π -ness Envy? The Irrelevance of Bayes’s Theorem

In a recent post responding to a blog review of Sources of the Jesus Tradition by atheist blogger Richard Carrier, I made the point that his own contribution to the book does not rise above the level of pedantic lecturing on a theorem of dubious value to engage the literary matter.

Carrier has claimed on a number of occasions that his approach is revolutionary, a tour de force and essentially over the heads of New Testament scholars.  Apart from the naivety of saying anything like this in a field littered with the corpses of dead theories and “discoveries,”  this is scarcely where you’d want a revolution to be fought.

Strauss

There are numerous critical issues attached to using a theorem that is primarily about probability to assess material that isn’t.  It is, however, a common feature of forensic (i.e. controversialist) approaches to the Bible on both the fundamentalist side and the atheist side to engage the material on a literal level.  This is so because both sides have to meet on the field at that point where literal claims about the text are being made, if not with the claim that the texts themselves are designed to propose facts–though most biblical literalists would say that they are, and most of their opponents would say that they are defeasible at this level.

Accordingly, a particular way of reading the text has been the main source of “rationalistic” critiques of the Bible since the Enlightenment though many of those critiques were superficial and almost all have been improved by serious academic study in the last two and half centuries.

Reasonably speaking,  it is analytically impossible to assess claims of “factuality” without assessing the texts on which such claims are based, even if we begin with relative certainty or skepticism (for example) about the occurrence of miracles or the reliability of a written tradition. Despite the fact that the multiplication of “conditions” and “assumptions” violates the sensibility of most post-modernists who deplore looking at things like authorial intention, criticality, or audience (community) in discussing narrative,  the character of the text is the conditio sine qua non–the starting pointfor all discussion.  It is a condition a literalist believer, on the basis of his epistemological suppositions, tries to avoid since his prior assumption is that the text has a particular integrity, and the skeptic, guided by opposite beliefs, no less literal, is often able to ignore.

Modern New Testament scholarship emerged precisely in response to the impasse between credulity and skepticism, neither of which seemed a sufficient answer to the “problem of the text.” Forensically speaking, text is text.  Critically speaking, it isn’t.

Generally speaking, the biblical literalist feels he is under no  compulsion to defend his confidence in the text; he assumes he has warrants for his confidence.  He can invoke a number of interdependent subordinate claims to support his position–arguments from antiquity (the age of the text or its distance from the reported events), reliability (a kind of mock-psychological assessment of the trustworthiness of “reporters”), self-consistency (whether the text is basically coherent within itself and among variants, where they exist), inspiration and inerrancy  (the belief that the text is autonomous as a product of revelation and thus superior to any methods used in its evaluation). Most subordinate claims have been savaged by modern critical approaches that have grown organically out of the study of the gospels and cognate literature, though some are still of interest to historians.

A forensic approach to the Bible means that key debating points like the six-day creation story, the resurrection of Jesus and (perhaps) the existence of Jesus have to be treated as historical assertions to the same extent they are asumed to be true by the most literal readers.  This is a severe limitation to forensic approaches since they initiate discussion with the question of whether a text is vulnerable as a truth-claim, using a formula more suitable for modal logic than for history: Is something possible or probable?  Are events described in a text more likely to have happened or not to have happened?

Hume

Even the study of the text for both literalists and skeptics will be subordinated to the modality of claims.  Texts that assume propositional value for the literalist (even if that value has to be manufactured) are the very texts the skeptic needs to find defeasible.  Scholars have understandably winced at this level of discussion because it’s easily seen as a branch of apologetics rather than as a field of serious literary and cultural study. Its preoccupation is not with what the text has to tell us, but with whether you or your opponent is right or wrong about a relatively small number of events.

Gunkel

Debaters like Carrier have suggested that the critical methods developed for dealing with the Bible in the nineteenth and twentieth century are insufficiently rigorous. But that is simply not the case.  In fact, the methods grew in tandem with evolving perceptions of what the character of the text actually was, how it was formed, and what its creators thought about the world. In the language of an older school of criticism, what its “life situation” was. They continue to evolve and to adapt in an organic way.  Only if the sole question to be answered is whether the description of an event corresponds directly and generically to “what really happened” (if it were possible to answer that question, as it isn’t in many cases) would the modality of a forensic approach be useful, and its usefulness would still depend on prior questions.

“Conventional” and revisionist approaches remain central to academic study, however, if we assume that the New Testament is not making its case propositionally, event by event, but narratively.  If Genesis was not intended to teach astronomy, the New Testament was not intended to teach medicine. Neither of those statements tells us what the Bible was intended to do, yet such a determination would be essential for answering questions about how it fulfills its purposes.

Beyond the forensic approach, the question about the kind of literature the New Testament literature represents remains absolutely prior and absolutely crucial.  As an example, the amount of material that can be removed into the category of “myth” (a great deal, from most of Genesis to all of Revelation) can never be determined by modal assessment of the truth properties of a text, since analytically myth is not amenable to modal analysis and only a wrong definition of myth as a kind of rhetorical lie or pre-scientific error–a definition that flies in the face of modern anthropology–would make such analysis possible. The forensic approach does itself a huge disservice by paying insufficient attention to the history of criticism, where the general mythological character of much of the material is almost taken for granted, and focusing instead on a discounted view of myth as non-factuality.

What is true of myth, moreover, is true of the other “forms” (literary and historical genres) that exist within the Bible and the New Testament especially. So much of the Jesus story is myth, in the sense of μυθογραφία (writing of a fabulous story), that I have no objection to the phrase “the Jesus Myth.” –But a great deal to object to in the sentence “Jesus ‘was’ a myth,” implying absolute non-historicity and a method designed simply to document his irreality.  In Sources, this is the subject of two essays, one of which (“On Not Finding the Historical Jesus”) suggests that the gospel writers bore no interest in the “question” of the historical Jesus but had a profound interest in his reality.

For the forensicists, “Was the cosmos created or was it not created in six days”; “Did Jesus or did he not rise from the dead?”;  “What did he really say?” and “Did he exist?” are primary questions that should not be swept under the rug of literary analysis: they are questions of right and wrong.  The text exists primarily to settle these questions.

In my view, this is an impoverished way to approach the Bible since the book (taken as a kind of religious artifact rather than an accident of editorial history) was not construed to answer such questions and the methods that have been devised to explore it have been driven by different phenomena and concerns: what communities believed; how they understood society; how they manipulated history and politics religiously to provide social coherence; why ideas like salvation and redemption gained ascendancy in the first century and how they evolved to become something quite different in the second.  Put flatly: the questions asked by the forensic approach are not primary questions at all because they do not arise from the text.

Not unless you accept the prior assumption that the literature of the Bible puts itself forward as hard fact (and most scholars in the present century would say, it doesn’t) all operations on the material should derive naturally from what it is.  Certain techniques like hermeneutical suspicion, mutiple attestation, “dissimilarity,” and redaction, source (and various other) criticisms and linguistic distribution are simply code for ways of testing how the tradition developed and how the sources evolved over time.  If anything, the “factuality” or modal probability of events in using any of these methods is held in suspense in the same way Coleridge describes the willing suspension of disbelief (and for not altogether different reasons) in the Biographia Literaria.

Back to Bayesics?

