Christian orthodoxy, for thinking Paul must be interpreted so as to be consistent with anything asserted in the gospels.

            DS: What a historian will do with the accounts depends on who they think wrote the accounts, why they wrote them, and what their sources would likely have been.

            Either a historian could only reasonably conclude historicism based on "a commitment to Christian orthodoxy", or what you can "see" is largely irrelevant on this matter. Have I missed a third option?

          • Either a historian could only reasonably conclude historicism based on "a commitment to Christian orthodoxy", or what you can "see" is largely irrelevant on this matter. Have I missed a third option?

            I was not as clear as I might have been. By "commitment to Christian orthodoxy," I didn't mean necessarily a commitment to the truth of Christian doctrines. I was referring to the presupposition, prevalent even among secularists, that Christian historians beginning with Eusebius had at least a few basic facts right about the historical origins of their religion. Among those facts would have been the ministry of a charismatic Galilean preacher known as Jesus of Nazareth, the founding of a Jewish religious sect in his name by certain of his disciples, and the early conversion of zealous Jewish opponent called Saul of Tarsus to that sect.

          • That was totally and completely unclear. I doubt there is a single secular historian out there who would want to be within a mile of being described as "committed to Christian orthodoxy", and yet I'll bet that some of them are quite happy to seriously consider that Jesus was a historical person, modulo the miracle bits and resurrection bit.

          • I doubt there is a single secular historian out there who would want to be within a mile of being described as "committed to Christian orthodoxy"

            Which is why that was a poor choice of words on my part. I told you what I should have said instead, but as you can see, it would have been much wordier. Sometimes, the sacrifice of clarity for brevity is a mistake, and this time it was.

    • Nowhere in his writings does he indicate that Jesus even had any disciples.

      Really?

      For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. (1 Corinthians 15:3–8)

      Do you really want to mount a case that "the twelve" was not an unambiguous reference to Jesus' twelve disciples?

      • Do you really want to mount a case that "the twelve" was not an unambiguous reference to Jesus' twelve disciples?

        I will concede that it is unambiguous on the assumption of historicity. Without that assumption, we have no idea who or what those twelve people were.

        • Are you saying anything other than, "If Jesus did not exist, Paul could not have possibly been referring to disciples of Jesus."? If so, then even if Paul had written "he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve disciples", your "Nowhere in his writings does he indicate that Jesus even had any disciples." would be unaffected. And yet, that's crazy.

          • Are you saying anything other than, "If Jesus did not exist, Paul could not have possibly been referring to disciples of Jesus."?

            Yes. I'm saying that, because he nowhere calls anyone a disciple of Jesus, any claim that a given reference must be to Jesus' disciples has to presuppose that there were disciples of Jesus for him to be referring to.

            If so, then even if Paul had written "he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve disciples", your "Nowhere in his writings does he indicate that Jesus even had any disciples." would be unaffected.

            Actually, my point was the Paul never refers to anybody as a disciple of anybody, and particularly not of Jesus. I couldn't say that if Paul had referred to "the twelve disciples." If he had, then I'd be forced to argue something like, "But he doesn't say they were disciples of Jesus." Fortunately, I don't need to get that nitpicky.

          • I'm saying that, because he nowhere calls anyone a disciple of Jesus, any claim that a given reference must be to Jesus' disciples has to presuppose that there were disciples of Jesus for him to be referring to.

            But that's wrong. Paul could have spoken of "the twelve disciples of Jesus" with mythicism nevertheless being true.

            You seem to be working rather hard to avoid the very strong similarities between the account I quoted and what can be found in the four Gospels.

          • But that's wrong.

            You seem to have misunderstood my argument. I'm not saying that an explicit reference to Jesus' disciples would presuppose historicity. It is that an interpretation of "the twelve" as an unambiguous reference to Jesus' disciples presupposes historicity.

            Paul could have spoken of "the twelve disciples of Jesus" with mythicism nevertheless being true.

            That would be a possibility, of course, and I did not mean to suggest otherwise. The fact remains that he did not so speak, and this nullifies a historicist argument, which is frequently made, that Paul testifies to having met and spoken with several of Jesus' closest associates. What he testifies to is having known some people whose names were assigned, in documents produced at least several decades after Paul's lifetime, to certain of Jesus' more prominent disciples.

          • On the same reasoning, when Paul spoke of going to Jerusalem in Galatians 2, he wasn't necessarily speaking of what anyone else at the time meant by "Jerusalem". Every time he used a phrase commonly used in some way, we can just [… plausibly?] dismiss that he meant what was commonly meant.

          • On the same reasoning, when Paul spoke of going to Jerusalem in Galatians 2, he wasn't necessarily speaking of what anyone else at the time meant by "Jerusalem".

            Now you're reaching. We know very well and with good reason what everyone in that part of the world understood "Jerusalem" to be referring to. Are you suggesting that we know equally well, on the basis of comparable evidence (but without presupposing Jesus' historicity), what Christians in 50 CE understood "the twelve" to be referring to?

          • I see no other plausible explanation and the "Cephas, then the twelve" matches Luke 24 quite nicely. It helps to have Cephas = Peter from Jn 1:42.

          • I see no other plausible explanation

            Then you and I differ as to what we find plausible. No surprise there.

          • What's your alternative explanation which you can demonstrate to be plausible? (Maybe not to me, but we both know you've built a history of treating it as "not surprising" that you and I differ, as if I'm a nutter. So feel free to merely present what you think ought to convince a rational person.)

          • I see no other plausible explanation and the "Cephas, then the twelve" matches Luke 24 quite nicely. It helps to have Cephas = Peter from Jn 1:42.
            ***
            What's your alternative explanation which you can demonstrate to be plausible?

            Explanation for what? For this discussion, I'm not disputing Cephas = Peter. I'm disputing the claim that Paul testifies to his having been a disciple, or any other personal associate, of Jesus of Nazareth. I will note, however, that in I Corinthians, Paul seems not to count Cephas as a member of whatever group constituted "the twelve."

          • I'm disputing the claim that Paul testifies to his having been a disciple, or any other personal associate, of Jesus of Nazareth.

            Yeah, because the first person Jesus is going to appear to (on Paul's account) is going to be a complete stranger to Jesus.

            I will note, however, that in I Corinthians, Paul seems not to count Cephas as a member of whatever group constituted "the twelve."

            That doesn't flow logically at all. If I appear first to one barista at my local coffee shop and then the whole staff, the second appearance can include that one barista.

          • I'm disputing the claim that Paul testifies to his having been a disciple, or any other personal associate, of Jesus of Nazareth.

            Yeah, because the first person Jesus is going to appear to (on Paul's account) is going to be a complete stranger to Jesus.

            That would be silly on the historicist assumption. Without that assumption, there is nothing silly about it.

          • I have yet to see an alternative explanation.

          • The alternative explanation is that Paul did not say that any of his acquaintances was a disciple of Jesus because he did not think there was a man named Jesus for anyone to be a disciple of.

          • So nonphysical beings can die, be buried, and be resurrected? That's a natural reading of 1 Cor 15:3–5? And what of the whole chapter, which makes a direct connection between the death of humans and the death of Jesus?

          • So nonphysical beings can die, be buried, and be resurrected?

            We in the modern world would never think so. I've read about some ideas that were prevalent among literate people in the ancient Middle East, and the death, burial, and resurrection of a nonphysical being would have quite consistent with those ideas.

          • You answered one of three questions. If your only way to defeat my line of argument here is to take a few verses out of their immediate context, then I predict your average rational lurker will consider the mythicist position less sound.

          • Luke Breuer Doug Shaver • an hour ago
            You answered one of three questions. If your only way to defeat my line of argument here is to take a few verses out of their immediate context, then I predict your average rational lurker will consider the mythicist position less sound.

            You answered one of three questions.

            I thought my answer to that one would deal with the other two.

            If your only way to defeat my line of argument here is to take a few verses out of their immediate context, then I predict your average rational lurker will consider the mythicist position less sound.

            Elsewhere in this thread, JP Nunez presented a contextual argument against a point I tried to make, and I conceded the point. You’re welcome to follow his example.

            And if any rational lurkers find my arguments uncompelling, I can live with that. I have no expectation of going down in history as the Internet poster who changed the world’s mind about Jesus’ historicity.

          • Why would Paul compare the death of a mythical being to the death of flesh-and-blood beings so thoroughly in 1 Corinthians 15? Paul says that the reason humans should expect resurrection from the dead is that Jesus pioneered the way. But if a mythical being can rise from the dead, that has no bearing on whether flesh-and-blood beings can rise from the dead. It would be flatly illogical.

          • Why would Paul compare the death of a mythical being to the death of flesh-and-blood beings so thoroughly in 1 Corinthians 15?

            A defensible answer would require greater familiarity with Middle Platonic philosophy that I have. What I gather is that certain events in the celestial realm were thought to parallel events in the sensible realm, in some way, so that knowing what happens there tells us something about what happens here.

            But if a mythical being can rise from the dead, that has no bearing on whether flesh-and-blood beings can rise from the dead. It would be flatly illogical.

            It would be illogical to us who are used to the notion that whatever is mythical is, almost by definition, not real. I'm not sure what the ancient Greek-speakers meant by their word mythos, but it was probably wasn't the same thing we mean nowadays by myth.

          • LB: Why would Paul compare the death of a mythical being to the death of flesh-and-blood beings so thoroughly in 1 Corinthians 15?

            DS: A defensible answer would require greater familiarity with Middle Platonic philosophy that I have. What I gather is that certain events in the celestial realm were thought to parallel events in the sensible realm, in some way, so that knowing what happens there tells us something about what happens here.

            Putting aside the extreme vagueness here (which you admit is not "defensible"), what is the evidence that Paul was in any way convinced of Middle Platonic philosophy?

            LB: But if a mythical being can rise from the dead, that has no bearing on whether flesh-and-blood beings can rise from the dead. It would be flatly illogical.

            DS: It would be illogical to us who are used to the notion that whatever is mythical is, almost by definition, not real. I'm not sure what the ancient Greek-speakers meant by their word mythos, but it was probably wasn't the same thing we mean nowadays by myth.

            Feel free to replace "mythical" with "non-flesh-and-blood" in what I wrote.

          • what is the evidence that Paul was in any way convinced of Middle Platonic philosophy?

            I’m not claiming to know that he was convinced. I’m claiming it is plausible that his thinking was influenced by philosophical notions that were prevalent among literate people of his time. The burden of proof, with evidence from his writings, is on anyone who says, “There is no way he could have believed anything like that.”

            Feel free to replace "mythical" with "non-flesh-and-blood" in what I wrote.

            In this context, I don’t see how a non-flesh-and-blood being could be anything other than mythical, in either the modern or the ancient sense (whatever it was) of the word.

          • I’m not claiming to know that he was convinced. I’m claiming it is plausible that his thinking was influenced by philosophical notions that were prevalent among literate people of his time. The burden of proof, with evidence from his writings, is on anyone who says, “There is no way he could have believed anything like that.”

            One doesn't need to believe the quoted text to find mythicism dubious.

            LB: But if a mythical being can rise from the dead, that has no bearing on whether flesh-and-blood beings can rise from the dead. It would be flatly illogical.

            DS: It would be illogical to us who are used to the notion that whatever is mythical is, almost by definition, not real. I'm not sure what the ancient Greek-speakers meant by their word mythos, but it was probably wasn't the same thing we mean nowadays by myth.

            LB: Feel free to replace "mythical" with "non-flesh-and-blood" in what I wrote.

            DS: In this context, I don’t see how a non-flesh-and-blood being could be anything other than mythical, in either the modern or the ancient sense (whatever it was) of the word.

            Ok, so now we're back to the first thing I said, which I've included above.

          • One doesn't need to believe the quoted text to find mythicism dubious.

            I don't know what quoted text you're referring to.

            Ok, so now we're back to the first thing I said, which I've included above.

            You must be referring to:

            But if a mythical being can rise from the dead, that has no bearing on whether flesh-and-blood beings can rise from the dead. It would be flatly illogical.

            I'll try a different approach. Are you trying to claim that, generally speaking, people don't believe anything illogical?

          • DS: I’m not claiming to know that he was convinced. I’m claiming it is plausible that his thinking was influenced by philosophical notions that were prevalent among literate people of his time. The burden of proof, with evidence from his writings, is on anyone who says, “There is no way he could have believed anything like that.”

            LB: One doesn't need to believe the quoted text to find mythicism dubious.

            DS: I don't know what quoted text you're referring to.

            See the underlined.

            Are you trying to claim that, generally speaking, people don't believe anything illogical?

            Nope. But if the only way you can get mythicism to work is to reject evidence without providing compelling alternative explanations and appeal to irrationality on the part of Paul whenever things don't work out for mythicism, so much the worse for the mythicism.

          • The burden of proof, with evidence from his writings, is on anyone who says, “There is no way he could have believed anything like that.”

            LB: One doesn't need to believe the quoted text to find mythicism dubious.

            No, but one needs to demonstrate either that its premises are implausible or that its premises, even if true, don’t support doubt about Jesus’ historicity.

            But if the only way you can get mythicism to work is to reject evidence without providing compelling alternative explanations and appeal to irrationality on the part of Paul whenever things don't work out for mythicism, so much the worse for the mythicism.

            I don’t think I’m rejecting any facts that are actually in evidence. The existence of many early Christian writings is not in dispute. Their provenance, and thus their historical reliability, is in dispute. Even Bart Ehrman thinks the gospels are practically worthless as historical records, and he thinks mythicists are a bunch of idiots.

          • DS: I’m not claiming to know that he was convinced. I’m claiming it is plausible that his thinking was influenced by philosophical notions that were prevalent among literate people of his time. The burden of proof, with evidence from his writings, is on anyone who says, “There is no way he could have believed anything like that.”

            LB: One doesn't need to believe the quoted text to find mythicism dubious.

            DS: No, but one needs to demonstrate either that its premises are implausible or that its premises, even if true, don’t support doubt about Jesus’ historicity.

            No, when you qualify the best you have to offer with "A defensible answer would require greater familiarity with Middle Platonic philosophy that I have.", your interlocutor doesn't even have to rise to this standard. If the mythicist can make a case via vague hand-waving, dismissing evidence without compelling reason (Paul's use of adelphos in Gal 1:18), and ascribing irrationality to Paul when all else fails, the historicist doesn't have to rise to the highest standards to avoid charges of intellectual dishonesty or whatever.

            I don’t think I’m rejecting any facts that are actually in evidence.

            No, you just suggest that "brother of the Lord", with "the Lord Jesus Christ" several verses early as the only meaning for 'Lord', is comparable to "brothers of freedom", and then when it's trivial to see whether adelphos is used that way anywhere in the NT, you punt.

            Even Bart Ehrman thinks the gospels are practically worthless as historical records, and he thinks mythicists are a bunch of idiots.

            I read Ehrman's Misquoting Jesus; what stuck out at me is that he demonstrated at most one instance which could possibly impact doctrine (what we learn about God and how we think he wants us to interact with others, creation, ourselves, and him). That instance was widely known well before Ehrman: the woman caught in adultery. And arguably, the repeated commands we find in the NT to not condemn match perfectly with Jesus providing logic whereby nobody could cast the first stone to kill (⇒ condemn). It was actually really disappointing for Ehrman to make such huge claims in the beginning of his book, only to deliver a pittance by the end.

            Given the above, I will be rather skeptical of claims Ehrman makes without investigating them very closely, from beginning to end.

          • I read Ehrman's Misquoting Jesus

            I have not, but I’ve read some of his other books, including Did Jesus Exist? and The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture.

            Given the above, I will be rather skeptical of claims Ehrman makes without investigating them very closely, from beginning to end.

            I’m satisfied with my investigation of his arguments. But my point was not to defend them. My point was only that you don’t need to be a mythicist to have reason to doubt the gospels’ historical reliability.

            I was hoping not to go here, but since you bring it up . . . . You say, in effect if not in so many words, that Ehrman fails to make his case, at least in the one book of his that you’ve read. Is it your position that the gospels should be presumed reliable until proven otherwise?

            but one needs to demonstrate either that its premises are implausible or that its premises, even if true, don’t support doubt about Jesus’ historicity.

            No, when you qualify the best you have to offer with "A defensible answer would require greater familiarity with Middle Platonic philosophy that I have.", your interlocutor doesn't even have to rise to this standard.

            I did not say that that was my best argument. I was just answering a question that you asked about one part of my argument.

            As to the general issue: If you ask for evidence supporting a point I’m trying to make, and I say I can’t provide that evidence, then that’s all you need to claim a provisional victory on that particular point, if claiming victory in an online debate is all you care about. But if I offer evidence with an argument for a certain conclusion, and I claim that I am therefore justified in believing that conclusion, then for you to tell me, “No, you’re not justified,” you need to debunk either my evidence or the reasoning I use to infer the conclusion from it.

            [Edited for formatting.]

          • My point was only that you don’t need to be a mythicist to have reason to doubt the gospels’ historical reliability.

            You've only demonstrated this with a person who, for all I know, has bad judgment or at least deploys gratuitous hyperbole, when it comes to analysis of the Gospel texts, variants, and other matters relevant to textual criticism. Now, if you would like to advance some of his arguments yourself, we can examine them.

