Τρίτη, 7 Μαρτίου 2017

Richard C. Carrier : Reply to McFall on Jesus as a Philosopher (2)

15. Entirely Inaccurate?
Continuing his black-and-white mindset, McFall claims that my belief regarding the nature of Mark's composition as a symbolic epic "render[s] the Gospel of Mark entirely inaccurate as a historical record." I never said that, nor did I believe it at the time (though more recently now I am starting to suspect it). I certainly do believe it is very unreliable as a historical source. But as to what actual history can be recovered from it, I do not make any definite assertions, except that there is nothing easy or uncontentious about any attempt to extract history from Mark. It is that difficulty that is the problem, more than any actual absence of history in Mark.
But I completely reject McFall's claim that "it's obvious those who recorded Jesus were uneducated." First, that is entirely impossible. To write smoothe, coherent Greek, even in the colloquial idiom used by Mark, required a very rare elite education.[14] Second, Mark's composition is a tremendously awesome work of literary genius. Its structure and symbolism is fascinatingly complex, and it is all the more impressive that so brilliant and educated an author could carry off his task writing in the idiom of the average Joe of his day, much like Mark Twain did.
McFall seems to miss the point, then, when he claims that the "literary artistic creativity inherent in the recorders of Socrates" would have distorted that record more than Mark would for Jesus. That claim is indefensible. For on the one hand, the writers on Socrates came from a tradition in which plain talk and straightforward history was expected, and rewarded—where the distinction between hard truth and symbolic meaning was carefully drawn and scrutinized. In contrast, Mark, for example, is writing in exactly the opposite tradition, in which deep spiritual meaning hidden in symbols and narrative devices was expected, and rewarded. For Xenophon, specific historical facts are what concern him and his readership, and are the very purpose of his writing. For Mark, universal truths concerning the Good News revealed to mankind are what concern him and his readership, and are the very purpose of his writing. So there is no reason to believe that Xenophon put entire doctrines and sayings in the mouth of Socrates in order to symbolically illuminate some divine doctrine received by revelation, or to suit the structure and aims of a heavily allegorical spiritual narrative. But there is ample reason to believe that Mark did so.
That doesn't mean all history has been erased in the Gospels, but what we have here is definitely a problem faced by the entire record of Jesus, which is not faced by the record of Socrates. And this is precisely because that record comes from several different authors with completely different agendas—thus allowing distortions resembling the Markan variety (which certainly appear in Plato, for example) to be more easily weeded out or bracketed, whereas we have absolutely no such checks in the case of Jesus. For him, all we have are the symbolic religious narratives, serving a deliberate dogmatic agenda. And, by the biased selection of the later Christian scribes who chose the canon, the canonical Gospels serve in many ways the same agenda—which may or may not have been the agenda of the original Jesus. This would be comparable, for example, to preserving only Platonic accounts of Socrates—which McFall would surely cite as reason to reject that record. Therefore, to be consistent, McFall must reject the record for Jesus. Or else change his position regarding the reliability of Plato on Socrates.

16. Was Jesus Just Some Stupid Hick?
McFall engages in some anti-elitist sniping when he accuses me of basically being a snob about Jesus. For example, McFall says:
For Carrier, who has been academically trained, Jesus' sayings appear "obscure and simplified" because they lack the scholastic jargon and detailed constructs he's accustom[ed] to.
Translation: "Richard Carrier is a snob because he expects philosophers to discuss methods of inquiry and the nature of things, to carefully define their concepts, and to reason their way to conclusions through a transparent and critical analysis of those concepts and the empirical evidence. What a jerk!"

That Jesus used picturesque speech, puns, proverbs, poetry, and parables, (all of which the common populace could understand and perhaps even identify with), just doesn’t cut it in Carrier’s eyes, as he believes a real philosopher has skills technically superior to Jesus and is often associated with ancient esteemed academies and is well-respected by colleagues.
Translation: "Richard Carrier is a snob because he thinks Jesus was just an unskilled hick, and Carrier and his ivory tower cronies just laugh the night away at this 1st century Deepak Chopra, looking down their over-educated noses at what they cannot grasp, the true wisdom found only among the people, who are too simple and pure to understand any reasoned methodology, logical-empirical argument, or systematic exposition of ideas. Why, those things are just props for elitist suckers! Puns, proverbs, poetry, and parables are where it's really at. That's the real philosophy, Baby!"

The reality is that these philosophers are of little influence on the masses because they don’t know how to relate to common folk.
Translation: "Real philosophers are stuffy highbrow snobs who can't be comprehended, so they should all be cut from the Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy as the unintelligible elitist blowhards that they are, and Jesus, Pat Robertson, Reverend Moon, Mark Twain, and George Carlin should go there in their place, as the true wise men, speakers to the people."

Jesus often delighted in using sharp contrasts and extreme statements to make points; points of which Carrier is likely to find too difficult to pin down and understand as his academic pursuits have conditioned him to overlook many of Jesus’ techniques as passé.
Translation: "Richard Carrier is so over-educated he is incapable of grasping the vast and profound wisdom that Jesus conveys in such a brilliantly simple way. What a dork!"
All that's at least what seems to be the subtext of McFall's line of reasoning here. But let's look at the truth instead of the innuendo:
First, most of Jesus' sayings are "obscure and simplified." They don't just appear that way. I explain in detail in my original essay, detail which McFall completely ignores. But the point is obvious to any objective reader and hardly need be defended. Just compare what Jesus said with what Musonius Rufus said and it is quite evident what the difference is between "obscure and simplified" and "clear and articulated."
Second, it is not the "lack [of] scholastic jargon and detailed constructs" that is the main issue here, but the lack of any interaction at all with the serious philosophy of the day,[15] and the lack of any explicit system or methodology at all. It is simply a fact that a philosopher literally is someone who constructs systematic arguments through explicit reasoning and analysis. To not do so does not make you a stupid hick (Robert Ingersoll and George Carlin are not stupid hicks), but it does not make you a philosopher either, in any more than a merely popular sense.
And third, I do not know whether Jesus lacked the skills of educated philosophers, only that he didn't use them. We know too little about Jesus to know anything of his actual education, if any. However, he was most likely educated as a rabbi, not a philosopher. For his discourse looks exactly like that of the rabbis of his day, as found, for example, in the Talmud. None of those rabbis get in any reference works on philosophy, either—despite often engaging in argument closer to real philosophy than anything extant from Jesus. So, one should ask, why should Jesus get in, but not Rabbi Eliezer or Rabbi Ammi?[16] Or any of dozens of other rabbis whose teachings are extensively on record? Again, does McFall think this is just a popularity contest?

