Partisan Apologetics, Bipartisan Bullshit

Someone pointed out to me two articles, one by Paul Street and the other by Thomas Frank. They are about liberal apologetics or rather standard partisan rhetoric.

I often feel wary about liberalism as a label, especially as applied to the Democratic Party. Barack Obama’s liberalism is to Martin Luther King’s liberalism as Jerry Falwell’s Christianity was to MLK’s Christianity. But that is neither here nor there.

The point is that the apologists in question are defending the status quo. I’m not sure if it even matters how such apologists self-identify or what kind of rhetoric they use, just as it doesn’t particularly matter how they identify their opponents and their opponents identify them. Depending on who you ask, Obama is a liberal or a neoliberal, a socialist or a corporate shill, a radical mastermind or a weak moderate, and much else besides. It’s all so much empty talk.

What does matter is what is being defended, beyond all labels and rhetoric. It’s party politics. And I’m sure at least Paul Street understands that the two parties are basically the same, even if one of them is consistently and persistently more despair-inducing than the other.

The point is that Obama isn’t being inconsistent about his beliefs. The more likely explanation is that he is acting according to his principles and values, despite it not being the hope and change some thought he was bringing. His presidency, as such, isn’t a failure, but a grand success. It doesn’t matter what one calls it. Obama serves power and money, just like Bush Jr. It’s the same old game.

It isn’t a failure of the Democratic Party. It isn’t a failure of democracy. It isn’t a failure of liberalism. All of that is irrelevant. It’s a show being put on. It is politics as spectacle. Sure, Obama will play the role of a liberal in giving speeches, but it’s just a role and he is just an actor, although not as great of an actor as someone like Reagan, not that the quality of the acting is all that important.

For that reason, the apologists should be criticized harshly. So should the partisan loyalists who so much wanted to believe the pretty lies, no matter how obvious they were.

After he was elected, I was for giving Obama a chance to prove his intentions, not that I ever bought into the rhetoric. That is why I hoped he would get elected to a second term (instead of Romney), so that no one could ever claim that he wasn’t given the full opportunity to implement what he wanted. As his presidency draws to a close, it is fair to conclude that he has proven beyond any reasonable doubt what he supports. Of course, that should have been obvious long ago to anyone paying attention.

The healthcare reform was a good example of what he supports. As explained in one comment to Frank’s article:

“Obama was able to get the ACA through with no Republican votes, relying fully on Democratic support. Why then, didn’t Obama push a single-payer plan through? The only answer is that either Obama didn’t want single-payer, or the Democratic establishment didn’t want single-payer.

“So instead the Democrats went for the individual-mandate, proposed by the far right-wing Heritage Foundation in the 1990’s, and implemented by Romney in Massachusetts.

“Instead of a truly public health care system, the Democrats mandated that We The People need to subsidize private-sector, for-profit corporations.

“Not to mention, this ‘recovery’ has seen a drastic increase in the stratification of wealth, where the uber-rich have gotten far richer while the middle-class shrinks.

“But under a President McCain or a President Romney, would we have really expected anything to be different?”

Democrats typically argued that Obama’s healthcare reform was a good compromise for pushing progressive change. Meanwhile, Republicans typically argued it was either socialism or a step toward it.

What was mostly ignored by both sides of mainstream politics is that Obamacare first and foremost served the interests of big money, which in this case meant big insurance. The only time big money gets mentioned is when campaign season goes into full gear and even then it’s never about serious concern for getting money out of politics (along with related corporatist issues such as ending revolving door politics, stopping  regulatory capture, etc).

How does this kind of corporatist policy lead to either progressive or socialist results? Why not just call it what it is and leave it at that? Why are so many people willing to play these political games of doublespeak?

People have their minds so twisted up with convoluted rhetoric that I suspect many of them couldn’t think straight, even if they tried. Heck, looking at this ideological mess, I must admit that I also find myself struggling to make heads or tails out of it.

Besides standard political power-mongering, the agenda is hard to figure out. Is it just mindless defense of the status quo? Why don’t those in power see how destructive this is, even to the system itself in the long run?

Moral Righteousness: Intent vs Results

I had the issue of righteousness on my mind while writing a previous post (Conservative & Liberal Families: Observations & Comparison). In that post, I made two points in relation to righteousness.

First, there is a difference between the morality of intentions and the morality of results. To use the example of that post, there is a difference between having family values and valuing family. Intentions may correspond to results or they may not. My conclusion was that results are more important. Also, I speculated that intention when righteously held may actually undermine genuinely moral results. Or it could be that stated intention (rhetoric) can hide self-perceived moral failure (such as a minister teaching family values while using the services of a prostitute or a politician advocating against gay rights while being gay himself).

Second, I admitted to having some tendencies toward righteousness. I don’t think, for this reason (among others), that I’d make a good parent. Of the families I’ve known, those with relatively more righteous parents have had relatively worse results (in that their families are less close and less happy). In general, a righteously judgmental sense of morality is not conducive to creating a better society. My opinion is supported by the research I’ve seen and by books I’ve read such as George Lakoff’s Moral Politics and Bob Altemeyer’s The Authoritarians. I have in the past shared some of the data correlating liberalism and real world moral results: Liberal Pragmatism, Conservative Dogmatism. I think liberals have more objective reason to be righteous on certain issues, but it’s just not in the nature of most liberals to be righteous or else to be loudly vocal about what they feel righteous about and to force it onto others. A notable exception are the New Atheists, but even the righteousness of the New Atheists pales in comparison to the righteousness of fundamentalists.

I too am a vocally righteous liberal. If a person lacks respect for others or for intellectuality, if someone uses sociopathic rationalizations or apologetic sophistry, I will not treat that person with an ounce more respect than they deserve (which is approximately zero). This doesn’t mean I immediately go on the attack with everyone I disagree. I can at times be aggressive because I see how rightwingers try to manipulate the liberal attitude of tolerance. It relates to how apologists pretend to be intellectual by using logical arguments as sophistry and selectively uses data.

What annoys me isn’t necessarily righteousness itself but how it’s used and what it’s used for. Of course, I’m annoyed by my own righteous tendencies and so I try to keep it in check. I don’t see righteousness as it’s own justification in the way that the fundamentalist sees righteous belief as it’s own justification. If I feel strongly about something, I check and double-check the facts. Before I let the chain out on my righteousness, I make sure I’m actually right. Righteousness is fine as long as it’s equally balanced by humility. I admit I can be wrong and I actively seek out evidence that can prove my opinions incorrect. I’m righteous about intellectuality, about clear thinking, about objective facts. To me, that is a moral application of righteousness. A belief, no matter how righteously held, doesn’t justify itself. Justification can only come from a larger context that includes other perspectives and other data. Righteousness should be used to break free of limiting beliefs and shouldn’t be used to enclose oneself within dogma.

Even more importantly, righteousness should always be turned toward oneself first: self-awareness, self-analysis, self-criticism. I think those who judge others are inviting judgment upon themselves by others. Also, from the perspective of Jesus’ teachings, righteousness should be primarily and most strongly directed at those in power. The Christian who likes to judge the poor and the homeless, the desperate and the disenfranchised is no real Christian. The Christian who defends the rich and powerful (whether Rand Paul defending BP or Catholics defending the Pope) and so forsakes the poor and powerless is no real Christian. In this sense, there seems to be a contagion of hyopcrisy among many social conservatives (certainly among the leadership anyways).

