The Historically Inconvenient Jesus

In my last brief post I offered a few reasons why I think Jesus was an historical
figure. I’ve been pilloried since by the same gaggle of mythtics who normally begin to cackle and crow every time someone reiterates the perfectly obvious suggestion that their cause is nothing more than a cobbling together of mutually contradictory premises, the full weight of which don’t amount to an argument.

For example, the mythtics like to remind us that the gospels are unreliable as history. That’s a bit like arguing that advertising is unreliable as science.

I don’t know too many New Testament scholars who would argue that the gospels are good history, and some (me among them) who would say that for the most part the gospels are totally useless as history. The gospels were written as propaganda by a religious cult. That impugns them as history, even at a time—the last decades of the first great Roman imperial century—when history wasn’t especially committed to recording what really happened in a dispassionate and disinterested way.

Once upon a time, not so long ago, it was thought that if you got rid of all the mythical and legendary bits of the gospels and dug down far enough, you’d end up with a body, or at least an empty tomb. Not everyone believed that, including some of the scions who advocated the process. In an article a few years ago I compared it to the much more modern embarrassment of excavating the body of John Henry Newman when the Church’s cause for sainthood required his exhumation.

Unfortunately, there was literally nothing left of poor Newman except a few damp scraps of his priestly garments—no bones to impose on the foreheads of cancer victims to seal the deal for the required second miracle. I also noted that the proof for Newman is nonetheless overwhelming: photographs, writings, family, the testimonies of friends who loved him and enemies who hated him. Newman’s empty tomb is no argument for no Newman. He is a good example of how absence of evidence is not always evidence of absence.

But the empty tomb of Jesus is a different sort of empty. To beg the question (that is, to assume his “causality” for a moment) his memory evoked a different kind of reaction. He wrote nothing. He said little that could be construed as original or memorable, so that almost everything attributed to him could have
come from other sources. We can point to a dozen “mystery” religions whose heroes had at best a shadowy existence, but probably none at all. And even though the dying/rising god cults differed pointedly from each other and from Christianity, it is pretty clear that Christianity after the time of St Paul fit the description of a salvation cult pretty well. It is hard to imagine Christianity surviving and spreading on the basis of Jesus’ teaching alone. That’s why Paul boasts that everything hinges on the resurrection of Jesus. I wrote a generation ago that “It was Jesus’ death, not his life, that saved him from obscurity” (Jesus Outside the Gospels) but in fact it was Jesus’ death dehistoricized and religionized by Paul and the resurrection traditions that really did the trick.

Given that there is (a) no reason to trust the gospels; (b) no external testimony to the existence of Jesus (I’ve never thought that the so-called “pagan” reports were worth considering in detail; at most they can be considered evidence of the cult, not a founder); (c) no independent Christian source that is not tainted by the missionary objectives of the cult and (d) no Jewish account that has not been invented or tainted by Christian interpolators, what is the purpose of holding out for an historical Jesus?

Simply put, it is the three “C”s: conditions, context, and coordinates. The political and religious conditions of the time of Jesus plausibly give us characters like Jesus. This is a tautology that has to be confronted. It is possible of course that Jesus was Joshua, that Jesus was Theudas, that Jesus was Judas the Galilean, that Jesus (at a chronological stretch) was bar Kochba, or that he was one of the “others coming in my name” that he is said to refer to in the gospels. But the gospels present a fortiori evidence that there was another figure, Jesus of Nazareth, who also meets the prescribed conditions, and that figure cannot be argued away through analogy. That is to say, why would an analogous figure be preferable to the figure described in the ancient texts? What criterion or canon do we use to defend that preference?

Second, context: We know that the general context of the gospels—the historical and cultural environment of the times and events as described–is right, though the writers makes mistakes, get dates wrong, misconstrue events, names and processes they’re not familiar with, and like other Hellenistic writers make things up they can’t possibly be around to have heard or witnessed.

In fact, it might seem at first flush a huge boost to the mythtic side that the gospels seem to pivot on the unheard, the incorrect and the incredible. But at no point does the context of the gospels sacrifice the centrality of its historical figure—not even when he acts as a healer, wonder-worker and magician—all of
which “professions” were recognized in the ancient world.

