Sunday, April 04, 2010

The Christ Myth Myth

I've gone over this before here and here, so let me just summarize. Some people think 1) Jesus Christ is mythological rather than historical, and their primary evidence of this is that 2) there are parallels of Jesus in world mythology. Some take this the further step of arguing that 3) Jesus is completely mythological and thus completely unhistorical; that is, no such person as Jesus of Nazareth ever existed. I'll deal with these in reverse order. In the following, by "scholars" I mean "scholars of the relevant disciplines", i.e. historical Jesus scholars: people with PhDs in ancient history or New Testament history or something similar. I'm sure there are experts in pharmacology or library science who have different views than the scholars I'm referring to, but this is irrelevant since their area of expertise has no bearing on the subject in question. To think otherwise would be to commit the fallacy of irrelevant authority.

3) No scholar thinks it even remotely possible that Jesus may not have existed. Those that do mention such claims explicitly put them on the same intellectual level as Holocaust denial, Moon landing hoax claims, and other conspiracy theories. Indeed, scholars maintain that certain events regarding Jesus are historically certain, and he would obviously have had to exist in order for these events to have taken place. So, for example, Jesus' crucifixion is considered by scholars to be one of the central events in human history; you can't deny it without having to deny most of ancient history in order to be consistent, and it would render subsequent historical development virtually inexplicable. N. T. Wright, the most prestigious contemporary scholar, wrote in The Resurrection of the Son of God that this is true of the empty tomb and post-mortem appearances of Jesus as well: "I regard this conclusion as coming in the same sort of category of historical probability so high as to be historically certain, as the death of Augustus in AD 14 or the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70". Similarly, William Lane Craig has called Jesus' post-mortem appearances "a fact that is almost universally acknowledged by New Testament scholars today".

2) The claim that there are parallels to Jesus in world mythology was only ever held by a minority of scholars, and has been completely rejected by scholars for nearly a century. The parallels in question were conceived so broadly that virtually anything would fit. As such, they were completely contrived. There are, of course, some authors who argue for these parallels even today, but they are not scholars. Joseph Campbell comes to mind: he wrote extensively about mythology and how the Christian myths had many antecedents (except the antecedents were far superior to the Christian version). But Campbell didn't have a PhD, he had a Master's degree in French literature. That's certainly very valuable and a noteworthy accomplishment, but it doesn't qualify him to be considered a historical Jesus scholar. I have a couple of Master's degrees in Philosophy; that doesn't qualify me to be considered a scholar of solid state physics. At any rate, many universities have "The Bible as Literature" courses which are essentially stages to advocate the parallels between Jesus and mythology. But again, these courses are not taught by historical Jesus scholars, they are taught by people with degrees in unrelated disciplines. I find this unfortunate.

1) The idea that the gospels are mythological survived a few decades longer within scholarly circles than did the idea that there are mythological parallels to Jesus. Rudolf Bultmann advocated the view that when the gospels are "demythologized", very little of Jesus could be known beyond the fact that he existed and was killed by crucifixion. Bultmann lived to the 1970s, but his views were rejected by the 1950s with the initiation of the Second Quest for the historical Jesus (we are currently in the midst of the Third Quest). But there is a much more obvious problem with the claim that the gospels are mythological. Mythology is, at least partially, a literary genre, a style of writing. But I'm unaware of any scholar, ever, who argued that the gospels are written in the genre of mythology. Rather, those who claimed they were mythological argued that what the gospels record could not be historical, and so must be mythological, regardless of the genre in which they were written. This point is easily demonstrated: simply read some actual myths -- not modern accounts of myths, but the actual myths themselves -- side by side with the gospels. It's obvious that they don't belong to the same genre, the same type of writing. Thus, James D. G. Dunn argued in the entry for "Myth" in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels that the entry wasn't really necessary: "Myth is a term of at least doubtful relevance to the study of Jesus and the Gospels". The genre of the gospels has been a matter of dispute for the last couple of hundred years, although most scholars would have said that they are written as historical writings. But in the last 20-30 years there has been an incredible revolution within historical Jesus studies to the effect that most scholars today consider the gospels to have been written in the literary genre of ancient biography. Of course, this doesn't speak to their reliability in matters of detail, but it certainly makes it difficult to claim they don't have a solid historical core at all.

(cross-posted at Agent Intellect)


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51 comments:

Eliyahu said...