Righteousness is a useful but dangerous tool. It does no good to defend those in power who can defend themselves just fine. And it does no good to beat a man while he is down. Defending the wealthy elite while complaining about the “welfare queens” is just plain wrong and comes close to being evil of sociopathic proportions. Righteousness in the hands of dogmatic haters leads to 9/11 attacks and the shootings of abortion doctors. In the US, this righteousness is directly fueled by the rightwing pundits such as Bill O’Reilly endless calling Dr. Tiller, “Tiller the Baby Killer”. Surprise, surprise. A crazy rightwinger kills Dr. Tiller. And guess what? O’Reilly considers himself a good, righteous Christian. Why does O’Reilly have so much righteous hate? Abortion is bad? If O’Reilly were to look at the data (which righteous ideologues rarely do), he would know that countries with legal abortions have lower abortion rates. But, ya see, it isn’t about making the world a better place. The righteous ideologue simply wants to think of himself as being right… and damn the consequences.

Let me share two examples of liberal righteousness.

The first example is Derrick Jensen who is a righteous environmentalists. I think it’s obvious that he has plenty of justification for his righteousness. No rational and compassionate person (meaning everyone besides righteous ideologues) could deny the data he shares in his books. Jensen analyzes in detail the sociopathic tendencies of our society. However, he sometimes, out of frustration, pushes his rhetoric a bit far. It’s hard to know if he pushes too far or not considering the potential dire consequences of the present trajectory of our civilization. It’s not like Jensen is a fundamentalist warning about the end of the world because of his interpretation of biblical prophecy. Jensen is talking about the real world. He seems like a genuine intellectual and I sense he’d be open-minded about new info that challenged his own views. As far as I can tell, Jensen’s righteousness is based in the actual facts. So, it’s not a blind righteousness. Furthermore, it’s a righteousness directed toward those in power… meaning those who have the power to change the world for the better if they so chose.

The second example is Barbara Ehrenreich who is a righteous journalist. Like Jensen, she seems to base her righteousness on objective data and not mere ideological belief. I’ve seen videos of her speaking, but I’ve only just started reading her book Bright-Sided. In that book, she is criticizing a type of optimism popular in America which is superficial and which is too often used to rationalize egregiously immoral or otherwise dysfunctional behavior. I’m not sure she talks about righteousness, but I get the sense that righteousness would relate to her portrayal of positive thinking. She does go in some detail about Christianity and so makes the direct connection to belief as an unquestioning, uncritical mindset. It reminds me of research I’ve seen on positive thinking which shows optimists have a tendency to take credit when results are seen as beneficial or desirable (whether or not the optimist actually earned this credit) and optimists have a tendency to blame externalities (unforeseen factors, other people, etc) when reults are seen as having turned out bad. When an entire society embraces positive thinking, major catastrophes happen. Blinded by optimism, those responsible can honestly claim to not having seen it coming (despite all the evidence that should’ve been heeded as a warning).

The righteous are always right even when they turn out to be wrong. It’s like how social conservatives blame the failure of abstinence only sex education not on the programs themselves but on society. Society is seen as having failed the values preached by the righteous person, but the righteous person will never see themselves as having failed society. So, to go back to the original example, “family values” are believed to never fail even when the results would seem to point towards failure. Families fail and societies fail according to this view, but family values can never fail because the fundamentalist perceives them as having originated from thousands of years of righteous tradition or even from the righteous Word of God. This is righteousness as defensive self-rationalization.

The main moral purpose that righteousness should be applied to is righteousness misused. That is my ideal, anyways. I don’t know how often I live up to my ideal, but I try. Hopefully, my results correspond with my intentions.

Why I am no longer a Christian by Evid3nc3

This video is an atheist explaining how he lost his faith. It’s long, but I found it worth watching. The guy is very respectful of Christianity and he is far from being dismissive of his past faith.

His example reminds me of Robert M. Price who also began studying with the hope of strengthening his faith. The risk of apologetics is that it uses the methods of the enemy (logic, argument, questions, doubts, intellect, etc). There is a real danger to opening yourself up to any and all doubts and following questions to whatever answers they may lead. This is true for any person, whether religious or not. Intellectual inquiry isn’t for the contented. Questions aren’t for those who wish to remain in comforting certainties.

RE: Top Ten Problems With the Jesus Myth Theory

I every so often check out the blog by the apologist Stephen J. Bedard.  I noticed some new comments and one particular comment was quite nice.  I’ll quote this comment in full because it’s such a perfect summary of the Jesus Myth position.  I’d been meaning to fully respond to this post of Bedard’s for a while, but just had only answered Bedard’s first criticism and so it has remained unposted until now.  I’ll first give my limited response, then share the other commenters response, and after that I’ll respond to Bedard’s response to the commenter.  Clear?

Top Ten Problems With the Jesus Myth Theory

1) The rejection of the Gospels as historical sources.  They are seen as faith documents and not modern biographies.  That is true but we do not have any unbiased ancient texts that meet the criteria of modern biography.  If we reject the Gospels, we would also have to reject most of what we know about ancient history.

Some mythicists may reject the Gospels as historical sources, but this has nothing directly to do with the mythicist theory.  The parallels are relevant whether or not there is any relevant historical references in the Gospels.  Besides, I doubt any mythicist claims that the Gospels entirely lack history.  In fact, all the mythicists I know of agree that the writers (and interpolators) were purposely adding history to make the Christ myth more convincingly real.  The difference from literalists is that mythicists either see the historical additions as coming later in the development of Christianity or they see a historical figure that was evemerized and whose biographical details now are (mostly or entirely) lost.

It’s a rather complex issue since the limited info allows for endless speculation.  There might’ve been a historical Jesus who was lost beneath mythology and then the later historicizing of the gospel writers may have attempted to reconstruct the hypothetical evemerized Jesus.  Or there might’ve been many historical figures that became amalgamated by which they were given a unified and coherent story through mythological motifs.  We conveniently don’t even have the unmodified writings (or even the first commentaries) of the earliest Christians/Gnostics to determine how they perceived their own process of storytelling.

All of this shows a difference in thinking styles.  To the degree that someone is a literalist, they think in black and white terms.  A literalist historical Jesus can’t be mythical (even if one allows for superficial mythical accretions).  The mythicist position, on the other hand, can allow for a historical Jesus.  As such, mythicists (unlike apologists) are in a better position to adapt to the evidence as it arises for they have no singular fixed position, no belief system held above doubt and question.  A difference here is that a historical Jesus is unimportant to a mythicist because history doesn’t prove theology nor does it disprove the mythicist theory.  Even if the litealist can prove a historical Jesus, it is utterly meaningless because what they’re really trying to prove is that he is the Son of God who died for our sins… which is outside of the proof of history.

Oddly enough, a number of Christians have supported mythicism even while they affirmed historicism, but these aren’t your typical literalists.  One of the greatest New Testament scholars was Rudolf Bultmann.  He believed in mythological parallels, but the apologist prefers to ignore Christians like him.  Another example is C.S. Lewis who is a favorite of apologists, and yet he accepted that Pagan parallels existed before Christianity.  Actually, the earliest apologists didn’t try to deny any of this, but some just said the Devil foresaw the coming of Christ and taught the Pagans false doctrines ahead of time in order to deceive.  Lewis followed a different tradition of interpretation (Justin Martyr speaks of “seeds of truth among all men” within 1 Apology 44. See: preparatio evangelica).  He argued that the pre-Christian parallels strengthened Christianity.  If the pre-Christian parallels were false, then Christianity would be false as well.  However, maybe Christianity took the truth of Paganism and added further truth to it.  What had been just mythological was now historically real… or so the argument goes.  But this ignores the fact that many Pagans believed their myths were also historical.  Anyways, it is insightful how apologists overlook this part of Lewis’ writings.