I was reminded of the danger and potential irrelevance of imposing non-literary templates on the biblical material by a former student, whose comments on the use of Bayes’s theorem are significant because (a) he is not critiquing the use of this device as a New Testament scholar: he is a PhD candidate in mathematics and is properly reckoned a prodigy in pure mathematics; and  (b) he is not a Christian.

I personally find his comments devastating to the use of the theorem as an assist to the modal approach to the Bible.  But I’ll leave it to others to decide:

“Is this insistence [Carrier] of trying to invoke Bayes’ theorem in such contexts a manifestation of some sort of Math or Physics envy? Or is it due to the fact that forcing mathematics into one’s writings apparently confers on them some form of ‘scientific’ legitimacy?

The fact of the matter, as far as I know, and as I thought anyone would realize is that Bayes’ theorem is a theorem which follows from certain axioms. Its application to any real world situation depends upon how precisely the parmeters and values of our theoretical reconstruction of a real world approximate reality. At this stage, however, I find it difficult to see how the heavily feared ‘subjectivity’ can be avoided. Simply put, plug in different values into the theorem and you’ll get a different answer. How does one decide which value to plug in?

Secondly, is it compulsory to try to impose some sort of mathematically based methodological uniformity on all fields of rational inquiry? Do there exist good reasons to suppose the the methods commonly used in different areas that have grown over time are somehow fatally flawed if they are not currently open to some form of mathematization?

If this kind of paradigm does somehow manage to gain ascendency, I assume history books will end up being much more full of equations and mathematical assumptions etc. While that will certainly make it harder to read for most (even for someone like me, who is more trained in Mathematics than the average person) I doubt that it would have any real consequence beyond that.

The fatal flaw in Carrier’s misuse of the theorem therefore is that the “real world conditions” he finds described in the gospels are not real world conditions. Thus its application does not flow from axioms designed for its use.  The gospels are the complex record of the reactions of communities to conditions that are extremely difficult to assess.  Even though Carrier may know and accept this premise, he finds it unimportant to address its consequences.

It may be that in further work Carrier will lay the theoretical groundwork, justifying his use of Bayes as a cipher for understanding the gospels.  But even if his mission is not that–even if it’s just a game-playing exercise for debunking their historicity in front of believers–it seems to me that Ayez has raised a fatal objection:  Bayes is for apples and the gospels are oranges. And Carrier’s persistent defense that no one is really on the same page–or able to “get” the page he’s writing–is becoming increasingly difficult to swallow.


74 thoughts on “π -ness Envy? The Irrelevance of Bayes’s Theorem

  1. I agree absolutely with every word from beginning to end including the astute observation of your former student. Apples and oranges – the major flaw of applying non historical methods to historical research. However I would suggest there may be in the Bayesic advocate’s methodological misapplication, a case of penis envy, which like his Bayes theorem is to historical research, also completely irrelevant.

  2. I applaud Carrier’s attempt to bring more precision to the study of early Christianity. We have know since Strauss that a great deal of the Christian scriptures are mythical. If we can now apply the tools of the natural sciences to obtain more precision… great. So little has been learned by the learned by the religion industry. The history industry tends to just avoid the whole issue. Perhaps the social science folks can have a crack at it. It will of course anger the folks that are trained more in the humanities, and the philosophical types. But philosophy is really just a vestal discipline today. the average man on the street is simply amazed that after 2000 years of searching, we have to date found zero historical data on the jesus character. Anything can do a better job would be welcomed.

    Cheers! RichGriese.NET

    • Spock: “Logic and practical information do not seem to apply here.”
      McCoy: “You admit that?”
      Spock: “To deny the facts would be illogical, Doctor”

      As Mark Twain wrote: “All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence, and then success is sure.”

    • Carrier’s work is akin to an assessment of Shakespeare by Dick Tracy. As RJH maintains, if you don’t consider the motives and purposes behind the history of the bible, you had may as well discard Aesop’s fables for being non-factual at the same time. Bring in Disney for questioning.

      The Bible is/was an envelope for teaching the new ethics of agriculture/trade/urbanization to our species, as it underwent rapid cultural flux (note powerful scientific word), by whatever hyperbole/fact mix was available to the authors of the day.

      We carried around the idea of Ark of the Covenant as a representation of powers we did not yet have, but aspired to. So too was ritual the mortar of communal trust. You cannot evaluate the history of the Bible without considering its purpose.

      Any butterfly can be broken on a wheel, but you do need a tiny mind to do it right.

  3. Carrier’s use of Bayes Theorem just seems like an example of domain confusion more than anything else.

    Following H’s student, do we apply mathematical principles to Longinus’s ” On the Sublime; or Drydens “Essay Concerning Dramatic Poesy” or to “explicacion du text”? I can’t think of too many serious scholars I have been fortunate to sit with who would think the latter would be a fruit giving endeavor.

  4. Joseph,

    Thanks. I picked up a lot from this essay. This is really where the hard thought of our age is coming down. Not in the hard sciences as simple solution engineering, but in science that demands modal logic and a depth of understanding of the nature of humans from the inside out, not just the outside in.

    I am reading a book on the presocratics just now in which, to too great a degree, the author pictures mythology as the precursor to science/philosophy. He focuses on the new thoughts that Thales introduced (or borrowed from the Babylonians) but fails to account for what he held on to or brought with him from an older tradition, perhaps too easily called mythology. The presocratics are thus seen as the beginning of a broach between two irreconcilable positions — although, surely we are pushing a little too much to say that two clearly distinct positions existed for Thales or Anaximander, et al.

    The questions I have focused on are: to what degree did the presocratics tend not to see the disctinctions we now make or, for that matter, that Aristotle made a hundred years later? Did they continue to value that which we call mythological even as they began, in a near forensic way, to exercise reason and challenges to older traditions? Is challenging an older tradition really a sign of rational thought, or more a matter of a kind of mythopoeic thought that seeks more complex and articulated conceptions that resonate with both the ideal and the real?

    More and more I grow concerned that we have so favored one tradition that the other (call it mythological, rhetorical, whatever) all but disappears — and the modal question of possibility, or the imaginative question of where do the axioms (archai) come from, become deep, black magic to be run out of town on a rail if they ever make themselves too obvious or too noticable.

    Best, Mark

  5. Pingback: The Last, Best Hope for Mythicism? | Exploring Our Matrix

  6. One is immediately reminded of Gould’s non-overlapping magisteria. Is that a conscious decision? Also, is missue a typo for misuse?

    • -I do like missue as a sentiment but misuse is what is meant–thanks. I have some doubts about Gould’s thesis, which amounts to ideological dualism and it is hard to say that methodologies are the same as worldviews. “Religion”/theology isn’t immune from scientific critique, but the extent to which methods appropriate for real world situations can be applied to problematical descriptions of irreal situations would steer me away from probabalism, unless I were really just looking to make a literalist look stupid. My own view is that most good biblical scholars are not stupid and would find would want to know the heuristic value of advocating this technique. Why not , e.g., use relative frequency as the heuristic instead. The answer is, it gets you no further than what we already know on the basis of techniques better suited for the literature.

  7. Excellent analysis, Joseph ! The Bayes’ folly of Carrier is shocking because he is smart guy. One wonders how he can sustain the illusion of obtaining a valid set of input data that would make his scheme work. How would he prevent Garbage-In ? Evidently, Carrier does not understand that even in the study of historical materials there is a difference between managing data and obsessing about data. The difference is that one approach does not admit options.