            I was hoping not to go here, but since you bring it up . . . . You say, in effect if not in so many words, that Ehrman fails to make his case, at least in the one book of his that you’ve read. Is it your position that the gospels should be presumed reliable until proven otherwise?

            No.

            As to the general issue: If you ask for evidence supporting a point I’m trying to make, and I say I can’t provide that evidence, then that’s all you need to claim a provisional victory on that particular point, if claiming victory in an online debate is all you care about. But if I offer evidence with an argument for a certain conclusion, and I claim that I am therefore justified in believing that conclusion, then for you to tell me, “No, you’re not justified,” you need to debunk either my evidence or the reasoning I use to infer the conclusion from it.

            I have no idea what this has to do with your claim of the burden of proof borne by your interlocutor:

            DS: I’m not claiming to know that he was convinced. I’m claiming it is plausible that his thinking was influenced by philosophical notions that were prevalent among literate people of his time. The burden of proof, with evidence from his writings, is on anyone who says, “There is no way he could have believed anything like that.”

            Your position of mythicism is hardly buttressed by an "it is plausible" in reference to notions you have not explicated in any detail. To push back against mythicism on this point, your interlocutor does not need to rise to anything like the standard of the underlined text.

            It may help to point out that when I presented concrete evidence to you—the name distributions in pre- and post-diaspora Palestine and which distribution is found in the Gospels—you pushed back hard, demanding a rigorous Bayesian analysis. There, "it is plausible" was far from an acceptable standard for even considering the evidence, for it to sway you in the slightest.

          • You've only demonstrated this with a person who, for all I know, has bad judgment or at least deploys gratuitous hyperbole, when it comes to analysis of the Gospel texts, variants, and other matters relevant to textual criticism.

            I'm not endorsing his judgment. I was demonstrating that skepticism about the Bible is not contingent on skepticism about Jesus' historicity. His existence is proof that it's not.

            Now, if you would like to advance some of his arguments yourself, we can examine them.

            It'll take some time I wasn't planning to devote to this discussion, but I'll have them shortly.

            Your position of mythicism is hardly buttressed by an "it is plausible" in reference to notions you have not explicated in any detail. To push back against mythicism on this point, your interlocutor does not need to rise to anything like the standard of the underlined text.

            Mythicism depends not on the certainty but on the plausibility of Paul's believing something about Jesus other than that he was a man who had lived in what we call the real world a few years before Paul's conversion to Christianity. You seem to be suggesting that it is not even plausible. A simple denial does not demonstrate its actual implausibility.

            It may help to point out that when I presented concrete evidence to you—the name distributions in pre- and post-diaspora Palestine and which distribution is found in the Gospels—you pushed back hard, demanding a rigorous Bayesian analysis.

            I demand a rigorous argument for any proposition that I antecedently think is unlikely to be true. I have spent years examining arguments, pro and con the historical orthodoxy, about the gospels' provenance, and those arguments, on balance, have convinced me that they are an unreliable source about Christianity's origins. I'm not going to buy one more book on the subject just because you tell me its author managed to find an argument that I hadn't already heard. Maybe that argument would change my mind, but not before I can examine it for myself in some detail as the author presents it.

            There, "it is plausible" was far from an acceptable standard for even considering the evidence, for it to sway you in the slightest.

            I didn't say I wouldn't even consider it. I said I would need more information about it before I could consider it -- more than the mere fact that one biblical scholar finds it persuasive.

          • I'm not endorsing his judgment. I was demonstrating that skepticism about the Bible is not contingent on skepticism about Jesus' historicity. His existence is proof that it's not.

            Citing someone whose judgment and/or normal use of the English language is in doubt doesn't demonstrate much. Only if you can establish that a person is reasonable in holding a position does it matter that [s]he holds that position.

            Mythicism depends not on the certainty but on the plausibility of Paul's believing something about Jesus other than that he was a man who had lived in what we call the real world a few years before Paul's conversion to Christianity. You seem to be suggesting that it is not even plausible. A simple denial does not demonstrate its actual implausibility.

            Nope, what I'm saying is that the following doesn't meaningfully contribute to the case for mythicism:

            DS: A defensible answer would require greater familiarity with Middle Platonic philosophy that I have. What I gather is that certain events in the celestial realm were thought to parallel events in the sensible realm, in some way, so that knowing what happens there tells us something about what happens here.

            DS: I’m not claiming to know that he was convinced. I’m claiming it is plausible that his thinking was influenced by philosophical notions that were prevalent among literate people of his time. The burden of proof, with evidence from his writings, is on anyone who says, “There is no way he could have believed anything like that.”

            You are saying "it is plausible" that Paul believed in something which you cannot sufficiently defend per your own standards, which renders mythicism likely. Basically, you've heard that maybe Paul believed in some celestial being stuff which would allow him to write as a mythicist. That's vague and unsubstantiated. It doesn't rise to the level of "it is plausible".

            I demand a rigorous argument for any proposition that I antecedently think is unlikely to be true.

            Whelp, I antecedently think mythicism is unlikely to be true and you've presented nothing like a rigorous argument for it being true. As to Richard Bauckham's Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, I don't know what you want besides (1) the distribution of names in pre-diaspora Palestine does not match any known post-diaspora distribution; (2) the Gospels manifest a pre-diaspora Palestine distribution. Do you want citations of the sources for these data?

            I didn't say I wouldn't even consider it. I said I would need more information about it before I could consider it -- more than the mere fact that one biblical scholar finds it persuasive.

            So far, I have repeatedly told you that there's a distribution difference and you haven't asked for details about it or engaged it. Reasonable questions would have been, "What are the sources for the different name distributions?" and "What are the chances one would just happen to reproduce a name distribution which no longer exists anywhere?" and "Would anyone back then have thought to intentionally replicate the name distribution of pre-diaspora Palestine to make a forgery that much more compelling?"

          • Citing someone whose judgment and/or normal use of the English language is in doubt doesn't demonstrate much.

            It demonstrates what I needed it to demonstrate. It doesn't matter whether it demonstrates anything else.

            You are saying "it is plausible" that Paul believed in something which you cannot sufficiently defend per your own standards, which renders mythicism likely. Basically, you've heard that maybe Paul believed in some celestial being stuff which would allow him to write as a mythicist. That's vague and unsubstantiated. It doesn't rise to the level of "it is plausible".

            It is not, and is not intended to be, my entire argument for mythicism. My entire argument would take a whole book. I had to read Doherty's book cover to cover before I changed my mind on the subject.

            Do you want citations of the sources for these data?

            No, I want to see the data. I also want to know how they were obtained, and I want to see a logical argument showing why it is improbable that those data would exist if the gospels had not been historically reliable.

          • It demonstrates what I needed it to demonstrate.

            I have no idea what you were trying to demonstrate, then.

            It is not, and is not intended to be, my entire argument for mythicism.

            I hope it's not any part of your argument. And if you want your position to be respectable, I suggest not advancing such vague, flimsy stuff.

            No, I want to see the data. I also want to know how they were obtained, and I want to see a logical argument showing why it is improbable that those data would exist if the gospels had not been historically reliable.

            Before we go there, let me clarify that what the data show if they are as I've represented them. They do not show that the Gospels are historically reliable, but that those who produced the names therein probably lived in Palestine before the fall of Jerusalem in AD 68. If you're happy to stipulate that, we can drop this matter. If on the other hand such a thing would appreciably damage your position, I am happy to do what you request. Sound reasonable? I'd prefer not to spend lots of time establishing points that don't really matter in the scheme of the discussion.

          • They do not show that the Gospels are historically reliable, but that those who produced the names therein probably lived in Palestine before the fall of Jerusalem in AD 68. If you're happy to stipulate that, we can drop this matter.

            If I were to stipulate it, I'd be accepting the argument's conclusion before even looking at the argument.

            If on the other hand such a thing would appreciably damage your position, I am happy to do what you request.

            A cogent argument that the gospels were written before the First Jewish War would be a very serious problem for my position.

          • If I were to stipulate it, I'd be accepting the argument's conclusion before even looking at the argument.

            You know that you don't have to believe what you stipulate in an argument, right?

            A cogent argument that the gospels were written before the First Jewish War would be a very serious problem for my position.

            I didn't say or suggest I could demonstrate such a thing. I said this:

            LB: They do not show that the Gospels are historically reliable, but that those who produced the names therein probably lived in Palestine before the fall of Jerusalem in AD 68.

            Would that also be "a very serious problem" for your position?

          • Would that also be "a very serious problem" for your position?

            Not without some connection between "those who produced the names therein" and the date of authorship.

          • Are you suggesting that a sufficiently correct distribution of names could be remembered accurately for a long enough time such that one can get a sufficiently late date of authorship for your position to remain unscathed? (what a mouthful)

          • Are you suggesting that a sufficiently correct distribution of names could be remembered accurately for a long enough time such that one can get a sufficiently late date of authorship for your position to remain unscathed?

            I have no idea. You'll have to tell me what you think the distribution proves about time of authorship and why you think so.

          • I personally think it is reasonable to suppose that if the distribution of names in pre-Diaspora Palestine is sufficiently different from any distribution of names post-Diaspora, then the chance that Gospel fabricators† would just happen to reproduce a distribution which well-matches pre-Diaspora Palestine is rather low. Instead, it would be quite likely that whoever sourced the distribution of names in the Gospels lived in pre-Diaspora Palestine. That, or oral tradition was robust enough to properly transmit the distribution.

            So, if Bauckham's thesis bears out, it would seem reasonable to think that reliable information about Jesus' life could have made its way into the Gospels. In a sense this is a low bar, because there are still plenty of opportunities for mistakes and corruption. But I have seen the telephone game used to argue that the Gospels couldn't possibly be reliable; Bauckham seems to have provided a way to falsify that argument.

            What, if anything, do you disagree with in the above?

            † Feel free to pick a different noun.

          • That, or oral tradition was robust enough to properly transmit the distribution.

            I don't see why it wouldn't have been. In any evolutionary process, certain characteristics are subject to strong conservative pressures. In the transmission of stories, the names of principal characters usually don't change as much as the things they do.

            So, if Bauckham's thesis bears out, it would seem reasonable to think that reliable information about Jesus' life could have made its way into the Gospels.

            Nobody was saying, before Bauckham ever thought of his thesis, that it couldn't have. Every historicist, including most atheists, necessarily presupposes that some reliable information not only could have but in fact did make its way into the gospels.

            But I have seen the telephone game used to argue that the Gospels couldn't possibly be reliable;

            I've always thought the telephone game was a silly analogy. It's played by rules that don't apply in real life. But the fact remains, and it is a fact, that when stories get passed along from person to person, the stories change. In the case of the oral traditions about Jesus, reasonable people can disagree about the extent and nature of the changes, but the notion that there could have been no changes, or only trivial changes, can't be defended without special pleading.

          • In any evolutionary process, certain characteristics are subject to strong conservative pressures. In the transmission of stories, the names of principal characters usually don't change as much as the things they do.

            Given the total set of names in any story, what % of those names is covered by "principal characters"? Also, it's interesting that you appear to hold there was so much change that the most principal character didn't even exist. Unless you're saying that the "historical Jesus" is so different from what we see in the Gospels that they're really two different people?

            LB: So, if Bauckham's thesis bears out, it would seem reasonable to think that reliable information about Jesus' life could have made its way into the Gospels.

            DS: Nobody was saying, before Bauckham ever thought of his thesis, that it couldn't have. Every historicist, including most atheists, necessarily presupposes that some reliable information not only could have but in fact did make its way into the gospels.

            (A) I've encountered many a 'nobody' in talking about this online. (B) The entire debate is about how large or small "some reliable information" is. Preservation of name distribution for principal and non-principal characters may threaten the smaller versions of "some" I have seen claimed.

            But the fact remains, and it is a fact, that when stories get passed along from person to person, the stories change. In the case of the oral traditions about Jesus, reasonable people can disagree about the extent and nature of the changes, but the notion that there could have been no changes, or only trivial changes, can't be defended without special pleading.

            How are you defining "trivial"? In describing my wife to you, I'll bet I could make non-trivial errors in fact while nonetheless giving you a very accurate understanding of her as a person. Furthermore, if I obsessed too much about getting every fact correct, I could fail to give you as accurate an understanding of her as a person.

          • Nobody was saying, before Bauckham ever thought of his thesis, that it couldn't have.

            (A) I've encountered many a 'nobody' in talking about this online.

            I wasn’t talking globally. If you go online, you can find many people saying anything you can imagine. I was referring to people whose opinions on the subject should be of interest to serious inquirers.

            (B) The entire debate is about how large or small "some reliable information" is.

            Where we set the bar for the evidence depends on the particular thesis being debated. The bar can be set really, really low if all we want is to establish the existence of the man I just described. If we’re trying to establish his resurrection, then I think we’re justified in raising it a bit.

            How are you defining "trivial"? In describing my wife to you, I'll bet I could make non-trivial errors in fact while nonetheless giving you a very accurate understanding of her as a person.

            I wasn’t talking about the stories’ origin. I was talking about their transmission over numerous retellings. If any story you told about your wife were of sufficient general interest to inspire an oral tradition about her, there’s a fair chance you wouldn’t like to hear the version you’d be hearing 50 years after you both died.

            Furthermore, if I obsessed too much about getting every fact correct, I could fail to give you as accurate an understanding of her as a person.

            The relevant issue is how much and which parts of the story I should believe if (a) I’m hearing it 50 years after you died and (b) I had no other source of information about either you or her. If part of the story was about her returning to life three days after her own death, visiting with various friends for 40 days, and then ascending into the sky, then I’d be justified in doubting that part of the story — even if you had actually said it and it had actually happened.

          • DS: In any evolutionary process, certain characteristics are subject to strong conservative pressures. In the transmission of stories, the names of principal characters usually don't change as much as the things they do.

            LB: Given the total set of names in any story, what % of those names is covered by "principal characters"? Also, it's interesting that you appear to hold there was so much change that the most principal character didn't even exist. Unless you're saying that the "historical Jesus" is so different from what we see in the Gospels that they're really two different people?

            DS: [not addressed]

            Are you killing this particular tangent or is a response coming later/​elsewhere?

            If we’re trying to establish his resurrection, then I think we’re justified in raising it a bit.

            Have I been trying to establish Jesus' resurrection in any of my comments other than the ones talking about tracing causal chains from Jesus to us today? I just want to check whether the bar has gotten set that high in any of my discussions with you.

            If part of the story was about her returning to life three days after her own death …

            How do things stack up if we ignore the miracles for the time being? I generally understand 'mythicism' to indicate Jesus' nonexistence, not his existence sans miracles. Perhaps I am in error?

          • Are you killing this particular tangent or is a response coming later/ elsewhere?

            If you think that what I said failed to address whatever point you were trying to make, then let’s move on.

            How do things stack up if we ignore the miracles for the time being?

            Not so well. We can try, but we'll have to get back to it eventually. I don’t think the issue of miracles is separable from the issue of the gospels’ historical credibility, and I don’t think the gospels’ credibility is separable from Jesus’ historicity.

          • I don’t think the issue of miracles is separable from the issue of the gospels’ historical credibility, and I don’t think the gospels’ credibility is separable from Jesus’ historicity.

            I would be interested to here how the miracles are so influential wrt historicity. It seems to me that one could argue they were tacked on to a historical narrative; you seem to think this isn't a viable route.

          • I would be interested to here how the miracles are so influential wrt historicity.

            I have said nothing about how influential they are. I'm just saying they are not irrelevant.

            It seems to me that one could argue they were tacked on to a historical narrative

            "One could"? It could hardly be more obvious that many people do so argue. But the observation that it could have happened says nothing about the likelihood that it is what did happen.

          • The less separable the miracles are from the Gospels' historical credibility, the more "influential" the miracles are. You are welcome to pick a different word than "influential"; I admit is not the best.

          • For us who regard the occurrence of miracles as improbable, an anonymous writer's apparent belief that Jesus performed many of them, coupled with the writer's failure either to identify any sources for his narrative or to claim to have witnessed any of it himself, is evidence against his overall credibility. Absent independent corroboration by some source of greater credibility, we aren't justified in saying, "But some portion of the story must be true." Some portion could possibly be true, but mere possibility does not entail a high probability.

          • Yeah, so the fact that there are miracles, in your judgment, greatly decreases your trust in the probable historicity of the Gospel narratives. Which means that the presence of miracles is very influential in your judgment of the matter.

          • Which means that the presence of miracles is very influential in your judgment of the matter.

            I didn't say "very influential." I'm just saying that I don't see why I should consider it irrelevant.

          • Did you mean to allow the following interpretation to be plausible:

            DS′: For us who regard the occurrence of miracles as improbable, an anonymous writer's apparent belief that Jesus performed many of them, coupled with the writer's failure either to identify any sources for his narrative or to claim to have witnessed any of it himself, is a minor piece of evidence against his overall credibility.

            ? After all, that is consistent with your "[not] irrelevant" stance.

          • Did you mean to allow the following interpretation to be plausible:

            I mean for it to be an a fortiori argument. I'm trying really hard not to assume my conclusion.

