Κυριακή, 5 Μαρτίου 2017

Richard Carrier : List of Responses to Defenders of the Historicity of Jesus (7)

Strange Notions: Questioning the Historicity of Jesus

The Catholic website Strange Notions asked me to write two brief articles on why questioning the historicity of Jesus is more plausible than commonly assumed. I was asked to respond to two earlier challenges to that thesis on their site, written from the perspective of Catholic apologetics: Did Jesus Exist? An Alternate Approach by Jimmy Akin and Four Reasons I Think Jesus Really Existed by Trent Horn.
My first article, responding to Akin, is Questioning the Historicity of Jesus. My second, responding to Horn, is Defending Mythicism: A New Approach to Christian Origins. Together these have accumulated almost two hundred comments, often long and thoughtful, which sadly I haven’t the time to read through. (If anyone has the gumption to do it and would like to summarize the whole thread and/or report to me which comments might be worth my attention or blogging a reply, feel free to post anything like that in comments here.)
Akin then replied to me in Jesus Did Exist: A Response to Richard Carrier. And then Horn replied in Four Reasons to Believe in Jesus: A Reply to Richard Carrier. Here I shall respond to those…

Akin Misses the Point

Akin fails to notice that I only begin addressing his article after the fifth paragraph of my first contribution, and that I plainly state that I was required to be brief (each entry under 1200 words), and that all I aimed to do was describe generally how we reply to the claims I was asked about, not to prove the thesis I am proposing (in both essays I explicitly note that I shall only do that in my forthcoming book). In fact the first four paragraphs are about (1) why this debate is newly important and to be taken seriously and why it can’t be dismissed by simply noting that it’s not yet the majority consensus; (2) what exactly mythicists are arguing (i.e. what their hypothesis is); and (3) where anyone interested in exploring this debate can go to learn more.
So all of Akin’s complaints about all that (spending over two hundred words) indicate he didn’t understand what I was asked to do, which is a bit surprising because I actually explain that in the essay itself (in the fifth and last paragraphs, which he even quotes, uncomprehendingly). He apparently wanted an 800 page thesis. For free. Once we recognize that’s silly, we can move on to what we’re really talking about, which is what answers mythicists give to arguments like his, and whether they have merit.
Although it’s worth noting Akin seems to operate from a position of bad will when he assumes I’ll attack him unjustly for anything he says, and indeed even implies I deliberately set it up so I could. Evidently Catholicism doesn’t teach its adherents to think well of people. Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised. But in any event, I already conceded in my article that I had not proved the mythicist thesis, only described it and what it says about the few things his article said, so I was actually graciously making things easier for him: all he had to do was assess the value of the points I did actually make. He could have just done that. Instead he burned two hundred more words complaining about this.
Efficiency is not his forté.
It is also ironic that he complains about my stating positions without defending them, then states positions without defending them (the Gospels and Acts “are nowhere near so late as Carrier seems to think”…even though what I stated was the mainstream consensus on their dating, and he gives no reason to disagree…not even a bad reason).
Apparently consistency is not his forté, either. (One would think a fan of Jesus would at least do the Golden Rule well.)

Defects in Akin’s First Point

But now to his actual argument. In making his first point, Akin errs twice:
(1) First, that he “meant” the Gospels by the “earliest accounts” attesting how Christianity began is a red herring fallacy. My point was that those accounts are not corroborated in earlier Christian writings (and that mythicists regard the Gospels as fabricated). He thus gave no response to my actual point.
I can think of many responses one could have given. And those I do indeed address in my forthcoming book. The debate essentially must rest here until then. I fully acknowledge this means the debate is not thereby resolved. But since I explicitly said so in my essay, he can’t complain that I’m moving the goal posts. I’ve kept them consistently in the same place.
(2) Second, he is incorrect to say the Gospels are the “earliest accounts” attesting how Christianity began. Paul attests to how Christianity began in 1 Corinthians 15:1-8. Where we hear nothing of Nazareth, a ministry, or Jesus appointing and training disciples, or commissioning anyone to do anything until after he died (the only place in this account that we first hear of his ever appearing to anyone). Contrary to Akin, this is a “relevant account.”
And again, I can think of many responses to this point. I have similarly found there are many other passages in Paul that concur with the Corinthians account, but not the Gospels account, of how Christianity began (I’ll end my discussion of Akin here with one of them), and I can likewise think of many responses to that point as well. All of which I address in my book. So we’ll just have to wait until my book comes out to continue that debate. In the meantime, all I was tasked with doing was stating what the mythicist argument is. Not to prove that it prevails over all possible objections. And I explicitly said I had not.