  8. Carrier’s method is fatally flawed.

    For example, what is the probability that ‘Mark’ used Aramaic sources? No number can be assigned to this probability, making it impossible to apply Baye’s Theorem.

    Real scholars of the New Testament would never dream of using phrases like ‘We must make an overall assessment of the probability of what we have suggested.’ or attempt to put numbers on probabilities by saying things like ‘…I cannot assume more than 51 percent probability for my best guess.’

    • I agree, but all BayesBoyz do it. Swinburne does it in his philosophical theology as well. Seems to be especially important to debaters (and to almost no one else in this area) to be able to quantify things, just to score points, but the quantification is completely spurious since the assessment of the data doesn’t affect its initial reliability, relevance, usefulness or truth value. Reminds me of slapping a coat of paint on boards that are already full of dry rot.

  9. I was quoting Maurice Casey, in his book ‘Aramaic sources of Mark’s Gospel’.

    I’m not certain if these quantifications that Maurice made in his book are ‘completely spurious’. Can you explain further please?

  10. I’m curious to know why you haven’t approved my post informing your readers of the person I quoted. I now am in the invidious position of quoting people anonymously, which is not a good thing to do…

  11. Pingback: Demystifying R. Joseph Hoffmann, and the war over Bayes’ theorem « Vridar

    • I love the reference to “ageing don”. It must rhyme with something. Alas, however, while not Mozart I am more than ten years short of my biblical mandate and still able to navigate my way without a walker across a sitting room. As to the use of “scholar” in relation to Carrier, let’s reserve that term for someone who practices the trade and has a life beyond self published books and blogs.

      • (I still can’t get “Major Tom” out of my head – bit of a cult song really – lingering – and always had a bit of a thing for Bowie and his different coloured eyes. Star Man: ageing dom Major Tom…)🙂

  12. As usual, no reference is given by Carr. The author he is trying to implicate does not recognise the quotation, so at best been taken out of context, and at worst, made up. It is not to be found by searching the ms submitted to Routledge, a book written to argue that John’s gospel is not remotely true.

    • And that scholar implicated would never use statistics to make mathematical judgements of precision. He is not a Bayesboyes – Carrier and Swinburne: they’re Bayesboyes.

  13. It’s ironic that Carr’s friend Neil attempts to deride a highly qualified critical scholar and Highly Distinguished Professor, by referring to him as “an aging don” when Neil himself, at 62 years old, is actually much older than the Highly Distinguished Professor, and holds only elementary qualifications as a librarian. An ageing librarian.

  14. It’s ironic too that Carr’s friend Neil provides no references either to these alleged quotes which are not recognised by the alleged author and which have not been found now after searches in manuscripts of three different books. But Neil cannot even describe Carr’s “quote” accurately. Instead he writes that the author “was interested in assessing probabilities of something being a fact, and even quantifying a probability at not more than 51%” whereas Carr claims the author wrote about probability and guessing, not “fact’. So while it looks suspiciously like Carr made it up, it looks suspiciously like Neil has neither quoted the alleged “quote”, nor asked Carr for a reference, in order to conveniently exaggerate.

  15. It is ludicrous for Neil to suggest that Professor Hoffmann has “rejected a valuable tool” that was really waiting to be used “for his advantage” because of a “personal dispute” with Carrier. Professor Hoffmann is absolutely and blatantly clear that Carrier is wrong in his application of Bayes Theorem to history. It is malicious to suggest otherwise.

    It is ludicrous for Neil to imply that Professor Hoffmann is inconsistent with his criticism of mythicists as Professor Hoffmann is well aware of the differences between critical historical method and the mistakes the mythicists make, just as he is well aware that ‘Is John’s Gsopel True?’ was written to argue that it isn’t true at all.

    It is ludicrous for Neil to speculate and create fiction about the content of a book he knows nothing about, and say “Presumably the book will be (like Bart Erhman’s) an argument for why we can believe the Gospels as testimony for certain historical facts about Jesus.” It has absolutely nothing to do with Ehrman’s book and is not remotely like it or Neil’s fiction. It is taking time to write because the gross mistakes of mythicists take a long time to work out with accuracy rather than with creative fiction in which they are expert. It focuses on decent historical method. It points out the gross misuse of texts, in total contempt for historical method, by Doherty, Murdock, and their followers.

    • How on earth does Carr expect Professor Hoffmann to assume Carr’s ‘quote’ was anything other than a hypothetical statement of someone applying mathematical precision to historical argument, when he didn’t give a reference? Extracted from a real passage has distorted the meaning making it appear to represent something else, and is nothing other than false attribution to create a straw man.

  16. Carr has condescended and provided a reference. It is not slanderous to suspect someone has made something up when he doesn’t provide a reference and the “quote” is taken out of context from a book written in 1998, and in isolation is uncharacteristic of the author, who has written many published books and articles, and obviously could not possibly remember every word he has written, especially taken out of context without a quote. While Carr’s malicious intention was to try to ‘trap’ Professor Hoffmann into criticising a critical scholar, by taking the quote out of context in order to pretend that scholar was applying mathematical precision to history, what Carr and his friends don’t seem to realise is that critical scholars disagree about particular arguments and methods all the time, and that it’s important that we do so that we are free to change our minds, and this is how critical scholarship makes progress. While I now have the context in front of me, I can determine the argument made by the author and while I do not disagree with the fundamental method, I would prefer to use even stronger uncertainty.

    In context of p. 110 of Aramaic Sources, it is clear that this quote has nothing to do Bayes Theorem. He did say we must ‘make an overall assessment of the probability of what we have suggested’ which he has obviously not done in mathematical terms at all, because they are not in his view appropriate to this sort of work at all. His comments on page 165 have been taken out of context, and interpreted in a grossly overliteral manner. Whereas the whole passage which he discussed in the whole chapter, he argues has many indications of an Aramaic original, including the Aramaic idioms in vss. 27-28, the first Greek word in verse 28, hōste, does not. This is why, as he points out, there are only three examples in the whole of the LXX. He comments (pp 164-5):

    The connecting hōste, has caused great problems to interpreters, for hōste + ind. does not have a natural semitic equivalent, and consequently we find no more than three examples in the LXX. At Esther 7.8, it is an extraordinary elliptical rendering of hgm: 2 Kgs. 21.12 and Job 21.27 are more relevant, because in both cases the translators have rendered freely in accordance with the sense (one might say they were rendering ’shr and hn respectively). We must deduce that our translator has done the same. Man’s mastery declared in 2.28 is in a profound but not remote theological sense dependent on the will of God shown in creation and declared at 2.27, so the translation with hōste + ind. correctly gives the sense. It follows that we do not really know what the underlying Aramaic word was, even though we can reconstruct the sense. In the suggested reconstruction of Mark’s source, I have put n’. I cannot assume more than 51% probability for my best guess. Another possibility is ’rū. expect the translator to render it with ’idou, but the very fact he has produced hōste,rikaans + ind. shows he has rendered freely, and we have seen that Job 21.27 would give us a good parallel. Again, the simple w is possible, and kl qbk dnh would be another sound suggestion. It follows that we may not rely on some of the details of the proposed reconstruction to expound the precise force of Jesus’ statement.”