          • How about a yes or a no answer to my question? Are you intending to chart a course between "very influential" (my words) and "not irrelevant" (your words)? It seems to me less that you're trying not to assume your conclusion, and more that you're being downright evasive. For all I know, you mean something slightly less intense than "very influential", such that you are technically correct in rejecting those words.

          • How about a yes or a no answer to my question?

            How about not badgering me? If I say it is evidence, I must mean at least that it is minor evidence. That would make your interpretation plausible.

            For all I know, you mean something slightly less intense than "very influential", such that you are technically correct in rejecting those words.

            For all you know, I could agree with those atheists who think Christianity is the sheerest lunacy. I mean to state my opinions insofar as I think I can defend them. If you don’t know about an opinion that I might have because I have not stated it, then it is irrelevant to my defense of opinions that I have stated.

          • How about not badgering me? If I say it is evidence, I must mean at least that it is minor evidence. That would make your interpretation plausible.

            The problem, Doug, is that if you aren't willing to assert more than "a minor piece of evidence", you haven't articulated enough to support the intensity of your response here:

            LB: How do things stack up if we ignore the miracles for the time being?

            DS: Not so well.

            Unfortunately, you seem to need to be pressed rather hard to state a non-vague position. One reason I do that is that you seem to play … unfairly in some of your statements; for example, here is how I would make a recent comment of yours more "fair":

            DS″: For us who regard the occurrence of miracles as improbable, an anonymous writer's apparent belief that Jesus performed many of them, coupled with the writer's failure either to identify any sources for his narrative or to claim to have witnessed any of it himself, is a minor piece of evidence against his overall credibility. Absent independent corroboration by some source of greater credibility, we aren't justified in saying, "But some portion of the story must be true."—although, it is not clear that anyone here is arguing such a thing. Some portion could possibly be true, but mere possibility does not entail a high probability. On the other hand, the argument I have presented here does not reduce the probability significantly.

            You've OKed the first underlining; the second is to reduce the effectiveness of the tactic of hinting that the other side might believe something really stupid; the third flows from the first. I doubt it is just I who would read this version very differently than the original. Maybe you don't intend this, but I've detected a tendency for you to make statements which can easily be interpreted as meaning something much stronger than I discover when I press—and perhaps "badger".

          • the second is to reduce the effectiveness of the tactic of hinting that the other side might believe something really stupid;

            When I post to these forums, I am not trying to talk solely to the individual whose posts I am responding to. There are people on the other side who believe those stupid things or argue as if they believed them. I mention them not because I assume you believe them but because of the likelihood that someone who needs to think about them will sooner or later come across my posts while browsing through this forum.

          • That's why I didn't put those words in strikethrough.

            As things currently stand, your "Not so well." appears unjustified.

          • As things currently stand, your "Not so well." appears unjustified.

            As things currently stand, I have not yet written the book it would take for me to fully defend my position. Mythicism does not stand or fall on any assumptions about the possibility that one man might actually have walked on water

          • Richard Morley

            Are you suggesting that a sufficiently correct distribution of names
            could be remembered accurately for a long enough time such that one can
            get a sufficiently late date of authorship for your position to remain
            unscathed?

            Of course that is ridiculous, there is no way that someone writing today about (for example) the Renaissance could use names appropriate to the era. To do that would require such sorcery as naming fictitious characters after historical ones.

          • I see, and that would automatically get the distribution right?

          • Richard Morley

            Assuming the sample size is large enough and the sampling is unbiased, yes. This should hold true whenever the sample is taken, whether it be for a sample taken at the same time, or for a sample taken later from the names of the time?

            For that matter, if stories were told in the early 1st Century about a mythical, celestial Jesus (and possibly Mary etc) whose names were chosen from common names at the time and twelve real existent disciples (and other real people of the time), and this later morphed into stories where Jesus was assumed to be physical (which I thought was what we were discussing) the distribution of names would still be that of the early 1st Century.

          • You realize that the name distribution argument only matters for those who argue that the Gospels were initially penned (quilled?) well after the Diaspora, right?

          • Richard Morley

            Of course. I don't see how you could think that I do not, but then I don't understand how (if?) you are missing my point.

            If, back in Victorian times, stories were told about a fictitious Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson alongside some real characters, or at least characters with names common at the time, and a century or more afterwards these stories were finally written down in the USA, either from oral tradition or from written stories since lost, but now believing Sherlock and Watson to be real, the distribution of names would still match Victorian England, not post WWII USA, wouldn't it?

            Still leaving aside how you get an unbiased frequency count when we don't know (e.g.) how many individual Marys are actually referred to in the New Testament.

          • (1) Are you suggesting that the oral tradition would preserve not just Sherlock's and Watson's names, but also the names of enough of the minor characters such that the distribution remains sufficiently stable?

            (2) Are you suggesting that it is easier to remember the names of minor characters than the kind of historical details which are often claimed to alter during oral transmission?

            (3) Or are you suggesting that by the time that the Gospels were put to manuscript, the authors/​scribes could have gotten things pretty historically accurate, but instead chose to invent myths, either (a) where Jesus is now God instead of a man; or (b) where Jesus is a purely mythical person?

            (4) I don't mean the above three options to be exhaustive.

            P.S. I'm leaving aside technical details of Bauckham's case because if his conclusion ends up not mattering to the position of my interlocutor, the technical details are irrelevant. Time is precious and people who argue on the internet tend to have limited attention spans.

          • Richard Morley

            Are you suggesting that the oral tradition would preserve not just Sherlock's and Watson's names, but also the names of enough of the minor characters such that the distribution remains sufficiently stable?

            Are you suggesting that it could not, which seems to be what is needed for your assertion to hold?

            Even if some names were made up later on, after the diaspora, the distribution could remain intact if they used the names of people from back then. Names, after all, get written down (if only on gravestones) or remembered much more readily than details of events, especially by old people who were born pre-diaspora because those are their names.

            Are you suggesting that it is easier to remember the names of minor characters than the kind of historical details which are often claimed to alter during oral transmission?

            That was not my point, but as an aside it strikes me as likely.
            a) Names are standard, so if I misremember 'James' as 'Jimes' readers are likely to question if that was a typo.
            b) People attached to names persist a lot longer than (most of) the events they are involved in. I may misremember events from my childhood, but I am unlikely to get my friends' names wrong because most of them are still around and sending occasional messages.
            c) Fundamentally, I think names just are more memorable. Even funny made up ones. I would probably get a lot of facts wrong if I tried to retell the story of Star Wars from memory - off the top of my head I cannot even recall how Han Solo ended up as a bronze wall hanging, which is a fairly major plot point. But I am unlikely to end up telling a story of the noble Dirt Vodar struggling against the villainous Has Silo, Princess Lisa and Lake Siltstrider.

            Add in that stories around religious events are especially prone to embroidery, whereas the names of important characters would be especially significant, and so presumably preserved, in a religious story.

          • Are you suggesting that it could not, which seems to be what is needed for your assertion to hold?

            No, I'm happy to deal with probabilities: the probability that minor characters' names would be kept sufficiently in-tact compared to the probability that important historical details would be lost/​altered.

            Even if some names were made up later on, after the diaspora, the distribution could remain intact if they used the names of people from back then. Names, after all, get written down (if only on gravestones) or remembered much more readily than details of events, especially by old people who were born pre-diaspora because those are their names.

            I don't see any problem with the Gospels being put to paper when the last eyewitnesses were dying. Bauckham makes exactly that argument: oral tradition was deemed superior because you can cross-examine a person better than you can cross-examine a text. This advantage disappeared when the last eyewitnesses were about to die, so it would have been important to finally commit the oral history to written history.

            But perhaps you want to push the authorship date too far for the above to hold? For example, if we set Jesus' death at 33 AD, you could suppose that the oldest person to participate in the Gospel Fabrication Project would have been born around 60 AD, to give him/her a decade before the Diaspora. But if it's fabrication, you need the name distribution the fabricators are pulling on to be the pre-Diaspora one; why would they not pull from their new, post-Diaspora distribution? If it's not well-described as 'fabrication', we have to ask whether oral tradition is as brittle as is often claimed. I would caution against using a twenty-first century Westerner as the model, for we have nothing close to the incentives to remember things accurately as those in the first century.

            LB: Are you suggesting that it is easier to remember the names of minor characters than the kind of historical details which are often claimed to alter during oral transmission?

            RM: That was not my point, but as an aside it strikes me as likely.

            Your a) has to deal with memory and not fabrication (it's important to not conflate the scenarios of historicity + alteration and fabrication). Your b) and c) seem to deal with major characters only; that seems much more believable. For example, I don't recall the name of the giant slug crime lord to whom Han Solo owed money (that's why he was frozen in carbonite).

            But you say this isn't your point; is that because you favor the [≈pure] fabrication scenario?

            Add in that stories around religious events are especially prone to embroidery, whereas the names of important characters would be especially significant, and so presumably preserved, in a religious story.

            Hmm, is the underlined an established fact? And if so, is it a population average or reliably true of every known, investigated instance? I'm especially interested in the general character of this embroidery—for example, does it have a tendency to whitewash the "good guys" in the story? If so, Jesus is the only developed character in the Bible who doesn't have serious character flaws. (Compare this to Muhammad, whose [≈] perfection combined with slave ownership made that very problematic for Arab countries well into the twentieth century.) My general take on the Bible is that it captures human nature better than much of what I see on display—among the populace and the academics—including social aspects such as the Israelites' grumbling in the wilderness and their demand for a king. My uneducated guess on the whole 'embroidery' thing is that there would be a strong tendency to make humanity seem better than it is.

            You say "important characters", but in order to deal with Bauckham's conclusion you need to maintain the minor characters as well.

          • Richard Morley

            I don't see any problem with the Gospels being put to paper when the last eyewitnesses were dying.

            That seems to be a non sequitur. Has anyone suggested that there is a problem with that?

            The question, I thought, was whether the name distribution ruled out the usual dates for the Gospels being written down. Even in the most absurdly extreme case of those names being made up in the mid 2nd century, it is still very possible for the authors in their youth to have known (at least the names of) old people born before the diaspora. So when looking for names for fictional characters set in early 1st Century Palestine they would plausibly use those, especially if names from back then were noticeably different from the names of the time and place they were writing.

            So I don't see the name distribution being at all strong evidence against any plausible account of the origin of the Gospels. Especially not for stories circulating in the early 1st century being written down fifty to a hundred years later.

            I would caution against using a twenty-first century Westerner as the model, for we have nothing close to the incentives to remember things accurately as those in the first century.

            So they are even more likely to recall the names of people from back in Palestine.

            For example, I don't recall the name of the giant slug crime lord

            Are you dissing my future husband/wife (honestly, who knows?) Jabba the Hutt? Nothing was ever proven.

            is that because you favor the [≈pure] fabrication scenario?

            As far as what I 'favour', I naturally don't take the stories as literal fact, but I don't really go for the idea that Jesus never existed either. If I had to choose, my gut instinct would be that they were written down late 1st century to early 2nd, about a real person (possibly conflating stories of two or more preachers of the time) but with invented detail. Bear in mind that for me, it doesn't really matter any more than whether Socrates existed or was fictional.

          • Sorry; it is a bit dizzying keeping in my mind all the various possibilities that my interlocutors could plausibly have in mind. Perhaps in your scientific career, you have experienced a phenomenon whereby multiple people or even one person advances mutually contradictory options, but where the contradiction isn't immediately obvious. In response to option A you present one response, but then that or a different person retorts with option B, which presents a problem for your response. It is easy to get jerked around, especially when the contradictions are several steps away from what has been explicitly said.

            It seems to me that the following scenarios ought to be separated: (A) pre-Diaspora eyewitnesses sourced at least the names; and (B) the Gospels were largely invented post-Diaspora. Perhaps we can both be clear when we mean to restrict some part of our discussion to (A) or (B)?

            If (A), we can still suppose a late oral → written transition. If we do, we can talk about whether one is more likely to accurately remember the name distribution than other historical details. You've presented arguments for this, but I think they're much stronger for major character names than minor names. That was the point of my forgetting Jabba the Hutt's name, and I did truly forget it. BTW, maybe your future husband/​wife was attracted to Jabba's laugh; it was pretty epic.

            If (B), we have to talk about whether it was pre-Diaspora people who did the fabrication, in which case it is reasonable to suppose they got the name distribution right, or whether it was their children. If their children, I find your argument dubious that they'd be careful to get name frequencies right; I don't recall the difference being so much different names than different frequencies. I find it hard to believe that post-Diaspora fabricators would be careful enough to sample names only from the old geezers who had survived the Diaspora.

            Now, I did mention first century people having better memory because that was crucial to survival. But there we have another decision tree. First, would this superior memory prefer to get proper names right? That doesn't seem so important to survival than getting the details right. I'm reminded of Feynman's discussion of the brown-throated thrush. Second, if we're arguing for a late authorship date but sufficiently good memory (via oral tradition) of the history, then we no longer have an argument that fabrication or telephone game is high probability.

            Mythicists have their strongest rhetorical case when they switch the scenario they're thinking went down whenever pressed too strongly. This is especially effective if they do it in community, such that each person stays relatively consistent. But what we should really be doing is operating on a superposition of possibilities, so we don't improperly munge them. Please don't take me to be imputing intellectual dishonesty; that requires knowing that munging is what one is doing.

            If I had to choose, my gut instinct would be that they were written down late 1st century to early 2nd, about a real person (possibly conflating stories of two or more preachers of the time) but with invented detail. Bear in mind that for me, it doesn't really matter any more than whether Socrates existed or was fictional.

            Do you think that there's simply no way that Jesus could have been sacrificed for our sins, such that we are forgiven, where the sacrifice needed to be flesh-and-blood? I mean, can't we just construct the idea in our heads and then voilà, problem solved?

            While the above could be taken flippantly, it seems to be entailed by the "free to create your own meaning" meme which seems rather strong today, in the West. We seem to have made the subjective realm as independent from matter as Descartes made mind from body. Under such a scheme, it seems logically impossible for causal chains to stretch from Jesus' flesh-and-blood crucifixion and resurrection to sins being forgiven today. The mythical idea of Jesus would be precisely as potent as the historical existence of Jesus.

            I might feel bad about arguing this way if my only motivation were to render a historical, flesh-and-blood Jesus important. After all, wouldn't that be the worst betrayal of the intellect, to assume your conclusion? But a curious thing has happened: I find it increasingly plausible that the same things which make a mythical Jesus indistinguishable from a historical Jesus also damage society in significant ways. If my efforts to think about God better result in my finding badness in contemporary metaphysics†, such that rooting it out has promise of improving society, I may just laugh at people who claim it is "incorrect" to reason that way. Jesus said to first love God then love your neighbor. Maybe that was because the former enables the latter. (The latter is also necessary evidence of the former—1 John.)

            † I'm not sure there's a better word for taking Descartes' mind–body dualism for granted.

          • Richard Morley

            It seems to me that the following scenarios ought to be separated: (A) pre-Diaspora eyewitnesses sourced at least the names; and (B) the Gospels were largely invented post-Diaspora. Perhaps we can both be clear when we mean to restrict some part of our discussion to (A) or (B)?

            I would invert that, and instead say that as far as I can see the only option strongly argued against by the name distribution is that where the Gospels (or at least the names therein) were entirely made up more than a generation after the Diaspora by those who did not know names of actual people from back then.

            Is anyone arguing that? Everything else fits the data, as far as I can see.

            I would also distinguish between fabrication and fiction. I don't recall anyone arguing that the Gospels were deliberate deception, even those interpolating or altering the scriptures would most likely have believed what they were writing to be true.

            So they don't have to be trying to mimic the name frequencies, just using names from back then. Either to make a better story to illustrate a point (like a modern day writer using Socrates or Plato to voice a philosophical opinion), or because they genuinely believe that those historical figures would have (or did) do and say those things.

            Do you think that there's simply no way that Jesus could have been sacrificed for our sins, such that we are forgiven, where the sacrifice needed to be flesh-and-blood?

            The sacrifice makes no sense to me anyway, so the whole thing falls apart without a clear idea of what sin is supposed to be 'paid for' in what way, by a physical or mythological entity who in some way is identified with an entity called 'God'. So, too many unexplained variables and inconsistencies for me to answer that.

            Certainly a religion could have believed that, or weirder things. See how modern day religions such as cargo cults, Mormonism or Scientology arose, and none of the mythicist options seriously being discussed strike me as impossible.

          • Is anyone arguing that? Everything else fits the data, as far as I can see.

            I agree that there are many possibilities for how things went down. Your restriction to what "anyone" argues today is somewhat difficult for me, as I've seen more variety than what you're allowing. So I stand by my desire to see the different concrete scenarios laid out, so that we can see how various lines of evidence affect them. I'm 100% down with e.g. distinguishing between 'fabrication' and 'fiction'.

            The sacrifice makes no sense to me anyway, so the whole thing falls apart without a clear idea of what sin is supposed to be 'paid for' in what way, by a physical or mythological entity who in some way is identified with an entity called 'God'.

            If you want to see an example of sin and how it can persist for generations, just visit a Native American reservation. Or investigate how child sexual abuse can propagate through the generations of a family. Surely you don't need a systematic explanation of how precisely to break cycles of horror to know that they exist?

            So, too many unexplained variables and inconsistencies for me to answer that.

            It sounds like you would hate any of the human sciences, except perhaps economics restricted to rational choice theory.