To be fair, I should point out that Bedard isn’t a simpleminded apologist (see: Reading the Bible Literally).  Bedard seems to be more in the latter camp as he was influenced by C.S. Lewis (see: Mere Christianity).  He accepts that Christian holidays are Pagan in origin (see: The Bible and Pagan Holidays), that the earliest Christian iconography copied Pagan images (see: Christ as Orpheus), and that the Judeo-Christian tradition was contributed to by Pagan ideas (see: Hellenistic Influence and the Resurrection).  To me, this seems to be as literalist as a Christian can be while maintaining some basic rational dignity, and Bedard claims his beliefs are based on rationality.

But if one were to take all of those Pagan elements away, what would be left?  A historical figure?  Well, Pagans had historical claims about their godmen.  A savior who is the Son of God?  Well, this motif can also be found outside of Christianity.  Bedard, obviously, feels there is something unique here… but exactly what?

Bedard at times does show his literalist tendencies in a black and white thinking.  No mythicist is using modern standards of biography to judge the Gospels.  It is absurd to argue we’d have to reject most of ancient history if we reject the Gospels.  That almost doesn’t even deserve a rational response.  For one, secular historians aren’t trying to prove anything theologically and so they always start from a position of questioning and doubt.  There is no reason to accept any text as true until other sources of info validate it.  In the case of the Gospels, they lack confirming sources.  No ancient historian spoke about Jesus while he was alive even though there were numerous historians (including Jewish historians) in the area Jesus supposedly lived.  Also, Romans were meticulous record keepers and the records of the time survived for us to inspect, and yet we discover no Jesus in them.  This lack of evidence may not be remarkable for an average person of the time, but Christians claimed Jesus had great impact on the Roman World.

Let me add one last point on this issue.  I was listening to Richard Carrier on the proper defense and improper defense of the Jesus Myth(scroll down).  Carrier makes an interesting point.  People aren’t idiots for believing in Jesus’ historicity.  They’re just looking at different data.  Just a few pieces of data not assimilated or countered by historical arguments won’t disprove it, but a few hundred pieces of data that promotes doubt causes one to consider alternative theories.  However, most people never get to that point.  This is particularly true for many (most?) New Testament scholars who are Christians (which is a large percentage) and hence who don’t have much motivation to seek out and seriously consider all of the contradictory data.  According to Carrier, it’s a bad argument to try to support mythicism by claiming silence on Jesus’ historicity.  The evidence that has survived could be interpreted as proof of a historical Jesus, but it could also be interpreted in other ways when placed in context of other evidence.  If one doesn’t take into account the plethora of Pagan parallels (either out of ignorance or dismissal), it isn’t irrational per se if one were to claim Jesus’ historicity.  However, as an apologetic argument, it’s just an empty claim that one can say little about… not that apologetics is meant to have substance beyond the belief motivating it.

Michael’s response to Bedard:

“As I sit here watching the documentary on Tom Harpur’s Pagan Christ, I find myself reminded of all the problems that I see in the Jesus myth theory. I will share my top ten problems with this theory. This is not a detailed analysis but rather my opportunity to vent on the glaring problems with this theory.

1) The rejection of the Gospels as historical sources. They are seen as faith documents and not modern biographies. That is true but we do not have any unbiased ancient texts that meet the criteria of modern biography. If we reject the Gospels, we would also have to reject most of what we know about ancient history.”

For the most part, proponents of the Jesus Myth (JM) regard the gospels as allegorical first and faith documents second. Also, proponents of the JM do highlight the fact that the early catholic church used purely theological arguments for the existence of Jesus and did not defer to historical sources. Barnabbas and Clement are very curious because when they refer to the passion of Christ they simply quote Isaiah 53… which is an odd thing to do if the exploits of Christ had been a matter of recent history and were purported to be world reknown.

And there does exist a good selection of actual historical documents from the 1st century, such as Pliny’s Natural History and Josephus’ Testimonium… the four gospels do not mirror the style and format of any known works of historical record from the time period they are alleged to have been composed in.

“2) The claim that Paul never mentions the historical Jesus. This is simply not true. Paul quotes Jesus, mentions aspects of his life and in 1 Corinthians 15 he challenges his readers to check out the surviving witnesses.”

That Paul “quotes” Jesus is not problematic for proponents of the JM. There’s nothing that prohibits the idea that the cosmic divine messiah taught his apostles. That Paul is aware of a sacred meal is not problematic either. Sacred meals are virtually universal. And in 1st Corinthians 15 Paul never differentiates between the nature of his experience with Jesus (revelatory vision) and the experience of the other apostles. Doesn’t Paul say at some point in the epistles, “Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen the Lord?” Paul wrote that there was no difference between his experience with Jesus and the other apostles experience. And in verse 45 Paul actually says that Jesus was not a human and draws a stark contrast between Adam and Jesus to illustrate the point.

You seem to be basing your 10 points off of a very faulty understanding of the JM, which is regrettable but predictable.

“3) The rejection of Josephus as a testimony of Jesus. Some authors reject Josephus as evidence for Jesus because it is clear that there is Christian tampering. Most scholars see an original core testimony that has been augmented by Christians not created. Plus we have what Josephus says about John the Baptist and James, the brother of Jesus.”

I am always very doubtful of anyone who says anything along the lines of “most scholars”. This kind of appeal to authority and reliance upon an alleged consensus is the heighth of intellectual laziness.

“4) The claim that gnosticism was an equally original valid of Christianity along side what became orthodox Christianity. The fact is that there is a clear continuity with our first century Christian documents as found in the New Testament and what became orthodox Christianity. Gnosticism with its rejection of the Jewish God, Jewish Scriptures, material world, and its focus on gnosis rather than sin were a later (mid to late second century) break away from Christianity.

5) The misuse of pagan myths. Many claims are made about the pagan myths by these authors but when you look at the myths themselves, these claims are often not accurate. You are expected to rely on their secondary sources and not to look at the primary sources.

6) Pagan myths are described in Christian language to strengthen their connection to Jesus. Mithras is said to be born of a virgin even though he was born of a rock. Horus is said to be born of virgin even though he was conceived in the post-death intercourse of his married parents.”

It is not a fact that there is clear continuity between canonical texts and what became orthodox Christianity. There is a record of development from the 1st century to the 2nd of an evolving human Jesus doctrine. This can be seen in primitive “gospel” references throughout Barnabbas, Polycarp, Clement, Paul, Ignatius, etc. and it leads all the way to the end of the 2nd century with the crystallization of the four gospels as referred to by Irenaeus in Against Heresies.

Please note that, unlike your baseless assertion this is an argument that is logical and supported by the documentary evidence.

Also, you over-state the case for pagan influences. You’re building one heck of a strawman. Certainly there was pagan influence, but any proponent of the JM worth his/her salt will tell you that the biographical data that came to be expressed in the gospels was drawn almost entirely from the Old Testament.

Again, your understanding the JM seems to be incredibly flawed.

“7) No respect for the dates of texts. Authors use pagan texts to establish connections to Jesus but sometimes (as in the case of Mithras) the texts post-date the New Testament. How do we know that the pagans did not borrow from the Christians?

8 ) Use of post-biblical traditions. Authors demonstrate pagan influence on the three wide men, the ox and ass, December 25 and a number of other traditions. The problem is that those are not biblical traditions. These things were added to the tradition later and any pagan influence says nothing about the origins of the Jesus story.