No doubt the mythtics will chortle and point to walking on water and ascending into heaven as violations of the “historical.” And what I have to say in reply won’t satisfy their objection: these legendary accretions are minimal, late and built on Hellenistic literary models that glorified military commanders and emperors. The Julio-Claudian period (45 BCE-68 CE) was famous for the apotheosis tradition, as we know not just from literary but from numismatic evidence. Enrollment with the gods, as Bowerstock has shown (1984) was practically demanded by the people and continued in popularity until the time of Septimus Severus in 185 CE. In the last case, an eagle was set free from the emperor’s funeral pyre to prove his ascent into heaven. The great man cult and the cult of Christ are parallels, another one of those cases where the contextual analogy favors historicity rather than the opposite.

But think of it this way: you decorate a Christmas tree, sometimes to the point where the tree becomes simply the mode for displaying the ornaments and lights. The tree is still there, branches and all. Hellenistic history works the same way.

When I read comparisons to the λειτουργεί of Heracles or the doings of Coyote on mythtic sites, I frankly have to shake my head in bewilderment. Is the point of this guessing to create an anthology of absurd, historically disconnected improbables?

The context of Jesus is clearly the context of first century Palestinian Judaism, mediated through the work of Hellenistic reporters, themselves Christian—members of the cult of Christ, the Jesus believers. The clues to understanding what people thought about him—even when they got it wrong or deliberately exaggerated what they knew or heard—does not give us a drama like ravings of the Hercules Oetaeus or the mysteries of Mithras or Persephone.

I have to say that when it comes to this single feature of mythicism I detect a singular intellectual deafness and lack of historical discrimination unlike anything we can imagine even in the worst mainstream scholarship.

If Jesus has a “parallel” worth considering, it was charted long ago–by the Christians themselves–in the tales about the Neo-Pythagorean teacher Apollonius of Tyana (15-100 CE) who suffered a similar legendizing fate at the hands of his sole biographer, Philostratus. But even with that, Apollonius largely survives his biographer as a plausible figure because of his context. The Apollonius inscription “apologizes” that his tomb, while it received his body did not contain it, since “heaven received him so that he might wipe away the pains of men.”

As with the case of political and cultural conditions, context cannot be thrown to one side as an inconvenience: for an argument against Jesus to work, the mythtics need to show how he violates rather than conforms to his historical environment. Instead, mythtics introduce totally alien contexts as templates for the understanding of a figure who doesn’t require foreign myths for an efficient explanation of his historical location.

Lastly, coordinates. I said in my previous post that Jesus can be situated between the end of the first century BCE and the end of the middle of the second century CE. His description comports with two events: rebellion against the temple cult by dissident elements, like Josephus’ “fourth sect,” and the ill-fated, last gasp effort of bar Kochba to redeem the lost city and its cult. A Jesus outside this specific matrix would make no sense—a sui generis apocalyptic preacher in an age of prosperity and contentment?

It is precisely because we can pinpoint the essential dates, figures, movements, factions and effects that Jesus does make sense: he parses. He does not come off as atypical, until such time as Paul makes him a transcendent, supra-historical figure sent to redeem the sins of the world. Paul is a figure of cultic significance who knows little about the man he is preaching, and even boasts that it doesn’t matter to him that he doesn’t (2 Cor. 5.16 ).

As to Jesus, the three c’s apply to Paul: He is the essential flim-flam man in an age of religious propaganda.

Mythtics however are fond of pointing to the “assured” result of Paul’s literary priority over the gospels. Repeatedly they return to the Christ-myth notion that a heavenly man was fleshed out as an historical figure.

But in my view there is no convincing argument that establishes that priority, and the disconnect between the two literary strands, gospel and epistle, is so sharp that it is impossible to conclude that a figment invented by Paul could have served as the literary model for the Jesus of a gospel like Mark’s. I hope in my forthcoming book to make clear how the connection was finally achieved–it’s not a simple story–but looked at from the standpoint of the history of the question I do not believe that the doctrine of Paul’s “priority” is a secure one. It is abundantly clear that Paul was aware of an historical figure and consciously set about to redefine him in supra-historical terms.

I think the fatal flaw for the mythtics is that they feel the need to go so far afield for answers that are much closer to home. I’ll save that salvo for a later time. At the end, let me just wonder out loud why it is that an historical Jesus is so problematical for the adepts of this group? What, to be blunt, is the problem?