17. Does McFall Think This is Just a Popularity Contest?
I am not sure how McFall can know that philosophers like Rufus or Seneca or Diogenes had "little influence on the masses" and didn’t "know how to relate to common folk." I see nothing in their teachings, or the evidence for or against their popularity in antiquity, that suggests this. They spoke in straightforward, popular idioms that any half-intelligent person of the time would understand (unless McFall wants us to think "the masses" were a bunch of labotamized slugs).
Likewise, it was considered a requirement of any true philosopher to preach his philosophy in public, and every major city had lecture halls and stoa set aside for precisely that, and one could attend lectures and debates for free nearly every day. In fact, entire philosophies would be inscribed on public buildings, as for example the Epicurean Stoa of Diogenes of Oenoanda (why didn't Jesus think of that?). All evidence indicates that public speeches and debates by philosophers were wildly popular and well-attended. And what evidence we do have from "the masses" (which admittedly isn't much) indicates that the major philosophical systems did filter down and influence them to some extent—whether to inspire them to develop similar belief systems (the sublunar-celestial cosmological distinction, for example, or the Platonic-Orphic metaphysics of the soul), or to react against what they didn't like (for example, popular opposition to sophisticated theology is much in evidence).
However, it is true that, lacking an education in science, reasoning, and reading, the public did not get the kind of access to serious philosophy as anyone would want—especially the rural masses. Scientific facts, for example (like the actual causes of eclipses) hardly penetrated popular understanding. But the solution was not to patronize them with half-boiled quasi-philosophical quips, ignoring everything important (like the fact that demons and sin are not the causes of disease or insanity, or that hygiene is essential to physical health, or that lunar eclipses are natural events and not the evil product of sorcery) on the assumption that such stuff was too complicated for their tiny little brains. No. The solution was to teach them science, reasoning, and reading. But Jesus never did or advocated any such thing. Nor did his followers.
In actual fact, the influence of Jesus in his own lifetime was extremely slight—much less than, for example, the influence of Diogenes the Cynic or Plato—until a church developed long after his death that bankrolled a gigantic propaganda mill. By then, of course, various churches claimed that Jesus taught different things, and defense of the going dogma came to matter more than the truth. Just compare the "Jesuses" of Montanus, Basilides, Valentinus, or Marcion, with those of Irenaeus, Tertullian, Tatian, or Origen. No single one of any of these men taught the same Jesus or the same "philosophy" of Jesus.
Perhaps Jesus wanted to popularize serious philosophy to the masses. But there is no evidence that he had any such desire, nor was there ever any such effect. Instead, the superior "influence" of Jesus came solely through enormous elite machinery: a well-funded system of churches controlled by the very highbrow intellectuals Jesus supposedly wanted to supercede. And yet, once the money and will was in place for widespread education of the public, were they taught science, reason, and reading? No. They were taught the going dogma, and shunned or abused if they didn't agree. So McFall's praise of Jesus' "influence" is misplaced. His own influence was no greater than Rabbis Eliezer and Ammi, or Plato or Diogenes. Rather, it was numerous Church Ideologies that became tremendously influential, especially among the masses, long after the death of Jesus. True, they eclipsed the popular influence of serious philosophy—but to bury philosophy by spreading religion is still not "doing philosophy."
And this is the principle point. Remember to keep your eye on the ball. What the hell is McFall doing talking about how real philosophers had "little influence on the masses" and didn’t "know how to relate to common folk"? Even if true, so what? What has that got to do with the price of tea in China? The question is whether Jesus was a philosopher like Rufus and Seneca and Aristotle and Plato. Even if Rufus and Seneca and Aristotle and Plato (and all others in the "canon") were not influential and didn't speak in an intelligible idiom, they are obviously still philosophers—in fact, they represent the very paradigm of what McFall wants us to credit to Jesus. So why is he going on about how Jesus was fundamentally different from them? How does that help his case?
McFall seems to want to say that Jesus was "just like them" except that he spoke in a "popular idiom." But Seneca and Rufus spoke in a popular idiom, and Jesus is still not at all like them. For all the reasons I explained in my original essay, and again here, above and below, Jesus did not speak, act, or think like a philosopher in the formal sense—that is, the sense of the term "philosopher" in which Rufus and Seneca and Aristotle and Plato can be called one. So Jesus doesn't belong among them. He belongs to an entirely differenty category of teachers of wisdom, in company with Reverend Moon, Pat Robertson, George Carlin, Mark Twain, and Robert Ingersoll. These guys do not make the cut for any canon of philosophers today. And neither does Jesus.

18. Is Biblical Exegesis the Same Thing as Philosophy?
McFall then tries to pretend that biblical exegesis counts as philosophy. But it very definitely does not. They are not the same activity, neither in aim nor in method. Biblical exegesis seeks to establish or at least discuss the meaning and, often, doctrinal importance of a passage or set of passages in a religious holy text. Its aim is to discover what a text means, and its methods involve, for example, literary analysis, paleography, textual criticism, theological heuristics, and a study of the relevant ancient historical and linguistic context. Philosophy is an entirely different animal. Philosophy by definition is not beholden to any text, but to the inherent logic, evidential basis, and systematic coherence of a conceptual system. Its aim is to discover how we know anything, what at all exists, why it exists, and what is right and wrong (or whether anything is) and above all why, all through a logical or linguistic analysis of what the nature of things is. In short, philosophers look to the world and try to explain the nature of that world; exegetes look to a book and try to explain what that book says. Not the same task.
So when McFall tries to paint Jesus as a philosopher by doing some biblical exegesis, he only proves my point that Jesus was not a philosopher. McFall writes:
For instance, Jesus is recorded as saying: "If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple" (Lk. 14:26). Must be set against what Jesus is known to have said and upheld: "Honor your father and your mother" (Mt. 15:4). In light of these two contrasting pronouncements we can rightly interpret that Jesus means that if one is to follow Him he must be prepared to choose between natural affection and loyalty to his Master. Unfortunately, many skeptics incorrectly interpret the former statement to mean Jesus wants to increase the sum total of hatred in the world.
I disagree with McFall on this bit of exegesis (since he incorrectly assumes the one conclusion does not actually and effectively entail the other), but that is beside the point.[17] The fact is that a philosopher would already have said this. What McFall is trying to do (rescue an obscurity in the teachings of Jesus from the charge of being faulty) is exactly what he should not have to do: if Jesus had been a philosopher, he would already have identified this problem (or at least some problems like it) and already have systematically resolved it (or them), explicitly, and not by analyzing a religious text, but by presenting the logical and empirical case for exactly what his view is. For example, Jesus would probably define his terms (What is hate? What is honor? What is love?), and from an analysis of the nature of these things, he would demonstrate how a certain attitude or behavior follows (an attitude or behavior he would again carefully define and explicate), and he would show how his statements cohere, and why. Instead, McFall has to do that. If anything, that would sooner make McFall the philosopher and not Jesus. But even McFall is not engaging in philosophy, but exegesis.