Did those that first awarded the PhD have one themselves? Do extant historical facts speak louder than scholars? So if I study for twenty years a subject like the history of a certain time period and I have objective facts, extant facts, that the PhD establishment will not consider because it would destroy their raison d'etre, I am not qualified to comment? Seems like the deck is a bit stacked. But here goes anyway. There was no J-sus of Nazareth. There was a Yehoshua ben Yoseph of Natzrat. Not pedantic. The former, J-esus, has no archeological evidence and certainly no spot in history in the 1st century. You must change history, mythologize the real man Yehoshua ben Yoseph. You must make him what he was not for he was a Torah observant Jew, a teacher and judge of the Jewish people in the 1st century. J-sus is the poster boy for a religion that demonizes the Jewish people, something Ribi Yehoshua never did. You base your knowledge of a Torah observant Jew on an English translation of a Greek manuscripts that has hundreds of variations. But the Jew that lived was, how should I say it, Jewish? Hebrew and Aramaic would have been the language used in the historical setting Judaism would have been his culture. Try Oxford scholar James Parkes and his book, "The Conflict of the Church and Synagogue," as a starting place for scholarship. He meets your PhD requirement. Then try Joseph Klausner from Hebrew University and his books, "J-sus of Nazareth," and "From J-sus to Paul," and though obviously he uses the misnomer J-sus, he is obviously referring to Yehoshua ben Yoseph. Both Parkes and Klausner agree as do all competent scholars that both the man and his students were completely Torah observant Jews. So it follows that what happened after a short time was a Hellenistic Jew named Paul, a charismatic charlatan, misappropriated the history and catalyzed the most abhorrent myth the world has ever known. A complete logical and scholarly approach can be found at www.netzarim.co.il Netzarim Here you will find how to follow the authentic Ribi Yehoshua ben Yoseph HaMashiach in full Torah observance.

Jamie said...

Do extant historical facts speak louder than scholars?

Ooo, a conspiracy! I do love conspiracy theories. Next time I go skydiving, I'll ignore all those biased, blind-thinking PhD physicists who insist I need a parachute and instead I'll just flap my arms for a bit. After all, my objective, empirical observation of birds shows that they flap their arms and manage to stay in the air as long as they want. What could go wrong?!

he was a Torah observant Jew

Yes, we know. He said so himself. Course, the way we know that is also how we know that he also claimed to be much, much more.

a religion that demonizes the Jewish people

...by making all his followers Jewish, worshiping the Jewish God, founding his teaching on the Torah and describing Jews as those given the privilege of bringing God's message to the rest of the world? Hmm.

Hebrew and Aramaic would have been the language used in the historical setting

Most 1st century Jews would have been bilingual, speaking Aramaic (descended from ancient Hebrew) in day-to-day life, and Koine Greek for more formal or business-related matters.

Jim, I was actually going to post a comment asking what event prompted you to make this post, given that it's been discussed so much lately. Looks like my question has already been answered, though :)

Sceptic said...

I have read Wright extensively on his resurrection thesis, both in the magnum opus cited here and in other essays. I don't know whether or where he studied history as a subject in itself but he certainly does not use evidence as a mainstream historian would and he ignores much of the evidence for other explanations of the resurrection completely. There is a real problem in NT scholarship that one might have a PHD in one tiny area of the field and think that gives you authority to move across into other disciplines.

Jamie said...

Sceptic,

Any good examples? I'm interested as NT Wright is well-regarded in conservative circles. You'd be welcome to post some thoughts over at jameshannam.proboards83.com if you want more room than a typical blog format allows.

Jamie said...

PS - Wright's CV is at http://www.ntwrightpage.com/NTW_WebCV.htm , with his DPhil in Theology, specifically Paul's New Testament writings.

Anonymous said...

@Eliyahu:

The people being criticized in this blog post would put you in the same bucket as Jim S.. We can argue about how Torah observant Yehoshua was (I myself suspect he a liberal), but the Christ Mythers shut down the debate by insisting he never existed, period.

-D*

Sceptic said...

Alan Segal (you will see his wide range of credentials in any Google search) has criticised Wright and his followers, not only for the way they have presented the resurrection as HISTORICAL fact, but for also claiming that there is a consensus of NT scholars who believe that the resurrection was a literal resurrection of transformed flesh. Segal had suggested that there is no evidence of this so-called consensus and that there is a self- appointed group of scholars whose prior commitment to Christianity make their claim to be disinterested scholars suspect.
Of course ,one can believe in the physical resurrection as a matter of faith, but, as Segal has argued, it is extraordinarily difficult to argue that it is a historical fact in the normally accepted scholarly use of the term. Wright claims that the resurrection is a historical fact but fails to substantiate this in his Resurrection of the Son of God where he provides very little background outside the selection of texts he discusses.
Wright is well regarded in conservative circles as he makes no pretence to be anything other that conservative on theological issues- that is his prerogative.