An argument for historicity is not an argument for the divinity of Jesus—at least the kind of argument I am making. It is simply a way of making the best sense of the evidence. If the point is more metaphysical than that–there was no historical Jesus so Jesus cannot have been the son of God, or God himself–then I’d suggest that this discussion not belong to history but to polemic.

In a previous post from 2012, I reiterated the (deficient) S. J. Case-case against mythicism, reminding them that all it will take for them to succeed is a coherent, parsimonious and internally logical interpretation that makes better sense of what we’ve got than the prevailing view. What we normally get from mythtics instead is banshee shrieks and ad hominem howls when their unsightly smorgasbord of a “theory” is assailed.

But it should be assailed until and unless they can make it better, and until their attention can be diverted from Orpheus, Hercules, and Coyote to the time, place and chronology that has a bearing on the topic.

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41 thoughts on “The Historically Inconvenient Jesus

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  3. “What, to be blunt, is the problem?”

    I have a few problems here. I wish to emphasize that I present them as my own problems and not those of “the mythicists,” a group I didn’t realize existed a year ago, and with which I briefly identified only because I hadn’t realized that there was an entire group who had serious doubts about Jesus’ historicity. The only one of them I still find impressive is Wells. (Not that I agree with everything he says, not by any means.) But obviously, and as Wells has pointed out, the fact that a proposition has been poorly-argued many times says nothing about the soundness of the proposition per se.

    Also, some of my objections to the general state of scholarly investigation of Jesus obviously don’t apply to you, nor to every single other specialist in Christian origins currently or formerly employed by a university. You’ve made some of the same objections in this blog and in other things you’ve written. If the shoe doesn’t fit, just don’t wear it, and don’t assume that I’m accusing you.

    My most common objection as I gaze in awe at these controversies is to a prematurely-closed mind, something, sadly, all too often to be seen among the mythicists and among the academics. Like many other laypeople, in the late ’90’s I was blown away by the PBS series “From Jesus to Christ.” But there was also a detail was bothered me. The very first words of the voice-over narration were “We know[…]” We know he was born at such a such time, we know he lived here and here, we know he was put to death under Pilate’s orders, a short list of things like that. Not “We are fairly certain[…]” or “We can say with great confidence that[..]” or even “It is almost entire certain that[…]” No: “We know[…]” I taped the show and watched it over and over again, making sure I hadn’t mis-heard that introduction, and also making sure that there wasn’t one single academic talking head in the whole thing who so much as mentioned that anyone had ever had the slightest doubt that Jesus existed. PBS also didn’t post my comment about this among the many viewers’ comments they posted.

    I also wonder how hard the academics are trying to make the case for historicity. I wondered at some length about that here: http://thewrongmonkey.blogspot.com/2012/12/are-biblical-scholars-partly-
    to-blame.html

    Certainly, the mythicists outdo the academics when it comes to banshee shrieks, but ad hominem howls are in no way lacking on either side. Which is one of the reasons I currently am not cheering for either side.

    It’s obvious that the academics are far, far ahead in their competence in the languages of the primary texts and in their familiarity with the ancient history of Judaism and early Christianity and the cultures surrounding them, and with the history of the secondary materials. It’s your job, it’d be surprising if you weren’t far ahead. It’s also obvious, although far less tangible and much, much harder to prove, that there is an historicist bias among the academics. Just as the mythicists want it to be the case that Jesus is wholly an invention, so academics want it to be the case that there really is a pony in there somewhere. People who simply want to know the truth of the matter no matter what it might be, who want to follow the evidence no matter where it might lead, are sadly rare on either side.

    Now, to turn from problems I have with Biblical scholars generally to one small problem I have with what you’ve written above:

    “it is impossible to conclude that a figment invented by Paul could have served as the literary model for the Jesus of a gospel like Mark’s”

    In my humble opinion, few words are so over-used as “impossible.”

    “I hope in my forthcoming book to make clear how the connection was finally achieved–it’s not a simple story–but looked at from the standpoint of the history of the question I do not believe that the doctrine of Paul’s “priority” is a secure one. It is abundantly clear that Paul was aware of an historical figure and consciously set about to redefine him in supra-historical terms.”

    None of that is at all clear to me yet. But I’ll certainly read your book.

    • In my humble opinion, few words are so over-used as “impossible.”

      Amen. In my humble opinion, there is no story so goofy that someone could not have invented it nor one so goofy that enough people could not have believed it.