          • Richard Morley

            So I stand by my desire to see the different concrete scenarios laid out, so that we can see how various lines of evidence affect them.

            There are too many permutations to lay them all out, no way to be certain which is true, and I have no reason to care so much that I would be deeply invested in one in the absence of rock solid proof.

            Of the top of my head, obvious variables would be:
            Stories: Completely true, completely fictitious, partly true partly fictitious (including distortions, or a composite of stories originally about two or more preachers/messiahs)
            Names: all real, all made up (from scratch, borrowed from real characters of the time of the story, or from the time it was written down), combination of the above
            Time written down: anything from 'as it happened' to about mid 2nd century
            For versions with fictitious elements: motive for fiction, including drift over multiple repetitions or unconscious motives

            If someone believes that the names (at least) were made up, from scratch, long enough after the diaspora that the author plausibly had no knowledge of common names in early 1sty century Palestine, then the distribution of names in the NT is a counterargument. Otherwise I don't think so.

            If you want to see an example of sin and how it can persist for generations, just visit a Native American reservation. Or investigate how child sexual abuse can propagate through the generations of a family.

            I don't think that those correspond to any common understanding of 'original sin' I've ever come across.

            Nor do I see how killing an innocent man would help it.

            It sounds like you would hate any of the human sciences, except perhaps economics restricted to rational choice theory.

            [snark on]I have yet to come across a science among the human 'sciences'.[snark off] (Not quite serious)

            And the only time I have been thrown out of a bar (well, bistro, but bar sounds butcher) was due to a debate with economics students. Apparently suggesting that one tests competing models by seeing how well they model reality is an inflammatory topic with them, at least with proponents of both models present.

          • LB: So I stand by my desire to see the different concrete scenarios laid out, so that we can see how various lines of evidence affect them.

            RM: There are too many permutations to lay them all out, no way to be certain which is true, and I have no reason to care so much that I would be deeply invested in one in the absence of rock solid proof.

            Historians understand how to not have an explosion of permutations. This doesn't excuse one from laying representative possibilities out in enough detail so that one can understand how various lines of evidence impact each possibility. I'm not asking anyone to invest deeply in one of them.

            If someone believes that the names (at least) were made up, from scratch, long enough after the diaspora that the author plausibly had no knowledge of common names in early 1sty century Palestine, then the distribution of names in the NT is a counterargument. Otherwise I don't think so.

            I think that's too extreme of a standard for the name distribution to be relevant. I'm not sure people could get the name distribution right if the account were too fictitious, as I'm not confident people properly reproduce name distributions when concocting fiction. (This is very testable.)

            I don't think that those correspond to any common understanding of 'original sin' I've ever come across.

            Ah, you didn't say 'original sin' earlier, but just 'sin'. Christians aren't unified on any one understanding of 'original sin'. If you want to see an attempt to scientifically deal with the outworkings of Augustinian's understanding of sin as a distortion of our very perception of good and evil, see Alistair McFadyen's Bound to Sin: Abuse, Holocaust and the Christian Doctrine of Sin. He asks whether talk of sin can add anything to secular discussions of various psychological and social pathologies; he thinks it can.

            Nor do I see how killing an innocent man would help it.

            You don't see how Jesus submitting himself to our system of 'justice' would unveil its true nature? If a human system of justice would execute God, then the problem is the system of justice. Unless you want to call God 'evil', of course—which plenty of people do, these days. There is a strong current which would prefer the political violence of Barabbas to Jesus' message that that the brokenness lies within every single human soul. (Cue a retort from someone that 'souls' don't exist, completely missing the point.)

            I don't mean the above to be exhaustive in explaining the atonement, by the way. The above is a bit subjective and doesn't deal with the very real damage that we humans do to creation (these days we can include inducing catastrophic climate instability).

            [snark on]I have yet to come across a science among the human 'sciences'.[snark off] (Not quite serious)

            Humans are hard, yo. Especially if you pretend they can be understood without any reference to teleology (that is, treat them just like the natural sciences).

            And the only time I have been thrown out of a bar (well, bistro, but bar sounds butcher) was due to a debate with economics students. Apparently suggesting that one tests competing models by seeing how well they model reality is an inflammatory topic with them, at least with proponents of both models present.

            Yanis Varoufakis (Greek finance minister who resigned after the government capitulated to austerity demands) and Noam Chomsky talked about this in 2016; here's a snippet:

            However, in order to close the model mathematically, the only way to solve the equations is by making assumptions that distance the model from really existing capitalism. So for instance you have to assume that there’s no time and there’s no space, because if you allow time to interfere with your model, or space to enter, you end up with indeterminism. In other words, you end up with a system of equations that cannot be solved or that have an infinity of possible solutions and then you have no predictive power. You can’t say, “well, this is what’s going to happen.”

            So you have a very interesting inverse Darwinian process. The more successful economists were at creating models that said precisely nothing about capitalism, the greater their success in the academy, so they became the opposite of the public intellectuals that you’ve been writing about. They create wonderful abstractions, aesthetically pleasing models that I spent quite a few years studying in the same way that you go to a museum and you look at a piece of abstract art but you don’t expect to find the truth of capitalism in its form. So this is the interesting sociology of knowledge within the economics profession. (Noam Chomsky NYPL discussion)

            A little further, there's a great bit where Ken Arrow (of Arrow's impossibility theorem) mocks Varoufakis for thinking the economics being discussed was supposed to be applied to reality.

            There are fun examples in other human sciences. For example, it would appear that most people want to deny the results of The nature of belief systems in mass publics (Converse 1964). It's scary, but we really like our delusions. Science only works if you want to know the truth more than rest in delusion.

          • Richard Morley

            Historians understand how to not have an explosion of permutations.

            They may not (need to) consider all of them, but the number is what it is.

            I think that's too extreme of a standard for the name distribution to be relevant.

            Then by all means tell us which other, hopefully more mainstream, mythicist scenarios you think are ruled out, or at least made significantly less likely, by the name distribution.

            (This is very testable.)

            Then by all means test it, or cite pre-existing studies. We have plenty of fiction set in other eras or societies than the author, so testing the name distributions in those cases should be easy enough. Finding a decent sample size of religious groups writing down stories decades after they were supposed to happen might be harder, but I'm sure modern day occultists have stories to tell about Aleister Crowley and his merry band. The cargo cults may have a significant body of stories about John Frum or equivalent figures. I imagine Scientology has its own developing mythos.

            Ah, you didn't say 'original sin' earlier, but just 'sin'.

            Original sin does appear to be the principal reason Jesus' sacrifice was necessary, according to most christians. But this just highlights how the original question is too unspecific for me to answer. It is meaningless in my worldview, and there are too many versions of the christian worldview.

            You don't see how Jesus submitting himself to our system of 'justice' would unveil its true nature? If a human system of justice would execute God, then the problem is the system of justice.

            Aah... so the Creator of the universe became mortal and suffered and died on the cross in order to point out a procedural problem with the judicial system in 1st century Palestine?

            I have no idea how to respond to that.

          • Then by all means tell us which other, hopefully more mainstream, mythicist scenarios you think are ruled out, or at least made significantly less likely, by the name distribution.

            If you are well-informed of what the mainstream mythicist scenarios are, then I am poorly informed. Hence, you know, my request for a representative spread of the scenarios.

            Then by all means test it, or cite pre-existing studies.

            Testing it myself would require financial resources and training which I do not possess and which are nowhere near the top of my priority list. I do think it is valuable to point out what untested propositions are being used to support some of the mythicist scenarios.

            Original sin does appear to be the principal reason Jesus' sacrifice was necessary, according to most christians. But this just highlights how the original question is too unspecific for me to answer. It is meaningless in my worldview, and there are too many versions of the christian worldview.

            Well, if I am to continue this line of discussion, I'll need a bit more understanding of your worldview. Up to you.

            Aah... so the Creator of the universe became mortal and suffered and died on the cross in order to point out a procedural problem with the judicial system in 1st century Palestine?

            I have no idea how to respond to that.

            Why do you characterize it as a mere "procedural problem"?

             
            P.S. Happy Thanksgiving! I always feel a bit lame commenting on the internet during a holiday such as this, but hey.

          • Richard Morley

            If you are well-informed of what the mainstream mythicist scenarios are, then I am poorly informed. Hence, you know, my request for a representative spread of the scenarios.

            So, you do not have another example of a scenario which might be ruled out by the name distribution evidence?

            Testing it myself would require financial resources and training which I do not possess and which are nowhere near the top of my priority list.

            So, neither do you have evidence that the name distribution would be strong evidence anyway?

            (Demanding that others meet a 'very testable' standard of evidence that is just too much work for one to meet oneself is an uncomfortably familiar pattern on the internet.)

            I do think it is valuable to point out what untested propositions are being used to support some of the mythicist scenarios.

            Surely Bauckham (and your good self) were using this untested proposition to support historicism, not mythicism?

            Happy Thanksgiving!

            Well, I am a welsh atheist living in Wales, so I don't really celebrate Turkeymas.

            It is a bit late for this year, but if you want to give thanks for another year's harvest, a practical way of doing so would be to buy your thanksgiving meal makings direct from local farmers and producers, paying them a fair amount, rather than from massive commercial giants, who generally do not. Added bonus: you can often visit local producers to see how the beast you plan to roast was raised.

            (Nothing makes a family meal like letting the kids meet Gertie the Goose before they eat her.)

          • So, you do not have another example of a scenario which might be ruled out by the name distribution evidence?

            I provided a second example in my second paragraph.

            So, neither do you have evidence that the name distribution would be strong evidence anyway?

            I have reason to think it rules out mythicist scenarios I have seen in the wild. You have encountered a different set of mythicist scenarios, which you do not judge to be much restrained by Bauckham's conclusion about varying name distributions. I then argued that this only holds if you make assumptions about human myth-making which may not be true—we just don't know.

            (Demanding that others meet a 'very testable' standard of evidence that is just too much work for one to meet oneself is an uncomfortably familiar pattern on the internet.)

            There is an obvious alternative: admit that said scenario depends on a property of human myth-making which may easily not be true. It's as simple as admitting error bars/​uncertainty.

            Surely Bauckham (and your good self) were using this untested proposition to support historicism, not mythicism?

            You seem to be conflating (i) the name distribution evidence; (ii) assumptions about what name distributions would arise from myth-making. Bauckham draws a conclusion from the former, which admittedly is shaky because the evidence is currently sparse. If Bauckham's conclusion holds, mythicists have more constraints if myth-makers couldn't reproduce the pre-Diaspora Palestine name distribution even if they grew up before the Diaspora. For example, it might turn out that only by assembling a number of history-based stories could one get the name distribution right. One could always, of course, claim that they have been embellished.

            Well, I am a welsh atheist living in Wales, so I don't really celebrate Turkeymas.

            Ah yes, I believe I recall some non-American spellings. But surely atheists not in America are thankful? To your point of purchasing from local farmers, my wife I do that to some extent. I worry that without something more systematized, only a small fraction of the population will ever actually do that. I am reticent to feel too righteous when that righteousness is … unsustainable.

          • Richard Morley

            I provided a second example in my second paragraph.

            I don't think "too fictitious" counts as a concrete "example of a scenario which might be ruled out by the name distribution evidence".

            I have reason to think it rules out mythicist scenarios I have seen in the wild.

            Then I don't see why you cannot or will not detail one or more of those scenarios as examples which are ruled out by the name distribution evidence.

            You seem to be conflating (i) the name distribution evidence; (ii) assumptions about what name distributions would arise from myth-making.

            Nope, I am clear on the difference.

            The point is that Bauckham and yourself are drawing conclusions from the name distribution evidence that you seem unable to support or even specify. I have yet to see a mythicist claiming that the name distribution evidence supports any assertion of theirs.

            If you are the ones making a positive assertion about the name distribution evidence and what it implies, it is up to you to state and support that assertion.

            Ah yes, I believe I recall some non-American spellings.

            I do indeed speak English as she is spoke proper, look you.

            But surely atheists not in America are thankful?

            Gosh, no, those of us who are not American or not Theists may act as though we have real human feelings, but that does not mean that we are True People(TM). We're just cute with large eyes.

            You know, those dastardly antipodeans even have the gall to celebrate their harvest half a year late, when those in God's Own Country know perfectly well that it is Spring, not Autumn!

          • I don't think "too fictitious" counts as a concrete "example of a scenario which might be ruled out by the name distribution evidence".

            I mistakenly thought you could expand that out into a plausible scenario. I'll lay out two concrete scenarios:

            (A) Nearing the ends of their lives, a group of old fogies who lived in pre-diaspora Palestine decide to invent a Messiah narrative. They don't rely extensively on anything history-based. Somehow, they end up with a set of four stories which happen to reproduce the name distribution found in pre-Diaspora Palestine—down to the minor characters.

            (B) Having conversed extensively with the generation which was drive out of Palestine in the diaspora, a group of people decide to invent a Messiah narrative. Continue from (A).

            Are those concrete enough for you?

            The point is that Bauckham and yourself are drawing conclusions from the name distribution evidence that you seem unable to support or even specify.

            Huh? Exactly what point have either of us made which we are "unable to support or even specify"? I'm especially curious about how you could specify a conclusion we were making, which we ourselves are unable to specify.

            I have yet to see a mythicist claiming that the name distribution evidence supports any assertion of theirs.

            Why would they? Instead, they would argue that their argument is unaffected by the name distribution conclusion. It would be left up to others to determine whether this is because no plausible mythicist scenario was vulnerable to the name distribution matter, or whether all plausible scenarios managed to weasel their way out of being affected in any way.

            I do indeed speak English as she is spoke proper, look you.

            I defer to the much cooler English accents found in the UK.

            Gosh, no, those of us who are not American or not Theists may act as though we have real human feelings, but that does not mean that we are True People(TM). We're just cute with large eyes.

            Reminds me of the Red Letter Media review of Avatar.

            You know, those dastardly antipodeans even have the gall to celebrate their harvest half a year late, when those in God's Own Country know perfectly well that it is Spring, not Autumn!

            But … harvest happens in Autumn? Or is that Philistine American pragmatism at work?

          • Richard Morley

            I mistakenly thought you could expand that out into a plausible scenario.

            So you want me to both state your argument and find supporting evidence? I don't see why exactly I would need to involve you in that discussion at all, I could just talk to my neighbour's cat while he tries to disembowel my hand.

            Nearing the ends of their lives, a group of old fogies who lived in pre-diaspora Palestine..

            ..and who therefore are familiar with names from pre-diaspora Palestine. Their own names are names from pre-diaspora Palestine. (Why the animosity towards them?)

            Having conversed extensively with the generation which was drive out of Palestine in the diaspora, a group of people...

            ..could very easily be familiar with names from pre-diaspora Palestine.

            In neither example is it implausible that a resulting NT would match the name distribution from pre-diaspora Palestine. There is no point in finding cases where it is plausible that they might have got it wrong, as we (arguendo) know that whoever wrote the NT got the distribution about right (although you still have not addressed the size of the sample of names in the NT, or the size of the error bars from uncertainty about how many people with similar names there might have been). So the evidence only rules out (or against) scenarios where it is implausible that the resulting name distribution matched that of pre-diaspora Palestine.

            I'm especially curious about how you could specify a conclusion we were making, which we ourselves are unable to specify.

            Normally you are the one who would specify and support your argument, although apparently you don'troll that way. All I point out is that you don't seem to have done either.

            Instead, they would argue that their argument is unaffected by the name distribution conclusion.

            That seems like a very sensible response, if their assertions are in no way based on conclusions drawn from the name data, and you have failed to specify and support a counter-argument based on the name data.

            I defer to the much cooler English accents found in the UK.

            What accent? We got no accent, it's you beggars got accents.

            Reminds me of the Red Letter Media review of Avatar.

            I don't think I've read it. But then I've never seen all of Avatar.

            But … harvest happens in Autumn?

            Which happens at the same time all over the globe? (There is a hint in the last word of that sentence)

          • So you want me to both state your argument and find supporting evidence?

            Neither. My initial purpose was to see how the name distribution conclusion would factor into mythicist thinking. It is often very instructive to throw such a test particle into the mix and see if it is conveniently deflected or taken seriously.

            ..and who therefore are familiar with names from pre-diaspora Palestine. Their own names are names from pre-diaspora Palestine. (Why the animosity towards them?)

            Being familiar with names doesn't mean that you will automagically get the name distribution right in sufficiently fictitious accounts. (No animosity intended.)

            So the evidence only rules out (or against) scenarios where it is implausible that the resulting name distribution matched that of pre-diaspora Palestine.

            Agreed.

            RM: The point is that Bauckham and yourself are drawing conclusions from the name distribution evidence that you seem unable to support or even specify.

            LB: Huh? Exactly what point have either of us made which we are "unable to support or even specify"? I'm especially curious about how you could specify a conclusion we were making, which we ourselves are unable to specify.

            RM: Normally you are the one who would specify and support your argument, although apparently you don'troll that way. All I point out is that you don't seem to have done either.

            Again, what point have I made which I haven't been able to specify? That seems flatly self-contradictory. (Was "don'troll" mean to be clever? "don't roll" / "don' troll")

            That seems like a very sensible response, if their assertions are in no way based on conclusions drawn from the name data, and you have failed to specify and support a counter-argument based on the name data.