19. Do Real Philosophers Use Dry Prosaic Language?
McFall continues his "pop teachers are better than real philosophers" anti-elitist bigotry when he says "Jesus could have used dry prosaic language, like the guys in academics" but instead, unlike them, he "opted to use colorful language" and "pithy expressions" in order "to heighten crowd interest." Again, that does not make Jesus a philosopher—to the contrary, it more likely takes him out of that category and puts him in that of popular teachers (like Mark Twain, George Carlin, Pat Robertson, et al.), unless Jesus also did what philosophers do, which is, for example: (1) present a logical analysis involving definitions of terms, and (2) reason to a conclusion from an examination of the nature of things. But Jesus didn't. And McFall concedes this, admitting that "Jesus didn’t leave us a system of thought." So in every respect that defines a philosopher, Jesus fails to adhere, and in every respect that defines what is merely a popular teacher, Jesus conforms perfectly.
Hence McFall's own evidence convicts him and confirms my original point, here quoting from my original essay: "First is the general point that Jesus should be reckoned a philosopher. This is obvious, insofar as practically any reasoned thinker on life counts as such. However, this is not what experts generally mean by the word." McFall has done absolutely nothing to challenge this statement. Instead, he has tried to argue that Jesus counts as a philosopher because he is totally different from all other philosophers, which hardly even makes sense. And even to the extent that it makes sense, it isn't correct. McFall is apparently fond of trying to paint Jesus as a great philosopher because, unlike all other stuffy, boring philosophers, Jesus alone used "colorful language" and "pithy expressions," and wasn't "dry and prosaic." I have already explained how that is not what makes someone a philosopher. But more telling is the fact that McFall is wrong to assume that other real philosophers didn't do exactly the same as Jesus—only, at the same time, and unlike Jesus, still actually doing philosophy.
Of course, one can find "colorful language" and "pithy expressions" aplenty in Plato, who presents his philosophy in the ordinary, casual, and popular discourse of his day. There is nothing "dry" or "prosaic" in his writings, not even in his letters. But the man most credited with founding the "popular appeal" school of philosophical discourse is Bion of Borysthenes in the 3rd century B.C., perfecting what is known as the "diatribe," a method of philosophical argument rooted in "colorful language" and "pithy expressions." He was inspired by the doctrine of Epicurus that philosophy should be promulgated in ordinary, non-technical language.[18] Not only did Epicurus defend such a point—exactly the point McFall wants to claim for Jesus, even though, in fact, Jesus never actually made, much less defended, any such "point" but merely spoke that way (the very difference between a philosopher and a teacher)—but Epicurus also presented editions of his philosophical system organized in lists of "colorful" and "pithy" sayings, adopting the pre-philosophical technique that would eventually be copied by the authors of Q, from which (many scholars argue) most of the sayings of Jesus derive. But unlike Epicurus, who defended his sayings philosophically and tied them into a coherent system of thought, Q stands more in the tradition of the earlier, pre-philosophical teachers, like Solon, whose lists of "colorful" and "pithy" sayings were rather famous in those days. But just as Solon was no philosopher, neither was Jesus. Indeed, this comparison is most apt, since Jesus has far more in common with Solon than Socrates.
One of the most famous "pupils" of Bion's method of argument is Seneca. Yet Seneca was still a philosopher in the formal sense, most especially in his special discourses, but even, though to a lesser extent, his letters. It will suffice to quote one section of one such letter, to see how (1) Seneca uses "colorful language" and "pithy expressions" and is not "dry" or "prosaic" and yet at the same time (2) Seneca conducts philosophical argument in precisely the way Jesus does not: he names and discusses actual philosophers who had important things to say, he states a thesis and defends it with logical argument or appeals to evidence, he resolves apparent contradictions, he explains what he thinks might be obscure, and he relates everything to his own coherent system of thought.
So you may know there's an idea of good conduct present subconsciously even in souls which have been led to the most depraved ways, and that men are not ignorant of what evil is but simply don't care—I say that all men hide their sins, and, even even if their goal is successful, they enjoy the results while concealing the sins themselves. A good conscience wishes to come forward and be seen by men. But wickedness fears the very shadows. Hence I hold what Epicurus said to be most apt: "That the guilty might remain hidden is possible; that he should be sure of remaining hidden is not possible," or, if you think the meaning can be made clearer this way: "The reason it is no advantage to wrong-doers to remain hidden is that even if they have the good fortune, they do not have the assurance of keeping it." This is what I mean: crimes can be well guarded, but free from anxiety the criminal cannot be.
This view, I maintain, is not at variance with the principles of our school, if it is explained like this. And why? Because the first and worst penalty for sin is to have committed sin. And crime, though Fortune deck it out with her favors, though she protect and take it in her charge, can never go unpunished, since the punishment of crime lies in the crime itself. But none the less do these second penalties press close upon the heels of the first: constant fear, constant terror, and distrust of one's own security.
Why, then, should I set wickedness free from such a punishment? Why should I not always leave it trembling in the balance? Let us disagree with Epicurus on the one point, when he declares there is no natural justice, and that crime should be avoided only because we cannot escape the fear which results from it. But let us agree with him on the other point—that bad deeds are lashed by the whip of conscience, that conscience is tortured to the greatest degree because unending anxiety drives and whips it on, and it cannot rely upon the security of its own peace of mind. For this, Epicurus, is the very proof that we are by nature reluctant to commit crime, because even in circumstances of safety there is no one who does not feel fear. Good luck frees many men from punishment, true, but it frees no man from fear. And why should this be if it were not true that we have ingrained in us a loathing for what Nature has condemned?
Hence even men who hide their sins can never count on remaining hidden. For their conscience convicts them and reveals them to themselves. Indeed, it is the very property of guilt to be in fear. It would be bad for us, given the many crimes which escape the vengeance of the law and the prescribed punishments, were it not that those grievous offenses against nature must pay the penalty in ready money, and that, in place of suffering the punishment, there comes fear. (Seneca, Moral Epistles 97.12-16)
This seems quite intelligible and colorful. It is not dry or too prosaic. Yet look at all the detail here—that detail is what makes this a passage of philosophy, yet it is that detail which is missing from the discourse of Jesus. Now consider a public discourse of Maximus of Tyre, and note how he defines his terms, and reasons transparently from logic and evidence, things Jesus does not typically do, and yet Maximus speaks in a popular idiom and uses colorful and engaging analogies:
What is the characteristic that distinguishes man from beast? And what is it that distinguishes god from man? In my opinion, men are superior to beasts in knowledge, and inferior to gods in wisdom. God is wiser than man. But man is more knowledgable than beast. "Do you take it then that 'knowledge' and 'wisdom' are different things?" No, by God! No more than I take it that life is different from life. But in this case, granted that the attribute of life is shared by mortal creation with the immortal, the shortness of a human lifespan nevertheless separates the two, even though they participate equally in the same basic quality 'life'. The life of a god is eternal; that of a man ephemeral.
Imagine eyes that had the power to see eternally, to project an unblinking gaze and to receive the incoming rays of light without interruption. Imagine they had no need of eyelids to shelter them, nor sleep to rest them, nor night to bring them peace. The faculty of sight would be something those eyes shared with normal vision. But the two cases would differ in the degree of continuity involved. In precisely the same way knowledge, though a shared quality, nevertheless differs in its human and divine manifestations. Divine knowledge we will perhaps consider on some future occasion. For now, let us turn our attention to what is most familiar to us. What are 'understanding' and 'knowing' and 'learning' in human terms, along with all the other similar expressions we use when we attribute a contemplative disposition to the soul?
Are we perhaps to give the name 'knowledge' to anything that is gradually assembled by the operations of sense-perception and then given the name 'experience', and finally presented to the soul and stamped with the seal of reasoned thought? Let me give you an example of the kind of thing I mean. The first men, before they had ever seen a boat, began to long for some means of visiting distant peoples. Need drew them on, but the sea stood in their way. They saw birds flying down out of the sky and swimming. They saw flotsam carried buoyantly along on the surface of the waves—even the occasional tree-trunk, carried down by a river into the sea. People followed: either someone was swept away against his will, started to move his arms and legs, and so swam to safety; or perhaps he went in voluntarily, to play around.
The first result, once experience had gathered all these instances together and constructed the notion of a voyage, was a lowly kind of raft, an improvised 'ship' made from pieces of buoyant material lashed together. But gradually perception and reason, advancing in step, attained a sufficient degree of sophistication to allow the invention of a concave vessel powered by oars and sail, driven along by the wind and steered with rudders, and to entrust the responsibility for its safe-keeping to the single, distinct science of navigation.
Furthermore (to give a second example), it is said that in the distant past the science of medicine was invented in the following manner. If someone fell sick, his relatives would carry him to a well-frequented thoroughfare and set him down there. People would then come up to him and enquire as to the nature of his pain, and if anyone had suffered from the same malady, and then been helped by some kind of food, or by cautery or surgery or by going without liquid, they would severally suggest these to the sufferer, on the basis of their own previous sickness and cure. This whole process, of exploiting the similarities between different patients' sufferings to gather together a record of measures that had proved helpful, little by little, with its accumulating series of encounters, produced a science. Carpentry and metal-working and weaving and painting were all discovered in the same way, each and every one of them being guided to completion by the light of experience.
Very well. Are we then to define knowledge as a habituation of the soul to any given human function or activity? Or does this capacity extend also to brute beasts? Perception and experience are after all not distinctive to man. Beasts, too, perceive and learn from experience, which would give them also a claim to knowledge....Perhaps, then, the truth is that reason is distinctive of man...[etc.]
It is beyond dispute that these passages, which are in fact not even the best examples of hundreds I could have chosen, of Seneca and Maximus engaging in the activity of philosophy, are nothing at all like what we have from Jesus. And the very differences—in content, in method, in detail, in explanatory quality, in questions being asked, in answers being sought—are what define these passages as passages of philosophy (as opposed to what we might find, say, in the writings of Aulus Gellius or the teachings of Solon of Athens). Yet these are the very attributes lacking from the extant teachings of Jesus. Jesus is different from Seneca and Maximus in precisely that respect that makes the latter two men philosophers. And therefore it simply isn't sensible to elevate Jesus to their level or category.
Even if you wanted to argue that the difference is merely of degree (an argument that would be highly dubious at best), it still cannot be denied, even by McFall, that there is a huge difference in degree: Seneca and Maximus are certainly far more like philosophers than Jesus, and thus are more deserving of a place in the philosophical canon. So now for the punchline: neither Seneca nor Maximus get any entry in the Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy.[19] How, then, can McFall claim Jesus should get one? Seneca and Maximus certainly make the cut for any complete list of formal philosophers. But if they don't get into a dictionary or course book, a fortiori neither should Jesus.

20. Was Socrates Just an Artful Dodger?
McFall then claims that "according to Carrier’s own standard in light of his evaluation of Jesus, Socrates doesn’t make the cut as a bona fide philosopher" because, like Jesus, Socrates only ever answered a question with a question. Well, Mr. McFall, please try reading what Socrates said before jumping to conclusions like this. If you had done this, you would have discovered that he often "engaged issues and resolved them" and did "make his reasoning explicit" and did "address all issues of an argument, aiming at a complete discussion of the facts and obvious questions," all the things you falsely claim he didn't do. It is certainly true that Jesus didn't do these things. But Socrates did (for example, see my discussion of Socrates' doctrines in section 5 above).
It is most ironic that McFall's only evidence is a quotation from an enemy of Socrates (Hippias), not any quotation from Socrates himself or his followers (like, say, Xenophon). And it is most embarrassing that McFall didn't bother to check the context! McFall said "it was Xenophon who recorded Hippias as saying that Socrates was 'always questioning and refuting everybody but never willing to submit to examination or reveal his own opinion about anything'." Now, this quote comes from a chapter that begins, in Xenophon's own words, "Concerning Justice, Socrates did not hide his opinion." Okay. That says exactly the opposite of what McFall claims. Shall I say "Ooops!"
To make matters worse, what Hippias says is not what Socrates actually does, but what he shouldn't do, and as we shall see, Socrates agrees. Here is the passage McFall quotes—in context:
Hippias: But I vow you shall not hear [my answer] unless you first declare your own opinion about the nature of Justice. For it's enough that you mock at others, questioning and examining everybody, never willing to render an account yourself or to state an opinion about anything.