Matko said...

Sceptic says:

Wright claims that the resurrection is a historical fact but fails to substantiate this in his Resurrection of the Son of God.

Maybe because he does it in the first and second preceding book of the trilogy which you, for some unknown reason, have failed to mention.

Sceptic said...

Matko - this is the only one of the three that specifically claims to discuss 'precisely happened at Easter' -that is why I bought it when I was looking at 'Christian' accounts of the resurrection- and this volume is often cited as the book that 'proves' the resurrection. . It is heavily text -orientated but all too often Wright fails to see an obvious historical explanation and interprets a verse or extract in line with his preconceived idea that there must have been a physical resurrection.I worked through his analysis of all the gospel texts and again he missed the obvious when it suited his argument to do so. One of the most amazing things about the book is that there is not a single mention of the key man, who was ultimately in charge of the tomb, Caiaphas. Wright is so tied up in texts, he never imagines himself in the historical situation, he never discusses the main players and what we know about them,all the possible things that could have occurred to create an empty tomb. But one can hardly expect him to do so if he is a practising bishop, so although I was frustrated by this book, I was hardly surprised. My main concern is that he claims to have historical evidence.

Matko said...

Sceptic says:

this is the only one of the three that specifically claims to discuss 'precisely happened at Easter' -that is why I bought it when I was looking at 'Christian' accounts of the resurrection- and this volume is often cited as the book that 'proves' the resurrection. .

The argument he presents in his third book is dependent on the first and the second one. Those books have a purpose, and you clumsily made a judgment without appraising the trilogy as one large work.

Jess said...

"there is a self- appointed group of scholars whose prior commitment to Christianity make their claim to be disinterested scholars suspect." Wow! There is so much wrong with this sentence I don't know where to start. One of the main contributions of Postmodernity is to dispel the myth that there is anything like an 'disinterested scholar'. Everyone has prior belief commitments they bring with them to any study, N T Wright is just very upfront about what those are, (which is very refreshing in comparison to those who still insist on a modern 'belief' in impartial rationality.) The whole subtext of your comments is to imply that just because N T Wright is more conservative than others he is somewhat more suspect, regardless of his arguments.

Jess said...

On a related note, for a over overview of the different meanings for the word 'myth' and the difficulty of applying it to the Bible (not just the Gospels) I recommend reading F.F. Bruce's article 'Myth & History' in C. Brown's 'History, Criticism & Faith' as well as chapter 13 'The Language of Myth' in G. Caird's 'The language & Imagery of the Bible'.

Sceptic said...

Matko - that was my whole point! Whether Jesus rose from the dead or not involves a detailed study of three days. This is what Wright avoids. He argues that theologically, rather than historically, there was 'a necessity'- this is the word he actually uses- for Jesus to rise. That is the whole thrust of his work. That's fine if that is where he wishes to place his argument- my only point is that he claims that the resurrection is a historical fact (rather than the theological 'necessity' that is the thrust of his argument) but fails to provide any evidence for that. It is frustrating when a scholar wanders into another discipline to give the impression that his argument is stronger than it actually is- as anyone in that discipline could tell him.
It is not quite as bad as Swinburne's attempt to use Bayes' Theorem to 'prove' the Resurrection, which has just made him the subject of ridicule among mathematicians but the end result is that neither of these theologians are likely to convince anyone outside those already committed to Christianity. I have no idea whether this matters to them or not.
Segal can look after himself. He is one of the most meticulous scholars around. I can't believe that anyone who reads his Life After Death or Paul the Convert alongside Wright won't find him vastly the more stimulating of the two, partly because he is much more open to the nuances of the texts and writes with a much broader perspective than Wright does.

Jim S. said...

I have to agree with Jess that the statement, "there is a self- appointed group of scholars whose prior commitment to Christianity make their claim to be disinterested scholars suspect" is absurd. First, it's a conspiracy theory. Second, New Testament historians are known for being hyper-skeptical, beyond what would be justified in any other branch of ancient history. Third, most scholars reject that Jesus was resurrected as this has traditionally been understood, so the suggestion that they're all biased in favor of it is just silly. They're biased against it. Anyone familiar with the literature knows this.

Matko said...

Sceptic says,

Whether Jesus rose from the dead or not involves a detailed study of three days. This is what Wright avoids.