9) Misunderstanding of pagan influence on art. There are valid examples of pagan influence on Christian art such as Isis holding baby Horus being used as a model for Mary holding baby Jesus. It make sense that the new movement of Christianity would look beyond itself as it was developing its artistic side. This says nothing about pagan origins for the story.

10) The patchwork use of pagan myths. It is difficult to find large chunks of pagan myth that look like the Gospels. Jesus myth theorists take a word here and a phrase here, from dozens of myths from many cultures and say “Here is the Gospel!” If you start with enough stories, you can reconstruct almost any historical figure, ancient or minor.”

Strawman strawman strawman.

“These are just a few of the problems that I have with the Jesus myth theory. Unfortunately, it is not likely to go away any time soon.”

No, it won’t go away any time soon, in fact it is gaining traction.

– – –

I generally agree with this assessment of the Jesus Myth theory.  Bedard responded to this comment, but the commenter didn’t return.  So, let me have a crack at Bedard’s comment.

Regarding the Gospels, even the great allegorist Origen did not take them as strictly allegorical. While not exactly the same as Josephus, the Gospels do have much in common with ancient histories. They are closer to ancient biographies with Luke-Acts having stronger historical leanings. And as for the early church, they did not just rely on allegory or OT interpretation. They also stated these events as being historical events.

Yes, there was a great variety in early Christianity.  It was common practice for Christians to take some of the Bible allegorically, but there was disagreement about which parts were allegorical and exactly how they should be interpreted.  Some Christians even believed that Jesus was entirely allegorical or at least entirely spiritual (non-physical/non-historical)… allegorical and spiritual being related in the ancient mind.

I personally wouldn’t argue that the Gospels entirely lack commonality in certain aspects of style with some ancient histories.  It wasn’t uncommon in the ancient world for history to be mixed with allegory (whether allegory as spiritual truth or as moral storytelling), and it’s not easy to tell how literally ancients took any given text as the common understanding would likely never have been written down.  The claims of emperors as godmen, for example, can be found in supposedly historical accounts.  Did the Romans actually believe their emperor was a godman?  I’m sure some did… just consider how gullible some modern people are even though modern education is far superior.

The Gospels show commonalities with many types of writing and storytelling and that is part of the point of the Jesus Myth theory.  There are a few comparisons that can be made.  Alan Dundes wrote the book Holy Writ as Oral Lit in which he shows the similarities of the Bible with folklore texts.  Other scholars have pointed out the similarity of the Gospels to the genre of Spiritual Romances which were a type of fiction popular at the time.  As an example of a novel of that time period, read The Life of Aesop which supposedly tells the biographical story of Aesop’s life and the style of it is reminiscent of the Gospels.  I’m not implying that there is any causal connection between the Gospels and The Life of Aesop, but I’m merely pointing out that this genre of storytelling was extremely popular in the early centuries of the Roman Empire.

Regarding Paul and the historical Jesus, in the first verses of 1 Cor 15 where Paul speaks of the resurrection historically and tags his experience to the witness of others. As for verse 45, Paul is contrasting Jesus with Adam but he is not denying that he is human. Read the passage from Genesis that he is quoting and you will see that the whole verse is about Adam. Paul is saying Jesus is a complete Adam.

I have no particular opinion about this.  Jesus and Adam are equally mythological and both were taken as historical figures by some believers.  On the other hand, there were also believers who interpreted the Bible as spiritual allegory which isn’t exactly fiction but which is far from historical fact.  The purpose of spiritual allegory is to point to a more profound truth.  The question is which belief was closest to the original Christians.  Well, I don’t know if there was any singular group of Christians that was orginal.  What I do know is that the Gnostics were the earliest Christians to organize the Gospels into a single book, were the earliest Christians to comment on the Gospels, and were among the earliest prominent Christian leaders both within and outside of the Catholic Church.

I hear what you are saying about “most scholars” but I have trouble when there is a strong consensus among a wide variety of scholars (not just Christian) and just a few scholars, usually those with a theory like the Jesus myth to promote, who deny the passage.

My opinion is that the concensus in Biblical studies isn’t the same thing as a concensus in science.  Most Biblical scholars have been and still are Christians or at least were raised in Christianity.  Most of the Biblical scholarship in the past was done as overt apologetics, and many scholars still act as apologists and see no contradiction in their ability to think objectively and critically.  Bedard himself is an apologist who has beliefs such as the virgin birth that contradict the concensus of scientists.  Shouldn’t the concensus of scientists supercede the concensus of apologists when it comes to a subject such as the biological possibility of virgin births in homo sapiens?

As examples of the importance of distinguishing apologetics from scholarship, read the following blogs and articles.  I also threw in some other responses to specific apologetic arguments just for good measure.

Robert W. Funk:

A letter of Concern for Prof. Dr. Gerd Luedemann

April DeConick:

Choosing your method

What do I mean by ‘confessional’?

The never-ending confusion about perspective

Robert M. Price:

Protestant Hermeneutical Axiomatics: A Deconstruction

Is There a Place for Historical Criticism?

MUST WE TAKE A LEAP OF FAITH? (HAVE WE ALREADY?)

Paradigm Shifting and the Apologetics Debate

Introducing the Journal of Higher Criticism

N.T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God

By This Time He Stinketh

Earl Doherty:

Challenging the Verdict

Responses to Critiques of the Mythicist Case

D.M. Murdock:

Is the Bible True?

Richard C. Carrier:

Bayes’ Theorem for Beginners

Epistemological End Game

Experimental History

History Before 1950

Related to apologetics is the issue of scientific understanding in the ancient world… and sadly the issue of scientific understanding in the modern world.

Richard C. Carrier:

Stark on Ancient Science

Books on Ancient Science

Science and Medieval Christianity

Statistics & Biogenesis

Yockey on Biogenesis

Defining the Supernatural

To continue with my response to Bedard:

I disagree with your statement about the continuity. Orthodox Christians agreed that Jesus’ Father was the God of the OT and that Jesus was human and divine. All of this found in the NT but denied by gnostics.

The Gnostics were the first to collect scriptures into a single book we now call the Gospels.  The Gnostics intentionally left out Jewish scriptures because the purpose of their creating the Gospels was because they specifically believed the OT God and the NT God were separate Gods (enemies even).  The Gospels were created for the purpose of demonstrating the distinct uniqueness of the Christian God.  Yes, there were some Jewish or Jewish-influenced Christians early on, but there is no proof that they were the first Christians.  Obviously, Judaism was a part of the milieu of early Christianity and so were a number of other religions.  As the earliest commenters on the Gospels were Gnostics who were also the creators of the Gospels as a singular canon, I think it’s fair to give them precedence on it’s interpretation… or at least it’s fair not to dismiss them out of hand.

Regarding the pagan influence. I agree that there is a stronger case that the Gospels are based on the OT than on pagan sources but the Jesus myth people I have encountered (Tom Harpur, Peter Gandy, Timothy Freke) have focused mostly on the pagan sources.