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  5. Looking forward to the book. I enjoyed finding your work on Marcion in my uni library (I couldn’t afford to buy it, myself).

  6. Sorry, but another weak argument, starting with Hoffmann excluding teh middle of those of us who believe the question of historicity is worthy of study without necessary rejecting it outright, but not defending it, either.

    Beyond that, here’s just a couple of specific problems.

    1. Why is it “hard to imagine” a Christianity based on teachings only, rather than a salvation history? Buddhism, like Christianity, traces its origin to a single alleged founder (whether historic or not, like Christianity). But, Buddhism is based indeed on just the teaching of the Buddha.

    Beyond that, the question of the nature of Jesus’ mission is a separate issue from his historicity. A Q/Gospel of Thomas Jesus is just as historical, or ahistorical, as an empty tomb one.

    2. The claim that the gospel writers got context right even though they made many mistakes about specifics? I could say that, in Old Testament studies, about the Yahwist and the patriarchs. Depends on how wide you want to draw the lasso of margin of error.

    More thoughts here: http://wordsofsocraticgadfly.blogspot.com/2013/01/joe-hoffmann-again-overstates-case-for.html

    • Sorry, Steve. You claim to have “more than enough academic and personal education in New Testament, and enough in philosophy…” Have you the proper tools to deal with the evidence? To do history, you have to understand the sources you’re working on. And to do history is not to do philosophy. The post, if you read the previous post, is only based on an outline of a forthcoming book. The conditions for the existence of Jesus necessarily produce people of like description, so to choose an analogous over a known figure is non-parsimonious and tautologies are eo ipso true statements. Logic has its role to play in all scholarship, but the liberal use of deductive fallacies is just misapplied. It’s blatant shortcutting and shows neither ingenuity nor a basic understanding of the ponderous way historical reasoning works. The view that somehow philosophy can arbitrate questions of historicity, when historicity itself is susceptible of manifold definitions seems to prevail in arguments against historicity. By these standards a great many ancient figures might not have lived because their tombs are unknown and their monuments are transmitted by their advocates. The fundamental flaw with your critique is that you seem unaware of the anachronisms that colour your thinking, both in terms of the kinds of sources you read and the methods that you use to interpret them. Sometimes it seems as if such reductionist thinking reflects an inherent dislike of the idea of God, religion, or Jesus very much so it is easier to reject the whole package and then to challenge the logic and motives anyone who says that the three things are quite distinct from each other.

      • Actually, I do know enough, Steff. And Joseph’s post, and response to it, doesn’t require that much knowledge. As I said, it actually “fails” in large part on weak analogies and weak logic. (Last I checked, logic was part of philosophy, too.)

        That said, I didn’t say that it failed only on logical grounds (if that’s not enough). Your arguments in favor of his claims fairly well parallel those I’ve see hurled against the “minimalists” on the Old Testament side of biblical scholarship. They’ve generally been well refuted there, too.

        That said, there is another philosophical angle, and that’s the question of in whose court the matter of proof lies when evidence is tenuous. And it doesn’t all lie in the court of those who question the historicity of Jesus.

        Anyway, I’ve been down this road before. I’m far from the only person, and indeed not the only non “mythicist” to question Hoffmann’s reasoning. (Other people do on this blog, though, not in as much detail and as specific to Hoffmann, so far, on this post, as me.)

        I’ve also said more than once before, as do the ahistoricists, that it’s quite arguable Paul knew zero of a historical Jesus. His “born of a woman” can easily be read as nothing more than an “anti-docetist” claim and nothing else. And, it probably should be read as nothing more than that, and I think Hoffmann knows that himself. From there, its easy to see how Paul’s particular accretion of a pagan custom, the Eucharist, tweaked for Judaism, could have accreted. It’s also easy to see how a misreading of the middle voice of apodidomi (hey, Steff, there’s scholarship!) could have been misread as a passive, and then, the growth of “tradition” required an agent for that passive voice, and hence the invention of a mythic Judas, and we go on from there.

        (I’ve mentioned this particular bit on other posts of Hoffmann’s and he’s never adequately refuted it.)

        So, sorry, there’s a good scholarly keystone for how “Pauline priority” could fit will with the development of myths about a historic Jesus.

        Whether it did or not is still an open question. But it IS an open question of legitimate academic discussion, not, contra Hoffmann, something to be rudely dismissed in narrowmindedness, or in personal pique because many mythicists also happen to be Gnu Atheists.