    It should be blindingly obvious from this paragraph as a whole that his comment on not more than ‘51% probability’ is English English for ‘don’t really know’ or ‘haven’t a clue’, and has nothing to do with maths at all, let alone the misapplication of Bayes’ theorem to historical probability. He has been misinterpreted by people who cannot read Aramaic or Hebrew, and are not much good at Greek either, which is typical of the damage being done by mythicists on the internet

    • I corrected my transliteration and took out the ‘rikaans’ which wouldn’t come out before – I can’t italicise the aramaic, it won’t transfer. But I added a bit about Meyer’s earlier attempt discussed by Casey. All in corrected comment below…🙂

      • I am not an expert in Aramaic sources, unlike Maurice, but Matthew Black and James VanderKam and I had occasion to work together on extracanonical materials more than fifteen years ago. I think I know what a plausible and what a hyperbolic case looks like. The existence of aramaicisms cannot be swept aside and it is ludicrous to suppose that they are peppered in to create an illusion of authenticity. I do not regard them as pillars of historical authenticity but their provenential significance is enormous. As to Carrier, I’ve said all I need to say. Partly he is a victim of a trend in proper NT studies that seeks always to revolutionize the ordinary and the well known. I have not suggested that his work is totally useless but that instead of providing greater certainty about the sources it is nothing more than quantified interpretation superimposed on “data” for which the theorem is not suited. I am not used to substituting press releases for critical reviews and no one can say whether or not Carrier’s effort has any value until he reaches the point of being noticed by journals. As far as I am concerned, he is learning biblical methodology on the run and has a primarily polemical agenda in view — which is frankly not radical but antithetical so sound scholarship–not unlike the approach of a committed evangelical at the other extreme. Call me cantankerous, but better still prove me wrong.

      • Do you think that the LXX contained aramaicisms?
        Do you think that it is reasonable to contend that the LXX was likely a major source for the gospel writers?
        If so, is it a wonder that aramaicisms appear in the gospels, or are these particular aramaicisms too far removed as to have been, in any way, influenced by similar passages in the LXX?

      • Mishnah, Talmud, targums, in the Palestinian air: aramaicisms everywhere. גמרא gamara–considering the context and despite freebasing use of the LXX by the writers, it is not a sufficient explanation. Recommend you have a look at Vermes and Chilton, though I have pts of disagreement with both.

      • What, specifically, do you believe would fall out of the uncountable aramaicisms, possibly derived as the result of inbreeding with a Greek translation?

        Any particular passage(s) that gives you pause?

      • There seem to be some misconceptions here as to the applicability of Bayes’ theorem. The truth is, there is no department of thought where it can’t profitably and validly be used, for as Physicist Richard T. Cox showed, probability (and BT in particular) is the natural extension of Aristotelian logic (in which every statement is either true or false) into the realm of reasoning in the presence of uncertainty (where the premises of the argument are represented by numbers between 0 and 1, with traditional logic being invoked to nail the limiting cases). As Carrier demonstrates in his tutorial, BT isn’t confined to ‘statistics’ or even math – it’s about inductive reasoning.

        The so-called ‘subjectivity’ of the theorem is no more an impediment that it is to the ordinary syllogism; garbage-in, garbage-out is as relevant here as it is to probabilistic conclusions. If two people have exactly the same prior knowledge and beliefs, then they will, if we assume they are both rational, assign the same number to the probability of an event. If they assign different numbers because they have different prior knowledge, then surely they OUGHT to assign different numbers?

        In any case, the subjectivity objection is irrelevant; People differ over whether propositions are true or false, but that doesn’t invalidate logic, which isn’t actually concerned with whether a given proposition is true or false, just with what follows if it is. The actual truth value is a separate matter determined by other quite different procedures and quite frequently disputed, hence, presumably, subjective.

        Nevertheless, it IS possible to assign probabilities to premises such that the conclusions are highly probable. The way to do this (again, see Carrier’s tutorial for examples) is to choose values for the terms in BT which are the limit of what you can reasonable expect them to be. Using a wide margin of error gives confidence in the results, regardless of the inexactness of your estimates.

      • What permits you to reduce narrative to propositions? That was the whole point of the blog. You have to begin by adducing propositions from texts that make no claims about themselves, perhaps the one exception being the final ch and appendix to John which on this premise should enjoy a high degree of probability.

      • “The existence of aramaicisms cannot be swept aside and it is ludicrous to suppose that they are peppered in to create an illusion of authenticity. I do not regard them as pillars of historical authenticity but their provenential significance is enormous.” Absolutely completely correct from beginning to end. I agree and Casey has agrees absolutely too. He’s also read now what I wrote and approved of my interpretation of his work.

      • “The existence of aramaicisms cannot be swept aside and it is ludicrous to suppose that they are peppered in to create an illusion of authenticity. I do not regard them as pillars of historical authenticity but their provenential significance is enormous.” Absolutely completely correct from beginning to end. I agree and Casey agrees absolutely too. He’s also read now what I wrote and approved of my interpretation of his work.

        .

      • I know Maurice spent a year in St Andrews with Matthew Black in 1978-9 (I think), and learnt alot from him. He has a great deal of respect for him and liked him alot. He told me that he was incredibly easy to talk to and liked being contradicted – with reason.

  17. And by the way, I don’t use google books and don’t know scholars who do. As I understand it, the whole text is generally not available and I wouldn’t rely on it for my sources. While the deceptive tactics of Carr to pull the quote out of context, make the words look ludicrous not only to Professor Hoffmann and myself (which is why I suspected it was made up as no reference was offered in that initial comment) but also to Professor Casey because he had no context, the three of us are now clear of the argument (which has nothing to do with mathemantical precision or Bayes Theorem) which we can assess and be free to debate and disagree.

  18. Carr’s deception of quoting out of context in order to distort the intended meaning of the whole passage, is nothing other than a logical fallacy, a type of contextomy, false attribution of quoting out of context in order to misrepresent an author and make them appear to support another position, is creating a straw man. It’s ludicrous and typical.

  19. Carr has condescended and provided a reference. It is not slanderous to suspect someone has made something up when he doesn’t provide a reference and the “quote” is taken out of context from a book written in 1998, and in isolation is uncharacteristic of the author, who has written many published books and articles, and obviously could not possibly remember every word he has written, especially taken out of context without a quote. While Carr’s malicious intention was to try to ‘trap’ Professor Hoffmann into criticising a critical scholar, by taking the quote out of context in order to pretend that scholar was applying mathematical precision to history, what Carr and his friends don’t seem to realise is that critical scholars disagree about particular arguments and methods all the time, and that it’s important that we do so that we are free to change our minds, and this is how critical scholarship makes progress. While I now have the context in front of me, I can determine the argument made by the author and while I do not disagree with the fundamental method, I would prefer to use even stronger uncertainty.