As I see it, it isn’t either/or.  Yes, many biographical details were lifted at some point from the OT.  But, some argue, that this was simply a matter of Hellenistic Jews and other related groups reading the OT through the lense of Greco-Roman philosophy, theology and mythology.  In the ancient world, a new religion was deemed unworthy if it didn’t have precedent in an already existing religious tradition.  So, a new religion had to prove itself by interpreting older texts in a new light.  But this was just a matter of convenience and they weren’t trying to stay true to the original intent and purpose of those texts.  The Jesus story that they created was in contradiction to the traditional Jewish expectation of a Messiah, but all that mattered is that Jesus was portrayed as Jewish which gave him the appearance of respectability.  They had to detail his Jewish lineage in order to substantiate their claims.  However, from a strictly traditional Jewish perspective, such superficial reinterpretations were meaningless and outright blasphemous.

Let me make one last point about Bedard’s scholarship.  It’s obvious he lacks any full understanding of mythicism.  The three Jesus myth people he mentions (Harpur, Gandy, and Freke) are just popular writers.  He admits to having never read any serious scholarship about mythicism.  I appreciate popularizers for they communicate ideas to the general public, but there are several scholars I can think of offhand who are way more respectable than those three.  I linked some of these scholars above, but there are a few more besides.  I should mention Karen Armstrong.  She is a respectable scholar who, although doesn’t identify as a mythicist, seems to support the connections between pagan mythology, classical thought, allegorical thinking and early Christianity.  If you want to know more about the Christ myth theory and the scholars who have supported this position, then check out the Wikipedia article which gives a good overview.

As an apologist, it doesn’t matter that Bedard’s knowledge of mythicism is limited.  However, as a scholar, it’s very important.  Bedard is not only a published scholar but has specifically written a book about mythicism.  He presents himself as an expert and he is an expert in other areas of Biblical studies but not in mythicism.  I first commented on Bedard’s blog around the beginning of this year (2009) and the year is almost ended.  One of the comments I made to Bedard at that time was specifically that he claimed to have only read the popularizers of mythicism and that if he was serious about his scholarship then he should read some serious scholarship on the subject.  I was just perusing his blog and saw no evidence that he has since read any high quality scholarship on mythicism.

As far as I can tell by my brief interactions, I respect Bedard as a person.  He is one of the most easygoing apologists I’ve ever met.  Also, I read one of his articles published in a journal and I was impressed.  But none of that changes the fact that he isn’t an expert nor has read any experts in the field of mythicism.  His opinions about mythicism are no more worthy than the mythicist popularizers he has criticized.  As such, his writings on mythicism mostly serve the purpose of apologetics rather than scholarship.

That is fine if that is all he wants to do, but he seems to have a mind that is capable of so much more.  I’d love to see him (or some other apologist) do an in-depth analysis of the full range of mythicist scholarship.  I’m waiting…

Another Apologist: P.W. Dunn

Below is a comment of mine directed to P.W. Dunn in a discussion I started with him.  I also posted my comments in my blog here in the post titled About Canonizing Acts of Paul.  The comment here was originally intended to be posted in his blog, but I decided I no longer wanted to continue my dialogue with him as I didn’t see it going anywhere interesting.  Also, I figured this comment could use its own post. 

My discussion with Dunn reminds me of my discussions with Bedard.  The difference is that, even though Bedard was also a New Testament scholar, he overtly identified himself as an apologist and so was open about the fact that his scholarship served a purpose of apologetics.  Bedard even gave his blog the title of Apologia.  So, I knew what kind of discussion I was in the moment I commented to his posts.  Interestingly, I don’t think Bedard made religious claims in his blog but rather always kept the discussion on the level of facts and logic.  Like Dunn, Bedard presented himself as rational, even claiming his beliefs were based on his rationality.  To say the least, I had immense doubts about whether his rationality was actually greater than his faith, but at least he seemed more or less open about his bias. 

The peer-reviewed article of Bedard’s that I read was high quality scholarhip and so I had respect for his intellect… even though it served a purpose of apologetics which I consider far from worthy.  The ironic part of it was that objectively speaking his article easily could’ve been used as evidence in support of my criticisms of his religious beliefs.  It is rather odd how some people have objectivity in terms of their professional career, but can’t appreciate the obvious implications to their personal life.  That is what in psychology is called compartmentalization.  Maybe Dunn has compartmentalized in a similar manner, but it is far from obvious.

I must say I’m not a fan of apologetics and I’m outright critical of apologetics when it’s conflated with scholarship.  I sense enormous problems that are created when belief and rationality are mixed.  The danger is that there is a thin line between rationality and rationalization.  The purpose of scholarship is to lessen bias, and so scholarship that is intentionally biased seems blatantly wrongminded.  I’d even go so far as to say it’s a moral issue.  To me, the role of academic is a noble calling.  The role of professional scholar represents the human capacity for rationality and more importantly represents the ideal of truth.  If even academics lack the ability to see past their biases and lack the ability to seriously consider different perspectives, then there is even less hope for the average person.  An academic spends years training their intellectual faculties and analyzing difficult issues.  Society looks to them as authorities on the subject of their expertise.  Also, academics act as teachers.  In particular, acadmics at a college level are some of the most influential people in the world as they help to form the minds of society’s youth.  We should hold scholars to a very high standard.

However, in the past, fields such as biblical studies were used to support orthodoxy and it’s only been in recent decades that this field has come into its own as a secular endeavor.  Part of the reason for this is because the discoveries of many non-canonical texts only happened very recently.  The church spent great effort over the centuries destroying and suppressing these texts, and many of them were considered entirely lost.  Even once these texts were once again available, the first scholars read them through the bias of what the heresiologists had written at the beginning of Christianity.  New Testament scholarship had been meshed with orthodoxy for so many centuries that scholars initially had great difficulty studying the heretical texts without bias, and many scholars still today are still heavily influenced by the orhtodox criticisms of ancient heresiologists. 

Dunn seems a good example of this.

 – – –

Here is the aforementioned comment:

“I do believe that the New Testament as it came down to us is inspired and is a faithful guide for the church and witness to Jesus Christ.”

When I first commented, I was only making a point about an academic issue.  I wasn’t thinking in terms of religious faith and beliefs, and especially not in terms of orthodox doctrine.

However, reading your response, I’m not certain if this is an academic discussion or a religious one.  You spoke of which texts you considered inspired and which texts you considered inspiring.  It’s not surprising that you don’t find inspiring texts that you don’t believe to be inspired, but either way it has nothing to do with a scholarly discussion. 

My determining what we’re actually discussing is complicated by the fact that you started your response by declaring your belief in the orthodox canon as being an inspired witness to Christ.  OTOH you present this blog as a scholarly endeavor.  So, I’m confused by your using it as a platform for declaring your personal religious beliefs and defending orthodoxy. 

Do you see your role as an academic or as an apologist?  If your scholarship is merely in service of orthodoxy, then I don’t have much interest in continuing dialogue.  I could try to offer a rational response, but there is no rational response to a profession of religious doctrine.  Belief and reason are simply two different issues. 

The problem is that scholarship necessitates this division to be kept clear, but orthodox religion requires scholarship to serve doctrine.  Ultimately, a person can’t both be a scholar and an apologist at the same time.  The moment scholarship is constrained by or conformed to doctrine, it ceases to be scholarship and becomes apologetics.  This isn’t to dismiss religious belief, but it’s simply to say it has no validity in the context of scholarship and instead lessens the objective value of that scholarship.

I’ve yet to see evidence that you clearly separate the two.  If you did clearly distinguish them, then you wouldn’t have brought up your faith in a format supposedly dedicated to academic scholarship.  In having a discussion with you, I’d have to try to make distinctions between your beliefs and your scholarship.  However, this would ultimately be impossible as you’ve mixed them together in your comments.