        Anyway, I’ve said enough. Darwin had his bulldog in Huxley and Hoffmann has his, and I’ve been snapped at before.

      • Despite your high degree of self confidence, you have not demonstrated any competence with source material or shown the necessary meticulous application of method. It’s not about ‘knowing’ something of Greek (in any case which was only the language of the final edition so to speak and proper appreciation and understanding of that requires a high level of competence in the use and technique of that period) or the scholarship (which ‘scholarship’? what skills of discernment?) Of course you not the only mythicist to attack the reasoning of Hoffmann or any other historian putting forward a case for historicity. The point is what we expect from them all indiscriminately, rather than comprehending and interacting with arguments and evidence, is the same tired trigger happy rhetoric that reads right past anything that might defeat your case, then hops merrily back to square one as though no damage has been done. Furthermore it doesn’t demonstrate any critical distinction between the types of argument and evidence used by Hoffmann and that of Pagels, Bock, Blitherington, Dunn, Le Donne or Stanton.
        As with the Newman analogy you have completely missed the point. There was no comparison between two things as if they were an example of things we don’t know, not proving anything. It’s a shame you made assumptions and opening fire without identifying a target. In your eager relishing of the discovery of ‘howlers’ (your expression) you haven’t even found a squeaker. Do you really fail to grasp the one airtight argument in the piece, that the conditions for the existence of Jesus necessarily produce people of like description, so to choose an analogous over a known figure is non-parsimonious and tautologies are eo ipso true statements. No, you do not have the historical tools and you avoid all the relevant historical source material or interact methodically with arguments and evidence, preferring trigger happy attacks, claiming ‘possibilities’ and making assumptions. No, that’s not scholarship steve. Incidentally, why the victim complex steve?

    • “starting with Hoffmann excluding teh middle of those of us who believe the question of historicity is worthy of study without necessary rejecting it outright, but not defending it, either”

      Hoffmann is talking about a certain group of mythicists. If the shoe doesn’t fit in your case, I would suggest not wearing it.

      And although Hoffmann certainly does present an historicist view, in the last two paragraphs he explicitly allows for the possibility that a mythicist case which is more convincing could be made. Could be but hasn’t been yet, in his opinion:

      “all it will take for [mythicists] to succeed is a coherent, parsimonious and internally logical interpretation that makes better sense of what we’ve got than the prevailing view”

      Which is certainly different from some of his colleagues who flatly declare the case to be closed.

      • Steven Bollinger: none of Joe’s colleagues on our Process “flatly declare the case to be closed”. If that were the case, there would be no point in having a ‘Process’. However we still wait for the mythicists to produce either a convincing case for the story of Jesus to be concocted, either out of thin air or as an amalgam of competing myths, not many of which look very much like the Jesus story at all, or refute some of the better arguments and evidence addressing historical aspects that we have so far. As the author has put it, the mere compilation of analogies has always been the quicksand into which mythicism disappears. It is their attempt to prove–entirely circumstantially–that if something besides Jesus was there to be used it was used. One dying and rising god is like every other rising god. One salvation story fragments into a dozen salvation stories, one of which is the gospel.

        Critical scholarship makes progress by engaging with new arguments and evidence which include those which contradict previous proposals made.

      • steph: by “colleagues” I did not mean the Jesus Process, but the entire field of New Testament studies. I’m sorry I didn’t say that more clearly. And I entirely agree with you and Hoffmann about the very sorry state of the case put forward by most mythicists.

      • “Entire” is an overstatement in today’s universities (excluding theological seminaries), but I do appreciate your impression, particularly given the largely conservative and much publicised field of historical Jesus research and its popular publications.

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  8. “this discussion not belong to history but to polemic.”

    From what I’ve seen, the recent reinvention of this argument *has* entirely been conducted in the realm of polemic, it is not a debate happening among historians.

    That it only belongs there seems to me to be pretty clear, unless someone steps forwards able and willing to make the case in historical detail.

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  10. The fact that the story of Jesus fits the cultural “context” of what we know of 30 AD Galilee and Jerusalem for instance, does not prove it is about a true person; the story could have been simply, an historical fiction.

    Today you can see many movies where some fictional figure like Spiderman for instance, flys though a recognizable New York City, say. Through a setting loaded with oodles of contextual details. Details that would confirm a very real environment, for a c. 2010 Spiderman. But those details are simply there in part, in reflection of the date and place of manufacture. The manufacture of after all, a fictional product.