Wright "avoids" it because he did an extensive study of Second Temple Judaism and 1st century Palestine already in The New Testament and the People of God and Jesus and The Victory of God - books you apparently haven't read at all.

He argues that theologically, rather than historically, there was 'a necessity'- this is the word he actually uses- for Jesus to rise.

To a believer the theological is synonymous to historical in the sense of both describing a facet of objective reality. When Wright uses a theological term like "resurrection", it is a label to a specific historical event that has meaning for theology.

It is frustrating when a scholar wanders into another discipline to give the impression that his argument is stronger than it actually is- as anyone in that discipline could tell him.

Wright is a noted NT historian. He doesn't wander anywhere outside his profession.

It is not quite as bad as Swinburne's attempt to use Bayes' Theorem to 'prove' the Resurrection, which has just made him the subject of ridicule among mathematicians (...)

Since when do mathematicians read - or comment - on philosophy of religion? In recent times, biologists attempted it with disastrous results. For them, that is.

And I doubt OUP and the British Academy would give someone an editorial post of a article collection titled Bayes Theorem if he didn't know his math.

neither of these theologians are likely to convince anyone outside those already committed to Christianity.

Dogmatists are always hard to convince. The dogmatists are the one who are the problem.

Also, Swinburne isn't a theologian.

Sceptic said...

Well, it is the only way that Segal can explain the way a group of scholars have conflated Paul's view of the resurrection with the gospel view. Segal shows how there are two different traditions but that these have mysteriously been put together by Wright,etc. as if they supported one another. Start with his chapters on this in Life After Death. On interpretations of texts, especially those of Paul, I would put him way above Wright for scholarship.

sceptic said...

Wright -or his publishers, should not advertise that The Resurrection of the Son of God deals 'precisely' what happened at Easter. I am happy to be guided to any of his other books that deal with the three days after the crucifixion as a historical event.
Swinburne tries to persuade people of the reality of the resurrection through using Bayes Theorem. If you do a web search you will find mathematicians analysing how he misuses the theorem so that his claim that the resurrection is 93 or 97 per cent likely to have happened is nonsense.Surely members of one discipline are allowed to complain when their discipline is misused in this way. (Who else is qualified to do it?) As regards OUP, there have indeed been protests that OUP do publish his stuff when he is intellectually so inadequate.
I liked the comment on one critique that there are probably fifty mathematicians working within 500 yards of Swinburne in Oxford who could have told him he was wrong if he had bothered to ask!

Matko said...

Sceptic said:

Wright -or his publishers, should not advertise that The Resurrection of the Son of God deals 'precisely' what happened at Easter. I am happy to be guided to any of his other books that deal with the three days after the crucifixion as a historical event.

Sure.

The New Testament and the People of God

Jesus and the Victory of God

The Resurrection of the Son of God

Be careful; there's a caveat: these book have to be read in order.

Swinburne tries to persuade people of the reality of the resurrection through using Bayes Theorem. If you do a web search you will find mathematicians analysing how he misuses the theorem so that his claim that the resurrection is 93 or 97 per cent likely to have happened is nonsense.Surely members of one discipline are allowed to complain when their discipline is misused in this way. (Who else is qualified to do it?) As regards OUP, there have indeed been protests that OUP do publish his stuff when he is intellectually so inadequate.
I liked the comment on one critique that there are probably fifty mathematicians working within 500 yards of Swinburne in Oxford who could have told him he was wrong if he had bothered to ask!


I know one blog, and the blogger appraises, or better said, ridicules Swinburne's argument on the basis of a short report someone wrote about it.

Such a "critique" can only be adored by the ignorant atheist sycophants that slither around such blogs (as a cursory glance on the comments on that blog shows)

sceptic said...

Matko. You haven't looked very far on Swinburne. You can find the following paper on line and follow up the references from there. Prevost is important as he argued from a Christian perspective against Swinburne. There is considerable academic rejection of Swinburne's use of Bayes Theorem.You may have answers to all these scholars but it does not help to denigrate participants in what is a very real debate -that I personally think Swinburne's critics win hands down.

From Probability Theories and the Justification of Theism. Agnaldi Cuoco Portugal, Brasilia.