You seem to be an intelligent person.  I don’t doubt you can make logical arguments supported by evidence.  Nonetheless, your strong religious faith seems to imply that your beliefs are conclusions that precede your arguments.  Before perceiving the situation to be otherwise, I’d have to see evidence of your willingness to change your beliefs to fit scholarly evidence and hence a willingness to consider evidence that contradicts your beliefs.

C.S. Lewis and Myth

C.S. Lewis believed the pagan myths were mere creations of man and so conveyed the truths of men, but that Christianity was a true myth.  Lewis was convinced of the Christian story as real because of an atheist he knew who accepted Jesus as having historically existed.  This is strange that he put so much validity to this atheist’s claims while he apparently ignored the conclusions by others who contradicted historical proof.  Whatever his reasoning, Lewis seemed to have made the leap that historical reality equates to divine reality. 

Two things must be forgiven Lewis for his knowledge was limited.  First, the doubts about Jesus having historically lived have only continually grown stronger since that time.  Even during Lewis’ lifetime, there were plenty of intellectuals doubting the supposed historical proofs of Jesus, but Lewis was ultimately looking for any reason to believe.  He simply wanted to believe.  Second, either he wasn’t knowledgeable in the field of mythology or else certain issues weren’t well known among scholars of his day.  Anyways, his assumption that the Christian myth was the only one claimed to be historical is utterly false.  The rational framework (i.e., the apologetics) of Lewis’ Christian beliefs fall apart under the careful scrutiny of contemporary knowledge.  These arguments still are powerful though partly because ignorance of such matters is still immense.  One can still find biblical scholars who seem ignorant or dismissive of the fact that other religious myths have been claimed to be historical, but I suppose that is simply the danger of academic specialization in particular when in service of dogma.  The question that comes to mind is that even if Lewis had more knowledge would this have changed one iota his desire to believe and hence his ultimate conclusion of belief.  If his desire was strong enough, he could’ve found other ways to rationalize his belief.

I should point out an important factor.  Lewis was attracted to pagan mythology.  It affected him in a way that the Christian myth initally didn’t.  His intellect got in the way of his appreciating Christianity.  He wanted to rationally understand how Jesus life could have influence on him now besides merely being an example (which wouldn’t be enough to support conversion).  Tolkien helped Lewis to realize he was putting Christianity on a different level than Paganism, and that he needed to approach Christian myth in the way he did with Pagan myth.  Tolkien’s more poetic mindset helped Lewis understand his own intellectual bias.  Christianity was myth as well, but it was true myth… the Word of God incarnate.

This is all fine and dandy, but doesn’t make for good apologetics.  By this, I mean that it wouldn’t convince anyone that isn’t already a Christian or isn’t already looking for a reason to believe.  His dismissal of pagan myths as merely human stories hints at a tremendous lack of insight and understanding.  The Pagans were similarly inspired by divine visions when creating their stories.  Also, like Christians, many Pagans conflated mythology with history.  His separation between Christianity and Paganism is artificial and unhelpful.

I will, however, give credit where it’s due.  Lewis did come to a middleground position that no Christian fundamentalist could ever accept.  He didn’t simply dismiss pagan myth.  He had studied myths for himself and he realized they held powerful truths, but ultimately the apologist in him had to limit this insight.  He required that a myth be absolutely true or else just a story.  As I see it, the point of myth is that it can never be clearly defined.  Clear definitions are of man and not of the divine.  The intellectual desire of apologetics in trying to prove Christianity ultimately undermines the very value of Christianity… not that ignorance is the answer.  Whether or not Jesus (or any mythological character for that matter) actually lived is ultimately insignificant.  The teachings that are claimed to be from Jesus had been spoken before by others.  They’re either true or false based on their value.  Besides, God could just as easily speak through any mythological character or actual human as through Jesus… and Jesus never claims otherwise.  Plus, even if Jesus had existed, it proves absolutely nothing.  First century teachers and prophets making astounding claims (such as being Christ, Messiah, Son of God and Son of Man) and having astounding claims made about them (such as healings, miracles and salvation) were dime a dozen.

Basically, if Lewis (like any other Christian) wished to believe, then he was free to have faith.  But such faith is at best a spiritual experience and so rationality is besides the point.  Anytime rationality is used to support faith it inevitably fails as it becomes mired in rationalization.  Lewis, of course, became aware of the limitations of rationality.  But, differently than Tolkien, he had a stronger tendency towards relying on intellectual understanding.  He necessitated an initial “belief” in a rational groundwork for Christianity (i.e., belief in the historical Christ) before he could embrace belief on its own terms.  His problem was that he couldn’t imagine Christianity as being respectable or worthy without this initial claim of proof.  To me, this puts the whole edifice of Christianity on rather shaky ground.  For one, it can’t be proved by secular standards of historical and scientific scholarship.  Secondly, even if it were true, there is no way to distinguish it from all of the other historical claims of equal validity.  Why not be Jewish, Muslim, Manichean or Buddhist instead of Christian?  All of the founders of these religions have been claimed to be historical.  Furthermore, many early Christians outright denied Jesus being historical.  They actually believed the historical claims undermined his spiritual value.  Whether or not you agree with this assessment, it demonstrates that a Christian almost two thousand years later has no reason to feel secure in historical claims when the earliest Christians couldn’t even agree.

The problem for Lewis’ apologetics comes down to a single factor.  All myths have to be judged on the same level.  Claims of historical proof or divine status aren’t original or exclusive to Christianity and so can’t be used to distinguish it.  Even the theology of Christianity mostly isn’t original and exclusive.  I don’t mean to dismiss the truth of Christianity, but I’m only trying to convey that Christians will have to dig a bit deeper to find it.  Lewis intuitively sensed a truth in Christianity and that is what is important.  The problem comes when a person believes what intuitively makes sense to them must be absolutely true for everyone.  I do suspect there are something like universal truths, but even so I doubt they exist on the surface level of any given story or doctrine.  Lewis maybe should’ve stayed closer to his actual experience rather than looking for a Christian explanation.  Instead of trying to bring his personal truth into the context of collective religious myth (i.e., orthodox Christian doctrine), he might’ve found even more insight by following it into the depths of the poetic imagination, the spiritual substratum.

I shouldn’t be so critical of Lewis.  I respect a person who struggled with trying to understand such difficult issues.  He did have a very questioning attitude.  He was as openminded as someone could be and still retain some connection to orthodox Christianity.  He has helped many Christians to have a more open relationship to traditions outside of Christianity.  Along with Carl Jung, Lewis aided the interfaith dialogue and helped lay the groundwork for the for the contemporary interest in comparative mythology.  Lewis represents the beginning of a transition from traditional apologetics towards a more sophisticated analysis of religion, but ultimately Lewis is still an apologist even if above average in intelligence.

Conclusion on Christian Scarab Symbolism

These are my concluding comments to my previous blog Church Fathers on Christ as Scarab.

Many scholars over the last couple of centuries have been quoting various Church Fathers in reference to Christ as Scarab.  This is  a truly profound fact and it’s utterly amazing how ignorant the average Christian is of early Christianity.  Some apologists dismiss these quotes out of hand.  Going by my research, even academic scholars have seemingly ignored this topic for the past century, not even attempting to disprove anything.  Apparently, these quotes and the claims about them, correct or not, were widely known in the 19th century and then there was deafening silence.  It reminds me of what Robert M. Price has written (in his Introducing the Journal of Higher Criticism).  He points out how old scholarship has been forgotten without ever having been refuted and new scholarship has become very conservative.

