Can Paul’s Human Jesus Not Be a Celestial Jesus?

Fake science fiction book cover showing all kinds of Buck Rogers style action scenes, and in the middle a Buck Rogers style Jesus pointing a blaster and gollowed by a similarly armed woman companion, title says the Amazing Adventures of Space Jesus. Image I believe was made by a guest blogger at The Friendly Atheist.James McGrath wrote a couple of years ago about Paul’s Human Jesus as an argument against mythicism—in particular against the Doherty thesis, which in stripped down form is what I find most likely to be true in On the Historicity of Jesus. I have noted before how McGrath makes armchair assertions without fact-checking them. Yet he represents his opinion as authoritative, giving the impression that he researched it and knows what he is talking about. As such he is deceiving his readers.

The most glaring example of this was McGrath’s face-palm-worthy assertion that only state officials commissioned inscriptions in the Greco-Roman era. Which he used to argue that Christians would never have produced inscriptions. Wow. This not only illustrates how he deceives his readers (by representing his unchecked assumptions as researched and authoritative facts), and how he is neither an expert (since he didn’t know the truth in this case, he cannot claim to be well versed in ancient history or its sources) nor reliable (since it didn’t even occur to him to check his claim before asserting it, how many other times has he done that?), but also how emotionally invested he is in dissuading people from considering even the possibility that there was no historical Jesus. Because he jumped immediately to this ridiculous, unchecked, factually false argument. Instead of just making the far more competent and level-headed argument that the earliest Christians were too poor or expecting the apocalypse too imminently to bother erecting inscriptions. A point with which I have agreed (it’s why I don’t count the absence of such inscriptions as evidence against historicity: see Chapter 8.4 of OHJ).

Instead McGrath just ran with the first thing that came into his head. And asserted it as a fact. And instantly believed it was true without even knowing if it was.

This is how a Christian apologist behaves. Not a competent and reliable expert in the matter.

He did this again in Paul’s Human Jesus.

The Argument

Weird painting of a gigantic Jesus in outer space hovering over the earth amidst strange alien clouds; the glow of the sun's light reflecting off the earth illuminates the face of Jesus like a lamp; and circles of light indicate the earth's spinning. Found online. I could not locate the original artists.McGrath’s entire argument is succinctly as follows (here with my commentary interspersed):

In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul makes a contrast between two human beings, Adam and Jesus. One is mythical. Is the other? And did Paul think that one or both of them were mythical?

Interestingly, on this point, if none other, concerns of young-earth creationists and mythicists intersect.

It’s not clear to me what McGrath means. What is the intersection here? That Adam is mythical? McGrath just agreed with that. That Jesus is mythical? No creationist agrees with that. So I’m baffled. As best I can tell this is an unintelligible attempt to equate a respectable peer reviewed theory in the history of Christianity with a science-denying superstition. That’s a fallacy of Poisoning the Well. In this case by falsely associating mythicism with creationism. Without establishing any relevant parallel. McGrath does this a lot. He doesn’t understand the difference between having a vast scale of scientific evidence (as we have for evolution) or even having a vast scale of historical evidence (as we have for the Holocaust), and having nearly no surviving evidence at all. McGrath doesn’t even seem capable of grasping the difference in scale of evidence between what we have for Jesus and almost any other famous person of the ancient world. But let’s set that fallacy aside and get to the more substantive issue…

Is “human” ever applied without qualification to beings that are thought to exist purely in the celestial realm? Certainly we have instances of people seeing “men” but the interpretation is that they were “angels.” But those are instances of appearances of angels in the world. We know that there were docetists who claimed that Jesus merely appeared to be human in the world. But mythicism says that Jesus never walked the Earth at all, and that Paul never thought of Jesus as one who was seen on Earth except in visions.

There is a curious qualifier here that renders his set-up already fallacious. He is building a Straw Man. What does McGrath mean by “purely” in the celestial realm? Is he unaware that mythicism places the incarnation of Jesus below the heavens, not in the heavens? That in fact it was to occur precisely where flesh and decay and death reside, just where Satan and his demons congregate? The distinction between the heavens and the firmament, the latter being the whole vast region between the earth and the moon, was well-established in both Jewish and pagan cosmology (see Element 37, Chapter 4, OHJ, pp. 184-93). Is he unaware that the Jewish theologian Philo mentions that in Jewish angelology and demonology “some” spirits “descend into bodies” in that lower realm and are then subject to it? (p. 188) Is he unaware that pagan theology knew of incarnating spirits below the orbit of the moon? (p. 186; e.g. p. 172) Is he unaware that Paul knew Jesus as a pre-existent archangel even before his own incarnation and resurrection? (Element 10, Chapter 4, OHJ, pp. 92-96; and see Bart Ehrman’s defense of the same conclusion.) And therefore, that the incarnation was just a temporary blip in a long archangelic history? (As Philippians 2 makes clear.)