Defects in Akin’s Second Point

In making his second point, Akin doesn’t deliver a valid response. Akin says “Paul acknowledges that his relationship was different than that of the other apostles” but all Akin offers as being that difference is that Paul “related to Jesus as ‘one untimely born’ (1 Cor. 15:8)—that is, out of the normal sequence that governed how the others related to Jesus.” But that sequence consists solely of post mortem revelations of Jesus (1 Cor. 15:3-8). Thus confirming my point, not Akin’s: Paul seems only ever to know of Jesus communicating with his apostles by revelation (and hidden messages in scripture). Paul never once shows any awareness of any other way anyone knew or met Jesus, or any other way in which Jesus communicated with his apostles.
And that’s weird.
I should also note that Paul does not say ‘one untimely born’ in the sense of ‘born late’–he says he related to Jesus as an abortion [ektrôma], which is a premature birth, not a late one, and in fact worse, as it typically indicated an outright miscarriage. And Paul says he related to Jesus as an abortion not because he was appointed late but “because [Paul] persecuted the church” (1 Cor. 15:9), and for no other reason. The term ektrôma was in antiquity a term of contempt, implying monstrosity or rejection or enfeeblement. Paul thought of himself as a rejected monster because he did awful things to the church he now loved; but Jesus was willing to overlook that, and appear even to a rejected monster (an abortus) such as himself.
I include that digression because it illustrates how easily misled one can be who reads the Bible only in English translation. Akin apparently actually thought Paul used a word meaning born late. He thus didn’t even come close to grasping what Paul actually meant. And consequently, he didn’t notice that what Paul actually meant does not support the point Akin was trying to make.
This is a common occurrence in the mythicism debate: those defending historicity routinely assume the certainty of their position, and thus advance ad hoc arguments for it that they are sure must be correct, but that mythicists have long noticed are not–and can easily show are not. As I have just done. The real lesson here is not that Akin’s argument is invalid (though it is), but that he didn’t know it was invalid. This is extremely common. Even from the lips of what should be well qualified experts like Bart Ehrman (and for the travesty of his errors and fallacies in this matter, see my summary in Ehrman Historicity Recap).
This is why arguments from authority in this field are particularly unreliable (hence Proving History, chs. 1 and 5). Which was nearly the first point of my essay in this exchange.

Defects in Akin’s Third Point

Akin then attempts to respond to my point that we can’t tell for certain whether Paul refers to “brothers of the Lord” as biological or spiritual brothers. But he doesn’t do anything but gainsay. Again Akin implies the Gospels are “early sources [which] indicate that [these brothers] were familial relations of Jesus” but he doesn’t demonstrate either that these sources are actually any earlier than I (and the mainstream consensus) said, or that the Gospels can even be trusted on this point (or any point), or that they even say anything about any brothers of Jesus being at all involved in the church (they don’t–in fact, they pretty much depict Jesus renouncing them, as if having no idea they would take leadership positions in his future church). Indeed, the earliest Gospels unanimously say the three pillars, the top three apostles Peter, James and John, did not include any familial relation of Jesus at all. In all their accounts, the James in this top trio is not the brother of Jesus, but of John. (The Gospel of John, meanwhile, never mentions any James at all.)
Acts also conspicuously shows no knowledge of any brothers of Jesus having any leadership role in the church. It mentions Jesus’ brothers having been absorbed by the church in Acts 1, but then they disappear, and neither of the two men named James subsequently depicted as taking leading rolls in the church is the brother of Jesus. Neither do any of the epistles (not those of James nor Jude, nor any at all) mention they are the brothers of Jesus. The letter of 1 Clement also conspicuously shows no knowledge of any brothers of Jesus. To get the first evidence of any such brothers taking leadership roles in the church, we have to go almost a hundred years after the founding of the cult, to the most unreliable of sources: Papias, whom even Eusebius condemned as unreliable.
One might bring up Josephus here, but I already mentioned in my earlier essay that I have proved Josephus never mentioned a James being the brother of Jesus the Christ–the “Christ” part was instead a later accidental interpolation. And to interact with that argument, you’ll have to go to and confront the published academic literature where it is laid out. (Akin seems to complain that my peer reviewed articles are behind paywalls…as if I had anything to do with that–I agree academic journals stifle the arts by profiteering, but alas, we aren’t taken seriously unless we publish in them, which is a nice racket for them, but that’s not a Goliath this David can fell. At any rate, it’s unfair to insist we publish our arguments in real academic journals, then complain when we do.)
It’s also worth noting that even if we trusted this passage, Josephus conspicuously does not say this James was even a Christian–or, conversely, that his brotherhood with Jesus was biological. Josephus might not have even known there was a difference, mistaking Christian filial language as literal. But that’s all academic anyway, since the evidence goes to show Josephus never originally mentioned Christ in this context to begin with.
Again, this is not the end of the argument. I can imagine lots of responses. I address the best of them in my book. But the point to observe here is how all of this betrays the fact that Akin doesn’t really know his own source materials very well. He even thinks they prove things that in fact they conspicuously don’t.