Unfortunately there are strong reasons for believing that Swinburne’s attempt to use simplicity as a directly applicable, objective and impersonal criterion for ascribing a prior probability to theism fails. For the sake of brevity, I will only outline them here:
The concept of simplicity has too many different meanings (see Prevost 1990, 50);
The application of this concept in theory choice is not direct, but requires judgement based on the shared knowledge of the research community (see Sober 1988,
69 and Salmon 1998, 563);
There is no clear interpretation of the principle of simplicity in Bayes’s theorem if we follow Swinburne’s account; The reduction of simplicity to quantitative and mathematical terms resorts to a concept of infinite that conflicts with the theological meaning of it (see Le Blanc 1993,
62);
It is at least highly controversial that theism is a simple hypothesis (see Fawkes & Smithe 1996);

It is a mystery that when Wright is given a chance to explore the historical reality of the resurrection - an on-the-ground analysis of the three days, he ducks it. Why does he not summarise his historical argument in Resurrection of the Son of God- after all he spends pages on the gospel texts there -or why does he not say that he has dealt with the history elsewhere? In his debates with Crossan ,etc, there is no indication of any wider historical justification. This man is a theologian not a historian- i am quite happy for him to be that but don't claim you have a watertight historical argument for the resurrection and then fail to deliver!

sceptic said...

"To a believer the theological is synonymous to historical in the sense of both describing a facet of objective reality. When Wright uses a theological term like "resurrection", it is a label to a specific historical event that has meaning for theology."

Matoko- I have no problems with this, It confirms my belief that those who are already believers have specific ways of approaching these issues and use 'history' in ways specific to themselves. This is not always clear to readers, who assume that when the word 'history' is used, it is in the same sense as they understand history as an academic discipline in,say, a university department. The problem is that Wright tends to use the term 'resurrection' in different contexts, most of them theological, but in addition to deal with a specific event, a dead body coming to life again. This is where it all becomes confusing .
I suppose I need to get back to the dreary task of sychophantic slithering about!

Sceptic said...

I wasn't kidding anyone when I said that Swinburne is not respected by mathematicians.

From Jason Rosenhouse's latest blog on evolutionblog.

"In the next day or two I will post a detailed account of my experiences at the Gathering for Gardner, which I can honestly say is one of the most enjoyable math conferences I have ever attended. In the meantime, you might enjoy this essay by Burkard Polster and Marty Ross. Polster is a mathematician at Monash University in Australia, and I had the pleasure of meeting him at the conference. His column has nuggets like this:

There may not be much left to argue, but argument continues regardless. For instance, there is the famous Oxford theologian Richard Swinburne. He fell in love with probabilities, and in 2003 he proved that it is 97% probable that Jesus rose from the grave. Swinburne's work was respectfully reported around the globe.
We cannot be so respectful. We shouldn't have to say it, but Swinburne's work is pseudomathematical nonsense. His arithmetic of probabilities is fine, but the base probabilities that he worked with were nothing beyond wild guesses.

Go read the whole thing, and not just because the authors refer to an essay of mine. Be sure to stick around for the brainteaser at the end."

Jamie said...

Pardon me if I'm getting the wrong end of the stick - I haven't read any of Wright's works all the way through - but wasn't Wright mainly writing in response to those who say that Jesus resurrection wasn't historical because it was a spiritual, non-physical event? Wright corrects their poor interpretation of the evidence by showing that the Gospel writers - and Jews generally - had a very firm idea of literal, physical resurrection (albeit one with spiritual overtones).

Or at least, that's how I've heard some folk say it...

Michael Fugate said...

"Similarly, William Lane Craig has called Jesus' post-mortem appearances "a fact that is almost universally acknowledged by New Testament scholars today"."

The same William Lane Craig who is a fellow at the Discovery Institute. The same William Lane Craig who denies common ancestry of humans and animals.

Let me append your statement -"No scholar thinks it even remotely possible that Jesus may not have existed." to no scholar thinks it even remotely possible humans and animals may not share common ancestry and that Jesus may not have existed.

In case you might think I am being less than generous to Dr. Craig, here is the the relevant part of the doctrinal statement from Biola University where is a faculty member:

"Therefore, creation models which seek to harmonize science and the Bible should maintain at least the following: (a) God providentially directs His creation, (b) He specially intervened in at least the above-mentioned points in the creation process, and (c) God specially created Adam and Eve (Adam’s body from non-living material, and his spiritual nature immediately from God). Inadequate origin models hold that (a) God never directly intervened in creating nature and/or (b) humans share a common physical ancestry with earlier life forms."

Matko said...

Michael Fugate said,

The same William Lane Craig who is a fellow at the Discovery Institute. The same William Lane Craig who denies common ancestry of humans and animals.

How does being mistaken in one field (biology) determines being mistaken in another, unrelated field (NT history)? A textbook Ad hominem.

Michael Fugate said...