Socrates: Indeed, Hippias! Haven't you noticed that I never cease to declare my notions of what is just?...

...I [also] declare them by my deeds, anyhow, if not by my words. Don't you think that deeds are better evidence than words?

Hippias: Yes, much better, of course...

...[but] even now, Socrates, you are clearly endeavouring to avoid stating what you think Justice to be. You are saying not what the just do, but what they don't do.

Socrates: Well, I thought that unwillingness to do injustice was sufficient proof of Justice. But, if you don't think so, see whether you like this better: I say that what is lawful is just.

Hippias: Do you mean, Socrates, that lawful and just are the same thing?

Socrates: I do.

Socrates goes on to discuss at length several more questions about Justice and what he means by it, at one point giving a lengthy discourse on the subject involving several analogies. So McFall's claim that Socrates didn't do this is not only false, but demonstrably false even in the very same passage McFall cites in his defense! And notice what is different here. Does Socrates ask a question to avoid answering a question? No. Socrates willingly answers questions, and never avoids making his position clear in the end. Yet that is exactly what Jesus avoids doing by asking a question and leaving it at that, ending all discussion.
So McFall again completely missed my point. I did not mean that answering a question with a question was bad form. I meant that ending discussion with a question is bad form. Here are the relevant two paragraphs exactly as I wrote them, emphasis now added to highlight what McFall conveniently ignored (and which is all exactly the opposite for Socrates than for Jesus):
If Jesus really did care about logic and argument, he would have engaged these issues and resolved them. But he does not. Instead, his reasoning and argument is always thin and brief, and thus ultimately ambiguous and incomplete. It is also presented as absolute: Jesus leaves little opportunity for anyone to debate him. Once he has presented his argument, discussion ends. There is no rebuttal allowed. For example, note that Luke and Matthew follow the "falling house" argument with a second argument that is no less fallacious ("by whom do your men expel demons?"). It does no good asking who the other exorcists serve, since the same charge could have been leveled at them, too, without contradiction. Moreover, answering a question with a question is just a clever way to avoid answering the original question in the first place. This is not the act of someone who takes logic and argument seriously, or as anything more than a clever way to get one over on your enemies.
A real philosopher makes his reasoning explicit, and addresses all issues of an argument, aiming at a complete discussion of the facts and obvious questions. The pursuit of truth demands no less, and "philosophy" means [in effect] the "love of truth." But Jesus never does this. He simply pronounces, and ends all debate with a single clever quip, often with little more than an argument full of holes and ambiguities which are never addressed in public, and hardly much more in private. Mark even has Jesus saying he is being deliberately obscure and will reveal his true meaning only in secret to a select few (e.g. Mark 4:33-34). That is definitely not the behavior of someone who has a deep concern for logic and argument. So I think this claim [that Jesus had a strong concern for logic and argument] is also exaggerated.
Remember what I said about keeping your eye on the ball? Note how the actual point of this section of my essay was that the claim "Jesus had a strong concern for logic and argument" is exaggerated. Notice how McFall all but ignores that point and really doesn't even challenge it. Instead, he nitpicks on something completely unrelated to the point—the point being that Groothius made an insupportable claim about Jesus's qualifications as a philosopher—and tries instead to promote Jesus by demoting Socrates—which is foolhardy, since at best it would only argue for the latter's removal from the canon, not for the inclusion of Jesus! Such is the fallacious point-dodging that seems so attractive to McFall.
And McFall's argument is not only fallacious, but false. In particular: when he uses his famous Socratic method, Socrates employs questions constructively to demonstrate that his interlocutor already knows the answer to his own question, the answer that Socrates himself endorses, and he makes this endorsement and explanation explicit in the end. Jesus does not do this. Rather than his question being aimed at showing the Pharisees that they already knew the answer to their own question, and that Jesus shared that answer, Jesus utterly fails to answer the question at all. His question is aimed not at clarifying the matter, but obscuring it, exactly as I explained. So Jesus is not using the Socratic method—which requires a regular course of give-and-take on both sides, ever aiming at gradually arriving at a mutually-agreed solution to the problem in question. It does not consist of asking a fallacious question and then walking away. But that is the difference between a philosopher and a mere ideologue.

21. By Whom Did Jesus Cast Out Demons?
The example at issue above was this: McFall claims that "Jesus was not suggesting that when a minor element, such as a subordinate 'satrap' has gone awry, [then] the whole house folds" but rather that, for example, if "the 'Parthian king' is at irreconcilable odds on serious matters with his top Royal Officials, the empire is likely to collapse or be overthrown." But this misses the point. The problem is this: if that is what Jesus meant, then he didn't understand the charge against him, and his response completely fails to address it. Thus, McFall's own point proves my case. The charge was that Jesus was expelling demons because he was carrying out the will of a higher ranking demon (Beelzebul, equivalent to "Baal," the God of the Philistines). In other words, the claim is that Jesus, like the Parthian King, is expelling or removing his satraps, i.e. exercising the power of Satan, which entailed that Jesus was an agent of Satan. How does Jesus defend himself against that charge?
How can Satan cast out Satan? (Mk. 3:23; Mt. 12:26; cf. Lk. 11:18)
Does that work as a defense? No. He is not accused of expelling Satan. To the contrary, he is accused of being Satan, or otherwise serving Satan's will (Mk. 3:22; Mt. 12:24; Lk. 11:15), to expell subordinates of Satan. So Jesus tries to end the debate by asking a fallacious question. He never even denies being possessed by or serving Satan! Nor does he present any evidence that he is not, nor does he present any logical reason why he could not be. If this is philosophy, it's sham philosophy.
And if a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. (Mk. 3:24, cf. 3:25-26; Mt. 12:25; Lk. 11:17-18)
Does that work as a defense? No. He is not accused of dividing Satan's kingdom. To the contrary, he is accused of serving it, and thus strengthening it. Does Jesus present any evidence to the contrary? No. Does Jesus present any logic as to how what he was doing would entail dividing Satan's kingdom? No. Nor could he, for the very reasons I explained in my original essay: expelling demons is Satan's business—the very reason people thought Jesus could be doing Satan's work! Just as the Parthian King can strengthen his kingdom by moving or removing satraps, so can Satan, and that is exactly what Jesus is being accused of. But instead of answering that charge, he alleges that what he is doing would be destructive of Satan's kingdom. But he does not explain how that could be—he gives no evidence, no logical argument. He doesn't even claim that this is indeed what he was doing! He merely presents a conditional (if this, then that), without ever connecting that conditional to the actual facts of Jesus's mission. Thus, the charge remains unanswered—indeed, it is cleverly dodged with nothing but misleading innuendo!
But no one can enter a strong man's house and plunder his property unless he first binds the strong man, and then he will plunder his house. (Mk. 3:27; Mt. 12:29; Lk. 11:21-22)
I will set aside the fact that the analogy requires additional assumptions (e.g. that for some reason you can't sneak past the strongman, that for some reason the strongman is never away on business, etc.), since these are all reasonable assumptions for Satan's charge over his demons, and that is the analogy Jesus is drawing. He is arguing that one can only expel demons by first binding Satan, and thus Jesus is claiming he is superior to Satan. Does that work as a defense? No. This response again completely ignores the charge: that Jesus is the strongman, or at least one of his henchmen. Jesus is not being accused of "plundering" Satan's house. So his plundering analogy completely fails to address the charge. Indeed, Jesus doesn't even present any evidence or any logical reason why we should conclude that he expels demons by binding rather than serving Satan. In fact, Jesus again doesn't even claim to have bound Satan, nor does he claim not to serve him! All Jesus offers is, again, fallacious innuendo. That's just verbal legerdemain, the very antithesis of philosophy.
"Truly I say to you, all sins shall be forgiven the sons of men and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin," [which Jesus said] because they were saying "He has an unclean spirit." (Mk. 3:28-30; Mt. 12:30-32; cf. Lk. 11:23)
So here Jesus ends with a threat! Not only did he present three fallacious arguments-by-innuendo, and never once even deny the charge against him, much less present any evidence or argument in his defense against that charge, but his last word on the subject is to proclaim that his accusers had better shut up, or else they will be damned to hell forever and never gain salvation. In other words, "If you accuse me of serving Satan, I will never forgive you. Therefore, I am not serving Satan." This is the infamous fallacy ad baculum.
I ask again: Where is the philosophy here? Is this how a philosopher behaves? Or is it how an ideologue behaves? I think you all know the answer. It is thus quite shocking that McFall ignores the fallacious character of these arguments, and pretends they are examples of valid logic ("Here, step-by-step, we discover Jesus used reasoning skills which include...the argument from analogy...the law of logical or rational inference ...reductio ad absurdum...the law of contradiction...and the law of excluded middle...[so] we see that Jesus had concern for logic"). That seems quite egregious to me. Jesus never responds to a charge, never even denies the charge, or presents any evidence or argument in his defense against that charge, but instead issues a string of innuendos that are in fact wholly impertinet to the charge and useless in his defense. And McFall holds that up as an example of having a "concern for logic"? I am dumbfounded by his audacity.[20]