Defects in Akin’s Fourth Point

Akin then argues that “Paul also tells us that Jesus was ‘descended from David according to the flesh’ (Rom. 1:3).” But the word “descended” in fact is not there. Nor is the word that is used there the usual word Paul employs for being born, but instead the word for being manufactured, like Adam was, leaving us to ask what exactly phrases like that mean. This was so disturbing to later Christians, in fact, that they tried doctoring this passage to contain the correct word for biological birth, which meddling we can now see in later extant manuscripts, as famously proved by none other than Bart Ehrman.
Likewise Akin cites Paul saying Jesus was “born of woman, born under the Law [of Moses]” (Gal. 4:4), but again the actual word used is the same as above (and later Christians again tried to get away with changing it), and the context is of allegorical births to allegorical women (read the whole of Gal. 4), so we can’t be sure Paul means this literally. So contrary to what Akin says, this does not “clearly” indicate Jesus’ birth as a Jew in any earthly manner. There are deep questions about this passage as well as the other and just what they mean.
Both, as it happens, are entirely compatible with the mythicist thesis. Such is their ambiguity. But once again, I am not pretending to have ended the argument here. I am only explaining what the mythicist argument is. To continue the debate we will have to await the publication of my book, where all the issues and objections are fully addressed. We can then proceed from there.
It’s important to reiterate that the mythicist thesis does not deny that Jesus was originally regarded as having become incarnate, as a human man, manufactured from Davidic flesh, and was then killed and buried (and rose again). It just holds that this all occurred in the lower heavens, not on earth. I extensively supply the background evidence making all this plausible in my forthcoming book. But here my point is that insisting Paul said Jesus was a Davidic human man does not even contradict the mythicist thesis. Whatever merit that thesis has is a separate question.

Defects in Akin’s Fifth Point

Akin then throws out a litany of what he thinks are verses establishing historicity in the epistles of Paul. But here is where it becomes disingenuous. He cites a passage in 1 Thess. 2, but does not mention that a significant number of mainstream scholars regard that as an interpolation (a fact widely known). And the evidence strongly favors their conclusion (as I lay out in Pauline Interpolations). Not mentioning well-known facts that undermine their case is another common strategy of historicity defenders which undermines their reliability. Possibly Akin is too out of touch with the literature to know of this particular problem. But that doesn’t bode well for his reliability either.
Similarly, he cites the Lord’s supper commandment in 1 Cor. 11, but omits the part where Paul says he learned this directly from Jesus. In other words, via revelation. Of course, I assume Akin is also resting on the historically implausible Catholic assumption that a real Jesus would ever have said or done any such thing (as it entails he fully planned to die, and for his death to operate as a Passover sacrifice, and for his death to be annually celebrated with ritual cannibalism and blood drinking…and his Jewish followers were totally fine with this). That is also seriously doubted by a large number of bona fide experts in Jesus studies.
I should also note that the word Akin renders as “betrayed” here is actually “handed over,” which word Paul always uses, when in respect to Jesus’ sacrifice, as an act performed by God (e.g. Rom. 8:32), and thus not as a betrayal, thus eliminating any allusion to the later myth of Judas–which myth is also missing in 1 Cor. 15:5, where Paul shows no knowledge of there being only eleven disciples for Jesus to visit after his death. This is another example of not reading the Bible in its original language, and not checking to see how Paul uses certain words, particularly in reference to the same facts. (For more on the Judas myth, see Proving History, index “Judas.”)
I won’t even discuss Akin’s reference to 1 Timothy, which is almost universally regarded as a second century forgery. Evidence forged by historicists cannot prove historicity. Period.
Thus when we actually look at Akin’s evidence, it quickly dissolves into an unreliable or unclear mess. This is why mythicism must be taken more seriously than the likes of Akin will allow. It can’t be gainsaid by ignoring points like the above. There is a case here, one Akin was not even aware of, and seems ill-equipped to address. Where we go from here depends on the arguments and evidence I shall be publishing this February (the release date my publisher tentatively expects). But in the meantime I’ve adequately explained where mythicists are coming from when confronted with evidence like this. The debate thus begun shall have to continue next year.

Defects in Akin’s Sixth Point

Akin then completely misses the point of my argument from analogy when he says:
It’s true that Christianity, Islam, and Mormonism each had a founder who organized a movement that spread rapidly, but in each case the movement’s early writings point to that founder being a historical individual: Jesus, Muhammad, and Joseph Smith.
Note that, in my essay he is responding to, I said the analog (the revelatory being communicating the cult’s new teachings) is not the founder, but the celestial revelator: Jesus for Peter (and Paul), Gabriel for Mohammad, Moroni for Smith. The actual historical founders are Peter/Paul, Mohammad, and Smith. Akin simply has not addressed this argument. (I am aware there are challenges to the historicity of Mohammad, but testing that thesis is outside my knowledgebase, so I am assuming his historicity here.)