Snappy comeback Matko and Craig is a philosopher not a NT historian. Have you read his work? I can't imagine any evidence that would convince Craig that Jesus wasn't crucified and resurrected. This a man who fits the facts to his preconceived beliefs. This why his understanding of evolution is relevant; he believes that humans were specially created in spite of the evidence.

Tim O'Neill said...

"a fact that is almost universally acknowledged by New Testament scholars today"

Whatever Craig is (apart from a professional polemicist and an apologist for some pretty kooky stuff), his statement is nonsense. To pretend that the idea that a post-crucifixion Jesus actually appeared to anyone is "almost universally acknowledged" by relevant scholars is pure nonsense. I can think of dozens who believe no such thing.

Of course, if Craig added a couple of words like "a fact that is almost universally acknowledged by New Testament scholars who also happen to be conservative apologetics cheerleaders like me" his comment instantly becomes both uncontroversial and equally uniniteresting to anyone outside that particular bubble.

Matko said...

Michael Fugaate said,

Craig is a philosopher not a NT historian.

He received his second PhD under Pannenberg in Germany. He is a NT historian (like Tom Wright).

This a man who fits the facts to his preconceived beliefs.

Like any human that ever walked the planet.

Tim O'Neill said,

To pretend that the idea that a post-crucifixion Jesus actually appeared to anyone is "almost universally acknowledged" by relevant scholars is pure nonsense.

I think what he has meant by that is the Jesus' followers had visionary experience of him. What caused them and what their nature is (dreams, hallucinations, actual appearance) is a debate for itself.

Anonymous said...

Jamie:

"I regard this conclusion [ i.e. the physical resurrection of Jesus] as coming in the same sort of category of historical probability so high as to be historically certain, as the death of Augustus in AD 14 or the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70".

This is Wright as quoted in the opening statement by Jim S. on which these comments are based. I too was amazed to read the statement that scholars agree on the physical resurrection when I have read many who do not or leave it open. I need only to mention E.P.Sanders or Geza Vermes to make the point and I note that another commentator here would add Alan Segal to the list - if these are not NT scholars I don't know who would qualify.

Matko said...

Sceptic said,

I wasn't kidding

But you're still funny!

Jason Rosenhouse's latest blog on evolutionblog

I've read the essay by Polster and Ross, and their response consist in dismissing Swinburne in a couple of soundbytes, while squeezing him between creationists and Dembski and all expressed in the typical form of pretentious sneering à la Dawkins.

Any that other paper doesn't fare any better. You scurried to Google to fish it, and it was written by some obscure brazilian philosopher, who didn't bother to write in which peer-reviews journal the article appeared. And those books he cites you haven't even read yourself, making you a patronizing liar, who tells other people what they should read and plays off an expert.

I suppose I need to get back to the dreary task of sychophantic slithering about!

This is the most intelligent thing you wrote up to this point.

Sceptic said...

Matko ;My work on Swinburne was done some years ago when I made a serious study of his 'logic' and found it wanting. It was while I was doing this that I came across the response of mathematicians to his work. There was a particularly good detailed rebuttal that showed how (by quoting the relevant passages) he fudged the figures when he needed to.
I think you need to find a mathematician who is prepared to stand up and endorse Swinburne's use of Bayes' Theorem.
It doesn't help your case to treat those of us who have been studying these issues for some years as 'patronising liars' This is exactly why Christian apologists ( and some of their opponents) have such a bad reputation among disinterested scholars. We are not all rabid atheists, many of us have a longstanding interest in the way that these issues are discussed and the evidence presented by both sides that we are intelligent and academically experienced enough to evaluate without needing to get belligerent.

Michael Fugate said...

How does a PhD in theology make one a historian?
Also how does it work with theology PhDs - when you can be an assistant professor of philosphy in Illinois while earning another PhD in theology in Germany at the same time?

Let me get this straight, you are claiming that everyone has version of what they think is the truth in their head and then go out and seek corroborating evidence? Evidence never changes anyone's mind about what they think the truth is?

Jess said...

To answer your first point. Studying theology at any level involves learning about other disciplines that affect or have relevance for your sepcialism. Whilst at university I learnt about philosophy, historicism, social sociology, lingusitic theory, etc. Just because your specialism is in one area doesn't mean that you can't be competent or even very good in another related field.

Jess said...