            Somehow, you seem to think that the following just doesn't exist:

            LB: There is an obvious alternative: admit that said scenario depends on a property of human myth-making which may easily not be true. It's as simple as admitting error bars/​uncertainty.

            I repeated it earlier in this reply ("… automagically …"). Finding presuppositions the other side relies on which are not well-established is a valid debate tactic. It's not necessarily the same as producing an 'argument' or specifying a 'point', but those are not the only options on the table. Questioning foundations is always permitted.

            What accent? We got no accent, it's you beggars got accents.

            Sorry, but you're unique snowflakes just like the rest of us.

            Which happens at the same time all over the globe? (There is a hint in the last word of that sentence)

            "living in Wales"

          • Richard Morley

            Being familiar with names doesn't mean that you will automagically get the name distribution right in sufficiently fictitious accounts.

            Being familiar with a random sample of names from the era or culture in which you set a story, and using those names, is as likely to match the frequency distribution of names in that culture as any other random sample. Nothing magic about it.

            Again, what point have I made which I haven't been able to specify?

            Now you are asking me to specify points that you have not specified. I am just (too optimistically?) assuming that you have a point about the name distribution, although you have yet to specify or support one.

            You claim to have "reason to think" that the name data "rules out mythicist scenarios" that you "have seen in the wild", so why exactly can you not just state precisely what these scenarios are, ideally where you saw them, and what reason you have to think that the data rules them out? Obviously, I can come up with scenarios that are not ruled out, or ones that are ruled out but ridiculous to start with, but that proves nothing. More telling is that you cannot, or at least do not, provide reasonable scenarios that are ruled out by the name data.

            Was "don'troll" mean to be clever? "don't roll" / "don' troll"

            Breathe, it was just space missing from a common english idiom. That said, if you feel the urge to not just add in an obviously missing space, but also edit out two further characters to make a nonsensical but vaguely insulting sounding sentence, who am I to spoil your fun?

            It's as simple as admitting error bars/​uncertainty

            But if you are the one introducing the name data and (maybe/maybe not) making some point from it, it is up to you, not others, to 'admit' the associated error bars/uncertainty.

            An analogy: if you are asserting that Jesus was the messiah, and I say "but what about his beard?", most people would say that it is up to me to make and support some coherent point about his beard. It is not usually asserted that it is instead up to you to show (with error bars!) that there is no problem with your assertion and his beard.

            "living in Wales"

            "...those dastardly antipodeans..."

            Why is it such an issue for you that non americans post here and do not celebrate american holidays?

          • Being familiar with a random sample of names from the era or culture in which you set a story, and using those names, is as likely to match the frequency distribution of names in that culture as any other random sample.

            You're begging the question. Were I to concoct some tales using names with which I am familiar, there is no guarantee that I'll actually produce a distribution which well-matches the name frequency of where I live.

            RM: The point is that Bauckham and yourself are drawing conclusions from the name distribution evidence that you seem unable to support or even specify.

            LB: Huh? Exactly what point have either of us made which we are "unable to support or even specify"? I'm especially curious about how you could specify a conclusion we were making, which we ourselves are unable to specify.

            RM: Normally you are the one who would specify and support your argument, although apparently you don'troll that way. All I point out is that you don't seem to have done either.

            LB: Again, what point have I made which I haven't been able to specify?

            RM: Now you are asking me to specify points that you have not specified.

            I'm calling bollocks on the first comment I've included in this exchange—that there are any conclusions that Bauckham and I have (i) drawn; but (ii) not specified. The inclusion of "or even specify" was gratuitous and nonsensical.

            I am just (too optimistically?) assuming that you have a point about the name distribution, although you have yet to specify or support one.

            Curious; I would have thought the following qualifies as a "point":

            LB: Being familiar with names doesn't mean that you will automagically get the name distribution right in sufficiently fictitious accounts.

            Somehow, it doesn't. Which leaves me wondering what you mean by "point". Perhaps if you disagree with something someone else considers a "point", it suddenly ceases to be one?

            You claim to have "reason to think" that the name data "rules out mythicist scenarios" that you "have seen in the wild", so why exactly can you not just state precisely what these scenarios are

            Do you think my (A) & (B) are not sufficiently precisely stated? Or is it that you wanted me to state scenarios you think are not common/​reasonable among mythicists? You seem to greatly dislike discussing anything that you yourself don't see as plausible, so I decided not to mention any.

            But if you are the one introducing the name data and (maybe/maybe not) making some point from it, it is up to you, not others, to 'admit' the associated error bars/uncertainty.

            It is not my responsibility to establish error bars/​uncertainty for how likely a person is to reproduce his/her culture's name distribution when concocting fiction. Before the name distribution conclusion was in the mix, it didn't matter whether the fiction-makers got the names right. If the name distribution conclusion holds, mythicists have an additional constraint. How is that so hard to understand?

            Why is it such an issue for you that non americans post here and do not celebrate american holidays?

            It isn't. I was messing around and trying to build a bit of rapport, but clearly failed catastrophically.

          • Richard Morley

            You're begging the question.

            No, I am applying the law of identity. A random sampling of names from a given era and society is a random sampling of names from that given era and society. Whatever you use it for.

            Were I to concoct some tales using names with which I am familiar, there is no guarantee that I'll actually produce a distribution which well-matches the name frequency of where I live.

            Whether you make up a story using the names of people you know, or record a true story about (thus using the names of) people you know, the name frequency will be the same. Ssimples.

            I'm calling bollocks on the first comment I've included in this exchange

            If you are not claiming that the name frequency data argues against some reasonably prevalent mythicist scenario, your posts are both misleading and apparently pointless. You have, eventually, under protest, provided two scenarios that I felt I had showed were not significantly argued against by the name data, you have certainly not shown how the name data argues against any scenario but the one you dismissed as 'too narrow'.

            Or is it that you wanted me to state scenarios you think are not common/​reasonable among mythicists?

            I rather expected you to state a scenario that was common and considered reasonable among mythicists, then show how the name data argues against it. You actually claimed to have such. But you seem to feel that it is up to me to do this once you have cried out "won't somebody please think about the name frequency (but it is too much hassle for me to do it)!"

            It is not my responsibility to establish error bars/​uncertainty for how likely a person is to reproduce his/her culture's name distribution when concocting fiction.

            It is if you are arguing that the name frequency data (for which you should also produce error bars) rules out mythicism.

          • No, I am applying the law of identity. A random sampling of names from a given era and society is a random sampling of names from that given era and society. Whatever you use it for.

            A fiction-writer's choice of names is not [necessarily] identical to a random sampling of names.

            Whether you make up a story using the names of people you know, or record a true story about (thus using the names of) people you know, the name frequency will be the same. Ssimples.

            I don't see why I should believe without evidence that human memory works like this. Furthermore, in my experience, fiction-writers try not to duplicate names because that introduces unnecessary ambiguity to the story.

            If you are not claiming that the name frequency data argues against some reasonably prevalent mythicist scenario, →

            It argues against mythicist scenarios I recall encountering a while ago, which you call unreasonable. Among those you call reasonable, I don't know whether the name distribution conclusion presents problems. Unlike you, I am not certain it presents no problems.

            ← your posts are both misleading and apparently pointless.

            You are welcome to establish something I said was truly misleading. As it stands, I have tried to be completely courteous in this exchange and even try to establish some friendly rapport, and what I get is this.

            I rather expected you to state a scenario that was common and considered reasonable among mythicists, then show how the name data argues against it. You actually claimed to have such.

            I did? I recall exchanges like this:

            LB: Are you suggesting that the oral tradition would preserve not just Sherlock's and Watson's names, but also the names of enough of the minor characters such that the distribution remains sufficiently stable?

            RM: Are you suggesting that it could not, which seems to be what is needed for your assertion to hold?

            LB: No, I'm happy to deal with probabilities: the probability that minor characters' names would be kept sufficiently in-tact compared to the probability that important historical details would be lost/​altered.

            My own recollection of our discussion, buttressed by actually reviewing some of it, is that I want to see how the name distribution conclusion might interact with [otherwise] reasonable mythicist scenarios.

            LB: It is not my responsibility to establish error bars/​uncertainty for how likely a person is to reproduce his/her culture's name distribution when concocting fiction.

            RM: It is if you are arguing that the name frequency data (for which you should also produce error bars) rules out mythicism.

            Incorrect. The person making the argument has the duty to establish the soundness of all his/her premises. And I doubt that mythicism would be ruled out, because mythicists could always fall back on a number of historical stories being repurposed and embellished. A crucial plank in the mythicism I've encountered would be removed or at least severely weakened: that it was somehow too difficult for real history to be sufficiently accurately transmitted, to the point where written records were generated.

            I agree that one would need error bars for the name distribution conclusion, but as it stands you think it is completely irrelevant because fiction writers somehow have the inborn ability to match the name distribution around them.

          • Richard Morley

            I don't see why I should believe without evidence that human memory works like this.

            If you are asserting that the name evidence argues against certain scenarios based on the assumption that memory does not work 'that way', that assertion is up to you to support.

            It argues against mythicist scenarios I recall encountering a while ago, which you call unreasonable.

            Where do I call either of the scenarios you have given 'unreasonable'? Oh, and this would be an example of your posts being misleading and pointless if you are not claiming that the name frequency data argues against some reasonably prevalent mythicist scenario. As you requested.

            You are welcome to establish something I said was truly misleading.

            See above.

            Do you disagree that if you are not claiming that the name frequency data argues against some reasonably prevalent mythicist scenario your posts would indeed seem to be both misleading and pointless?

            RM:You actually claimed to have such.
            I did?

            You did: "I have reason to think it rules out mythicist scenarios I have seen in the wild." That would be another example of your posts being 'misleading and pointless' if you do not have reason to think those scenarios are ruled out.

            The person making the argument has the duty to establish the soundness of all his/her premises

            The mythicists do do a reasonable job of supporting their premises, see Carrier's posts here. The name distribution data is not one of their premises, but one that Bauckham and apparently yourself are using to argue against the mythicist hypothesis, so it would be up to you to establish its soundness and relevance.

            If you want to argue that the proponent of any argument must do all the legwork to prove/disprove any objection raised, even if it is as half baked as "won't someone please think of the [name distribution/Jesus' beard], then mythicism is originally a response to assumptions that Jesus was a physical entity, so the ball would still land right back in the traditional christian's court.

            ... because fiction writers somehow have the inborn ability to match the name distribution around them

            As do historians. Golly.

          • Let me get this straight. You're happy to support two mythicist scenarios—

            LB: (A) Nearing the ends of their lives, a group of old fogies who lived in pre-diaspora Palestine decide to invent a Messiah narrative. They don't rely extensively on anything history-based. Somehow, they end up with a set of four stories which happen to reproduce the name distribution found in pre-Diaspora Palestine—down to the minor characters.

            (B) Having conversed extensively with the generation which was drive out of Palestine in the diaspora, a group of people decide to invent a Messiah narrative. Continue from (A).

            —while simply assuming that human memory works that way? Anyone who might question whether human memory works that way has to provide evidence that it doesn't, rather than point out that you don't have evidence that it does?

          • Richard Morley

            You presented those two scenarios, apparently to show that they are refuted or argued against by the name distribution data, although you seem to blow hot and cold on that assertion.

            The mythicist hypothesis does not assert anything about, nor rely on, the name data, in any case that I have seen. That data was (I thought) introduced as an attempt on your part to argue for historicism. So it would be up to you to show that memory does not work 'that way', especially as memory working 'that way' for those you rather cruelly call the 'old fogies' seems to just be them remembering their own names.

            You also have not shown where I called (I assume) those two scenarios 'unreasonable'

          • You're conflating two very different categories of scenarios:

            (I) Scenarios predicated upon a decay/​corruption constant of knowledge in oral tradition combined with a sufficiently long time between alleged history and first written record such that we ought to have very little confidence that reliable history could have survived.

            (II) Scenarios predicated upon humans being able to reproduce a name-distribution in [sufficiently] fictional writing, possibly with the addition that the society in which the fiction is written has a different name distribution (except among [some of?] the elders).

            It is the first class of scenarios which is most severely threatened by the name distribution conclusion, especially when one takes into account minor character names (you've provided good reasons for why major character names would be remembered). It is fair to say that the name distribution conclusion "argues against" the first class of scenarios. But you've either explicitly or implicitly declared the first class of scenarios to be unreasonable. I claim to have seen them in the wild, but you have decided they are irrelevant for our discussion. I agreed to this condition.

            That leaves us with the second class of scenarios, which might be threatened by the name distribution conclusion. In order for them to not be threatened, we must assume that fiction-writers would be likely to have well-approximated the name distribution of pre-Diaspora Palestine in their writings. I say that I am under no obligation to grant you this assumption, unchallenged. You seem to be saying that I am under obligation to prove the opposite; this would be true if I made the same claim for (II) as (I)—"argues against". But I haven't taken as strong a stance toward (II) as (I).

            Contrary to your unsupported claims, we just don't know whether fiction-writers would be able to reproduce name distributions in a way that would produce the name distribution conclusion Richard Bauckham arrived at. Therefore, we just don't know whether his conclusion—if it holds—presents a problem to mythicists of the "sufficiently fiction-based" variety. What Bauckham would have done—again, if his conclusion holds—is make it harder for mythicists to establish their case. They would have to demonstrate a new property of humans which was previously irrelevant to their case.

          • Richard Morley

            You're conflating two very different categories of scenarios:

            No I am not. You may be trying to do so, you do not appear very consistent or clear about what you are or are not claiming, but all I am saying is that you have yet to put together a case for mythicists to have to answer. I'm not even a committed mythicist: before seeing the anti-defense raised against mythicism by (presumed) historicists here, I had rather dismissed mythicist scenarios as no more than an illustration of how unsure we are of anything about Jesus, the (allegedly) historical figure. Now I am not so sure, they make a better case than I expected and vice versa for your side.

            It is fair to say that the name distribution conclusion "argues against" the first class of scenarios.

            Not until you show a concrete example of such a scenario and how the data argues against it, it isn't.

            But you've either explicitly or implicitly declared the first class of scenarios to be unreasonable.

            So you keep claiming, but you have yet to substantiate this claim aside from tellingly adding in the get-out clause "or implicitly".

            I claim to have seen them in the wild, but you have decided they are irrelevant for our discussion.

            That is news to me. If you can actually show that they are seriously presented by some mythicists and are ruled out by the data, you may actually have a point, albeit one that you are strangely reluctant to make.

            In order for them to not be threatened, we must assume that fiction-writers would be likely to have well-approximated the name distribution of pre-Diaspora Palestine in their writings.

            As we must assume that history-writers writing at the same place and time as your fiction-writers would be likely to have well-approximated the name distribution of pre-Diaspora Palestine in their writings, in order for historicism to not be threatened.

            I say that I am under no obligation to grant you this assumption, unchallenged.

            You keep dancing around trying to avoid the burden of proof. You are the one apparently trying to put together a case that mythicists would have to answer, so it is not you but your readers who have to grant you your unproven assumptions. Which is a big ask when it involves people being unable to remember their own names, let alone those of their childhood friends and family. I could name my great grandparents and many of their contemporaries with no trouble, and from what I know Jews are at least as keen on their geneology as the Welsh are.

            You seem to be saying that I am under obligation to prove the opposite;

            You are, if you wish to make a case for historicism, or one for mythicists to have to answer.

            this would be true if I made the same claim for (II) as (I)—"argues against". But I haven't taken as strong a stance toward (II) as (I).

            So we are back to you saying you do not have a strong point? But even a weak point requires substantiation from you, not refutation from those you are arguing against.

            Therefore, we just don't know whether his conclusion—if it holds—presents a problem to mythicists of the "sufficiently fiction-based" variety.

            As battle cries go, that is way down there with King Theoden's "Sauron is going to win and kill us all! Hurrah! Charge!".

            If I present an 'argument' against the historicity of Jesus that amounts to "What about his beard? We just don't know whether it presents a problem to historicists?", do you think that amounts to an argument that historicists must research in order to prove that there is no issue with his beard, orshould I show some likelihood that there is one?

            What Bauckham would have done—again, if his conclusion holds—is make it harder for mythicists to establish their case. They would have to demonstrate a new property of humans which was previously irrelevant to their case.

            No, Bauckham (or yourself) has to demonstrate that property of humans, until then it remains irrelevant to the mythicist case.

          • Can you point me to a single work of fiction with setting at least 100 years in the past, which reproduces the name distribution of some geographical location in that time period? Note that "distribution" means both which names as well as the frequency of names.

            If you cannot or will not do the above, yet maintain that it is intellectually respectable to merely assume that it is something that NT fiction-writers could and would do, I will be satisfied to leave the discussion where it is. You may have the last word and construe what I've said, or not said, however you wish.

          • Richard Morley

            Can you point me to a single work of fiction with setting at least 100 years in the past, which reproduces the name distribution of some geographical location in that time period? Note that "distribution" means both which names as well as the frequency of names.

            Of course I can, the question is why I should have to do it, especially if you do, as you occasionally claim, have a point to make. Which, if true, should mean that you should already have the supporting evidence and/or arguments. You have even claimed to have such, yet when pressed to produce it you revert to pretending ignorance that you claimed to have it.