Defects in Akin’s Last Point

Akin closes by claiming my statement that “Paul says no Jews could ever have heard the gospel except from the apostles (Romans 10:12-18)” is false. Well, this is easily tested. Let’s look at what Paul says there:
[H]ow are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?
“Sent” in that last sentence being apostalôsin, the verb form of “apostle.” Paul is thus saying there is no way anyone can ever have heard of Jesus unless they hear it through an apostle.
This entails they can’t have heard it from Jesus–as for example supposedly thousands of Galilean and Jerusalemite Jews had done (according to the Gospels). Paul is adamant here, and absolute. He thus is not aware of anyone having heard the preaching of Jesus from Jesus himself (except the apostles). Paul therefore has no knowledge of Jesus having a ministry, or preaching to anyone except his apostles. Which Paul only ever says Jesus accomplished by revelation (e.g. 1 Cor. 15:3-8; Gal. 1; 1 Cor. 9:1; Rom. 16:25-27; etc.).
Indeed, Paul basically says here that it is impossible for anyone to have heard of Jesus (and what he preached) except from apostles (and those who heard it from apostles). In the very first line he says the Jews never even heard of Jesus (or from Jesus, depending on the meaning of the genitive) until the apostles preached him. So even the knowledge that Jesus existed could only be reported by apostles. Paul evidently couldn’t imagine Jews having heard about Jesus from anyone else, like the thousands of supposed non-apostolic witnesses to his ministry, or having heard of Jesus directly from Jesus, such as having seen him and heard him in person, as many Jews of Paul’s day would have…if Jesus existed in the ordinary historical sense.
Note that Akin again betrays his lack of knowledge of Greek here, or else his failure to check the Greek before pontificating an ad hoc argument, as his interpretation of this passage is not even remotely plausible. He weirdly thinks Paul is making a distinction between preachers and apostles, when in fact he is equating them. Indeed, no such distinction exists anywhere in Paul, nor makes any sense in the context of Paul’s understanding of the gospel.

Conclusion on Akin

Throughout this analysis it has become clear that it is Akin’s position that “gives the appearance of a castle built of shaky inferences that strain to get us away from the plain meaning of the texts.” He is the one not paying attention to the actual Greek or the context or range of possible meanings or even authenticity of the passages he is relying on. If this is what has to be done to defend historicity, is not historicity done for? I won’t straw man historicity that way. Akin is just not the best defender of it. But I have found that even the best cases look similar (even if not quite so bad). Case in point…

The Horn Rejoinder

So much for Akin’s rebuttal. Horn is more respectful, thoughtful and efficient. He cuts right to the chase, assumes no bad will, and appears to know more of what he’s talking about.

Horn’s Fourth Reason

Horn reiterates his “fourth” point honestly, and I agree with him that the state of the field entails I “must put forward substantial evidence in order to defend a claim that nearly every other scholar in the relevant field, including fellow skeptics, have not found convincing.” The one thing he leaves out, though, is that they have not found it convincing because they have only looked at bad arguments for it, and have yet to reason correctly on the matter in any publication I know.
In my experience (and by now I have a lot at this) the “vast majority” of experts in this field are astonishingly ignorant of many pertinent facts, and even assert things confidently that are indisputably false, or make arguments that are indisputably fallacious. Even the excellent Mark Goodacre did this; as did Bart Ehrman, a lot; and James McGrath is the veritable poster child for this kind of thing. I document that this holds for the whole field in Proving History, chapters 1 and 5. This seriously undermines any claim like Horn’s that we should trust the consensus on this.

Thus, though Horn admits this is his weakest argument, it is actually far weaker than even he seems to know.

Horn’s Third Reason

Horn doesn’t really have a rebuttal to my point that we cannot demonstrate that the extrabiblical sources we have are independent of the Gospels.
He complains that I “provided no reason…to think the references in Josephus are unreliable,” but then simply ignores the arguments in my cited article, even though he knows that was my stated reason (so he can’t really say I provided “no” reason). Here he acts like those arguments don’t exist, simply because they are in a peer reviewed academic journal. Which is a perverse standard of evidence if ever there was one. Basically, he just pretends he can gainsay my arguments by not reading them, and accepts that as an adequate reason to trust the passages in Josephus.
This is yet more evidence that defenders of historicity are not engaging in any valid reasoning in defense of their position. Horn evidently doesn’t realize that his own behavior here proves my point about our not being able to trust the scholarly consensus. Because the scholarly consensus is based on head-in-sand argumentation much like this. “I won’t read any peer reviewed papers proving I’m wrong; I’ll just declare I’m not wrong because everyone else who hasn’t read those papers agrees with me.” That’s just about the most illogical thing he could say.
Horn then attempts to defend the independence of Tacitus’s explanation of Christian origins by saying “Tacitus’ disdain for Christians and his reputation as a careful historian” would entail he would fact-check this. But, no. Tacitus would do what his best friend Pliny did: ask Christians (Pliny, notably, did no further fact-checking–and Pliny is actually Tacitus’s most likely source here, since they were governing adjacent provinces at the time and Tacitus frequently corresponded with Pliny to get source material for his histories). Their story would be so embarrassing to Tacitus’s aristocratic sensibilities that he would have no reason to fact-check it. In other words, Tacitus’ disdain is precisely why he wouldn’t look for independent corroboration of the Gospels (or Christians quoting the Gospels). He wouldn’t need to.
It’s even incredible to imagine he’d think it at all worth the bother to waste days combing through the Roman archives (quite a feat considering they had burned up twice in the interim) just to verify a howler of a story even the Christians themselves aren’t denying. And that’s even besides the fact that what it meant to be a “careful historian” in his day is not what that means today. This is well demonstrated by actual historiographers of Tacitus, who don’t find him to be the best of historians by Horn’s required standards (see Greek and Roman Historians: Information and Misinformation, just for a start). Simply repeating what Christians told him is exactly in accord with the standards of history Tacitus exemplified throughout his opus. Whereas arduously and laboriously fact-checking such minor details is not. At all. (And this all assumes the passage in Tacitus has not been meddled with, even though we have reason to believe otherwise, as I show in another peer reviewed article soon to appear in Vigiliae Christianae.)
Horn then tries to justify the passages in Josephus by citing his “intimate knowledge of Galilee after Jesus’ death,” but that’s a non sequitur. Even apart from the fact that the evidence shows Josephus never mentioned Jesus (a point, I just noted, Horn presents no argument against, nor even seems inclined to care to), if we assume in some respect Josephus did, that does not at all mean he learned of their movement from anything other than Christian sources. Indeed, the evidence strongly indicates the central passage in question was derived from the Gospel of Luke, or at least Luke’s Christian source (see The Testimonium Flavianum), and there is certainly nothing in it that suggests otherwise; while the other reference (if again we trusted it against the evidence that we shouldn’t) reports nothing but that Josephus was told a certain James was called a “brother” of a certain Christ, which I explained above does not prove he knew this meant biologically. So that doesn’t even verify historicity.
This is simply the weakest of tea. Historicity cannot stand on such unreliable evidence as this. But this will only be completely clear in chapter eight of my forthcoming book On the Historicity of Jesus, where I treat all this evidence in detail, with citations of the relevant scholarship. For now, the point is that Horn is not even interacting with the actual facts relevant to evaluating these sources, and is relying on naive assumptions about ancient historiography that have no basis in fact. Yet this is a typical way to argue for historicity. And that’s precisely what makes historicity increasingly doubtful.