    In context of p. 110 of Aramaic Sources, it is clear that this quote has nothing to do Bayes Theorem. He did say we must ‘make an overall assessment of the probability of what we have suggested’ which he has obviously not done in mathematical terms at all, because they are not in his view appropriate to this sort of work at all. His comments on page 165 have been taken out of context, and interpreted in a grossly overliteral manner. Whereas the whole passage which he discussed in the whole chapter, he argues has many indications of an Aramaic original, including the Aramaic idioms in vss. 27-28, the first Greek word in verse 28, hōste, does not. This is why, as he points out, there are only three examples in the whole of the LXX. He comments (pp 164-5):

    The connecting hōste, has caused great problems to interpreters, for hōste + indicative does not have a natural semitic equivalent, and consequently we find no more than three examples in the LXX. At Esther 7.8, it is an extraordinary elliptical rendering of hgm: 2 Kgs. 21.12 and Job 21.27 are more relevant, because in both cases the translators have rendered freely in accordance with the sense (one might say they were rendering ’shr and hn respectively). We must deduce that our translator has done the same. Man’s mastery declared in 2.28 is in a profound but not remote theological sense dependent on the will of God shown in creation and declared at 2.27, so the translation with hōste + ind. correctly gives the sense. It follows that we do not really know what the underlying Aramaic word was, even though we can reconstruct the sense. In the suggested reconstruction of Mark’s source, I have put n’. I cannot assume more than 51% probability for my best guess. Another possibility is ’rū. We might expect the translator to render it with ’idou, but the very fact he has produced hōste plus indicative shows he has rendered freely, and we have seen that Job 21.27 would give us a good parallel. Again, the simple w is possible, and klqbl dnh would be another sound suggestion. It follows that we may not rely on some of the details of the proposed reconstruction to expound the precise force of Jesus’ statement.”

    It should be blindingly obvious from this paragraph as a whole that his comment on not more than ‘51% probability’ is English English for ‘don’t really know’ or ‘haven’t a clue’, and has nothing to do with maths at all, let alone the misapplication of Bayes’ theorem to historical probability. He has been misinterpreted by people who cannot read Aramaic or Hebrew, and are not much good at Greek either, which is typical of the damage being done by mythicists on the internet.

    Casey did of course also discuss the earlier attempt at a reconstruction of Mark 2.27-28 by Meyer, Jesu Muttersprache (1896), p.12, when much less work had been done and much less Aramaic was available. He pointed out that while the reconstruction of two whole verses was for the most part a great step forward, “The use of the late expression bgll kn behind the difficult hōste is also problematical: it would surely have been more likely to have given rise to dia touto” (Casey, Aramaic Sources, p.12, part of a sympathetic critical assessment of Meyer’s work, in the light of what could and could not be done later).

  20. Carr doesn’t realise that taken things out of context is misrepresentation. I’ve just seen that he has blogged on Maurice Casey’s “Is John’s Gospel True?” but misrepresented the argument as usual. He claims to quote Casey, but he gives only a partial quotation. Carr has completely misrepresented Casey’s argument by ignoring it and selecting for mention only the part of his argument that mentions the absence of Lazarus from later sources, and then comparing this with the absence of other figures from Paul’s epistles. Casey in fact put forward a complete argument for the secondary nature of Lazarus. Of course fundamentalists do not take that seriously, but it remains quite ludicrous that mythicists ignore most serious critical scholarship and misrepresent arguments which dispute the ‘truth’ of scripture, which was really the subject of Casey’s whole book. Godfrey’s description of Casey’s work in a comment on the post, as ‘fraud’ is typical of his inaccurate rudeness, and his description of him as ‘part of the reasonably known set of Sheffield scholars who boast…’ is rude and inaccurate too. Casey is Emeritus Professor of the University of Nottingham, not Sheffield. Of course he has long-standing connections with the University of Sheffield, as also with many other universities, as should be especially obvious from his Festschrift. Godfrey’s personal attack of me in the same comment is silly and malicious.

    • On pages 208-9 of Is John’s Gospel True?, Casey wrote (and obviously this is only part of his argument),
      “The Lazarus story is a Johannine composition from beginning to end (n.15. see pp. 55-7). The narrator tells us that many of `the Jews’ believed in Jesus because of this miracle (11.45). The reaction of the chief priests and the Pharisees is remarkable. They convened a sanhedrin and said, `What are we doing? – for this man is doing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy our place and people’ (11.47-8). Widespread faith in Jesus would not have given the Romans cause to do this. This is an extraordinary perception, formed by the Neronian persecution, which showed genuine Roman hostility to Christianity, and by the destruction of Jerusalem after the Roman war of 66-70CE. Some Jews attributed this to failure to observe the Torah, and Christians did not observe it. From this perspective, everyone having faith in Jesus could indeed lead to the destruction of the place and the people. This perspective has however no place in the Judaism of 30 C.E.. It leads through the prophecy of Caiaphas to the decision to have Jesus put to death. This is also profoundly ironical. Jesus has been presented as the Resurrection and the Life, and the source of life to those who believe in him. His gift of life to Lazarus is now presented as the reason why the chief priests and Pharisees seek to have him put to death.
      After the anointing story, things get worse and worse. At 12.9-11, many were leaving `the Jews’ and believing in Jesus, and consequently the chief priests took counsel to kill Lazarus. This begins a set of statements, according to which Lazarus was exceptionally important. If this were true, we would not be able to explain the omission of Lazarus from the synoptic Gospels. Secondly, the plot is incredible. Killing someone raised from the dead is not a feasible Jewish reaction to such a miracle, and the plot is never mentioned again. It either worked or it did not. It is difficult to see how the plot against Lazarus could fail, when that against Jesus succeeded. Nonetheless, it is not acted upon, yet Lazarus does not reappear in the early chapters of Acts. Nor does he appear again in the fourth Gospel, surviving an unsuccessful plot. Finally, in the Judaism of Jesus’ time, having faith in Jesus did not mean `leaving’ in any reasonable sense. The fourth evangelist has imposed on the Judaism of Jesus’ time the situation of his own, when Jews converted to Jesus did indeed leave the Jewish community.
      But the narrator has not yet finished. Verse 12.12 slides into the old tradition of 12.13-15. More trouble begins at verse 16, where the disciples are to `remember’ what they had not previously known. It becomes serious in verses 17-19, where the crowd bear witness that Jesus had raised Lazarus, so the Pharisees declare, `the world has gone after him.’ Lazarus, however, is heard of no more. The Johannine narrative is thus internally incoherent, as well as inconsistent with synoptics. The decisive incoherence is that the story of Lazarus just stops. With so many Jews `leaving’ because of the raising of Lazarus, with the crowd who saw this miracle bearing witness to it, with a crowd meeting because they have heard of this sign, with a plot against Lazarus’ life, Lazarus was such an important figure that his further presence, and his fate, were bound to have been recorded. But they are not recorded. Why not? The only possible explanation emerges from the absence of Lazarus from the synoptic Gospels. His fate is not recorded because he never was an important figure. He does not turn up in Acts, and he neither wrote nor figures in any epistle, for the same reason. This also tells us something about the way in which this Gospel has been written. The profound and real feeling that Jesus brought life and `the Jews’ brought death (cf. 16.2) to the Johannine community is presented in story mode. Hence the stress on the love of Jesus for Lazarus, as even `the Jews’ notice (11.36), and for Martha and Mary (11.5), for Jesus loves his disciples. Hence also the narrative precedents for Jesus’ own resurrection, especially the difference in the graveclothes, for Lazarus came forth bound (11.44), whereas Jesus left the graveclothes behind and vanished, a difference great enough for a disciple whom Jesus loved to come to faith (20.7-8) Such factors have quite overridden the historical inconcinnities which we can see.”

    • The point is that Carr treats Casey’s argument as if it is an argument from silence, which it is not. He spends his whole post condemning arguments from silence. It is for the most part an argument from what is said about Lazarus in the Gospel attributed to John and is an argument from cumulative weight scattered over many pages. Obviously the quotation I reproduced above only represents one part. It does matter, however, that Lazarus as a supposed historical character is absent from the synoptic Gospels. This is quite different from the absence of a variety of people who were not important in the early church from most of Acts, and all this is quite different from the absence of all sorts of people and things from the occasional epistles of Paul.