In reply to your second point, it's not that people have already made up their mind (although some people have and do) but it is also not true that people approach the evidence dispassionately and then make up their minds. Everyone has a worldview by which we interpret and filter our experiences and what we observe. This worldview is based on presuppositions and beliefs before any attempt to evaluate the evidence is made. The value of a worldview is in its ability to account for and explain the evidence better than other worldviews. The problem comes from those who are not aware or even choose not to acknowledge they have one but instead hold to a belief in neutral rationality. Yes, a lot of people never change their worldviews but quite a few do, Christians might call this a conversion. (Sorry to butt in Matko!)

Michael Fugate said...

So a theology PhD makes one a polymath? Who knew.
I should get one since I already have one in biology and, given Craig's example, a theology degree confers no knowledge of biology. If a theology degree gets me everything else, then I'm set.

Let me ask both of you what evidence would convince you Jesus wasn't crucified and resurrected? Is there any? Do you agree with the doctrinal statement of Biola U where Craig is a professor? Do you think signing that doctrinal statement would make it almost impossible for someone to accept any evidence that contradicted it?

Jess said...

I did say 'related' fields, I have no knowledge of Dr Craig's education, I was just making the point that most education today is fairly holistic so that to be more than competent in one field will also involve being more than competent in others where it impacts upon your field of expertise. I am presuming as a Biologist you have more than a passing knowledge of Physics or Chemistry as well. Anyway we're talking about History not Biology which is a related discipline.

On the second point I haven't read Biola's doctrinal statement so I can't comment. But as for evidence, oh I don't know a body perhaps? Or a birth certificate, I'm not fussy.

Jim S. said...

To clear up a few points: First, the quote by N. T. Wright is regarding Jesus' empty tomb and post-mortem appearances, not his physical resurrection -- I think. It's been a while and I don't have the book handy.

Second, Craig is a Philosopher and a New Testament historian. Historical Jesus scholarship, New Testament historiography, or whatever you want to call it is a subcategory of theology in the university system. That doesn't mean that having done your Theology work on Ecclesiology makes you an expert on the historical Jesus, but they're not neatly compartmentalized, they tend to bleed into each other. In the same way, an epistemologist can write a book on ethics without going outside his area of expertise (Philosophy).

At any rate this is all academic (ha!) because Craig's second dissertation was on the historical Jesus, and he wrote it under Wolfhart Pannenberg, probably the most important historical Jesus scholar of the second half of the 20th century. This certainly qualifies Craig as a New Testament historian, and a top notch one at that, especially given that he's published extensively on this in refereed journals. His dissertation was published in two parts by Edwin Mellen Press; Craig backs up his claim that the post-mortem appearances are almost universally accepted among scholars with multiple references there, although it was written 25 years ago. It's at least been the consensus view since the 1950s when Hans Grass argued that there must have been post-mortem appearances and they must have been objective visionary events. The quote in the post comes from his debate with Crossan where Craig accuses him of not accepting that there were appearances. Crossan takes umbrage at this and insists he would never assert anything so absurd as that the early Christians didn't experience appearances of Jesus.

Tim O'Neill said...

This certainly qualifies Craig as a New Testament historian, and a top notch one at that, especially given that he's published extensively on this in refereed journals.

And Richard Carrier has a PhD in Classics from Columbia and has published as well. I still reject him as any kind of authority for the same reason I reject Craig - they are both preachers and doctrinaire polemicists who simply make a pretence of objectivity while spouting their respective orthodoxies.

Michael Fugate said...

Several of you are completely missing my point. You do actually have to admit that very little evidence for Jesus' life, ministry, crucifixion and resurrection exists and it is all in the NT. I have no problem with Jesus being an actual person and he most likely was. The problem is that Craig is willing to parse sentences in an ancient text written by true believers and claim there is overwhelming evidence for the resurrection, yet he denies the mountains of evidence from a multitude of sources for evolution. He argues strongly against evolution and is a fellow at the biggest anti-evolution PR firm in the US.

And Jim, yours is basically an argument from authority - and I must correct myself ; he has a ThD and not a PhD in Theology. I realize that theology works differently than science, but if Craig's dissertation documents all the evidence that exists for the resurrection, then I would not be betting on a heavenly reward.

Jess said...

Well, if we're going to start talking about 'betting' on Heaven surely Pascal's wager would apply...

It isn't so surprising that we have so little verification for Jesus outside of the Gospels considering how much History is lost to us.

To use a modern example to illutrate my point, I'm a big fan of Blues music but for many of the early artists we actually have very little personal information to go on. For Robert Johnson, one of the revered greats, who died in 1938 (?), we don't actually know when he was born, we don't know exactly when he died ('38 is our best guess) and we have three possible burial sites. Even for artists such as the Duchess (Bo Diddley's bassist) and John Lee Hooker who lived until the '90's, we don't know much about their birth and early life. And this is in the 20th Century!