    New York City WAS real; that doesn’t prove that Spiderman was.

    Likewise? Jerusalem is real; but not necessarily the Jesus we saw placed in it.

    Any writer could also of course have invented a character who seems like – borrows from – dozens of real figures. So that? The character seems recognizably a figure of his time. But?

    I like Superman and Santa and Jesus too. They seem so real. But? So do many characters in historical fiction.

    • Oh yes Brett – you’re onto it. Remember Doctor Doolittle? You forgot Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse. They’re all so REAL eh. Yeah right……… as opposed to an apocalyptic Jewish prophet/teacher living in the first century who spoke a language familiar to those around him and was killed in a way trouble makers were in those times. He neither fell out of the sky or rose up miraculously after he died. Just a man who became significant after he died and storytelling evolved.

  11. The fact that the story of Jesus fits the cultural “context” of what we know of 30 AD Galilee and Jerusalem for instance, does not prove it is about a true person; the story could have been simply, an historical fiction.

    Today you can see many movies where some fictional figure like Spiderman for instance, flys though a recognizable New York City, say. Through a setting loaded with oodles of contextual details. Details that would confirm a very real environment, for a c. 2010 Spiderman. But those details are simply there in part, in reflection of the date and place of manufacture. The manufacture of after all, a fictional product.

    New York City WAS real; that doesn’t prove that Spiderman was.

    Likewise? Jerusalem is real; but not necessarily the Jesus we saw placed in it.

    Any writer could also of course, have invented a character who seems like – borrows from – dozens of real figures. So that? The character seems recognizably himself, a figure of his time. But?

    I like Superman and Spiderman too. They seem so real. But? So do many characters … in historical fiction.

    Why would anyone invent him? For the moral instruction of children.

    Why make one up? A made-up person can be far more perfect than an actual one.

    Why would we ourselves prefer a similar, but less magical composite? Because we know that believing in fictional characters that walk on water, is bad for us.

    Was the moment pinpointed so narrowly in the needs addressed? For 2,000 years people have needed this kind of message it seems.

    So?

    • Like all good mythicist rhetoric, in your trigger happy firing, you don’t need to distinguish targets – just shoot the whole lot! They’re all exactly the same…. analogies are by definition, sadly, all false especially in this case. But they’re so FUNNY.

  12. I think Hoffman has a point that Jesus do have historical value. Except for what is written in the Bible there exist other material, and enough material to come to the conclusion that such a person might have existed. According to The Nag Hammadi Library such a person lived, died, and “appeared” in “spirit” and not in the “flesh” to friends after he died. This in itself is not proof, but it is a clear indication that no physical ascent to heaven took place, and that it is quite possible that the Talpiot find could in all likelyhood be the family grave of such a person.

    Should this find ever be confirmed, which in my mind it never will be, it could mean the end of Christianity. For that reason and that reason only this find will probably never be confirmed even though it might be a true artefact.

    • While we will shed many more tears yet for the still prevalent majority of American ‘Christianity’, I think conservative Christianity elsewhere has seen finer days. already. Religion and ideas evolve, without supernatural beliefs and ideas which conflict with scientific and historical arguments and evidence. ‘Secular Christianity’ or Christianity without God (or other divine figures) is a growing phenomenon in the western commonwealth. It originated in the Antipodes where the foundations of society lie in their nineteenth century Free Thought immigrants. For ‘Christianity’, so named, ‘reason’ need not necessarily spell it’s end but lead it’s evolution.

  13. “Do you really fail to grasp the one airtight argument in the piece, that the conditions for the existence of Jesus necessarily produce people of like description, so to choose an analogous over a known figure is non-parsimonious and tautologies are eo ipso true statements.”

    I fail to grasp this argument, seriously. Can you explain it better?