      What both Godfrey and Carr fail to distinguish is the difference between apologetic and critical scholarship, part of which they could use to their advantage if they had the critical skills. But they don’t. All they have is bias. So while scholarship is eternally grateful to librarians, Casey himself keeps thanking libraries in prefaces to most of his published books e.g. Aramaic Sources p. ix. But scholarship is not dependent on an individual librarian.

  21. In a comment on his post (4th July) ironically with a title beginning “Demystifying…” Godfrey commented “Steph sadly cannot even demonstrate that she understands the discussion. She fails to see she supports my point when she declares Casey wrote “Is John’s Gospel True?” to argue it is not factually true. That is the very debate Hoffmann says we should bypass, but I am not surprised Steph herself fails to understand Hoffmann’s post that she says she fully agrees with.”
    Professor Hoffmann has not said historical debates should be bypassed and I never said anything about ‘factually true’. Godfrey has no references. His abilities as a librarian are not the same as abilities to assess critical scholarship honestly and he has not demonstrated any awareness of what ‘Is John’s Gospel True?’ is about – in fact Carr’s and Godfrey’s blog comments on it have demonstrated they don’t understand it at all. Casey’s book Is John’s Gospel True? was originally drafted in 1987 because the reasons for believing that this Gospel does not contain significant historically correct information not available in the synoptic Gospels were well known to professional scholars, but not available to students or to interested people in the churches, many of whom believed it was literally true. As he continued work, Casey became more and more concerned at the use of the Gospel of John in persecutions of Jews. Thus his 1996 book argued firstly that, where John differs from the synoptics, it could usually be shown to be wrong. He examines in detail the use made of it by Martin Luther. He provides many details and reasons to argue that the document is dangerous, when held to be scripture, as that term was understood at the time. I do not however wish to land Professor Hoffmann, me or anyone else with all of Casey’s opinions. In particular, I often disagree with him as to how certain his conclusions are. This is part of ongoing fruitful debate, which Godfrey shows no signs of understanding.

  22. Dizzy misrepresentations and laughable things continue over on Vridar including a comment at the bottom of one funny post: “Evidently, Stephanie Fisher, who is credited with having worked meticulously through “every word” of more than one draft of Casey’s Jesus of Nazareth also feels that this story of a resurrection is literally true.” Of Jairus’s daughter? Really? I do not, and anyway Casey follows Mark’s report that Jesus said she was not dead, rather than the fundamentalist tradition that she was.

    Godfrey again refers to Casey as my mentor, which he is not, as I have pointed out before but Godfrey can’t actually comprehend that I disagree with Casey on minor as well as quite major points all the time. What I do though, is represent Casey’s work accurately (which does not mean I endorse it) and correct those who misrepresent it, like Godfrey and Carr, which they do all the time possibly because they don’t understand it. Godfrey says he can hear me “screaming” – funny that because I don’t scream … but I do sing. I hope he wasn’t insulting my singing… He suggests I am “emotionally unstable” which I’m not so perhaps he’s got a bit of psychological projection going on, because he does make so many many more personal attacks.

    Godfrey and Carr misrepresent so many things that it would be dull to enumerate them all. For example, Casey’s comments on the healing of the blind man in Bethsaida are dependent on the work of Keir Howard, whom Carr just manages to mention. He does not however note that when Keir Howard wrote this book, he was a fully qualified medic, experienced in the healing of psychosomatic illnesses and competent in the anthropology of medicine, and that his comments were partly based on the work of professional ophthalmologists, a quite different world from that of the miracles which Godfrey and apparently Carr used to believe in, and on account of which they will no longer believe stories which are perfectly plausible as natural events in the real world.

    Carr’s comments that students paying £9,000 to study at Nottingham will have Casey as their professor are incompetent and misleading as usual. The New Testament professors are Roland Deines and Richard Bell. Emeritus Professor Maurice Casey retired several years ago. That is why he is ‘Emeritus’. It’s a shame that Godfrey, who is a librarian, and Carr have such little respect for integrity and truth.

    • @ Steph It is all too ludicrous for words and has forfeited any claim to be taken seriously. Perhaps he hopes that James Randi will set it all straight.

  23. ‘Carr’s comments that students paying £9,000 to study at Nottingham will have Casey as their professor are incompetent and misleading as usual.’

    I must apologise most sincerely for my insinuation that the University of Nottingham will expect students to regard Professsor Casey as a Professor of their University and for my unfounded malicious allegation that the University of Nottingham will expect students to read Professor Casey’s work.

    I am genuinely sorry for this mistake of mine.

  24. Joe🙂 that would be truly amazing. Funny Carr equates “unfounded malicious allegation” with “incompetent and misleading as usual” … which that equation effectively is – incompetent and misleading.

    However he would be quite accurate if he applied “unfounded malicious allegation” to his continual ridiculous parodies of the Emeritus Professor, such as “No wonder Casey is misrepresented so often. Nobody can follow his train of thoughts or work out which ad hoc hypothesis is supposed to be active at any one time… He is the only person in the world who can read Aramaic documents behind Mark that nobody else can see and that no Christian in the first century ever mentioned existing… With the superhuman ability to read Aramaic documents that nobody has seen or heard of, and to read them better than Mark himself, who allegedly had them in front of him, it is little wonder that Casey managed to get such a prestigious appointment…Mythers cannot compete with people who can read invisible documents… The only surprise is that with such powers, Casey has not been invited to be our next Prime Minister.
    But perhaps the ability to read invisible Aramaic documents is not needed in Number 10 Downing Street, although it is invaluable in becoming an Independent Biblical Scholar…That is Independent as in not being Dependent upon texts actually existing before you translate them into Greek…”

    Clownish? And this ain’t no “teary defence”(!!) although tears do swell well when we laugh.🙂

  25. Carr continues to choose to ignore that fact that most of Casey’s argument is based on what is said in the Gospel attributed to John, so it is basically not an argument from silence. One of the main points about scholarship about the Jesus of history is that the major historical sources are the synoptic Gospels, so that an argument showing that what is said in the Gospel of John has no support in the synoptic Gospels is not an argument from silence as that term is normally understood, when it has begun by showing that the account in the Gospel attributed to John is not remotely plausible.

    For example, on pages 208-9 of Is John’s Gospel True?, Casey wrote (and obviously this is only part of his argument), “The Lazarus story is a Johannine composition from beginning to end (n.15. see pp. 55-7). The narrator tells us that many of `the Jews’ believed in Jesus because of this miracle (11.45). The reaction of the chief priests and the Pharisees is remarkable. They convened a sanhedrin and said, `What are we doing? – for this man is doing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy our place and people’ (11.47-8). Widespread faith in Jesus would not have given the Romans cause to do this. This is an extraordinary perception, formed by the Neronian persecution, which showed genuine Roman hostility to Christianity, and by the destruction of Jerusalem after the Roman war of 66-70CE. …Some Jews attributed this to failure to observe the Torah, and Christians did not observe it. From this perspective, everyone having faith in Jesus could indeed lead to the destruction of the place and the people. This perspective has however no place in the Judaism of 30 C.E.. It leads through the prophecy of Caiaphas to the decision to have Jesus put to death. This is also profoundly ironical. Jesus has been presented as the Resurrection and the Life, and the source of life to those who believe in him. His gift of life to Lazarus is now presented as the reason why the chief priests and Pharisees seek to have him put to death… After the anointing story, things get worse and worse. At 12.9-11, many were leaving `the Jews’ and believing in Jesus, and consequently the chief priests took counsel to kill Lazarus. This begins a set of statements, according to which Lazarus was exceptionally important.”

