Κυριακή, 5 Μαρτίου 2017

Richard Carrier : Historicity Apologists: Their Own Worst Enemy

Historicity Apologists: Their Own Worst Enemy

Brian Bethune has published a good article on the historicity question for Macleans, a leading Canadian magazine. Titled Did Jesus Really Exist?, his article presents a pretty fair assessment of the debate (after summarizing recent developments in the field calling into question the reliability of memory). He doesn’t delve into the deeper levels (principally, what did Paul mean by “Brothers of the Lord” or being “made of a woman” or “of the sperm of David”?). But he summarizes where things stand. And like me ten years ago, he finds the historicity defenders have a surprisingly, indeed perplexingly weak case.
Around the same time, doctoral candidate in religious studies Raphael Lataster published a peer reviewed journal article summarizing the case in more detail. Titled It’s Official: We Can Now Doubt Jesus’s Historical Existence, and published in Think (by The Royal Institute of Philosophy), Vol. 15.43 (Summer 2016), pp. 65-79, it’s a good summary of his book Jesus Did Not Exist: A Debate among Atheists. None of his more speculative stuff is in there. Every point he makes is entirely correct.
In both cases, the truth of what they report significantly rests with the extremely poor responses of historicity defenders. Once again it’s starting to look like they have no good responses to make (this became evident even in my debate with Craig Evans in Georgia a few weeks ago, which I’ll blog about soon). Ehrman seems not to have given Bethune any good answers. And the only books the entire field has produced in defense of historicity really do phenomenally suck—and in all the ways Lataster documents.
The responses to these two articles so far are absurd. They even make the defense of historicity look embarrassing and ridiculous. Which shouldn’t be so easy to do. But alas, two authors definitely accomplish said marvel…

McGrath on Lataster

In response to Lataster’s peer reviewed article, regular historicity clown James McGrath did not respond under peer review (just as he hasn’t ever done), but published a silly rant on his blog instead. Which is duly torn down and exposed as the manipulative rhetoric it is by Neil Godfrey at Vridar (The Trivial Fallacies of a Hostile Anti-Mythicist).
Like a pouting child, McGrath first complains about the supposedly poor writing style of the Think article. Sorry, I don’t see it. To the contrary, what McGrath calls “a mediocre undergraduate essay” is actually what the rest of the world calls good, concise, clear writing. Here is a random sample from the article illustrating this supposedly awful style; judge for yourself:
Ehrman’s confidence in the sources that he has established ad nauseam as being absolutely terrible stems from the many written sources behind them. Please note that these written sources are apparently not the—extant—texts of the Old Testament, the Jewish intertestamental literature, or various Pagan myths. No, these written sources happen to be ones that cannot be scrutinised and no longer exist, if they ever did. Sources like Q, M, and L (note that scholars don’t even agree that the very popular Q source existed, as evidenced by the likes of Austin Farrer, Michael Goulder, and Mark Goodacre).
That Ehrman assumes such hypothetical sources existed is not even the worst of it. While I would prefer appealing to foundational sources that we do have access to (like the Old Testament scriptures), it is certainly possible that the Gospels made use of other sources, which are no longer accessible. However, Ehrman somehow assumes their reliability, without any argument. Quite appropriate given the state of the sources that do exist, Ehrman is unable to convince readers of these non-existing sources’ authors, authorial intent, composition dates, genre, or authenticity. Had they existed, these hypothesised foundational texts could have been allegories, parables, or works of outright fiction. Ehrman then moves on from the apparently innumerable hypothetical written sources to proclaim that they stemmed from even earlier oral sources.
Lambasting an article’s “style” as “undergraduate” is a fallacy of poisoning the well. It is a dirty tactic of attempting to discredit the author’s legitimate credentials as a graduate student, on a point completely irrelevant to the article’s content. McGrath should be ashamed of even attempting this. But I have established repeatedly that he is a liar who has no shame. So I shouldn’t be surprised.
This is also, of course, a red herring fallacy: one is supposed to judge according to the arguments, not whether you aesthetically appreciate the author’s style. It’s especially embarrassing that Maurice Casey’s style was far worse, and in actually substantive ways, yet McGrath praised it to the skies. So McGrath can’t even be honest about his own literary taste.
McGrath then proceeds to slander all mythicists as hacks who should never get hired. Without presenting any basis for that conclusion. The argument is circular logic: mythicism is false because no professors propose it; therefore no one who proposes it should ever be allowed to be a professor. This is actually a threat. Even the title of McGrath’s blog post is a threat (“Can Mythicism Kill Your Career?” hint hint): if any peer sides with us, they should get fired and their career should be destroyed. This is called an ad baculum fallacy. McGrath has resorted to it before. And was rightly shamed for it by famed emeritus professor Philip Davies. And here he is, still doing it. Disgusting.
It’s also false. Several sitting professors believe our case has merit. But it is true in the sense that threatening your peers works (I know professors who won’t publicly admit they think we have a point, out of fear for their career). This is all the quality of argument historicity defenders have left: we can’t refute you, so we will destroy the career of anyone who takes your side—so we can claim no one takes your side. (And when some take your side despite our threats, we will lie and keep saying no one takes your side.) That tells you all you need to know about the value of the “consensus” in Jesus studies.
Does McGrath even attempt anything resembling an actual rebuttal to anything Lataster actually said? Not really. But here are the candidate performances for the judges…

Do You Have Any Actual Arguments Please?