Gerald Massey’s scholarship is an example of this which D.M. Murdock discusses in her book Christ In Egypt. In my research, I confirmed a point that Murdock made numerous times (also with an extensive analysis in the introduction). Throughout the book, she compares Massey’s scholarship against that of other scholars. By doing this, she verified that at least some of his sources were reliable and that he wasn’t just inventing his claims out of thin air, although there remains much question about what the Church Fathers actually said in reference to the scarab (it makes me wonder about the original sources as many people, not only Massey, were quoting various sources over several centuries).

Two of the critics of Massey’s scholarship are Stanley E. Porter and Stephen J. Bedard.  In their book Unmasking the Pagan Christ, they respond to Tom Harpur’s use of Massey.  But it seems telling that they don’t even mention Augustine’s quotes about the scarab.  It is true that Massey’s writings are a century old and so much has been discovered since then.  Also, it’s true that he had no formal education.  Still, he relied on the scholarship of the best scholars of his day including having his work proofed by some of these academic scholars.  Porter and Bedard are apologists, and so they’re criticisms aren’t fundamentally academic.  If they were to research as deeply as Murdock has, then they couldn’t as easily dismiss Massey’s work, whatever one thinks about the scarab issue.

Another critic is James Patrick Holding (AKA Robert Turkel).  His Tektonics website is seemingly the most popular apologetics site as it always comes up top in websearches.  It says a lot about our society that apologists get top page rankings.  He is your typical online Christian apologist.  He is notorious for immature behavior and a lack of intellectual honesty.  It isn’t fair to put him in the same category as Porter and Bedard.  Those latter two, even though lacking in a fundamental understanding of mythicist theories, are actual New Testament scholars.  Even so, Holding likewise criticizes Harpur and Massey.  He demands that others provide the sources of the Augustine and Ambrose quotes about the scarab, but that is just his sophistry talking.  If he actually wanted to know the sources, he could’ve done the research I’ve done just by doing websearches.  Doing research at a university library would bring up even further citations.
 
Anyways, I don’t know why these quotes, assuming they are true, from the Church fathers should be surprising.  Augustine and Ambrose were called Church Doctors because of their Greco-Roman educations.  The Greco-Roman tradition was grounded within Hellenism which was a mix of Greek philosophy and Egyptian religion. The scarab itself was an important symbol in Greek writings centuries before Christianity arose (for example, Aesop and Aristophanes).  Augustine grew up in North Africa which was a hotbed for hereticism, and he was a Manichaean for about a decade before becoming a Christian.  Manichaeanism arrived in Roman North Africa from Egypt (Ancient Gnosticism, by Birger A. Pearson, p. 310).  Roman religions based on and influenced by Egyptian religion were the most popular religions of the time (e.g., Serapis whose worshippers included early Christians).  Also, early Coptic Christians inscribed crosses on scarabs and invoked Jesus side by side with Horus.

Faith of the Early Apologists

Acharya S (aka D.M. Murdock), The Christ Conspiracy

pp 24.25:

Indeed, the story of Jesus as presented in the gospels, mass of impossibilities and contradictions that it is, has been so difficult to believe that even the fanatic Christian “doctor” and saint, Augustine (384- 430), admitted, “I should not believe in the truth of the Gospels unless the authority of the Catholic Church forced me to do so.”  Nevertheless, the “monumentally superstitious and credulous Child of faith” Augustine must not have been too resistant, because he already accepted “as historic truth the fabulous founding of Rome by Romulus and Remus, their virgin birth by the god Mars, and their nursing by a she-wolf…”

Apparently unable to convince himself rationally of the validity of his faith, early Church Father Tertullian (c. 160-200) made the notorious statement “Credo quia incredibilis — I believe because it is unbelievable.”  An “ex-Pagan,” Tertullian vehemently and irrationally defendedhis new faith, considered fabricated by other Pagans, by acknowledging that Christianity was a “shameful thing” and “monstrously absurd”:

“…  I mean that the Son of God was born; why am I not ashamed of maintaining such a thing?  Why! but because it is itself a shameful thing.  I maintain that the Son of God died; well, that is wholly credible because it is monstrously absurd.  I maintain that after having been buried, he rose again; and that I take to be absolutely true, because it was manifestly impossible.”

Criticism of the Apologetic use of Josephus

I’ve been interacting with some apologists lately.  One of the issues that came up was Josephus and whether he refers to Jesus in the Testimonium Flavianum.  I don’t care about the issue in and of itself.  Even if Josephus refers to Jesus, this is still a reference after Jesus’ death.  There is no reference to Jesus or any of the events in Jesus life while Jesus was alive.  Besides, proving that some person mentioned a person named Jesus really doesn’t prove anything.  ‘Jesus’ is just a name.  The theological and supernatural beliefs of Christians can’t be justified by history, but for some reason Christians think it does. 

History is not a science.  Even the soft sciences have more claims for objectivity than New Testament scholarship.  When someone says that scientists have come to a consensus, I tend to respect their authority.  However, the concensus of New Testament scholars doesn’t really add up to much.  Most New Testament scholars are Christians trained at Christian schools.  According to their beliefs, they have strong motivation to prove orthodox opinion.  And, as many of them teach at Christian schools, their jobs even might be risked if they voiced criticisms too openly.

Some of the scholars doubt Jesus historicity are scholars in fields such as ancient languages and history.  These fields are directly relevant to New Testament studies, but apologists tend to dismiss these scholars because their opinions are inconvenient.  As an example, when an apologist says that most Josephus scholars accept Josephus, it’s simply pleading to authority.

For anyone who wants to explore the criticisms for themselves, I’ll offer two articles about Josephus by Earl Doherty and two thread discussions where there are links to other info including an article by D.M. Murdock.  After those links, I’ll offer a link to and some excerpts from the discussion page on the Wikipedia article about “Josephus on Jesus”.

http://jesuspuzzle.humanists.net/supp10.htm

http://jesuspuzzle.humanists.net/supp16.htm

http://forums.truthbeknown.com/viewtopic.php?t=2441

http://forums.truthbeknown.com/viewtopic.php?t=953

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk:Josephus_on_Jesus

Modern Consensus on the Testimonium

I’m a little afraid to reopen this can of worms, but the article now says that significant number of scholars consider it [the Testimonium] genuine. Really? As in, Josephus actually wrote “if it be lawful to call him a man”, “He was [the] Christ” and “he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him”? Despite Origen’s assertion that Josephus did not believe in Jesus as the Messiah, and his failure to quote any of these miraculous passages (even though he does quote the other reference to Jesus as brother of James several times, despite its being far less interesting to a Christian apologist)? I find this difficult to believe. If “a significant number of scholars” really does believe this, it should definitely be backed up by specific references at this point in the article. If “geniune” just means that Josephus wrote something about Jesus here, I suggest this section be reworded, as it is very misleading. Grover cleveland 17:48, 7 March 2006 (UTC)