Horn’s Second Reason

Here Horn argues that:
It seems incredibly unlikely that early gnostic heresies about Jesus being God disguised in human form could plague the Church for centuries but the mythicist “Gospel” preached by Peter and the other real founders of Christianity could simply disappear into thin air in the span of one generation, a length of time where those who knew the apostles could object that the events described in the Gospels never happened.
The “early Gnostic heresies” he means are all mid-to-late second century. Thus, this argument simply ignores everything I said. We don’t know what “heresies” were about in the century before that, or how they were dealt with. And that’s the material point. The battle for historicity was fought and won between 60 and 120 AD. Precisely the period we conspicuously have no texts from.
I had left aside the circular argument implied by Horn’s calling all alternative Christianities “heresies,” when the Christianity defended as “orthodox” in later second century texts is as heretical as any when measured against the original faith of even Paul, much less Peter. But now the circularity of this is even more relevant. Because Horn seems not to realize that “the original Gospel preached by Peter and the other real founders of Christianity” wasn’t even discussed much (beyond cursorily) by the likes of Irenaeus or Hippolytus (and it was so uninfluential even in the East that we really have only one substantive discussion of that original sect of Christianity, in a hostile 5th century treatise), and they seem to know little or nothing about the heresies combated by Paul in his epistles, yet plenty about sects (even in their own day) that regarded Jesus as a cosmic being and stories about him as allegories. So Horn’s incredulity is invalid: evidently, earlier forms of Christianity rejected by those later “orthodox” sources could get eclipsed or ignored by them, and yet even they were aware of sects that could plausibly have evolved from original mythicism, for whom the Gospels were allegories and Jesus’ birth was in outer space. (Even Paul’s sect, with its baptisms for the dead and glossolalia and near gender equality and assignment of Jesus to sub-god status, is pretty much not even discussed anywhere afterward, only later deviations from it are.)
Horn also relies here on the equally self-refuting Christian apologetical argument that “those who knew the apostles could object that the events described in the Gospels never happened.” How do we know that argument is false? Because there are numerous plainly false things in the Gospels that no one on record ever gainsaid (or affirmed, either–we simply have no texts from anyone who knew the apostles even mentioning the Gospels…at all, pro or con). Thus clearly “those who knew the apostles” didn’t object “that the events described in the Gospels never happened.” So we cannot expect them to have done so at all, because we have no instance of their doing so in any single case.
I give examples of this point in chapters three and five of Proving History. The most prominent: the sun going out for three hours; the Gospels egregiously contradicting each other on doctrine and chronology and geography (e.g. did the apostles flee to Galilee and see Jesus there, as Matthew and Mark claim, or did they stay in Jerusalem and see Jesus there, as Luke and John claim; and was Jesus born under Herod the Great as Matthew claims or under Quirinius ten years later as Luke claims?); not to mention the earthquakes and hordes of resurrected dead descending on Jerusalem in Matthew, but unknown to any other Gospel author, likewise Matthew’s entire empty tomb narrative, and John’s entire resurrection narrative. And so on.
Evidently, the Gospel authors could say tons of false things, and somehow no one ever gainsaid a single one of them, much less with the argument “I spoke to the apostles who were there and they said that didn’t happen” (even the Gospels don’t say that). So as arguments go, this is a non-starter. Somehow everything written about the church in the period between Paul and the mid-second century has simply been deleted from the historical record. Even though there must have been hundreds of letters and volumes in that period, and countless battles over what Jesus said and did and over the doctrine and history of the church, yet not a single one was preserved or even mentioned in later centuries. So we simply do not know what they said. We therefore cannot claim to know what they did not say.
So my point stands: we simply cannot argue from the silence of documents we don’t have.
Horn then makes the irrelevant argument that 2 Peter 1:19 doesn’t give us any more details about the sect it is attacking other than that they taught the Gospels were “cleverly devised myths.” That’s irrelevant because all we need here is what is here: evidence that a Christian sect existed that taught the Gospels were “cleverly devised myths.” That was my point. And yet, moreover, we hear nothing else about them. Thus all record of what this unknown sect taught, and even what was argued against them, was deleted from history…apart from this one example that managed to slip through, which in fact shows us evidence had to be forged to argue against them. Which makes historicity look close to indefensible.
Horn then cites McGrath against Doherty on the Ascension of Isaiah, but McGrath is routinely wrong about a great deal when it comes to facts and source materials (as I have repeatedly shown). So he is not a reliable authority. Indeed, he tends to be among the least reliable authorities I know. (And indeed in this case, a great deal of what he says about the Ascension of Isaiah is dubious or fallacious…and though the same might (?) be said of Doherty’s treatment of the text, any errors Doherty may have made cannot be imputed to me.) But at any rate, that debate will have to continue after publication of my book, which treats this source in detail from the cited scholarship of actual experts on it.