    • It’s clearer in the post I think. However I’ll try to clarify what I wrote: The political and religious conditions of the time of Jesus plausibly give us characters like Jesus. (And the political and religious conditions of today plausibly give us characters like you). The conditions for the existence of Jesus necessarily produce people of like description, so to choose an analogous over a known figure is easy – and excessive selection of aspects of the Jesus traditions and finding them in other people (such as those with dying and rising myths attached, virgin birth myths, teacher prophet types etc) will necessarily result in continuous and pointless parallels – parallelomania – and all will be perceived as plausible and therefore ‘true’. This is a tautology that has to be confronted. It is possible of course that Jesus was Joshua, that Jesus was Theudas, that Jesus was Judas the Galilean, that Jesus (at a chronological stretch) was bar Kochba, or that he was one of the “others coming in my name” that he is said to refer to in the gospels, etc etc. But the gospels present a fortiori evidence that there was another figure, Jesus of Nazareth, who also meets the prescribed conditions, and that figure cannot be argued away through analogy. That is to say, why would an analogous figure be preferable to the figure described in the ancient texts?

      • You barely tossed the words in the post into a new salad – one that is just as unpalatable. From the post: “The political and religious conditions of the time of Jesus plausibly give us characters like Jesus.This is a tautology that must be confronted.” I agree. But confronting that tautology means not using the background conditions of the time to argue for HJ.

      • @ Mark Erickson: That’s nonsense. Where do you get this axiom: the poltical conditions of the time of late republican Rome give us characters like Antony and Caesar. Not characters like Sargom, Elijah or Darth Vadar. if then I have literary artifacts that conform to those condtions and contexts, how should they not be facors in establoishing the historicity of it. It’s basic historical process–the 1000 pound premise mythtics routiney dance past in their quest for improbable substitutes and “parallels” that explain the sources.

      • Although I have sometimes enjoyed the flubbers over at the Vridar site, the latest one is the very best. Neil Godfrey lectures on my use of the word “tautology” but uses a definition from rhetoric, where the word meant (among the rhetors) repetition for emphasis, often unneeded. (Help is available at http://grammar.about.com/od/tz/g/tautolterm.htm) Why in the world would I ask people to confront a rhetorical device from classical rhetoric when I am talking about a case of predication, i.e., we can predicate existence of Jesus on the basis the at least three criteria for that existence being present and alternative explanations being absent. In propositional logic, since Wittgenstein, a tautology is defined as a propositional formula that is true under any possible Boolean valuation of its variables. A key property of tautologies is that an effective method exists for testing whether a given formula is always satisfied (or, equivalently, whether its negation is unsatisfiable). Presumably to say that “Jesus probably existed because the conditions under which he might have existed are satisfied by x, y, and z. I don’t mind being accused of oversimplification, but please, get the terms straight before you play the game (and go the trouble of providing meaningless graphics and–more–analogies–this time grannie’s apples.

      • What on earth would be the point of eliminating the conditions behind the texts when they avoid the tautology. You’ve missed the whole point of examining source material historically. By eliminating conditions, context etc, you are allowing tautology – encouraging parallelomania.

      • RJH – your last comment makes sense, but I don’t see how you would separate historical facts from historical fictions in your example. I’m obviously not getting something, and you and steph are obviously not explaining it very well. But I appreciate the response all the same.

        Although you should stop babbling about parallels all the time. You’ve obviously got parellelomania.

      • Mark Erickson,

        I’m “much obliged” to you Erickson, for commenting over at the Vridar. It explains your lack of comprehension here. There is no ‘special meaning’ of tautology Erickson. You just don’t know what it means or how it is being used. However now that’s cleared up, you ought to know your French before you pretend you’re clever with it. Perhaps you’ve always had cottonwool in your ears. You should stop babbling in languages you don’t understand. You’ve obviously got verbal diarreah.

        I suppose the “ball is in the mythicists’ court” so to speak but they can’t get it over the net yet. There hasn’t been a single constructive reply to the challenge – not one. No reply to the three C’s (nor demonstration of any real comprehension of them), nor to the question of parallelomania (or analoguitis) or anything. The mythicists are trying to shake an argument out of the sheets by holding it at the edges and hoping there’s something in the middle. But all they can do as usual is to resort to ad hominem nonsense that has nothing to do with the substance of the case.

  14. Your new book on the difference between the Christ of Paul and the Jesus of history sounds interesting. If you haven’t come across them yet, here are two recent books that make a similar argument: (1) “How Jesus Became Christian” by Barrie Wilson http://www.amazon.com/Jesus-Became-Christian-Barrie-Wilson/dp/0312361890/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1358010285&sr=8-1&keywords=barrie+wilson and (2) “Paul and Jesus” by James Tabor http://www.amazon.com/Paul-Jesus-Apostle-Transformed-Christianity/dp/1439123314/ref=pd_sim_b_1

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