            If, as seems likely, you do not have a complete argument, then it is not clear how me producing a book title will help you. One datum point, chosen by me, doesn't prove a lot. You sound increasingly like the kid on the school bus who has not done the homework, so starts by asking the class' Hermione Granger what topic she wrote her essay on, then having got that answer asks her what conclusion she reached, then having got that answer asks her what her arguments were, and so on, all while trying to disguise the fact that he is scribbling it all down frantically in the hope of fooling the teacher.

            I suppose I should be flattered to be cast as Hermione.

            If you cannot or will not do the above, yet maintain that it is intellectually respectable to merely assume that it is something that NT fiction-writers could and would do,

            What I maintain is that it is not "intellectually respectable to merely assume that it is something that NT fiction-writers could" not do without supporting evidence and arguments. Or indeed to merely assume that it is something required for any prevailing mythicist scenario.

            Recall again that I am not arguing for any one mythicist position, I am just noting that I was pleasantly impressed by the mythicist argument, and more than disappointed by the woeful historicist 'anti defense' neatly summed up by your "we just don't know" whether your (presumably) best counter argument even presents a problem to mythicists at all.

            However, in the interests of setting you a good example and noting that you still have not answered any of my questions, even ones that should be easy such as where I called your scenarios unreasonable, here are not one but two books:
            "On Angel Mountain" by Brian John
            "Wolf Hall" by Hilary Mantel

          • Ray

            Figured I'd add my two cents to the exchange:

            I was able to find an actual acedemic evaluation of the significance of Bauckham's names analysis here: http://www.academia.edu/11557347/Whats_in_a_Name_Richard_Bauckham_First-Century_Palestinian_Jewish_Names_and_the_Protoevangelium_of_James

            If anything the source seems like it would be biased towards accepting Bauckham's thesis. Nonetheless the author (Michael Strickland) is not terribly impressed, finding similar names distribution in e.g. the protevangelion of James, which Bauckham apparently agrees is a late 2nd century work written by someone with limited knowledge of Palestine.

            Also worth noting that Bauckham's source of name distribution (https://www.amazon.com/Lexicon-Jewish-Names-Late-Antiquity/dp/3161476468) covers the period from 330BC to 200AD, and I know of no one, mythicist or otherwise who claims the Gospels were written after 200AD. As a sanity check for names on the late end, I compared the list of leaders of the 130s AD Bar Kochba revolt on wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bar_Kokhba_revolt finding a similar name distribution (Several Simons, a couple Lazaruses (Elazar), a Judah, and a Jesus(Yeshua)). Long story short, it doesn't look like the names stuff rules out anything that can't be easily ruled out on other grounds.

            (None of this is to say that I find, e.g. Carrier's mythicist reading of Paul's letters remotely plausible, but names in the Gospels don't seem like a strong argument against.)

          • You don't "have" to do anything at my behest. I don't like how you continually represent my arguments and statements in a way I did not at all intend and I don't know what to do to change that. So, I'm greatly reducing my participation. But if you have a single question to ask like I did in my recent comment, ask it.

            LB: Can you point me to a single work of fiction with setting at least 100 years in the past, which reproduces the name distribution of some geographical location in that time period? Note that "distribution" means both which names as well as the frequency of names.

            RM: … here are not one but two books:
            "On Angel Mountain" by Brian John
            "Wolf Hall" by Hilary Mantel

            Cool, I've requested Wolf Hall from my library; the other book I'd have to buy. To what name historical distribution are you saying it compares favorably? (I'm requesting actual data.)

          • Richard Morley

            You don't "have" to do anything at my behest.

            Well, I suppose I should be relieved at that, at this point.

            The correct interpretation of what I wrote is, of course, not that 'I should not be compelled to do what you demand', but that 'you shouldn't need to be told the answers to the questions you are asking, if you already have a point'. I'm faintly curious whether that interpretation was just too alien to your way of thinking for you to have considered it, despite it being really quite explicit in my post, or whether you did consider it and actually thought that me being somehow compelled to do your research for you was a more likely meaning. But I am not curious enough to try to squeeze an answer out of you, which seems to make blood out of a stone an easy task.

            But if you have a single question to ask like I did in my recent comment, ask it.

            Given your reluctance to commit to actual answers, there is no need for me to ask new questions. Just starting to answer the old ones would be great. 'Where I called your scenarios unreasonable' should be an easy one, 'what scenario actually presented by mythicists is ruled out by the name data and why' would be more constructive.

          • The correct interpretation of what I wrote is, of course, not that 'I should not be compelled to do what you demand', but that 'you shouldn't need to be told the answers to the questions you are asking, if you already have a point'.

            That's ridiculous; you're asking me to prove a negative which would require a massive datamining effort to get even reasonable confidence. According to you, it is not enough for me to question whether an fiction writer would accidentally reproduce the name distribution of a culture 100+ years ago; I have to prove that doing so would be impossible/​highly unlikely. And despite your alleged scientific background, it's not at all clear to me that you recognize that 'distribution' means both (i) which names; and (ii) how frequently they are used/​given. It is obvious that someone writing historical fiction could satisfy (i) alone; it's really (ii) which is more open to question.

            LB: But if you have a single question to ask like I did in my recent comment, ask it.

            RM: 'Where I called your scenarios unreasonable' should be an easy one, 'what scenario actually presented by mythicists is ruled out by the name data and why' would be more constructive.

            Ok I'll give you two answers (while you gave no answer to my single question, "To what name historical distribution are you saying it compares favorably? (I'm requesting actual data.)").

             
            1. 'Where I called your scenarios unreasonable'

            LB: It argues against mythicist scenarios I recall encountering a while ago, which you call unreasonable.

            RM: Where do I call either of the scenarios you have given 'unreasonable'?

            I never claimed that you called any specific, concrete scenario I presented was "unreasonable". Instead, I was referring to this:

            RM: I would invert that, and instead say that as far as I can see the only option strongly argued against by the name distribution is that where the Gospels (or at least the names therein) were entirely made up more than a generation after the Diaspora by those who did not know names of actual people from back then.

            Is anyone arguing that? Everything else fits the data, as far as I can see.

            This matches my (I) scenario.

             
            2. 'what scenario actually presented by mythicists is ruled out by the name data and why'

            Your second question is predicated upon a persistent misunderstanding of yours; let's revisit what I've actually said:

            LB: (A) Nearing the ends of their lives, a group of old fogies who lived in pre-diaspora Palestine decide to invent a Messiah narrative. They don't rely extensively on anything history-based. Somehow, they end up with a set of four stories which happen to reproduce the name distribution found in pre-Diaspora Palestine—down to the minor characters.

            (B) Having conversed extensively with the generation which was drive out of Palestine in the diaspora, a group of people decide to invent a Messiah narrative. Continue from (A).

            +

            LB: That leaves us with the second class of scenarios, which might be threatened by the name distribution conclusion.

            You seem quite bent on interpreting that "might be threatened" by "is soundly refuted".

          • Richard Morley

            That's ridiculous; you're asking me to prove a negative which would require a massive datamining effort to get even reasonable confidence.

            I am "asking" you to justify your assertion. It is the same work whether you do it or I do it, and you claimed that it was "very testable" when you were apparently not considering that it was up to you to do the work to test your assertion. So why is something "ridiculous" for you to do but "very testable" for everyone else, unless you have a very low opinion of your own abilities?

            According to you, it is not enough for me to question whether an fiction writer would accidentally reproduce the name distribution of a culture 100+ years ago;

            Why would it be less likely for a fiction writer to do so than for the same person trying to write a historical account of the time? All other things being equal I see no reason to assume that someone writing down a fictional account of Jesus would be less likely to get the name distribution right than someone writing down a historical account. Why would "old fogies", as you call them and in your opinion, be unable to recall their own names or those of their childhood acquaintances but only if they were making stuff up? "Old fogies" around here can recite details of stories from generations back.

            But yes, if you are making an assertion it is not enough to just yodel "won't somebody please think of the name data?" and leave it at that. You have to make an actual case.

            And despite your alleged scientific background, it's not at all clear to me that you recognize that 'distribution' means both (i) which names; and (ii) how frequently they are used/​given.

            And what justification do you have for this thinly veiled assertion about my honesty and education?

            while you gave no answer to my single question

            Really? You are trying to claim the moral high ground on avoiding questions? Again, it is your assertion, you need to support it.

            I never claimed that you called any specific, concrete scenario I presented was "unreasonable".

            Ahem

            It argues against mythicist scenarios I recall encountering a while ago, which you call unreasonable.

            So, where do I do this?

            RM:'what scenario actually presented by mythicists is ruled out by the name data and why'
            Your second question is predicated upon a persistent misunderstanding of yours; let's revisit what I've actually said:

            Yes, let us do that thing:

            I have reason to think it rules out mythicist scenarios I have seen in the wild.

            So answering what these alleged scenarios are and how they are ruled out should be trivial.

          • I am "asking" you to justify your assertion.

            What assertion? Or since you have a history of accusing me of gaslighting you when I ask that question, are you talking about an assertion about (I) scenarios or (II) scenarios? Here they are:

            LB: (I) Scenarios predicated upon a decay/​corruption constant of knowledge in oral tradition combined with a sufficiently long time between alleged history and first written record such that we ought to have very little confidence that reliable history could have survived.

            (II) Scenarios predicated upon humans being able to reproduce a name-distribution in [sufficiently] fictional writing, possibly with the addition that the society in which the fiction is written has a different name distribution (except among [some of?] the elders).

            Why would it be less likely for a fiction writer to do so than for the same person trying to write a historical account of the time? All other things being equal

            I already gave you one reason: having multiple characters with the same name is confusing. Another reason would be that name choice had meaning back then and the name distribution in pre-Diaspora Palestine hints at a trust in the Hasmonean dynasty returning to rescue the Jews from Roman political occupation and oppression. People liked to name their sons after the Hasmoneans. Post-Diaspora, those names were no longer nearly as popular. Perhaps this is because the Jews saw that they needed a radically different strategy to survive. For NT fiction-writers to prefer Hasmonean names is ridiculous, given the nonviolence of all but Revelation.

            Your ceteris paribus condition is probably nigh useless, because all things were not equal. I don't even see your contention working with historical fiction, although I'm happy to be convinced otherwise by evidence. (See what I did there? I chose a different default position from you, while claiming to be open to the evidence. Sorry, but your pre-evidence default positions don't get special consideration!)

            LB: And despite your alleged scientific background, it's not at all clear to me that you recognize that 'distribution' means both (i) which names; and (ii) how frequently they are used/​given. It is obvious that someone writing historical fiction could satisfy (i) alone; it's really (ii) which is more open to question.

            RM: And what justification do you have for this thinly veiled assertion about my honesty and education?

            I meant nothing about your honesty. What I did mean is that I see zero evidence that you have seriously considered (ii) when it comes to fiction-writing. All of your arguments are consistent with you knowing about (i). But if I meant only (i), I would have said "name set" or "name collection" rather than "name distribution".

            LB: Can you point me to a single work of fiction with setting at least 100 years in the past, which reproduces the name distribution of some geographical location in that time period? Note that "distribution" means both which names as well as the frequency of names.

            RM: … here are not one but two books:
            "On Angel Mountain" by Brian John
            "Wolf Hall" by Hilary Mantel

            LB: Cool, I've requested Wolf Hall from my library; the other book I'd have to buy. To what name historical distribution are you saying it compares favorably? (I'm requesting actual data.)

            RM: [ignores question]

            LB: [points out ignored question]

            RM: Really? You are trying to claim the moral high ground on avoiding questions? Again, it is your assertion, you need to support it.

            Nope, my question was about your assertion. And you still haven't answered it. Which gives me further reason to suspect that you understand "name distribution" to mean which names only, and not how many people have each name.

            I never claimed that you called any specific, concrete scenario I presented was "unreasonable".

            Ahem

            It argues against mythicist scenarios I recall encountering a while ago, which you call unreasonable.

            So, where do I do this?

            You are confusing "class of scenarios", which you did dismiss, with "specific concrete scenario", which you did not dismiss. Hint: I never gave concrete scenarios for "mythicist scenarios I have seen in the wild". Why? Because doing so would be irrelevant. You ruled out a whole class of scenarios. Why would I waste my time laying out concrete scenarios which were members of a class you dismissed? That would be ridiculous.

          • Richard Morley

            What assertion?

            Whatever assertion it is that you are making. Most likely that the name data argues against some actual mythicist scenarios other than the one I mentioned at the start, and which you rejected as "too narrow", although you seem to be trying to backtrack on much of what you have said. You did claim that you have concrete scenarios that you have seen "in the wild" and good(?) reason to believe that they are ruled out by the evidence, for example.

            How you choose to classify scenarios is up to you.

            Or since you have a history of accusing me of gaslighting you when I

            ..gaslight? Yes, I do, because you have a history of gaslighting, as in this thread where you make assertions then pretend ignorance when called on them.

            I already gave you one reason: having multiple characters with the same name is confusing.

            'Scenario' to me would mean the general aspects such as who wrote the gospels, when, where, whether they believed what they wrote to be true, parable or myth, or were deliberately lying, whether they were familiar with pre-diaspora Palestine culture, and so on. Given that all those factors are the same other than whether the story was of a physical or a celestial Jesus (or a flat out fabrication, although earlier you had apparently rejected that option), I don't see that the name evidence argues for a historicist over a mythicist version. Nor have you shown why it does.

            What you are referring to here is tangential, and could in any case apply equally to a historical recorder who thought "golly, there are too many Simons and Marys in this story" and adjusted the names of minor characters accordingly. Or did not know the names of some characters so made them up. You are back to finding an excuse for saying that it is plausible that a mythicist author might have got the name distribution wrong, not that it is implausible that he would get it right, let alone that he is less likely to do so than a historicist author in otherwise identical circumstances. Again, you agreed earlier that this was an invalid argument.

            Your ceteris paribus condition is probably nigh useless

            Clearly if you compare 'an eyewitness historicist author, on location, writing events down as they happened' with 'a myth-making "old fogey", a century later, in another country, who cannot remember his own name, and knows little to nothing about pre diaspora Palestine', you can say the first is more likely to get the name distribution right. But that is an unreasonable comparison, and it is very telling that you want to reject judging the two theories on an equal basis.

            I meant nothing about your honesty.

            Hmm hm. So we have a feeble denial that referring to my "alleged" background implied me lying about it, no denial at all that you were making insinuations about my education, and no justification that I am as ignorant as you try to imply. How exactly you reconcile this latest assertion with my earlier discussion of the name frequency in the NT is beyond me. I note too that you also refused to answer that point on the grounds that it was too much work for you. This looks like an attempt to use personal remarks to deflect discussion from your lack of evidence.

            Nope, my question was about your assertion.

            Nope, it was about your assertion that the name data rules out (or against) some prevalent mythicist scenarios, which was why you were demanding that I provide evidence (about historical fiction reproducing historical name distribution) in the first place. The fact that I gave you two examples of historical fiction doing so does not change the fact that the original assertion is yours and thus up to you to support. Or abandon.

            And you have been avoiding questions, especially that one, in this thread for three weeks now, despite claiming to already have relevant scenarios and reasons that you for some reason refuse to state.

            You are confusing "class of scenarios", which you did dismiss, with "specific concrete scenario", which you did not dismiss.

            Where did I dismiss a "class of scenarios", then? You keep repeating versions of this assertion with minor changes to avoid justifying or withdrawing it. You quoted me above citing a "class of scenarios" which I agreed would be ruled out but didn't think anyone was arguing for, but nowhere did you show me calling anything unreasonable. You dismissed that class as "too narrow" but have failed to give another scenario that is ruled out.

            You inserted the phrase "specific concrete scenario", not I.

            You ruled out a whole class of scenarios.

            Again, where? Yet more baseless assertion.

            Why would I waste my time laying out concrete scenarios which were members of a class you dismissed?

            Because you could show that they were ruled out and were used "in the wild"? You keep claiming that you have scenarios being used by mythicists for which you have reason to believe that they are ruled out by the name data, but simply cannot or do not support your assertions. Even when I gave you examples of books as you asked for and Ray posted a very good article basically giving all the data you asked for - just disproving not proving your point.

          • Whatever assertion it is that you are making.

            How about you use my scenarios (I) and (II) comment and see if you can find in there an assertion you think I haven't properly defended. Or if you think I mischaracterized what I said before, demonstrate it.

            Most likely that the name data argues against some actual mythicist scenarios other than the one I mentioned at the start, and which you rejected as "too narrow", although you seem to be trying to backtrack on much of what you have said.

            I have no idea what you're talking about. I thought you were ruling out a class of mythicist scenarios with the following:

            RM: I would invert that, and instead say that as far as I can see the only option strongly argued against by the name distribution is that where the Gospels (or at least the names therein) were entirely made up more than a generation after the Diaspora by those who did not know names of actual people from back then.

            Is anyone arguing that? Everything else fits the data, as far as I can see.

            Was I wrong? 'Cause in my experience, if you think something isn't reasonable, you have approximately zero interest in talking about it. So, I considered all scenarios which fit into the above class to be out-of-bounds for discussion.

            I'm going to stop there, until we can iron out this point. If we can't iron it out, I think I'll call it quits.