Horn’s First Reason

Horn doesn’t seem to have an argument left here. He basically just admits I was right that his first reason was wrong: Paul actually never mentions “disciples,” or Jesus choosing or teaching disciples during his life. Horn thought that was true. I showed it wasn’t. So now Horn backtracks from that argument (essentially abandoning it) and jumps onto the same bandwagon as Akin in attempting to find references to Jesus having parents at least. I already addressed what’s wrong with that tactic above. Likewise regarding Jesus having brothers.
But here Horn commits a major factual error. When attempting to “save” his theory that “brothers of the Lord” means actual rather than figurative kin, he falsely claims that in 1 Corinthians 6:5-6 “Paul refers to any believer as a ‘brother’ in Christ” (emphasis mine). No, there is no preposition “in” there at all (or the word Christ). Horn strangely then makes a whole argument out of that preposition being there, when in fact it is not. Nothing more need be said against his argument than that. Paul never once uses that preposition in this way (there is no instance in Paul of “brother in the Lord” or “brother in Christ”; even in Php 1:14, the preposition goes with the participle, “confident in the Lord,” not the noun “brother”).
(And as for Ephesians, that is a later forgery, not written by Paul, so not relevant to the facts of what Paul said or knew, but it also does not say “brother in the Lord,” it says “deacon in the Lord”; it cannot be circularly presumed that the preceding statement that he is also a brother was meant to go with the same preposition: Eph. 6:2.)
This is another instance where a historicity defender thought there was evidence for their position, yet the evidence they thought there was doesn’t even exist. This is quite common for historicity defenders. Which is yet another reason we should question historicity–and certainly question the excessive confidence in historicity displayed by its defenders, as it is so routinely based on what is factually false. Another common folly of historicists is making up arguments on the fly without thinking them through…
Case in point, Horn makes the illogical argument that Paul does not call Peter a brother of the Lord, even though he was one. But Paul already called him an apostle. So he did not need to add that he was also a baptized Christian. Horn’s expectation that he would is therefore unfounded. Indeed, the only times Paul ever uses the full appellation “brother of the Lord” is when he wants to contrast apostles with mere Christians, or to make clear Christians are meant and not biological brothers (a confusion that would arise, for example, if Paul had simply said “James the brother,” since in Greek that could imply he meant a biological brother of Peter).
But as I noted before, here is where further debate can ensue. And that will have to await my book, which treats the evidence and scholarship and objections on this matter in detail. For now the point is only that there are definite ambiguities in these passages, and thus historicity cannot rest so confidently on this evidence as has been pretended. These facts require more than prima facie examination. And that at least Horn recognizes. So we’ll have to resume all this in 2014.