    None of this is an argument from silence as that is normally understood. It is an argument that the narrative of the Gospel attributed to John is hopelessly implausible. Of course, anyone who believes that the narrative of the synoptic gospels is important for understanding the historicity of such stories will add the complete absence of Lazarus from the synoptic Gospels. But this is not what is normally understood by an ‘argument from silence’, because the Gospel attributed to John is not silent at all, it is historically useless. Godfrey cannot take this seriously because he has an intellectually arbitrary commitment (apparently unconscious) to the notion that Jesus did not exist, so nothing in the synoptic gospels could have any historical value: to any absence from them is an argument from ‘silence’. What Casey has quoted from the Gospel attributed to John is obviously not silence at all, but something which fits conveniently into the narrative and theology of the Gospel attributed to John.

    Carr quotes Casey, “Secondly, the plot is incredible. Killing someone raised from the dead is not a feasible Jewish reaction to such a miracle, and the plot is never mentioned again” and Carr comments “Yep, another argument from silence”.

    Again, this is not what is normally understood by an ‘argument from silence’, because the first part of the argument is not silence at all. The rest simply complements the total implausibility of John’s account.

    The rest of Carr’s allegations that Casey’s arguments are from silence are of the same kind. For example, he quotes Casey: “It either worked or it did not. It is difficult to see how the plot against Lazarus could fail, when that against Jesus succeeded. Nonetheless, it is not acted upon , yet Lazarus does not reappear in the early chapters of Acts.” And Carr comments: “Another argument from silence”.

    This too is nor an argument from silence as that is normally understood. If John’s story were true, we need to know what happened to the plot against Lazarus. Casey fitted the story into Johannine theology, and that is not ‘silence’. That Lazarus is absent from the main primary sources underlines the fact that the account of him in a late secondary sources are entirely secondary. That is what Casey argues and I am representing his argument. Can Carr not recover from the fundamentalist concept which believes that all ‘scripture’ is inerrant? For that is needed Randi’s amazing wand perhaps? That’s it, no more clowns. Entertainment with more serious things are generally more inspiring and fruitful. 🙂

    • Jerusalem Talmud Ketubot 11:1 and the Mishna, Avot 1:1; Talmud Yevamot 21a, per Leviticus 18:3 and the whole ethos of dissuasion concerning departing from the ways of the community would indicate that a plot against Jesus for violating a tomb is not implausible in the Lazarus situation. It is perfectly plausible; indeed, in sources like the Toldoth Yeshu, the accusation against Jesus for such feats is given explicitly as the reason he is executed as a mamzer (bastard) and magician. The Yorah Deah requires that the body be buried “in the earth” and must not be disturbed. This is at least implicitly a scandal in the resurrection stories as well, where pains are taken despite inconsistencies to suggest that no one disturbed the grave (e.g., “moved the stone.”) And these are the people assigning Bayes values to their assumptions?

  26. I know curiosity killed the cat but I have an insatiable instinct and the latest comment is too funny to pass. Neil once likened me to a ‘vampire’ so I’d better not mention appetites. But I must stop the irresistible urge to peek at what nonsense continues to be repeated. Maybe I keep looking to check it’s actually true – true that they lack all sense of comprehension not only of Casey’s work, but my representation of it, and pour personal attacks against our characters as a substitute for honest analysis.

    Today, I’m apparently ‘fretting’ Neil claims, at what is being written on Vridar. I can only imagine this is another example of psychological projection of someone projecting their unwanted emotions onto others. But it’s ironic because it’s more my numb astonishment at what he and his friends continue to say. He even quotes my comment but doesn’t even represent what I wrote and misses completely the fact that I am representing Casey’s arguments and not endorsing his views or even putting forward my own hypothesis, yet he attributes all Casey’s arguments (which he doesn’t understand) to me. He cannot understand the fact that not only do we critical scholars disagree on many points which we can debate and discuss, but that the ability to disagree is what critical scholarship is about and how we make progress in forming and improving hypotheses. And the rhetorical accusation of ‘circular reasoning, begging the question, special pleading’ is nothing more meaningful than a demonstration that he doesn’t know what they mean, or I mean, or Casey means, or even Professor Hoffmann, who Neil accuses of “vacuous approval”.

    He still insists I contradict Professor Hoffmann but cannot produce the evidence to demonstrate how or where the contradiction lies in Casey’s argument (which Neil continually attributes to me) and refuses to entertain the fact that when Professor Hoffmann has points of disagreement we can debate those respectfully and fruitfully without resorting to personal attacks. The yet again Neil invents one of his ridiculous little analogies and says “trying to reason with steph is like Alice trying to get sense out of Tweedledum and Tweedledee.”

    It amuses me that that they constantly refer to a PhD student at Nottingham University, sometimes identifying that person with me, yet they seem to have no understanding of what is involved in independent research or why I travelled 12000 miles to work with a critical scholar who has an internationally acknowledged particular expertise in Aramaic. They have no idea it seems that I spend far more time with colleagues who are working in my field, and they are from other British, European and Antipodean universities including scholars sometimes in America. And Carr announces also today, that ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ by Maurice Casey is not on the reading list for undergraduates. I don’t know what courses they offer in the Nottingham department for undergraduates and whether such a book would be useful, but it’s ridiculous to expect a book published in 2010 to be on everybody’s reading list. When I was an undergraduate I investigated and read new research myself in addition to what was on generally limited reading lists. Carr’s silly little comment is as ignorant as it is misleading and malicious.

    They certainly have no respect or comprehension for the use made of interdisciplinary expertise by the best critical scholarship today. Casey has benefited from the recent expertise of scholars such as Justin Meggitt and Howard Keir. Keir is a qualified medic including cure of psychosomatic illnesses and has read himself into the anthropology of medicine which means he understands how traditional healers could heal some of the things he could heal. Carr just rubbishes him and thereby rejects any possible value that his contribution to critical inquiry might have, which is slightly ironic.

    God only knows what methods they apply – they’re a mess to untangle. I suggest we have a bonfire and attract all the ‘tics’ to a bright flaming fire. Falstaff had a remedy to bring to the celebration which will inevitably increase the numbness but reduce the astonishment and replace it with glee and plain ordinary happy…

    • Even the British Library which is bound by law to have a free copy of every book published in England, has not yet received a copy of ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ published late 2010 … and Carr expects it to be on everyone’s reading list?

    • Well, this is a situation where we invoke teachers. The role of the pupil is to surpass the teacher, as Porphyry did Plotinus when the word “education” meant what it said (educare). I have no patience for the amateurism of this trend–not that untrained people like Carrier (how’s his Aramaic?) and Godfrey et al. can’t have opinions, and not that they do not have the right to sniff out the amateurism and parochial interests of scholars who cannot distinguish between apologetic and inquiry. Yet pure skepticism is not a method, and now the amateurism of the critics is becoming embarrassing–I hope for them as well. I will not names names, but I am speaking of people who haven’t even mastered English grammar and are holding forth as skeptical NT blogmeisters. I have nothing against autodidacts except that it’s the academic equivalent of autoeroticism. Good scholarship like good sex needs additional, expert validation.