          • Richard Morley

            Yet again you are ignoring all the points and questions in my previous post to reset the discussion. Yet you would complain about me not answering questions? :D

            How about you use my scenarios (I) and (II) comment

            I don't find your classification of scenarios particularly useful or complete, nor do I see the point of me selecting a scenario, since you may have nothing to say about it. It is you who allegedly has both a point to make and concrete scenarios that make it. What are they?

            and see if you can find in there an assertion you think I haven't properly defended.

            I have been very clear about what you have not defended, or even clearly stated given your denial of what you did state. You claimed to have seen scenarios actually used by mythicists "in the wild" which you have "reason" to believe are ruled out by the name data, scenarios that presumably went beyond the scenario I gave as ruled out by the name data and which you rejected as too narrow. What are they?

            Yes, you repeatedly being asked this, ignoring the question then insisting that I have to ask it again, is another example of gaslighting and argument by attrition. Not to mention a tad hypocritical, given your comments about me not answering your demands that I do your homework for you questions.

            Or if you think I mischaracterized what I said before, demonstrate it.

            The way you have demonstrated that I called any of your scenarios "unreasonable", to pick one of your many misrepresentations?

            Bear in mind this amusingly relevant (I am easily amused) sage advice I stumbled across just today:

            Accept nothing other than actual quotes from Thomists me or an admission that the characterization may be wildly off.

            (obvious edit is obvious)

            I have no idea what you're talking about. I thought you were ruling out a class of mythicist scenarios with the following:

            It is hard to see by gaslight.
            i) Nothing in that quote refers to any scenario as 'unreasonable', it just asks if anyone is arguing for one class of scenario. If that were what you were referring to later on, the answer would just be "yes, these mythicists here are arguing for that"
            ii) That only refers at all to a scenario presented by me, not you, so cannot be what you were referring to when you said I had ruled out (some of) your scenarios as 'unreasonable'.
            iii)That was long before you presented any scenarios, so again cannot be what you were referring to.
            iv) Since I agreed (indeed, stated first) that those scenarios are ruled out by the name data, there would be no need to for you to argue that they were. So again, cannot be what you were referring to later in the debate.

            Was I wrong?

            More likely that you are playing dumb, e.g. to seize on an excuse not to answer without looking like you are backing down, or to try to justify your assertion that I called your scenario unreasonable.

            Remember:

            The person making the argument has the duty to establish the soundness of all his/her premises.

            So since you are the one making the argument that the name data rules out some scenarios, it is up to you to establish the soundness of your premises. Ray actually provided the analysis of name data (analysis that you refuse to present and try to argue is the duty of mythicists to provide for you), and you have ignored it.

          • The gaslighting accusations, which I deem absurd, are enough for me to abort this conversation—at least until I build myself a Disqus-scraping tool which will allow me to search and examine the thread history. Sometimes long Disqus threads cause Chrome to slow to a crawl and that's happened here. I need something much better if I am to continue, because I find your gaslighting accusations to have this character:

            As Vincent Bugliosi laments in Reclaiming History, his recent mammoth study of the JFK assassination, “it takes only one sentence to make the argument that organized crime had Kennedy killed to get his brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, off its back, but it takes a great many pages to demonstrate the invalidity of that charge.”[25] (The Last Superstition, Kindle Locations 546-549)

            For now, suffice it to say that I had a high-intensity "argues against" attitude toward type-(I) scenarios, which precisely match many mythicist scenarios I've seen "in the wild". But those scenarios you ruled out with your "Is anyone arguing that?". That left me with a much lower-intensity "might be threatened" attitude toward type-(II) scenarios. But you seem to think that I have a high-intensity "argues against" attitude toward scenarios you haven't ruled out. That's my best charitable explanation for the state of the discussion right now.

            P.S. I took "Is anyone arguing that?" to imply "No; anyone arguing that would be unreasonable." I suspect that's a fairly standard way the English language is used, unless we do things differently across the pond.

          • Richard Morley

            The gaslighting accusations, which I deem absurd, are enough for me to abort this conversation

            Of course they are, I expected as much. Not in anything like the somewhat creepily manipulative sense of your "throw such a test particle into the mix" to test how your labrats react, but when you (yes) raised the issue of gaslighting, I rather assumed that was the end you were aiming at. So why should I stop you giving yourself a get-out? But hey, it's a high speed tactical retrograde manoeuvre not a retreat, isn't it.

            The gaslighting is demonstrable and real and really a problem for constructive debate. Such as initially claiming that you have scenarios and reason why they are ruled out, ignoring repeated requests to state them, finally pretending ignorance that you had said such a thing, then, when presented with the quote, ignoring it again. Just back up your assertions or withdraw them already.

            For now, suffice it to say that I had a high-intensity "argues against" attitude toward type-(I) scenarios, which precisely match many mythicist scenarios I've seen "in the wild"

            So you are back to claiming that without stating what the scenarios or reasons for ruling them out are.

            But those scenarios you ruled out with your "Is anyone arguing that?".

            And you are back to claiming that. I've already covered why I find that implausible, but just pointing out that had you answered that question the debate would have actually advanced as it does not when you ignore such questions.

            That left me with a much lower-intensity "might be threatened" attitude toward type-(II) scenarios.

            Also conveniently unspecified and unsupported.

            I took "Is anyone arguing that?" to imply "No; anyone arguing that would be unreasonable."

            And we are to believe it took you this long and this many repeated requests to say where I called your scenarios unreasonable for you to come out and say so?

            Well, taking that assertion at face value, had you answered the question the alleged misunderstanding would have been immediately clear. Or had you answered where I had called your scenarios unreasonable. Or if you just stopped trying to deduce what people 'really meant' ('fitting them to patterns' I think you called it) and stuck to looking at what they actually said and asking for clarification if you think something is being implied other than the literal sense.

            For that matter I still find it implausible that you would not have stated that people were indeed arguing exactly that if your version were the case.

            At the end of the day, as far as I can see, you have presented no evidence or argument to suggest that the name data does argue against any prevalent mythicist scenario. Your rallying cry still seems to be "we just don't know" if it is relevant. Whoopee. Also, you still ignore Ray's study.

          • You know that you don't have to believe what you stipulate in an argument, right?

            Whatever. If I stipulate the conclusion, the argument becomes irrelevant. If I stipulate a premise, that's different.

          • You've only demonstrated this with a person who, for all I know, has bad judgment or at least deploys gratuitous hyperbole, when it comes to analysis of the Gospel texts, variants, and other matters relevant to textual criticism. Now, if you would like to advance some of his arguments yourself, we can examine them.

            His are mostly the same ones that led me to the same conclusion before I read anything he wrote.

            Some general points:

            To begin with, I reject the assumption that ancient documents must be presumed reliable until proven otherwise. And I’m not picking on New Testament scholars when I say this. I’ve read a few books on historiography, and it seems to be, or have been until recently, a prevalent assumption in secular historiography as well. It was never explicitly stated so far as I can tell, but was clearly implied in comments often made before the later 20th century.

            A judgment of reliability must be based on demonstrable facts about the author and his sources, and any judgment about the author’s own reliability or that of his sources needs its own justification. There can be no implied judgment of infallibility. “This writer said X, therefore X” is never justified. “This writer said X, therefore probably X” is OK. “This writer said X, therefore we can reasonably believe X” is usually better, especially if that writer is our sole source.

            Antecedent probabilities are always relevant. If we justifiably believe, prior to examining a source, that X is unlikely to have happened, then we’re usually justified in believing that one man who said it happened was probably mistaken. Multiple independent attestation could change that situation, depending on lots of other considerations.

            As for the gospels:

            I think we have no dependable information about who wrote them. Furthermore, three don’t even claim to have sources (with one debatable — and much debated — exception), and one, after mentioning that he knew about some sources, makes no further references to them. Knowing nothing of either the authors or their sources, we cannot justify concluding that their narratives are historically reliable.

            We don’t know that the authors even could have relied on any primary sources. Even the existence of the gospels is not unambiguously attested before Irenaeus. No extant fragment has been reliably dated to before around 200 CE. The paleography of the one alleged exception, P52, is not undisputed. This does not rule out a first-century provenance, obviously. They must have been in circulation for some time before Irenaeus wrote about them, but we cannot know for how long, absence some deference to church tradition. I see nothing improbable about their having been written sometime in the second century.

            Many of the events narrated in the gospels are clearly of supernatural causation. It is not reasonable to expect us who don’t already believe in the supernatural to change our minds just because of the testimony of unknown persons not known to be witnesses of those events. Besides, the purported multiple testimonies are not demonstrably independent. Many New Testament scholars, including Christians among them, are convinced that they are not independent.

          • I've seen all this before, and I can't help suspecting that if there were authors we could identify and texts dating from before the Diaspora, it would change very little. People like you would probably be compelled to admit that Jesus existed, but you'd still adamantly refuse to believe that he did any miracles. You'd refuse to seriously consider that he could have been raised from the dead. (Unless, say, I could perform a resurrection for you—or maybe do it repeatedly, with large enough N for a publishable paper.) You would therefore maintain that Jesus is about as relevant to us as a historical human as he is as a myth. He can still be very relevant, but his being flesh-and-blood would be … immaterial.

            Is that about right?

          • People like you would probably be compelled to admit that Jesus existed, but you'd still adamantly refuse to believe that he did any miracles.

            They are separate issues. I don't question Betsy Ross's existence, but I don't believe that story about her sewing the first American flag.

          • They are not separate issues if what Jesus did can be causally explored today. If it can't, then how does it make sense to claim that what he did back then matters for now?

          • They are not separate issues if what Jesus did can be causally explored today. If it can't, then how does it make sense to claim that what he did back then matters for now?

            They are related issues. That doesn’t make them the same issue. In particular, it does not mean that whatever is sufficient evidence to establish one is sufficient to establish the other.

            One relationship is this: If he did not exist, then nothing he is said to have done ever happened. He performed no miracles, he didn’t say anything attributed to him, he did not die by crucifixion or in any other way, and he did not rise from the dead. But the converse is not true. It is possible that he existed but did not do everything the gospels say he did. The historical reliability of the gospels, if established, would entail his existence, but his existence would not entail the reliability of the gospels.

            The meaning, for us today, of what he did would depend on what that was. To determine what he did requires an examination of the evidence. If the evidence establishes that he did such-and-such, then we can decide what it means for us today that he did such-and-such.

          • You've presupposed that Jesus' actions could not reverberate to today, other than via some amorphous thing called "meaning", which sounds suspiciously subjective and rather consonant with the very mindset of mythicism.

            Contrast the above with scientists whose ideas about how the early universe operated are bolstered by experiments they can do today. They are not merely curve-fitting evidence from the past; they are integrating understanding gained by experiments of today with observations of the past. It's not even clear how separate the two aspects are, because making progress in one area can influence how one understands the other. There is at least a deep intertwining which you disallow in how you speak of the historicity of the Gospels.

          • You've presupposed that Jesus' actions could not reverberate to today, other than via some amorphous thing called "meaning", which sounds suspiciously subjective and rather consonant with the very mindset of mythicism.

            No, I am rejecting the presupposition that, whatever is reverberating today, the reverberations were caused by a charismatic Galilean preacher crucified by Pontius Pilate. If there was a real Jesus of Nazareth, then obviously he did or said something that reverberates to this day like no other man’s deeds or words ever did — even if we non-Christians can’t be quite sure exactly what it was.

          • No, I am rejecting the presupposition that, whatever is reverberating today, the reverberations were caused by a charismatic Galilean preacher crucified by Pontius Pilate.

            It's not a presupposition. I'm talking about whether it is possible for such reverberations to exist and be explorable such that they could increase the posterior probability that Jesus existed.

            If there was a real Jesus of Nazareth, then obviously he did or said something that reverberates to this day like no other man’s deeds or words ever did — even if we non-Christians can’t be quite sure exactly what it was.

            The kind of reverberation that can happen with Jesus as myth is not the same as the kind that could happen with more … physical causation. (I'm playing pitting subjective meaning against objective facts.)

          • I'm talking about whether it is possible for such reverberations to exist and be explorable such that they could increase the posterior probability that Jesus existed.

            The observable effects of the Christian religion on those who have believed in it throughout its history, or on those who believe in it today, may be offered as evidence for any hypothesis about its origins.

            The kind of reverberation that can happen with Jesus as myth is not the same as the kind that could happen with more … physical causation.

            I just said you may offer the reverberations as evidence for your hypothesis. Go for it.

          • The observable effects of the Christian religion on those who have believed in it throughout its history, or on those who believe in it today, may be offered as evidence for any hypothesis about its origins.

            If I had reasonable confidence that your position allows the bare possibility of "effects observable now increase the posterior probability that Jesus was historical", I might give it a shot. As it stands, I think one would have to appeal to a kind of causation rather different than the Schrödinger equation or F = ma. It would have to be closer to psychologists when they argue that the mind works in these ways and not those; sadly this arena is fraught with disagreement and easy to dismiss as irrational subjectivity. Can't people just … make up whatever meaning they want?

            In order for me to have any possibility of succeeding, one would have to admit real rules in the psychological and sociological domains, which Jesus could have changed by acting as a physical being. But this would defy the dreams of many an Enlightenment thinker that we can re-engineer society to our heart's content. An attenuated form of it seems to be sticking around, refusing to die. This prevents us from seriously considering that human nature has real content we must take into account rather than wish away. Christians generally understand Jesus to act on human nature; if there is no nature, if it is pretty much tabula rasa, then there is nothing for Jesus to act on and nothing for us to measure and then reason from effect to cause.

            Modernity itself has stacked the deck against my making any such case. I have a lot more hope of attacking this via exploring Modernity-caused weaknesses in the human sciences than trying to deal with spiritual matters such as forgiveness and repentance. (Here, "spiritual" can be understood as a sort of entangled whole, which cannot be sliced and diced like we do with disciplines, specialties, and sub-specialties.) But if you're willing to go out on a limb instead of require that every aspect of the argument be exceedingly robust, I might be convinced to give it a shot.

          • The observable effects of the Christian religion on those who have believed in it throughout its history, or on those who believe in it today, may be offered as evidence for any hypothesis about its origins.

            If I had reasonable confidence that your position allows the bare possibility of "effects observable now increase the posterior probability that Jesus was historical", I might give it a shot.

            I don't know what you thought I meant, but I think I'd be be contradicting myself if said my position did not allow for that possibility.

            Can't people just … make up whatever meaning they want?

            Sure, they can make it up. Whether they can defend it with an argument that induces others to share that meaning is another matter. I keep getting told that human life can't mean anything to an atheist, and that in particular my own life can't mean anything to me. I strenuously disagree with that, but nobody who thinks it will believe me.

            Modernity itself has stacked the deck against my making any such case.

            Whether you wish to invest whatever time or other resources will be necessary to make your case is your call, of course. Whether the prejudices of modernity in general should matter to your decision would depend, it seems to me, on your intended readership.

          • I don't know what you thought I meant, but I think I'd be be contradicting myself if said my position did not allow for that possibility.

            If you justifiably know that your position allows for that possibility, you can explain how your position allows for that possibility. Can you?

            LB: Can't people just … make up whatever meaning they want?

            DS: Sure, they can make it up.

            Then you are either positing lawfulness to what is desired, or lawlessness in what meaning is decided upon. Supposing the latter, there are no laws as to what makes for sufficient forgiveness or repentance or punishment. If human nature and society are construed in this way, I doubt that one could possibly trace a causal link between Jesus' flesh-and-blood life, death, and resurrection to today. Supposing the former—that there is lawfulness to what is desired—we would have to explore just what those laws might look like. If they end up being reducible to efficient and material causation—no teleology, nothing remotely like a law of conservation of moral consequences—then your position would not in fact allow for the possibility under discussion.

            See, there are two ways to render a proposition in principle untenable:

                 (1) hold more strongly to something contradictory
                 (2) deny it the requisite building materials

            It is a lot easier to demonstrate (1) than (2).

          • Perhaps he thought that there was a man named Jesus, but didn’t think that he had disciples.

          • That would be another possibility, and I confess it never occurred to me before now.

          • Maybe Jesus was the leader of a band of rebels rather than an apocalyptic prophet. After he was caught and crucified, someone had a vision of him raised from the dead. In an effort to understand the vision, he searched the scriptures and stumbled upon the idea that God's anointed one needed to suffer for the sins of his people. After that, Jesus' life and death were completely reinterpreted.

            Perhaps the earliest writings don't refer to Jesus' teachings because he wasn't understood to be a teacher. At first, the meaning of his death and resurrection were known through scripture and revelation. Of course, as time went by, it would be natural to start attributing the beliefs and practices of the community to the words and deeds of the earthly Jesus.

          • Maybe Jesus was the leader of a band of rebels rather than an apocalyptic prophet.

            If there was a real Jesus of Nazareth, the paucity of reliable evidence about him has allowed endless speculation about what he might have been.

          • I agree. The historical Jesus could have been a cynic, a zealot, a hermit, or any number of other things, including a myth. It is impossible to determine from our earliest source because Paul wasn't interested in the pre-crucifixion Jesus, only the risen Christ. The movement eventually developed an interest in the earthly Jesus, but there is no way to know whether the stories that were told were invented or actually reflected genuine memories of the person.