McGrath claims Lataster contradicts himself.
Just within the first couple of pages, Lataster described Ehrman’s book Did Jesus Exist? as an attempt to prove the historicity of Jesus, but soon afterwards he quotes Ehrman himself insisting that proof is not what historical study offers in relation to ancient figures.
Score? Zero. Lataster actually said that Ehrman failed to prove historicity likely. And Ehrman actually did say historicity is certain. He wrote in DJE, “The reality is that whatever else you may think about Jesus, he certainly did exist. That is what this book will set out to demonstrate.” So, Lataster correctly states Ehrman’s thesis (almost verbatim), and correctly notes anyway that Ehrman does qualify that as a (presumably very high) probability. So Lataster’s charity and accuracy as a critic, somehow becomes “contradicting himself.”
That is called lying, James McGrath.
McGrath then claims Lataster is inconsistent.
Deducing the possibility or likelihood of earlier sources based on evidence from the sources we have is not the same as merely imagining sources for which we have no evidence whatsoever. And I wonder whether he discussed his argument in this section with his one-time co-author Richard Carrier, who appeals to hypothetical earlier versions of the Ascension of Isaiah in his arguments.
Score? Zero. Lataster never describes the thesis this way. Nor does this address Lataster’s actual argument. This is therefore a straw man fallacy.
Indeed, note key differences:
We actually have The Ascension of Isaiah. In multiple manuscripts. I do not posit a hypothetical source for it. I posit the actual document we have. I can speculate about what sources it may have had (Paul, after all, appears to quote it), or what was in the sections removed (I have lots of ideas about that). But the sections I argue from? We actually have them. And the sections that have been added? That they were added is not only a mainstream conclusion, but it is demonstrated by their absence from manuscripts we actually have! (I also, incidentally, do not assign much weight to this document. McGrath consistently ignores this fact, because the AscIs disturbs the fuck out of him.)
This is not at all like Q. Even less like the completely imaginary M and L (McGrath, being a liar, conveniently “forgets” that Lataster is talking about all of these, not just Q). We do not have Q in any form. No manuscript of it exists. We do not know what all was in it, how it was prefaced, or even if it preceded Mark rather than being a redaction of Mark (because there is no non-circular argument that there was no Mark-Q overlap). It is purely hypothetical. (The arguments for it also wildly suck.)
A correct analogy to what Ehrman is doing with Q, L, and M is what Lataster says: Ehrman posits that they all said what he wants them to have said, and he wants them to have said things that verified Jesus existed, therefore Jesus existed; so consistency entails we then get to posit that what the Ascension of Isaiah said is what we want it to have said, therefore Jesus didn’t exist! The method is absurd. Which is why we don’t use it. But Ehrman does.
By Ehrman’s ridiculous methodology, we can conclude that the Ascension of Isaiah explicitly said Jesus didn’t exist. But instead, because we actually use sound methods, we only conclude the original depicted Satan crucifying Jesus in outer space because the remaining actual text (not hypothetical text, but the actual text as we have it) says that’s exactly what the missing section would say. That’s not hypothesis. That’s fact.
And then, even after all that, we classify this evidence in the Isaiah text as weak. We don’t settle a ridiculous certainty on it like Ehrman does with his invented sources.
So McGrath is again not being honest about our argument.
Oh. And, yes. That’s it. Those are all of his arguments. Seriously. That’s it. This is what stands for a defense of historicity.
McGrath neither mentions nor even attempts a rebuttal to any of Lataster’s actual arguments in Think.
Let me repeat that. Because it is fucking appalling—and tells you all you need to know about how bankrupt the case for historicity is:
McGrath neither mentions nor even attempts a rebuttal to any of Lataster’s actual arguments in Think.
Instead McGrath closes with more pointless remarks about aesthetics, more threats against our careers, more well poisoning, a referral to an unrelated article by Tim Hendrix (who didn’t address my case for historicity), and of course dishonestly “forgets” to mention my rebuttal to that anyway, and then even endorses (literally fucking endorses!) the stupid apologetics argument that there is as much evidence for the historicity Jesus as there is of my historicity.
And we still take historicity apologetics seriously because why?

Tors on Bethune

Meanwhile, Christian apologists flipped their shit over the Macleans article. Dozens of articles lambasting it appeared online, some even featuring Islamophobia (“Shame on you, you’d never question the existence of Mohammed on Ramadan!” Because Christians envy the piety of violent Islamic radicals). Some even speculate that I paid Bethune off…because my book can’t possibly have been convincing and inadequately answered by Ehrman (it’s clear no one suggesting this read my book, either; they don’t actually care to find out whether the arguments are any good, because they just can’t be, just can’t…).
None of those attack articles even mentioned much less addressed any of the actual arguments we have. They just ranted in pearl-clutching shock at how absurd and shameful it was that anyone would ever publish such a thing. Some throw in a straw man or two. Some couldn’t get passed the fact that memory and oral transmission aren’t reliable (a mainstream view now in the Jesus studies field). Some direct their readers to apologetics books written years before mine—evidently unaware that there is now a peer reviewed book from a respected biblical studies press that those previous tirades did not address.
But for one exception. An elaborate rebuttal to the Macleans article was published by John Tors, a Christian apologist who threw up a raving verbose bucket of fundamentalism that isn’t even worth a detailed rebuttal. But for everyone’s benefit, I shall give you an annotated commentary a couple days from now.
 SOURCE: http://www.richardcarrier.info/archives/10046

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