Biblical Archaeology Review = Crappy Christian Propaganda Mag

Cover of Hitler Homer Bible Christ. Olive or brown with dark greek falling leaves is the only graphic. The rest is just the title, subtitle at the top, and author at the bottom all in white lettering.In further preparation for my upcoming defense of On the Historicity of Jesus at the SBL regional meeting, someone clued me in to an awful piece on the historicity issue published by BAR: Lawrence Mykytiuk (I assume that means this guy), “Did Jesus Exist? Searching for Evidence Beyond the Bible” (January/February 2015). It’s so awful it hardly warrants a response. But hell, I’m high on wine right now, so fuck it…
I gave up my own subscription to BAR many years ago when I realized it wasn’t academically rigorous or reliable, and was basically just a profit-seeking Christian propaganda mill that also served as the personal propaganda vehicle for whatever weird thing Hershel Shanks wanted to promote (who for a long time seemed basically to control the entire publication), including things he has had his own hand in behind the scenes, like the James ossuary fiasco. I caught them in inaccuracies several times (some close to outright lies, IMO), and despite my sending letters pointing this out, no corrections were issued that I recall. (Jim West has had similar issues.) So I’m not surprised that BAR would publish such a crap article from Mykytiuk.
Most notably, this article takes no notice of, nor responds in any way, to my book On the Historicity of Jesus. Even though that was published by a major respected peer reviewed biblical studies press nearly a year before Mykytiuk’s article was published. So, if someone thought this BAR article was a response to my book, well, so much for that. It’s not even aware of my book. But even apart from that, what is typical about this as a BAR article is that it is antiquated and doesn’t interact with current literature on its subject at all. It simply doesn’t inform readers, or advance the discussion, or even describe the current state of the discussion, nor is it in any relevant sense up to date. It’s therefore useless. I’ll illustrate…
Even though Mykytiuk cites Van Voorst, he doesn’t even discuss any of the debate surrounding the passage in Tacitus that is recounted by Van Voorst, nor even mentions much less discusses challenges to the authority of the passage. To the contrary, Mykytiuk’s only argument for its authenticity, that the passage is in Tacitean Latin (an argument I myself once thought decisive), betrays the fact that he doesn’t even know what the peer reviewed literature challenging its authenticity says–which concedes almost all of the passage was written by Tacitus, just not one short line. No article is worth writing about this passage in Tacitus that does not describe and address Jean Rougé’s devastating critique of it in 1974, which I expanded on in Vigiliae Christianae a whole year ago (“The Prospect of a Christian Interpolation in Tacitus, Annals 15.44,” vol. 68, 2014). How does a librarian miss the latest peer reviewed research on the subject he is writing on, published a whole year ahead of him, in a leading biblical studies journal? Much less the top papers on it forty years ago that even his own source (Van Voorst) cites and references?
Consequently, Mykytiuk’s discussion is useless and uninformative. You can find my VC paper in Hitler Homer Bible Christ. And you can find my treatment of the utility of the passage even if authentic (answer: none) in On the Historicity of Jesus, chapter 8.10. Notably, Mykytiuk even concedes Tacitus’s source was Gospel-using Christians. He has very little respect for the fact that this erases its value as evidence because it cannot independently corroborate the Gospels if it is simply just repeating what Christians in the 2nd century were saying was in the Gospels. Sigh.
Instead Mykytiuk says ridiculous things that a Tacitus expert would laugh at. And without citing any evidence in support. Such as that “Tacitus was certainly among Rome’s best historians—arguably the best of all—at the top of his game as a historian and never given to careless writing.” Good Christ. No Tacitus expert would say any of that. Tacitus is actually regarded as of middling reliability (except on straightforward political reporting), and as not trustworthy on many details (see Michael Grant’s Greek and Roman Historians: Information and Misinformation, a standard in the field). Likewise the notion that Tacitus “characteristically would have wanted to verify [scandalous information] before accepting it as true.” There is no evidence of that at all, not of the general idea of it being characteristic of Tacitus to double-check scandalous claims he loved to hear (historians generally doubt that), nor of it being the case in this particular instance (his good friend Pliny didn’t verify the information, he just believed what Christians told him; and Pliny is in fact Tacitus’s most likely source, as I show in OHJ). Nor even of it being possible. (What records does Mykytiuk imagine Tacitus would spend pointless hours checking to verify it? Let me remind you before you read his answer, that the libraries and state archives of Rome burned to the ground not just once but at least twice after the time of Jesus. See OHJ.)
Ironically, though in a note Mykytiuk admits that the passage in Tacitus probably originally spoke of “Chrestians,” not Christians, it does not occur to him that this calls into question the subsequent line mentioning “Christ.” For Tacitus cannot have written that the name “Chrestians” came from the name “Christ.” You have to choose. Either Tacitus wrote Christians (unlikely, for the reasons Mykytiuk’s cited scholarship admits), or he wrote Chrestus (if he named the man here at all), and thus was not originally talking about Christ. Precisely Rougé’s point, which he supports with considerable circumstantial evidence. And his argument I demonstrate is probably correct in my article for VC. So if you want to be up to date on this passage in Tacitus, throw Mykytiuk in the trash, and get my VC article instead (it’s in HHBC if you don’t have journal access).