22. What About Women?
McFall asks me to tell him whether "these elites show[ed] compassion, or sensitivity, or respect to women in the way Jesus did." I already did say that, so I am not sure why he is asking me to repeat myself. My words were: "there is nothing Jesus said or did that was at all uncharacteristic of any educated Gentile." I should have qualified that (see below). But if we limit our discussion to what Jesus did and said, then there will be few examples McFall can find of any Greek or Roman philosopher doing or saying anything worse. There are certainly a few (relatively mild) examples, but as far as I'm concerned, the fact that McFall still has not adduced even a single example settles the issue of whether "only a handful of philosophers" matched whatever evident feminism we can infer from Jesus. That claim remains undefended. Indeed, McFall has not demonstrated that he even could have known the claim was true in the first place—or that he knows it even now. Where is his evidence?
In contrast, McFall claims that "Jesus conveyed the notion that women deserve respect! (Mt. 5:28)." I have no idea where he gets that notion from "every one that looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart." What has that to do with the treatment of women? That is a statement about not having private sexual fantasies about women—it says nothing about any other behavior toward them. And if McFall means that actual sexual restraint was a unique teaching of Jesus, he would be sadly mistaken—almost every philosopher on record advocated that. So is this the best example McFall has to offer? This is exactly the problem I pointed out originally: Jesus is not that much different in his treatment of and attitudes toward women than most educated men of his day. Sure, I will agree that "To the Greeks, that concept [of refraining from sexual fantasy] was for the most part foreign" but that has nothing to do with the question. The question is: was a Jesus-style "respectful treatment" of women foreign to the Greeks? Or the Romans? McFall has not shown this to be so.
McFall cites only Demosthenes, which again betrays McFall's unwillingness to pay attention to what I actually wrote. I was talking about the people "of his day," in other words the Roman period. I thought this was clear from my explanation that the improved attitude toward women among elites originated with the philosophers of the Hellenistic period, such as Epicurus and the Stoics, i.e. it originated with them and only by the Roman period became commonplace among elites. Demosthenes predates even the philosophers I name as originators of the improved attitude. He is certainly not anywhere near a contemporary of Jesus—he had been dead almost four centuries by then. So why does McFall cite him? (Indeed, why does he think the actual quote he gives has anything to do with the issue? Do not thousands of men keep mistresses and cavort with hookers even today? Are we to assume men can't do this and still be compassionate toward these women and respect them as human beings? Maybe McFall would argue so, but where does Jesus argue this?)
McFall also ignores what I wrote when he tries to chastise me with statements like "he should know full well that the Greeks had restrictive rules governing women too." Hmmm. Did McFall's eyes glaze over when he reached my words "Everything women actually had yet to win in the way of equality (especially political rights and complete parity under the law) gets narry a word from Jesus" (emphasis added). I also noted that women enjoyed more respect among Romans than Greeks. So not only should I have known what McFall says, I did know it, and in fact actually said it! What is McFall playing at here? Did he really miss those words, or is he trying to impugn me by falsely implying I did not say something that in fact I did? And why did he not respond to the salient point here? The very "restrictive rules" he criticises the Greeks for are never condemned by Jesus. Hence my conclusion: Jesus is no different than they are.[21]
McFall also belittles the copious evidence that women were treated as near equals to men in the realm of education and the intellect. He seems to think that is trivial. Of course, to think that is trivial is itself rather chauvanistic. And I chose that issue for a reason—a reason evidently lost on McFall. In the Jewish community through which Jesus moved and to which he preached, women were forbidden to learn the Torah or to become rabbis. Yet Jesus never spoke a word against this, never once said this exclusion was wrong, never once said a female teacher was equal to a male one, or that women should be taught the same things as men. To be fair, he never praised learning at all. Yet education is the primary vessel through which women could ever and have ever won their rights and the respect of society, and denying them education has been and still is the one primary means by which women are kept in subjugation (consider, for example, their treatment in hardline Islamic nations today). It is thus very significant that the Greeks and Romans gave this to women, but Jesus spoke narry a word against his fellow Jews denying their own women this.
However, I should qualify what I did write, since I see now that I gave the impression of universal assent. That isn't true even today, much less then. Even now, in this country, I can find misogynistic statements and disrepectful treatment of women. But it would not follow that 21st century America is a bastion of oppression for women. Quite the contrary: it represents the farthest women have ever come toward freedom and equality. Much farther than I'll bet Jesus would ever have sanctioned, and certainly much farther than he ever explicitly advocated. But even more so, many misogynists remained in antiquity. I am surprised, for example, that McFall did not cite Juvenal or Livy, famous for their diatribes against all the freedom and respect women were getting in their day. Perhaps McFall avoided them because their rants only prove my point: these men would not be writing such angry tracts unless the liberty and status of women really was so commonly high among elites as I said. After all, why would they attack what wasn't true?
Of course, Livy and Juvenal are not philosophers, and this brings up another important qualification. I often mistakenly wrote of "all elites" when the issue was "most philosophers." I will certainly concede that there were women-haters among the elite, who were more brazen than they would dare be today. But what I said remains firm in the case of actual philosophers. I am not aware of a single misogynist philosopher. I do know that some philosophers regarded women as moral equals but intellectual inferiors, but Jesus never says where he stood on that subject anyway, so we cannot say his position was any different. And this brings us back to the point I originally made in my original essay: most if not all philosophers were right with Jesus, if not beyond, in their treatment of and attitudes toward women.
So it is most astonishing that McFall would make the embarrassingly false claim that "Carrier would be hard pressed to cite for us philosophers who communicated the idea that women weren’t sex objects." The reverse is true: McFall will be hard pressed to find any philosopher who communicated the idea that women were sex objects. Indeed, pick any philosopher at random, for whom we have a substantial quantity of writing, and I am pretty sure the odds are rather good you will find more in his corpus favoring respect for women than you will in the extant sayings of Jesus. It is thus bizarre that McFall would claim what is in fact exactly opposite the truth. Didn't he check?
You can contrast the status of women in Hellenistic and then Roman times with that in Jewish society in the time of Jesus by reviewing Elisabeth Tetlow's essay "The Status of Women in Greek, Roman and Jewish Society" online. This presents all the ways that women were still belittled and oppressed even in Roman society—none of which was ever denounced by Jesus. It also presents all the ways that women were better off in Roman society than in Jewish society—any of which is comparable to whatever we can infer from the doings and sayings of Jesus. Therefore, Jesus was unremarkable in his treatment of and attitude toward women—except among Jews, exactly as I said. McFall has presented no evidence to the contrary.
In contrast, for example, why do we not find anything even close to this from Jesus?
Women, as well as men...have received from the gods the gift of reason...and the female has the same senses as the male...one has nothing more than the other. Moreover, not men alone, but women, too, have a natural inclination toward virtue and the capacity for acquiring it, and it is the nature of women no less than men to be pleased by good and just acts and to reject the opposite of these....Yes, but I assure you, some will say, that women who associate with philosophers are bound to be arrogant for the most part and presumptuous, in that abandoning their own households and turning to the company of men they practice speeches, talk like sophists, and analyze syllogisms, when they ought to be sitting at home spinning. I should not expect the women who study philosophy to shirk their appointed tasks for mere talk any more than men, but I maintain that their discussions should be conducted for the sake of their practical application. For as there is no merit in the science of medicine unless it conduces to the healing of man's body, so if a philosopher has or teaches reason, it is of no use if it does not contribute to the virtue of the human soul. (Musonius Rufus, "That Women Too Should Study Philosophy")
On the actual importance of education, in elevating, ennobling, and enriching women, which McFall regards as so trivial, one also wonders why we never hear anything from Jesus like this:
The study of philosophy, in the first place, diverts women from all untoward conduct. For a woman studying geometry will be ashamed to be a stripper, and she will not swallow any beliefs in magic charms while she is under the charm of Plato's or Xenophon's words. And if anyone professes power to pull down the moon from the sky, she will laugh at the ignorance and stupidity of women who believe these things, inasmuch as she herself is not unschooled in astronomy....For if women do not receive the seed of good doctrines and share with their husbands in intellectual advancement, they, left to themselves, conceive many untoward ideas and low designs and emotions....but [a woman] will achieve a high and noble self-esteem if she shares not only in the roses but also in the fruits which the Muses bring and graciously bestow upon those who admire education and philosophy. (Plutarch, "Advice to Bride and Groom" 48 = Moralia 145c-146a)
Even pagan chauvanism was more enlightened than McFall seems aware. For example:
Control ought to be exercised by a husband over his wife, not as the owner has control of a piece of property, but, as the soul controls the body, by entering into her feelings and being knit to her through goodwill. As, therefore, it is possible to exercise care over the body without being a slave to its pleasures and desires, so it is possible to govern a wife and at the same time to delight and gratify her. (Plutarch, "Advice to Bride and Groom" 33 = Moralia 142e)
Again, we have nothing at all like this from Jesus. We cannot say Jesus held any better sentiment than this. Indeed, we cannot say Jesus even held this sentiment, since he is silent on the issue. And yet here we have the very compassion and sensitivity McFall thinks I should have had a hard time finding. Similar passages can be adduced from writers as diverse as Apuleius and Pliny, and from Plutarch to Seneca.