          • SpokenMind

            Hi VinnyJH,

            Many apostles were tortured and killed, never deviating from the fact that Jesus really rose from the dead. It's hard to believe so many would suffer so greatly for a mere vision and spiritual construct. What really happened must have been profoundly compelling.

            http://digital.library.sbts.edu/handle/10392/4857

            Peace.

          • SpokenMind

            Hi Doug,

            Not sure what credibility you give to the Acts of the Apostles, but it says:

            "Saul [aka Paul] spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God." (Acts 10:19-20)

            Here Paul associates with the disciples of Jesus and preaches the same message they were. It seems reasonable to conclude, based on his actions, that Paul too was a disciple. It seems unusual to me to say that Paul would not consider himself a disciple when he was preaching and defending at great peril the person of Jesus.

            Peace.

          • Not sure what credibility you give to the Acts of the Apostles,

            It doesn't matter. I was commenting on what Paul himself said. If the author of Acts says something different, that doesn't contradict what I said.

          • SpokenMind

            Understood. I think Paul considered himself a disciple of Jesus, though he may not have used those exact words. Would you disagree?

          • Understood. I think Paul considered himself a disciple of Jesus, though he may not have used those exact words. Would you disagree?

            If the Christ Jesus about whom he wrote was the Jesus of Nazareth about whom the canonical gospels were written, then Paul probably considered himself a disciple of that man.

          • SpokenMind

            Hi Doug,

            Forgive me. I misunderstood you on this point, when in fact we are generally in agreement.

            Peace.

          • but we both know you've built a history of treating it as "not surprising" that you and I differ, as if I'm a nutter.

            Some people may assume that anyone who often disagrees with them is a nutter. I don't. I cannot offhand think of a single currently significant issue on which one side has no reasonable people among its advocates, possibly unless you want to count young-earth creationism vs everyone else as a significant issue.

          • I said nothing about "anyone".

          • I said nothing about "anyone".

            Right. You were talking about and me. You accused me of thinking you're a nutter for no reason except our frequent disagreement. I'm just denying the accusation and attempting to justify that denial.

          • I merely said "as if I'm a nutter". It is up to you whether you wish to write in a way which leaves that a live option. Your justification, by the way, left it a live option. I can explain the logic if you'd like.

          • It is up to you whether you wish to write in a way which leaves that a live option.

            I'm OK with my writing style and the way most people seem to react to it. I can't please all my readers.

  • Evan Witt

    Hmmmm... I'm not a mythicist, but right now I don't see these as strong rebuttals to the mythicist positions on these texts.

    In the case of the first text, it seems to me entirely possible that the gospel of Jesus' resurrection is the same as the gospel of freedom from the Jewish law, especially in Paul's eyes. Even if this weren't the case, it seems like Paul's lack of reference to historical eyewitnesses in these verses is still the main thrust of the mythicist argument, and this lack is still an issue, even with the given interpretation.

    For the second text, the same general points apply: regardless of whether this was a "different gospel", it seems clear that Paul only got his gospel from the scriptures, or from divine revelation, and not from living eye-witnesses (which, again, seems to be the main point in the mythicist argument).

    • JP Nunez

      Let me expand on my main point a bit. Paul had to get his Law-free Gospel from revelation and Scripture because, according to our sources, Jesus never said whether his followers would have to be circumcised and follow the whole Jewish Law. The Gospels don't record any sayings about this, and the epistles don't give any indication that people were arguing about Jesus' teaching on the matter. So yes, it's quite plausible to say that Paul had to get this element of his preaching from a source other than witnesses to the historical Jesus.

      Now, you say that it seems entirely possible that the Gospel about the resurrection is the same as the Gospel about freedom from the Law in Paul's eyes, and in certain sense I think you're right. For Paul, there was only one true Gospel, and it included both the resurrection and freedom from the Law. However, as he says in Galatians, there were other Gospels being preached, and they seemed to differ only in one respect: they held that the Law was still necessary. As a result, it seems that when Paul talks about his Gospel versus theirs, he's focusing on the Law, not on the resurrection, and when he says he got his Gospel from revelation, he's saying that he got his particular understanding of Jesus' death and resurrection and the salvation they make possible, not the bare facts of his death and resurrection, from that revelation.

  • Pop quiz. Did Paul meet Jesus in the form of a physical person?

    If the answer is no, then this whole article is window dressing.

    • JP Nunez

      How is the article just window dressing?

      • I don't know how to make what I said any more clear.

        • Ben Champagne

          Start by changing 'than' to 'then'.

  • David Nickol

    Am I mistaken, or are "mythicists" atheists first and mythicists second. Are there any mythicists who are non-Christian theists of one kind or another who believe in some kind of God but believe Jesus was a mythical figure? It is not at all uncommon for non-Christians to believe Jesus existed but was an extraordinary man, or maybe just an ordinary man in whose name a major movement developed.

    I am sure this will strike many as unfair, but it almost seems as if mythicist, in denying the existence of God, feel that isn't going far enough, and feel compelled to deny the existence of Jesus—even a purely human Jesus who somehow inspired all kinds of myths.

    So much of the mythicist literature seems either to be self-published or published by obscure publishers. Of course, this doesn't necessarily mean it is wrong. It's certainly possible that all of mainstream biblical scholarship is wrong. But if there was a similar debate going on in, say, physics, where a dissenting view was espoused by a small group of self-publishing scientists with less-than-impressive credentials, how seriously would it be taken?

    As an agnostic (most of the time), I tend to believe that Jesus existed, but as a purely human individual about whom rather fantastical legends developed. Why should I be interested in mythicism? How would being convinced of it change my worldview?

    • Michael

      Am I mistaken, or are "mythicists" atheists first and mythicists second. Are there any mythicists who are non-Christian theists of one kind or another who believe in some kind of God but believe Jesus was a mythical figure?

      Fr. Thomas Brodie is a mythicist Catholic. Hermann Detering is a retired Protestant minister. In all, Vridar labels seven mythicists as "very positive towards Christianity."

      • Why should I be interested in mythicism?

        For the same reason, if you have one, for being interested in the facts of human history in general. For the same reason that you’re interested, if you are, in knowing whether Columbus’s adversaries all believed in a flat Earth. For the same reason that you’re interested, if you are, in knowing whether Betsy Ross really made the first American flag.

        How would being convinced of it change my worldview?

        That would depend on what else you’d have to change your mind about in order to be convinced. It didn’t change my worldview at all. It took only my introduction to some relevant information of which I’d been previously unaware.

        I am sure this will strike many as unfair, but it almost seems as if mythicist, in denying the existence of God, feel that isn't going far enough

        Many mythicists are exactly that way. It’s a bummer for us who think we’re the sane ones, but we have to live with it.

        But if there was a similar debate going on in, say, physics, where a dissenting view was espoused by a small group of self-publishing scientists with less-than-impressive credentials, how seriously would it be taken?

        About as seriously as Wegener’s theory of continental drift was taken during his lifetime.

        If someone knows nothing about mythicism except that the scholarly community overwhelmingly rejects it, it is entirely reasonable for them to dismiss it as a crackpot theory. But in that case, they have nothing with which to defend their belief in historicity except an argument from authority — which is entirely respectable in many situations.

  • David Nickol

    CAUTION!

    In reading the OP and various comments, it strikes me that there is a danger in relying on the standard translations (excellent though they are), since they sometimes (often?) reflect developed Christian thought that has been read into the translation. Some years ago, I discovered a translation called The Unvarnished New Testament by Andy Gaus. Just this month, David Bentley Hart has published The New Testament: A Translation. The Amazon blurb says the following:

    David Bentley Hart undertook this new translation of the New Testament in the spirit of “etsi doctrina non daretur,” “as if doctrine is not given.” Reproducing the texts’ often fragmentary formulations without augmentation or correction, he has produced a pitilessly literal translation, one that captures the texts’ impenetrability and unfinished quality while awakening readers to an uncanniness that often lies hidden beneath doctrinal layers.

    The early Christians’ sometimes raw, astonished, and halting prose challenges the idea that the New Testament affirms the kind of people we are. Hart reminds us that they were a company of extremists, radical in their rejection of the values and priorities of society not only at its most degenerate, but often at its most reasonable and decent. “To live as the New Testament language requires,” he writes, “Christians would have to become strangers and sojourners on the earth, to have here no enduring city, to belong to a Kingdom truly not of this world. And we surely cannot do that, can we?”

    Accustomed as we are to our modern translations (and the religion classes some of us took), we tend to use terms such as gospel, disciple, and apostle as if they had a clear and definite meaning. If I am not mistaken, neither Gaus nor Hart uses the word gospel in any translated passages—only in the notes. For example, Galations 1:11-12 is translated by Gaus as

    Because, let me tell you, brothers and sister, the good news reported abroad by me is not a human thing: I didn't get it from any person, I wasn't taught it, it's through revelation from Jesus Christ.

    David Bentley Hart translates it

    For I aprise you, brothers, that the good tidings proclaimed by me are not of human origin. For neither did I receive it from, nor was I taught it by, a human being—by way, rather, of a revelation from Jesus the Annointed.

    It seems to me that by translating the Greek word for "gospel" rather than rendering it gospel we are not so inclined to be influenced to think that Paul must be expected to do what the four evangelists did—write "a gospel." It was not Paul's intention to write "a gospel," and although I think it is an excellent question why we get so little of the "historical Jesus" in Paul's letters, it seems clear he was not in any way trying to do what the four evangelists did.

    • Hey, thanks for pointing out Hart's translation of the NT; I've requested it from my local library. Recently I ran into an oddity in the middle of Romans:

      For one who has died has been set free[1] from sin. (Rom 6:7)

      [1] Greek has been justified

      While the little note has always been there in the ESV, I didn't notice it until I was looking up instances of δικαιόω and found this. The John MacArthur Study Bible (NKJV) also has a note, but it just says "cleared". There's a perfectly good Greek word for "to be set free", ἐλευθερόω, which is used in Rom 6:18. I know vaguely of some justifications (lol) for the way that the ESV and NKJV translate δικαιόω as they do, but I'm still suspicious. I look forward to seeing how Hart translates it!

  • Richard Morley

    An interesting point raised on another site that I haven't seen raised here (or checked in detail myself):

    Paul mentions visiting Jerusalem and Peter and the Temple, but says nothing about talking to Mary, the mother of his god, or visiting the site of the crucifixion or resurrection. Which would seem odd if he thought of Jesus and the events around his life and death as physical.

    So far this thread has taken me from just thinking "we don't even know for an absolute fact that Jesus existed, so how certain can we be of the events of his life" to seriously considering that Paul, at least, thought of him as a mythical/celestial being.

    • Rob Abney

      That seems like progress for you, maybe from atheist to agnostic.

      • Richard Morley

        Your logic is not like our earth logic.

        Moving from skepticism of the details of his life to seriously considering that he might not have physically existed at all is a step away from atheism to you? Or moving towards harder atheism is progress, in your eyes?

        Either way I have always been both atheist and agnostic, in the modern sense.

    • Two months ago, I had the privilege of visiting Germany, including towns important to Martin Luther such as Wittenberg, Eisenach, and Eisleben. It was cool, but I don't think I had an iota of … "pilgrimage experience". Seeing various documents and artifacts was cool, but it didn't jazz me in any way. I think I'll still have fonder memories of the "Hard Hat Tour" I took of the Hoover Dam.

      Who says Paul was necessarily one to seek out landmarks, even ones as momentous as Jesus' death and burial? Given his history of persecuting Christians and participating in their executions, maybe he wasn't eager to visit where Jesus was crucified.

      • Richard Morley

        Who says Paul was necessarily one to seek out landmarks, even ones as momentous as Jesus' death and burial?

        So he just wasn't interested in where the creator of the universe, God almighty himself, died for us, nor where he came back to life, nor in talking to the woman who gave birth to him? Honestly, I don't find that plausible in the least.

        Not talking about it in his letters to other Christians would be odd enough, but an explainable oddity. Not being interested at all really strains credulity.

        (As for Germany being a privilege, I'm afraid they let anyone in, even me. Repeatedly. Maybe not after Brexit goes ahead, but so far.)

        • So he just wasn't interested in where the creator of the universe, God almighty himself, died for us, nor where he came back to life, nor in talking to the woman who gave birth to him? Honestly, I don't find that plausible in the least.

          It's fine that you don't find that plausible; I'm sure some people would be shocked that I did not experience what I have called the "pilgrimage experience" when visiting sites important to the Reformation. I have found humans to be terrible at realizing that other humans may operate quite differently than they do. And I know I'm not excluded from this.

          (As for Germany being a privilege, I'm afraid they let anyone in, even me. Repeatedly. Maybe not after Brexit goes ahead, but so far.)

          There are at least two relevant meanings of privilege: political opportunity and economic opportunity. I was referring to the latter—traveling to Europe is not cheap. I am blessed to have been able to do so.

  • Ahura Mazda

    If Jesus had lived recently don't you find it strange that there were so many and important contentions between early christians? Most of the disagreements talked about in the epistles are too important not to be discussed by Jesus, if he ever existed. Some even called Jesus stories "cleverly devised myths". Those divergences are better explained if all started with revelations.

    • David Nickol

      Most of the disagreements talked about in the epistles are too important not to be discussed by Jesus, if he ever existed.

      Can you give a few examples?

  • Ahura Mazda

    Maybe when Paul says "gospel" he is not refering to the life of a historical Jesus but to spiritual truths about the Universe and a spiritual Jesus.
    Because when he says "gospel" he never seems to be talking about what we call "gospel" nowadays but something else.

    • David Nickol

      Maybe when Paul says "gospel" he is not refering to the life of a historical Jesus but to spiritual truths about the Universe and a spiritual Jesus.

      As I have argued elsewhere, the contemporary use of the word gospel to mean something like "the biography of Jesus" causes great confusion. The Greek word translated "gospel" means "good news," "good tidings," or "good word." When Paul used the word "gospel," the works we refer to as Gospels hadn't been written yet. When the four evangelists use the word "gospel," they are not referring to their own respective works. And when Jesus and Paul use the word "gospel," they are not referring to the four written Gospels, which lie in the future.

      Here is the opening of Romans:

      Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and designated Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord . . . .

      If Paul uses "gospel" here to mean "the biography of Jesus," why does he first talk about the "gospel of God"? And if Paul believed in a nonhuman, spiritual Jesus, why did he say Jesus "was descended from David according to the flesh"? Why does Paul say (in Galatians):

      But when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.

      Why say "born of woman" other than to specifically deny any possibility of a "spiritual" Jesus?

      • Hey good catches on those two passages. I wonder what @disqus_fRI0oOZiFh:disqus has to say about them.

      • Anjelus

        25 days late, but just wanting to add (since your all your posts in this thread about the meaning of 'gospel' are good & accurate), that the word in Greek refers directly back to the 'good news' (eu-angelion) in the Greek translation of Isaiah (scattered throughout chapters 50 - 66). Since basically every single writer of the NT, as well as Philo & Josephus, are completely familiar with the Greek OT, and the NT writers including Paul mostly (not always) quote the Greek OT directly, and the Greek OT had by then been in regular use for 3 centuries... it seems the simplest answer to the question someone asked in this thread ("What did the 'good news' mean to 1st Century Christians?") is that it means to them what it meant in Greek Isaiah, which is "the 'good news' of non-Jews being invited to be people of God."

  • Arthur Jeffries

    Brandon, a thirty-seven page critique of Richard Carrier's mythicism book has been published by the Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus. Neil Godfrey plans to publish a series of blog posts on it: http://vridar.org/2017/12/13/daniel-gullottas-review-of-richard-carriers-on-the-historicity-of-jesus/. The author of the critique is Daniel Gullotta, a PhD student in Religious Studies at Stanford. I don't think he's a Catholic, but maybe if you reach out to him Mr. Gullotta can write a blog post here in defense of historicity. Here's his Stanford e-mail address: gullotta@stanford.edu.

  • I don't get it, so many atheists fancy themselves logical, but then they result to arguments like this. You can't just take Bible verses out of context, and give them your own meaning. This is why I argue that Protestantism, is what causes atheism. Maybe not in all cases, but if every man decides on his own what the Bible says, then eventually he will rationalize the Bible away.

  • australian_stockman

    Just a minor tidbit, but, I think possibly worth mentioning: the word "gospel" is not an uncommon word in Greek literature, meaning essentially "good tidings" or "good message".

    When Paul and the other writers of NT texts were writing, they were not thinking of a "formalized" version - meaning, "gospel" was not "Gospel" (formalized, with an upper-case 'G').

    So, when Paul is talking about "my gospel", the translation should really be "my good message". The connotation that "gospel" had something specifically to do with Jesus is a much, much later development.

    I even see this "lack of distinction" being made in the article posted: At the end of the article, the author states "Simply put, Paul’s statements about the origin of his Gospel provide no evidence against the existence of Jesus". Note the use of a capital-G in "Gospel" - as if Paul's references were to some pre-established "qualified" understanding of the word. But, it was not. Paul was simply talking about his "good message".

    I think translators have done generations of Christians a great disservice in NOT actually *translating* the Greek term into modern English (for example) - but rather, sticking with a mutation of the Old English "godspel" (which itself was an inaccurate translation of a common Greek word).