Just a travesty of out of date nonsense. Mykytiuk doesn’t even cite or discuss the single most important paper on the subject of the Josephan testimonies to Jesus, that of James Carlton Paget, published in the Journal of Theological Studies in October of 2001. No discussion of these passages can be called authoritative that does not reference and discuss Paget’s treatment. How can Mykytiuk not know of this? Or completely ignore it and claim to be writing an up-to-date piece on the subject? (In any half-decent college today, your paper would get a big fat F if you did that.) Similarly, no mention of, or response to, Ken Olson’s rather famous and authoritative attacks on the main passage’s authenticity–especially, most recently in the field’s news, in Eusebius of Caesarea: Tradition and Innovations (2013, pp. 97-114), which led to a significant follow-up article on a major trade blog. No mention of, or response to, G.J. Goldberg’s “The Coincidences of the Testimonium of Josephus and the Emmaus Narrative of Luke” in the Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha (vol. 13, 1995). Both of which refute Mykytiuk’s claim that the main passage is in Josephan and not Christian style (it is in fact in Lukan-Eusebian and not Josephan style). And though he cites Alice Whealey on an unrelated point, he continues to claim the Arabic testimony to the main passage in Josephus goes back to Josephus and not Eusebius, even though Whealey thoroughly refuted that years ago: it’s just a derivation from a Syriac translation of Eusebius.
But again, how does a librarian miss the most recent peer reviewed research on this subject? My article on the Josephus passages in the Journal of Early Christian Studies was published in Winter of 2012 (also available now in Hitler Homer Bible Christ). No mention of it. No responses to its evidence or arguments. What use is his article then? None.
For example, Mykytiuk ignorantly uses the argument “All surviving manuscripts of the Testimonium Flavianum that are in Greek, like the original, contain the same version of [the central] passage, with no significant differences.” In point of fact, “all surviving manuscripts of the Testimonium Flavianum that are in Greek” derive from the same single manuscript quoted by Eusebius two centuries after Josephus died (this is self-evident, but proved anyway in my article for JECS). They therefore cannot be used to corroborate Eusebius. They are just copies of the same manuscript he then had. Likewise, he audaciously claims, “even more important, the short passage … that mentions Jesus in order to identify James appears in a later section … and implies that Jesus was mentioned previously,” even though that’s exactly the opposite of correct: it is precisely because the James passage doesn’t have an expected back-reference to the previous passage (even though such back-references are typical, especially when weird or obscure facts are involved, as I show in OHJ) that scholars doubt both passages. Not the other way around. So Mykytiuk is actually using the unexpected lack of a back-reference, as evidence of a back-reference (!?), that he then uses to bolster the authenticity of the (non-)back-referenced earlier passage. Imagine my cartoon head spinning with bewilderment.
On top of all that, Mykytiuk provides no reason to believe Josephus, even if the passages are authentic, independently verified anything. As Goldberg shows the main passage is dependent on Luke, it clearly is not independent of the Gospels. It is therefore useless as evidence. The James passage might bolster historicity a little…until you realize it didn’t exist in the time of Origen, a Josephan scholar writing a century before Eusebius, who is the first to have “discovered” it. As I demonstrated in JECS. It also cannot have been written by Josephus as we have it, since he would then need to explain what a “Christ” was, and why James being his brother would cause anyone to kill him, and then cause the Jews generally to be outraged by his being killed! And that’s just the tip of the iceberg of problems scholars have noted in recent and essential literature, none of which Mykytiuk mentions or addresses, rendering his paper useless and obsolete, even before the magazine rolled off the presses.
For a far more comprehensive, more careful, and up-to-date treatment of the Josephan references than anything Mykytiuk provides, see OHJ, chapter 8.9.
Rabbis (i.e. The Talmud)
Mykytiuk briefly says “Nondenial of Jesus’ existence is particularly notable in rabbinic writings of those first several centuries C.E.,” by which he means the Middle Ages (the Babylonian Talmud, which is what he actually means, not being written until the 5th-6th century). How one confuses “those first several centuries C.E.” with “the Middle Ages” I can’t fathom. But anyway. The real stinger here is that the Talmud uniformly knows of only one “historical” Jesus: one who was executed by stoning a hundred years before Pontius Pilate. This is a serious fucking problem. One Mykytiuk completely ignores, neither mentioning it nor attempting to cope with the problems it creates for trying to claim this counts as an independent corroboration of…what, the Gospels? How can they have independently corroborated the Gospels…and ended up thinking Jesus was executed in 75 B.C. before Romans were even in Judea? Cartoon head still spinning. For a more up-to-date and honest treatment of this evidence, see OHJ, chapter 8.1.
Mykytiuk then goes on to claim Lucian counts as corroborating the Gospels, even though Lucian wrote after 160 A.D. and even says he is using what Christians then claimed as his source. So, in what sense is Lucian at all relevant to establishing the historicity of Jesus? (Sound of wind and crickets.) He then mentions Celsus. Who also wrote after 160 and explicitly used the Gospels as his only source. (And yet, incidentally, though Mykytiuk fails to mention this, Celsus was Lucian’s friend, and thus Lucian’s most likely source of information.) He mentions Pliny the Younger, who also explicitly says he just believed what Christians told him, and that as way late as 110 A.D., and didn’t fact check anything. (He also, BTW, doesn’t say anything that identifies Jesus as a historical person.) He admits only in a footnote that Suetonius’s mention of Chrestus might not have anything to do with Jesus. “Might” is being disingenuous. It almost certainly has no such connection. See OHJ, chapter 8.11. He cites Mara bar Serapion. Oh good Christ. As Mykytiuk says, “other documentary sources are doubtful or irrelevant.” Um, that includes Mara bar Serapion, a vague, late source containing no evidence of being independent of second-century Gospel-tradition, or even of certainly saying anything about Jesus at all.
Oh, Right.
The most embarrassing thing, and perhaps the biggest tell, is that when Mykytiuk admits there are some scholars who deny or doubt historicity (he names only Wells and Martin, not a single major actual proponent, like Thompson, Brodie, Price, Carrier, Avalos, Noll, Droge, or Doherty), his cited authority is none other than the fundamentalist Evangelical apologist, Gary R. Habermas. Really? Mike drop.
SOURCE: http://www.richardcarrier.info/archives/6862

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