If this is true for 'modern' History then how much more difficult will it be for someone who lived 2000 years ago?

Matko said...

Skepticism about Jesus' historicity is unwarranted. For an obscure jewish preacher and faith healer that has lived in a society where 90% of people were illiterate and far from Rome's historians in a far off province, we have plenty of historical attestation.

Jim S. said...

And Jim, yours is basically an argument from authority

Argument from authority is a perfectly valid form of argumentation outside of formal logic (which history and science are). Click on the link "the fallacy of irrelevant authority" for my blog post on that.

And Richard Carrier has a PhD in Classics from Columbia and has published as well. I still reject him as any kind of authority for the same reason I reject Craig - they are both preachers and doctrinaire polemicists who simply make a pretence of objectivity while spouting their respective orthodoxies.

I have two responses, one theoretical and one practical. The theoretical response is that this is an ad hominem argument. You don't discard someone's views because they have an agenda (which is true of everyone), you discard their views because they're demonstrably false.

The practical response is ... I tend to agree with Tim. We all have to make decisions on what to read and what not to read, on who to pay attention to and who not to, and I would probably put the writings of someone with an obvious agenda in the "later, if ever" pile. We only have a limited amount of time, and poring over the writings of someone who annoys me is not on my list of priorities.

Bred in the bone said...

It takes a certain expertise to know the facts as perceived through revelation of isms and such forth, with no grounding in the sacred.

That is seperating sacred from dogma and indoctrines obviously, yet staying within expererience.

Matthew said...

We cannot be so respectful. We shouldn't have to say it, but Swinburne's work is pseudomathematical nonsense. His arithmetic of probabilities is fine, but the base probabilities that he worked with were nothing beyond wild guesses.

I'm sorry, but, are you guys for real? Of course they are wild mass guesses! They are illustrative, that's the whole point of the book!

Matthew said...

The same William Lane Craig who is a fellow at the Discovery Institute. The same William Lane Craig who denies common ancestry of humans and animals.

Here I'm calling bullshit. He doesn't deny that.

ALso, what he thinks about biology is irrelevant to his expertise in NT studies. Richard Dawkins mentiones a professor of german who argues Jesus never existed in "The God Delusion".
What if a creationist would say "You think Dawkins has proven evolution? The same Dawkins who cites a professor of german talking bullshit?"

Sceptic said...

Matthew. You can't ague that something is 97 per cent probable when you start with data that are 'wild guesses'. This is where Swinburne has long since been rumbled. The tragic thing is that the world of theology is so closed off that most people within in still seem to think that Swinburne is a great logician, although the first critique i read of Swinburne actually came from a Christian who was embarrassed by his use of logic.
But there's none so blind as them that can't see.

Matthew said...

A logician is someone who studies logic. They talk about possible world semantic, paraconsistent logic, fuzzy logic, etc.
Swinburne's calculations work. He just uses illustrative starting points. Get that. Illustrative. The intention is not to prove something with 97% certainty, it's to give a model of how to think about evidence in a bayesian method.

Matko said...

Sceptic said,

This is where Swinburne has long since been rumbled. The tragic thing is that the world of theology is so closed off that most people within in still seem to think that Swinburne is a great logician (...)

You can write how much want, sceptic, but Swinburne is one of the leading contemporary philosophers of religion who pioneered bayesianism. All professional philosophers are trained in logic and probability calculus including Swinburne, so he didn't fumble his math in any way, and your repeated tagging of Swinburne as a theologian shows how "deep" was your research about him.

sceptic said...

Matko - I am quite happy to leave Swinburne's reputation to the mathematicians. On the basis of the subject matter he deals with I have him in my theology section of my books not my philosophy section where i don't think he would find much welcome.

sceptic said...

Using Bayes' theorem for the original subject of this post, can we agree that it is 90 per cent probable that Jesus existed as an historical person, and ten per cent probable that he did not. I look forward to others who are more adept at using Swinburne's methods to propose alternative probabilities.
Or one might take the position that it is absurd to use Bayes' Theorem to assess the probability of an historical event happening or not happening. Historians would certainly not go near it as a method.

Matthew said...

Here's a quote from Swinburne on his numbers:

This book of mine was not at all concerned with these issues, but it proceeded to argue that, if we suppose there is a modest probability on the evidence of natural theology that there is a God, then it is very probable that the Resurrection of Jesus took place.

Emphasis mine.

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