23. Conclusion
McFall concludes by citing only a doctored quote regarding the criterion I set forth for inclusion in the canons of formal philosophy, namely that such an inclusion will "familiariz[e] readers with philosophical systems and elucidat[e] those connections with known and influential traditions." Not only does he not have any evidence that Jesus meets even this criterion, but he has misquoted me besides, leaving out the crucial phrases "of systematic thinkers," and traditions "in philosophy," and all that I said about those two terms and their importance to the definition. McFall has also avoided responding to numerous fatal points that I made in my original essay, by picking at secondary issues, and he has dodged any response to my troublesome examples (such as the fact that Reverend Moon qualifies as a philosopher on McFall's own view far more than Jesus does). He has even resorted to fallacies and falsehoods.[22] Again, the best remedy is reading my original essay. For McFall has hopelessly distorted it.
But even within the context of his own distortions and dodging of issues, McFall has no case. He says that "in light of that criteria" (the criterion he claims I set but that in fact he fatally doctored with crucial omissions) "it’s obvious Jesus makes the cut as a bona fide philosopher." Why?
  • Because (1) Jesus "harnessed known moral philosophies of excellence." Which ones exactly? And where does Jesus show any clear indication of doing this? McFall presented not a single piece of evidence answering either question, and thus his claim here stands completely undefended. I am quite certain he cannot defend it—for there is no such evidence. The claim is baseless.
  • And, McFall says, because (2) Jesus "re-communicated" these philosophies "using orientation" that was religious in nature. What known philosophical systems did Jesus recommunicate? What passages show such a recommunication? McFall has not presented a single example of Jesus "recommunicating" any philosophical system of his own day, or any doctrine being explicitly drawn from a known philosophical tradition.
The issue is not whether Jesus got ideas from or regurgitated philosophical truisms, even if he altered them or personalized them or syncretized them with Jewish theology or whatever—for thousands of teachers in history have done and still do that. Reverend Moon, again, is a perfect example. But so is Robert Ingersoll. Mark Twain. George Carlin. Pat Robertson. Deepak Chopra. Where should I stop? How is Jesus any more of a philosopher than these guys? McFall has no answer—except to say that Jesus was more popular. But philosophy is not a popularity contest. It is an activity of developing systematic concepts addressing questions about the nature of things in a logical way. There is no sign Jesus did any such thing. And for all his handwaving, McFall has yet to present a single piece of evidence that he did.
In the end, McFall complains that the fact "that Jesus didn’t articulate His ideas in detailed systematic layouts shouldn’t be held against Him." Funny. I thought that was just what I said. Did McFall (yet again!) not notice? Well, maybe he dozed off when he read the following words in my original essay:
I see nothing wrong with trying to identify the method of reasoning and the underlying worldview of a thinker like the Gospel Jesus, as for any influential teacher in history. We do not have to call him a philosopher to see the utility of such a study. Nor is it even necessary to ensure that the Gospel Jesus is the real Jesus: the method of reasoning and the underlying worldview of the Gospel authors is no less important.
Translation: that Jesus isn't a philosopher shouldn't be held against him.
But he still isn't a philosopher.

[1] A digression is warranted for those who are concerned here: McFall claims "Buddha regarded the theoretical treatment of metaphysical questions as harmful" and that "Confucius avoided metaphysical questions in general." Both statements are slightly misleading. Buddha's philosophy was very complex metaphysically...in fact, unlike the doctrines of Socrates, Buddhism from the start was entirely founded on an elaborate system of metaphysical premises about the nature of being, the nature of the soul, and the nature of the universe, largely inherited from Hindu thought.
          It should instead be said that, just as Socrates thought studying useless knowledge was harmful, but at the same time also thought that many physical and metaphysical questions were not useless and thus were in fact essential subjects of study (cf. Xenophon, Memorabilia 1.1, 1.4, 3.14, 4.3, 4.6, 4.7, etc.), so also did Buddha regard different metaphysical questions as variously either harmful or essential to the pursuit of his philosophy. See later on when I quote a large section of the Potthapada Sutta for examples of Buddha's teachings on epistemology and metaphysics.
          So also Confucius: like Socrates, he was concerned only with the practical uses of knowledge, and for essentially the same reasons. But he did not declare all metaphysics off limits, only discussions of gods and prodigies (Analects 7.20), though he did declare skepticism regarding the afterlife (ibid. 11.11). In contrast, Analects 5.23 says only that he "rarely" discussed human nature and providence (or that what he did say was "hard to comprehend," translators Watson and Huang dispute which), but a survey of the Analects shows he did discuss them on occasion. Likewise, Confucius both edited and endorsed the Six Classics as all but holy writ (e.g. ibid. 7.1), yet they contain a lot of metaphysical digressions (especially the Tso Ch'uan), which betray the keen hand of Confucius.
          Even so, I think Confucius is the least of philosophers—or else that too little survives of his actual teachings—and to include him in philosophy references is gratuitous. His pupils and ideological descendants (like Mo and Hsün, and Han Fei and Wang Ch'ung) are far more worthy of the name, and far more important. But at least Confucius engaged in defining terms, and constructing a coherent system, the most fundamental of formal philosophical exercises, and thus, as an originator of the greatest philosophy in the Far East, he has a certain prestige among philosophers today. But it is excessive prestige in my opinion. It should be transferred instead to several other far more important Chinese philosophers in the Confucian tradition.
[2] I should also add that we do not in fact know the chronological order of Plato's works. There are many tendentious schemes in circulation (the first was developed in the 1st century, over three centuries after Plato's death), none with any sure footing. The Apology is placed first only by conjecture: it would make sense that Plato would publish that speech before he began to write the other dialogues, though I can think of reasons why he would delay, so this is not a slam dunk assumption.
[3] Cf. Plato, Apology 18b, 19a-d, and especially 20c-d. For example, 19d is certainly a rhetorical lie (Socrates the Lawyer is much in evidence here!), as we will see when we consult the witness of Xenophon. And contrary to Socrates' denials based on exaggerated humility at 19c, Aristophanes was not making everything up: like all humor, the jokes in The Clouds were only funny because they exaggerated what was basically true.
[4] See, for example, Xenophon, Memorabilia 1.1.11-16 (but with his qualifications in 4.7). Even this section certainly entails a theoretical commitment by Socrates ("[On] that topic so favoured by other talkers, 'the Nature of the Universe' ... how it works, and on the laws that govern the phenomena of the heavens ... he would argue that to trouble one's mind with such problems is sheer folly") as well as systematic argument in favor of others holding that position. Nevertheless, Xenophon's writings reveal that Socrates held extensive knowledge on the subject of physical science, and held and explicitly defended several (what we would today call) metaphysical doctrines, especially pertaining to the existence and nature of gods and souls, but also the ontology of abstract objects and other subjects. See also his discussions of epistemology and the fact that it is essential to ethics, ibid. 4.2, 4.4, 4.6, and 4.7; and his defense of creationist cosmology and physics, ibid. 4.3.
[5] For example, his attack on Antiphon and his school of thought in Xenophon, Memorabilia 1.6.
[6] McFall engages in the strangest of unhistorical reasoning when he concludes that a source that "reports no information not already available to us" necessarily "implies dependence." It certainly does not. Dependence requires special evidence—and simply reporting the same things is not evidence of dependence any more than evidence that what is being reported is true. Contrast the evidence adduced for Luke and Matthew's dependence on Mark, and that adduced (or I should say not adduced) by McFall. Conversely, "unique" stories do not automatically gain credence as McFall also implies—for uniqueness can just as easily imply fabrication. It is most strange that McFall's reasoning on both points entails that having only one source for a particular statement is better than having several! Now that sure sounds like typical apologetic blather to me: up is down and sideways is straight ahead. So long as it rescues Jesus from being just another popular teacher among thousands like him. Whatever McFall is doing, it isn't history.