You’re right. It’s a big, nasty can of worms, which is why I haven’t changed that bit.
I think the best thing to help put “most scholars” in perspective is to realize that most scholars who study these things are Christians in Christian institutions. None of them would reject the entire passage outright for fear of losing either their faith or their job…yet, all, combined, rip each and every minute little piece of it to shreds. Take a step back, and it’s clear that the overall consensus is that the passage is 100% bullshit…yet, at the same time, all the (Christian) individuals insist that their favorite tiny piece of it is real (and that, by extension, that proves that there must have been something real there to begin with).
But, back to the point, it /is/ fair to say that significant numbers of scholars think it’s genuine. It’s also fair to say that significant numbers of Americans think that Saddam Hussein was intimately involved with the September 11, 2001 attacks. In neither case does the majority opinion have any bearing on the reality under discussion, but that doesn’t make the observation of the popular opinion any less valid. TrumpetPower! 18:31, 7 March 2006 (UTC)
Under Wikipedia:Verifiability, this claim should be backed up by references, particularly as it seems to contradict other parts of the article that make the arguments against authenticity. I think it is significantly damaging to the article as a whole and should be removed, unless someone can come up with supporting evidence. Grover cleveland 18:58, 7 March 2006 (UTC)
If you want to tackle it, go knock yourself out. But, if you follow the references and links in the Wikipedia article, you’ll find that, yes, a significant number do indeed hold to the authenticity of at least part of the passage. Incidentally, you’ll also find that all of those who do claim it’s (at least partially) authentic are Christian. Do a census of all modern scholarship on the matter, and I’m pretty confident you’ll find a majority who claim some kind of authenticity…but, then again, the overwhelming majority of scholars who study this sort of thing are Christian. If you include not just modern scholars but historical ones, the consensus is truly overwhelming. But, then again, it wasn’t even possible to claim otherwise and remain alive for much of history….
Of course, to do it right, you’ll also have to define, “scholar.” Only those with teaching positions at accredited universities? What about widely-published authors, fellows at museums, the Vatican…? And, even then, what have you proven? Of what significance is majority opinion on the matter?

Bulk of xx.9 in dispute?

Well, don’t keep us all in suspense–what’re the problems? TrumpetPower! 23:38, 18 March 2006 (UTC)
Well, one of the first paragraphs in that section says the passage is “accepted as authentic by scholars”. Then it goes into detail about the debate, and then seems to present an argument (OR?) on why all the scholars are all wrong. And it doesn’t even give Well’s hypothesis to explain the passage (that the text was origionally a marginal note by a Christian scribe that eventually ended up in the main text). My suggestions would be to at least give citations, and state exactly who is making what claims. —Andrew c 17:11, 19 March 2006 (UTC)
Good points. “[A]ccepted as authentic by scholars” probably needs to read, “accepted as authentic by most scholars.” (Personally, I’m troubled by this whole “scholars” nonsense. First, there’s the problem of establishing what a “scholar” really is–frankly, it seems like it’s usually used as code for “Christian apologist in a seminary.” Further, it’s got that whole argument-from-authority thing going on. Let’s rely upon the facts themselves, not on some nameless person’s interpretation of said facts, hmmm?) I don’t have information on Well’s hypothesis handy, but don’t let that stop you–dive right in! TrumpetPower! 17:23, 19 March 2006 (UTC)

Possible typo / mistake?

From ‘Arguments against authenticity, Origen’:

“The Christian author Origen wrote around the year 240. His writings predate the earliest quotations of the Testimonium.”

In 93, the Jewish historian Josephus published his work Antiquities of the Jews…The one directly concerning Jesus has come to be known as the Testimonium Flavianum”

These statements are contradictory; Origen’s work is descirbed as coming nearly 150 years after the Testimonium, so by definition could not predate it. If the sentance is meant to suggest that the events covered by Origen happened earlier than the events covered by Josephus or that Origen’s source material predates Josephus’ even tho it was written 150 years later or that Origen’s work is the earliest to refer to the Testimonium then it should be changed to state this explicitly.

Also, I think there should be some reference to the fact that even if Josephus’ account is not a forgery, it is still not a first hand independant eyewitness account of Jesus’ life – I believe that the main source of conention of the hitoricity of Jesus is the lack of such accounts outside of the bible. A publication 60 years after an event that relies on only 2nd or 3rd hand information is obviously far more useful than one written 300 years after an event relying on word-of-mouth fokelore, but it is still not sufficiently conclusive for this debate. I think a short, passing mention of this should be made at some point in the article in order to frame the importance of the document & debate, since if people believe this is somehow a definitive document on ‘proving’ the existnce of a historical Jesus then partisan defense or attack of its authenticity is more likely to occur.

Mb667584 14:31, 5 January 2007 (UTC)

There is no contradiction. Josephus wrote The Antiquities in 93. Origen wrote around 240. The earliest quotations of the Testimonium are found in the works of Eusebius who wrote later. Grover cleveland 23:51, 5 January 2007 (UTC)

Response to an Apologist about The Jesus Mysteries

An apologist wrote a review about the book The Jesus Mysteries by Freke and Gandy.  I normally try to avoid getting involved in discussions with apologists, but I felt like responding this time for some strange reason.  As always, I don’t actually feel like arguing about any of it.  I just wanted to show that scholarly opinion is not so clear.  I suppose it’s unlikely an apologist would consent to any significant doubt, but hopefully he won’t delete my comment so that readers of his blog may see it and make up their own mind.

http://1peter315.wordpress.com/2009/03/11/jesus-mysteries/

I have this book, but it’s been a few years since I read it.  Even though I enjoy their work, I think there are more scholarly writers out there.

“First of all, they too easily discount the evidence for the historical Jesus.  They gloss over Josephus, Paul and the Gospels, even though if this was for any other historical figure it would be plenty of evidence.”

Many scholars doubt or dismiss the mention of Jesus Christ by Josephus.  You can find those who do accept it, but there is no consensus of its authenticity.  The Wikipedia article about Josephus on Jesus does a fairly good job of showing the complexity of debate.

As for Paul and the Gospels, there are many theories.  It’s an endless debate also without concensus amongst scholars.  However, if you’re looking for more scholarly support for Freke and Gandy, then I’d advise checking out Robert M. Price and Earl Doherty.

“Secondly they artificially blend a number of gods into a composite being that no ancient person would recognize.  They claim that Jesus is a form of Osiris-Dionysus and by that they mean that they can take little bits from a dozen or so unrelated myths and see some similarity with the Gospels. ”

Actually, Osiris-Dionysus was a name of the godman that was syncretized during the Hellenistic period prior to Christianity.  Egyptian religion and Hellenism were very syncretistic, and this combining of attributes and names was very common.  If you want more scholarly support for this, then check out Christ in Egypt by D.M. Murdock.

“Thirdly, they misrepresent the role of Gnosticism.  I think they are right to see Gnosticism as playing a parellel role to the pagan mystery religions, socially if not theologically.  However, they fall into the popular trap of saying that there were numerous Christianities right from the beginning, suggesting that Gnosticism might even have been earliest, with orthodox Christianity only later emerging.”

Yes, this is speculative because so little survived from the first century, but there is support for it.  The earliest commentators on the New Testament were all Gnostics (Basilides being the earliest).  In particular, some of the earliest commentators (Marcion and Valentinus) wrote the first commentaries on the earliest NT texts (Paul). 

“The earliest Christian texts that we have (which are found in the New Testament) are in continuity with what became orthodox Christianity and in opposition to Gnosticism.  To get where they want to be, they have to make some ridiculous claims such as Paul being a Gnostic and many of the New Testament books having a late date, well into the second century.”

There are other scholars that argue that Paul never writes about a historical figure and never gives physical details.  Doherty, in particular, writes extensively about Paul.

There is a logical reason for arguing for a late dating for NT books.  As I understand, the earliest copies come from the second century.  It’s traditional to date them earlier, but there is no hard evidence from the first century.

“They are totally out of touch even with critical scholarship and their claims are far from the evidence.”

They’re not out of touch, but they present just one perspective.  Scholars show a great variety in their conclusions.