  27. Pingback: The Unhelpful Way In Which The . . . Debate Has Moved (Or, attempting to understand why the misrepresentations from Hoffmann, McGrath, et al?) « Vridar

  28. Godfrey can’t even understand the procedure between book publication and the realities of university syllabuses, reading lists and the existence of publications in libraries, yet he is a librarian. He misrepresents everything, including independent scholarship, and the whole idea that he can classify a rather diverse group of differently qualified people, independent of each other, into something called ‘mainstream scholarship’ is ludicrous.

    Godfrey has distorted Professor Hoffmann’s comment. Professor Hoffmann is accused of chiming in, emphasising that his distaste is more for the grammar than the arguments. This is not a representation of what he wrote. Professor Hoffmann wrote “people who haven’t even mastered English grammar…” which is not the same as saying that grammar is more important than the arguments. He offered no approval let alone a ‘vacuous’ one. He merely noted his mutual despair at the ludicrous affair which has forfeited any claim to be taken seriously and implied Casey was more of an expert in Aramaic. What is important is the fact that expert validation is missing in the blogging world.

    I never suggested in a blog comment that a medical explanation increases the likelihood of the scene being historical. I didn’t even endorse Casey’s particular argument, which involves a complex web of arguments including Aramaisms and so forth, and not merely the idea that psychosomatic cures are plausible. What I did was criticise Carr for rejecting outright the usefulness of Keir Howard’s expertise and rejecting the usefulness of his expert interdisciplinary research for historical inquiry. And so it goes on and on and on, and it will continue to go on and on, and it is very dull.

    I don’t endorse the group of bloggers who blog against mythicists and I don’t endorse those who represent mythicist views. In fact I don’t pay much serious attention at all because it’s all such a mixture of the incestuous, mutually self supporting bloggers, feeding off each other’s absolute skepticism, with bloggers who lack the ability to differentiate between apologetic and critical scholarship. With the non existence of expert peer review or validation, all extremes are embarrassing to critical enquiry and quite honestly I can’t afford this time. I have better things to do, such as genuine constructive inquiry with positive and fruitful debate, and more inspiring conversation.

    • My reference to those who have not mastered English grammar pronouncing on arguments and conclusions that require a high degree of philological competence in ancient languages (as well) is what it is. Like a rose. But surely, since grammar and syntax are also the building blocks for argument, what can possibly be the sense of making such an absurd separation? Personally, I care about grammar because it is intricately associated with thought and the assessment of grammatical expressions and orderly representation of ideas. The internet by its very nature undermines this and specializes in blurts, intellectual spasms and half-thought out ideas. It’s also a great “leveler” of opinion, where pundits have to deal with enthusiasts.

  29. Precisely – you can’t have one without the other. A double-edged sword but better a rose, because it’s beautiful duality, not ferocious. It has reminded me of this (but not this particular recording which isn’t the one I’m listening to). The perfection of its passionate completeness.

  30. Steph,

    I have never come across someone who actually seems to specialize in pathetic, unadulterated, insolent whining.

    Will that be the dissertation for your Ph.D?

  31. Infuriating woo woo. I wonder how he managed to earn a phd in maths. He doesn’t demonstrate clear headed logical thinking at all. Analagomaniac woo. And he’s conceited beyond belief. Poppy.

  32. Reblogged this on The New Oxonian and commented:

    Several colleagues will be responding on this site in a week to claims made by atheist blogger and amateur “logician” Richard Carrier concerning the historical Jesus (contra Bart Ehrman) and his abuse of Bayes’s theorem. In the meantime, this from 2011.

  33. Applying Bayes theorem to texts is like applying a banana to an air valve to pump up a tyre. Imposing post enlightenment views of history and myth onto ancient storytelling cultures is anachronistic nonsense.

  34. I think maybe Godel applies to the way Carrier is attempting to use Bayes. Just because we can ask the question, doesn’t mean there’s an answer.

  35. Hoffmann seems to create somewhat of a straw man between literalists and skeptics with himself presented as the “white knight” who knows the sweet spot. Had he confined his comments to Carrier and Bayes, with perhaps a sidebar into Carrier’s Gnu Atheist connections via CFI, he might well have had something stronger. But, he doesn’t.

  36. Leo: I strongly suspect not. Gödel’s incompleteness theorems are often misused by trying to apply them where they do not have any relevance, to make erroneous claims of impossibility. Check out Torkel Franzen’s book, Gödel’s Theorem: An Incomplete Guide to Its Use and Abuse, for a guide to many of the things that are popularly, but incorrectly, said to be entailed by the theorems.

  37. I have been banging my head on how Carrier used the Bayes theorem for “the brother of the Lord”. That looks irregular to me mathematically, but more important is the data (generated by his biased opinion) he used and how he manipulated it before being fed into his equation. And the Bayes theorem can only be used with a set of data with a certain relationship between the factors, which seems to be absent in this case.
    Carrier always appeals to logic & math, but the Bayes theorem is only a front for his bullying statement “all Christians were “brothers of the Lord”” , based on Carrier own theological extrapolation.

    • Bernard is right. “Bullying assumptions” made by force majeure are then used to establish values that tilt the outcome in the directions of the presumption. The evidence for “all Christians being brothers in the Lord” is based on sources that are fraught with controversy and further subdivide into three different problems from different periods: The gospels do not use or envisage the convention; the use of the phrase in Paul is subordinate to his preoccupation with apostleship, which in turn presupposes a hierarchical rather than “adelphic” model; and the Acts though not pivoting from Paul’s personal crisis imagines this hierarchical model already to be in place and defends it. We have no idea how pervasive was the idea of brethren and brotherhood was as a term of personal usage, just extrapolations based on inferences, e.g., the fact that Tertullian in the third century defends Christians from the charge of incest & cannibalism may arise from pagan misunderstanding of the term, but we have no idea that this is what pagans thought. Moreover, in some house churches, the biological relationship clearly would have preceded any metaphorical usage and might have arisen by extension, and if so it is disjunctive from any special usage that would have arisen in the Jerusalem church or in relation to e.g. James. Paul refers to tines apo Iakabou interfering with his message, not brothers, so it cannot be true that “brothers” was standard usage that would nullify any form of literal biological relationship–indeed, the assumption itself makes no sense at all. Assumptions in, assumptions out, and Bayes can’t make them good ones, let alone “facts.” Carrier wants to dispense with the James tradition because it is inconvenient, for reasons not unlike its inconvenience to the Catholic doctrine of Mary. Maybe he should try to sell Bayes to the Vatican. Or apply Bayes to the assumptions made by used car salesmen, which are far fewer than the ones we have to deal with in the study of the gospels.

      • Apart from mathematical formulae devised to ascertain mathematical probability, being inappropriate for, and unrelated to historical probably and therefore irrelevant to historical texts, he doesn’t have a structured method of application, but worse, he is dealing with mixed material, some of which is primary, much of which is secondary, legendary, myth mixed accretion. He has no method of distinguishing the difference and this renders his Bayes a complete muddle. But as you say, it’s convenient to dispose of inconvenient tradition and he is under the illusion that Bayes provides a veneer of scientific language to conclusions he is determined to ‘prove’. And he claims to have ‘proved’… such an anomaly to reliable and credible critical scholarship of history.

      • Exactly, he takes the text as given rather than composite and chronologically and ideologically composite. Partly because he dismisses tradition criticism, partly because he is just a lousy historian.

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