Estimated Life Expectancy in the Ancient World

Adapted from "Frier's Life Table for the Roman Empire,"
p. 144 of T.G. Parkin, Demography and Roman Society (1992)
(fr. Bruce Frier's Landlords and Tenants in Imperial Rome, 1980);
cf. Coale & Demeny, Regional Model Life Tables and Stable Populations, 2nd ed. (1983).

Life Expectancy
Percent of Population
in Age Group
Rough Chance
of Being Dead
by the End
of the Year
1 in 1000
> 99%
[8] See: John Dillery, Xenophon and the History of His Times (1995); P. R. McKechnie and S. J. Kern (hereafter "M & K"), Hellenica Oxyrhynchia (1988); I. A. F. Bruce (hereafter "Bruce"), An Historical Commentary on the "Hellenica Oxyrhynchia" (1967); E. W. Walker (hereafter "Walker"), The Hellenica Oxyrhynchia: Its Authorship and Authority (1913). Also: Abstract of Dissertation: Theramenes and Athenian Politics: A Study in the Manipulation of History. Contrast these with G. L. Cawkwell's polemical excesses in Xenophon: A History of My Times (1979), hereafter "Cawkwell."
[9] It should also be noted that even Cawkwell concedes, and demonstrates, that many of Xenophon's "omissions" were respectable and did not discredit him (pp. 33-35). And even those omissions that are lamentable nevertheless did not outright distort the truth: Xenophon never overtly claims that something didn't happen that actually did. Thus, Cawkwell's obsession with Xenophon's omissions is really very much irrelevant to the reliability of what Xenophon did write, the only issue relevant to McFall's critique (i.e. whether Xenophon tells the truth when he says what Socrates taught and discussed). In fact, Cawkwell's discussion of Xenophon's method (pp. 43-45) actually plays to the latter's credit: Xenophon censured evil by omitting it, not by lying about it, and rewarded virtue by recording it, not by inventing it. It is a wonder that Cawkwell thinks so ill of Xenophon, when the very evidence he evokes to discredit him more strongly implies the reverse.
          In fact, when I surveyed all of Cawkwell's notes to the Hellenica I found him preferring the OH to Xenophon 92 times and preferring Xenophon to OH 3 times, and being uncertaim whom to prefer 5 times. However, of the 92 times he sides with OH, 27 of those are solely cases where Xenophon omits a fact that OH includes (pp. 56, 57, 94, 107, 117, 119, 160, 187, 201, 213, 254, 256, 282, 285, 292, 295, 301, 304, 308, 309, 322, 335, 341, 351, 359, 364, 405-08), and 47 more are solely cases where Xenophon does include the exact same fact, but merely provides fewer details (pp. 84, 89 , 93, 106, 108, 111, 118, 150, 151, 159, 163, 165, 176, 190, 197 (x2), 198, 219, 227, 234, 245 , 257, 258, 261, 263, 267, 279, 283 (x2), 291, 297, 308, 318, 323, 334, 328, 336, 337, 338, 343, 346, 363, 370, 384, 385, 392, 402). So 74 out of the only 92 discrepancies Cawkwell could find (that's a whopping 80%) are neither "fictions" nor "inaccuracies." Even for what Cawkwell regards as Xenophon's worst error, regarding the Battle of Sardis, it is still nothing more than an omission that he can accuse him of (pp. 405-08), and Cawkwell knows very well it is unfair to expect Xenophon to have known everything ("his account...may be no more and no less than personal memories," p. 117; "perhaps he heard very little about it all," p. 341; he wasn't personally present, p. 151), or to expect a thin book to match a massive multi-volume set in the provision of details ("Xenophon is writing memoirs, not history," p. 198; "Xenophon wrote for those who knew" and hence "his method was allusive" meaning "he saw no need to explain what everyone knew," p. 89; "if Xenophon had been carefully composing a history, an exact framework of Spartan admirals would have been essential, and this omission is tell-tale of his method and intention," p. 245; "Xenophon did not care to describe constitutions," p. 194).
          What about the other 20% of discrepancies? They are mostly trivial. Xenophon misdates only two events (pp. 57, 154), gives less precise or more confusing chronology only twice (pp. 209, 310), and once Xenophon confuses western and eastern Locrians (p. 175); Xenophon is "wrong" about when a treaty ended, but in the passage in question he says "it was being said" by others, and thus Xenophon is not asserting that what they said was true (p. 257); he gives the wrong distance, but that could be a copy error and not Xenophon's (p. 101). That's 7 "errors," so 88% of the discrepancies are either not inaccuracies after all or they are trivial inaccuracies. The rest are all cases where Xenophon preserves the Spartain point of view, which Cawkwell only assumes distorts something (pp. 154, 209, 365, 262, 317), or otherwise "Xenophon reflects probably the views and the prejudices of Agesilaus and his circle" (pp. 132, 193, 216, 275, 297, 324). That's it. No actual cases of any confirmed "fictions," no proof of any serious "inaccuracies" at all. Indeed, Cawkwell laments that often "it is a pity that there is no way of knowing whether Xenophon is correct" (p. 344; 174 (x2), 265, 294), and concedes that "his great familiarity with Spartan life" is such that without his Hellenica "the obscurity surrounding Sparta would be ten times more opaque" (pp. 161, cf. 273).
          This picture is only confirmed by all the other scholars who have examined the issue. Walker long ago observed that Xenophon was mainly only guitly of "omitting details" (p. 116), as those are mostly the only examples of "errors" that he can come up with (pp. 116-17, 124). Indeed, in one instance where he finds Xenophon making a claim that is doubted, that claim pertains to whether Theramenes was involved in a particular secret arrangement, which is a fact no historian would be likely to know for certain anyway (another case of guessing at what was secret: pp. 126-27; of omission: pp. 127-28; and one case of clear contradiction: pp. 128-30, but that pertains to mistaking one battle for others between the same two states, an easy, and fairly trivial error). What is better about OH are mainly just two things "the abundance of names, and the fullness of geographical detail" (p. 118, cf. 118-20). The actual disagreements also fall in this area, an example being the exact march of a particular army (pp. 120-23), whether an ambush was included, and where one of the generals was (either at the battle or away in another city). Though there are "many instances in which Xenophon has left out a detail which is essential to a correct understanding of the story" (p. 122), this is attributable to Xenophon either not having access to the relevant information, giving only a brief account assuming his readers knew the background, or wanting to omit the wicked or make the Spartans look better. Yet in one case, regarding the details of an embassy, "unquestionably Xenophon is right and OH wrong" (p. 125), OH often "shows little grasp of the political situation" while Xenophon "understands it better" (p. 132) and in regard to knowledge of the art of war, Xenophon is usually preferred (p. 118).
          M & K's commentary locates six omissions (pp. 117, 118, 147, 149, 152, 177), five cases of giving fewer details (pp. 129, 148, 163, 182, 183), two trivial disagreements regarding the exact number of ships and what order they were launched (pp. 126, 129), conflicting accounts of a secret meeting (p. 135), making Spartans look better (p. 169), confusing naval commanders (p. 170), and who was present at an embassy (pp. 181-82). Pretty trivial stuff. Indeed, regarding Cawkwell's pet peve, the Battle of Sardis, though there is evidence that Xenophon is favoring Agesilaus (pp. 141-46), isn't clear where someone was during a battle (p. 146), or exactly what sort of troops were present (p. 147), nevertheless "recent work has tended to favour the view that Xenophon is right" about the Battle of Sardis (p. 145), and that in fact it is OH who "may have fabricated details" simply to be more detailed, especially when this created the appearance of an exciting stratagem, and evidence suggests Xenophon (unlike OH) was an eyewitness either to the battle itself or to the campaign (i.e. in a nearby city encamped with the Spartans; in fact, Bruce presents an excellent theory explaining all the discrepancies as the result of Xenophon simply relying on informants and plausible assumptions: cf. Bruce, pp. 150-56). On another disagreement, about where another battle occured, historians are undecided whom to prefer (pp. 167-69). That's it. No "fictions." Few if any "inaccuracies" beyond the trivial or the already-expected.
[10] For example: "he preferred to draw on his own memories" so "in the Hellenica at no point does he even hint at the use of others' histories" (which is also true of Thucydides, considered one of the greatest historians of antiquity), but as a result "his account is essentially lopsided and personal. He did not feel the need to use others. He himself knew. The Hellenica in a broad sense is entirely Xenophon's own experience" (p. 22), meaning he relied on his own observation and on personal informants, just like Herodotus and Thucydides and Polybius, but still it is true that "his own experiences inform much of his narrative" (p. 24) and "the Hellenica is not history. It is essentially memoirs" (p. 32), a distinction that neither I nor McFall have made up to now. Indeed, in many respects they are better than histories, as McFall must necessarily agree.
[11] Which essentials McFall cleverly avoids declaring, presumably because he knows that there isn't anywhere near the same scale of agreement on this issue for Jesus, as there is for Socrates (or Xenophon's account of the 4th century history of Greece for that matter). For almost any position McFall might assert that Jesus definitely held, I am fairly certain I can find some scholar or Christian who denies it, doubts it, or even claims the exact opposite. Though this would also be true for many things pertaining to the ideology of Socrates, we would still find overwhelming agreement on a great deal more than we do in the case of Jesus. But McFall would prefer to not only deny the obvious (that we are in a definitely better situation for Socrates than for Jesus), but to even turn reality upside down, and make what is worse the better, and what is better the worse. Which is an amusing irony to those of us who have actually read the last half of The Clouds.
          In addition, I have long maintained that the reliability of ancient historians is exaggerated when it is compared to that of moderns (as many lay scholars implicitly do when they treat them as equal). Hence, the reliability I speak of is only relative. This does not affect my position regarding the Gospels—to the contrary, it explains that position, as one of relative inferiority, not of any black-and-white "accept all of this and reject all of that" mentality, as seems to blind McFall, despite his protestations to the contrary. For a solid account of the true "reliability" of all ancient historians generally (such as what we can trust and what we can't, when, and why), see: Michael Grant, Greek and Roman Historians: Information and Misinformation (1995).
[12] The fact that dozens of what McFall would probably call "bogus" Gospels were written already proves the point beyond any reasonable dispute, especially those whose very emphasis is the sayings and teachings of Jesus (like the Gospel of Thomas or the Gospel of Mary). But there is copious evidence even in the manuscript tradition of the canonical four—see: Bart Ehrman's The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: The Effect of Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament (1993) and James Kelhoffer’s Miracle and Mission: The Authentication of Missionaries and Their Message in the Longer Ending of Mark (2000).
[13] McFall also claims that Egerton "Ironically...cover[s] philosophical elements parallel to our discussion," but this again ignores the difference between an ordinary teacher or rabbi and an actual philosopher—the content of Egerton is no more philosophical in a formal sense than the canonical Gospels. See the translation and judge for yourself.
          McFall also rejects the Gospel of Thomas as less reliable than the Gospels, but this is not the issue (it is nevertheless not in the canon and yet contains what may be authentic sayings also not in the canon). And his very position on Thomas also proves my point: no one can decide whose Jesus gets to count. For the entire Jesus Seminar believes Thomas is in many places as reliable a primary source as the standard canonical Gospels. Who is right? No one can really say—all we can do is assert our various contentious opinions. And that is a serious problem for anyone who claims to know the true philosophy of Jesus, even supposing Jesus actually had one in any formal sense of the term.
[14] This is more than obvious from the extant record of school exercises, documents, and letters in the Egyptian papyrological record. See: Raffaella Cribiore, Gymnastics of the Mind: Greek Education in Hellenistic and Roman Egypt (2001) and William Harris, Ancient Literacy (1989), as well as my Review of "The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark" (2000).
[15] This is probably a major reason why Ayn Rand is excluded from many philosophy references today: she completely ignored every contemporary philosopher and philosophical dispute and instead polemicized against long dead men. Yet she was certainly far more qualified as a bona fide philosopher than was Jesus.
[16] As just one example: b. Talmud, Sanhedrin 90b -91a.
[17] If you must choose between love and loyalty (as McFall here says Jesus is telling us to do), that will necessarily reduce the amount of love in the world. Likewise, "honor" is not inconsistent with "hate" (it is no more difficult to treat with respect those you despise, than it is to turn the other cheek when struck), so McFall's argument has no logical foundation. In addition, McFall conveniently ignores other passages that deeply challenge his analysis (e.g. Matthew 8:21-22, 10:35-38, 19:29; Luke 8:20-21, 9:59-62, 12:53). Likewise, in so doing, McFall simply trades one contradiction (love vs. hate) for another (honoring Jesus vs. honoring parents), and thus doesn't really get anywhere. And finally, McFall illogically ignores the word "hate" here. How can someone who commands us to hate not mean to increase the amount of hate? McFall again wants up to be down and sideways to be straight ahead, all so the Bible can mean exactly the opposite of what it says. He never seems to ask himself why on earth any half-reasonable philosopher would ever use the word "hate" here to begin with—if McFall is correct, then such a word is the worst possible vocabulary choice, and Jesus is one of the worst philosophers in history, with the communication skills of a D-average high school jock—unless Jesus meant what he said, which McFall cannot accept. We call that a rock and a hard place.
[18] This position came to be most thoroughly argued and defended by the famous scientist Ptolemy, who discusses exactly when plain language and technical language should be used and for what purpose, and what the advantages and disadvantages are of either, in his methodological treatise On the Criterion, chs. 4-6. That is an excellent example of a philosopher at work—and exactly unlike anything we hear from Jesus.
[19] Seneca gets a cross-reference, but is simply named once, in a paragraph listing Roman Stoics, in the entry for "Stoicism." No detail or discussion. But then, of course, Seneca actually wrote things—a lot of things—and wrote a great deal in the genre of philosophy (in the formal sense that the Dictionary is concerned with). Jesus did none of either. Maximus, by contrast, gets no mention at all, not even where he should be, in the entry for "Middle Platonism," which names no fewer than fourteen philosophers from the same general period.
[20] McFall also ignores my second example, an argument not found in Mark's version of the same encounter, but quoted by McFall and treated as valid without defense against my criticism: "If by Beelzebul I cast out demons, by whom do your sons cast them out?" (Mt. 12:27, cf. 12:28; Lk. 11:18-20). See my original essay's discussion of the fallacy inherent here, which McFall makes no response to. I should also add: yet again, it is most curious that Jesus never denies being an agent of Satan. He merely implies that he might be an agent of God instead, but he never actually says so. And, again, he never presents any argument or evidence supporting the latter over the former. And that, despite the fact that he was explicitly asked for such evidence (Lk. 11:16). This is shameless rhetoric, not philosophy. Curiously, this obfuscatory dodging is closer to what Socrates does in the Apology, which as I have already noted was not itself a work of philosophy.
[21] I also noted, though perhaps not clearly enough for McFall to grasp, that the issue was one of relative progress—i.e. attitudes among elites relative to what we can infer from what Jesus said and did—and not complete enlightenment, which was not substantially achieved by the human race until the 20th century, nor exhibited by Jesus as far as we know. Jesus never said, for example, that women were the intellectual equals of men, or that they even could, much less should, be admitted to full political rights and leadership positions fully on par with men.
[22] As we've seen at several points in the above sections. Indeed, McFall's blustering attempt to attack me at every turn ranges well into the bizarre when he makes the claim, both false and irrelevant, that Jesus would not attend "rich parties." Pardon me, but has McFall not read Mark 2:15-17? Or Matthew 9:10-13? Or Luke 5:29-32? Not only did Jesus attend large and expensive feasts attended by wealthy publicans, but he explicitly defended this practice as conforming to his particular objective: to preach to the sinners, and not the saved—and as we all know not only from experience, but even from several pericopes in the Gospels, sinners are especially to be found among the rich. And, one should presume, especially among the philosophers, who otherwise are in effect spreading false Gospels. So they should have warranted special attention from Jesus as a major social problem, to whom the Gospel was most in need of preaching—even Paul understood this, so surely Jesus would have as well. Unless Jesus had less understanding and foresight than Paul. Which I believe is eminently feasible.


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