Let’s keep that in mind. So we can avoid any equivocation fallacy with his words “purely” or “celestial.”

McGrath continues:

So does 1 Corinthians 15:21 fit with that? Is  ἄνθρωπος ever used for a purely celestial being, without some qualification specifying that the term is not being used in its usual sense?

While it might be said in response that Paul at one point refers to Jesus as the “heavenly” man, that is something that Paul says about the risen Jesus. The image of the heavenly man is the nature of the risen Jesus which Paul says that awaits others.

Here is where McGrath, once again, didn’t even check first, before making this claim. He is just arguing from the armchair again. And believing everything his mind just made up. It turns out the answer to his first question is “yes.” Celestial beings were indeed referred to as anthrôpos. In fact, they were so by Philo, the Jewish theologian who discusses the exact same Jewish angelology Paul is referencing here, of the two Adams, one heavenly and one of earth. But I’ll get to that below. For now, notice that McGrath has forgotten that Paul believed Jesus was a heavenly man before he acquired a body that could die (Philippians 2:6-7; 1 Corinthians 8:6; 1 Corinthians 10:4).

The resurrection emphasis in Paul’s letters is probably one of the strongest arguments against mythicism there is. In Judaism, resurrection was expected to happen to human beings. We have no references to purely celestial beings being raised from the dead. Indeed, it is doubtful that the concept would have made any sense to first century Jews.

This is doubly fallacious reasoning. Not only is it another straw man. It’s also loony tunes anthropology. Because this is just like saying Christianity cannot come from Judaism because it teaches things no prior Jews taught. In other words, unless Christianity predated Christianity, Christianity cannot have ever been Jewish. Try to wrap your head around that crazy logic. By this reasoning, no Jewish sects are Jewish, because each sect teaches something different than the other sects. “No other Jew said that; therefore no Jew ever would say that; therefore the Pharisees were not Jews.” Uh. No. Sorry, James McGrath, that’s not how this works. The only reason so many Jewish sects could have existed at all is if Jews were comfortable innovating new beliefs. (See Chapter 12.4 of OHJ. And on sectarianism: Element 33, Chapter 4, OHJ, pp. 175-77; and TET, pp. 107-10.)

But let’s assume McGrath didn’t realize his argument was that illogical. Let’s discard his awful reasoning and focus instead on the question he confusedly was trying to get at (but came up with this face-palming mess instead). What he probably wants to say is, that no Jew could countenance an angel being resurrected, therefore only if an actual angel was actually killed in front of them and resurrected, would they ever claim such a thing happened. Therefore Jesus must have been an actual archangel. Oh wait, no, McGrath can’t have meant that, either. Hm. Whatever did he mean then? Because that’s what he’s saying: the first Christians, who were indeed full-on totally Jewish, believed Jesus was a celestial archangel who died and was resurrected. But if no Jew could ever think that… ??

Somehow McGrath is trying to get to the need for an actual guy to get unexpectedly killed thus inspiring the unique instance of Jews rethinking who can be resurrected. But there is no need for an actual event. If you believe an angel can put on a mortal body and then die and then be resurrected, then you don’t need an actual archangel to descend and put on a mortal body and then die and then be resurrected. You can just believe it happened because scripture says so and the resurrected archangel told you himself in a vision or dream. And that’s the Doherty thesis. McGrath is engaging in an equivocation fallacy: “angels can’t die, therefore they can’t be resurrected” is true but irrelevant. Because the Doherty thesis is simply taking Philippians 2:6-10 at its word: that an angel (in this case Jesus) put on a mortal body precisely to solve the problem that angels can’t die. Yes, only human bodies can die. So Jesus was given one.

This does not get us to any event on earth. We see no statement in Philippians 2 that this putting on and casting off of a mortal humanoid body took place on earth. We see no statement to that effect anywhere in any of the actual letters of Paul. Nor in any other early epistle (see Chapter 11 of OHJ), nor even 1 Clement (see Chapter 8.5 of OHJ). And yet obviously Jews could imagine an angel who wore a mortal humanoid body being killed and resurrected. Because that is by definition what can happen to any soul in a mortal body. And that is precisely why the first Christians had to imagine it this way. It is precisely because of the Jewish understanding of death and resurrection McGrath is talking about that they had to add that step in Philippians 2 of the angel putting on a mortal body.

So when James McGrath declares this is “one of the strongest arguments against mythicism there is,” we have every reason to conclude he’s the most incompetent critic of mythicism there is. Because it’s not even a valid argument. Much less strong (forget “strongest”!). Yes, indeed, no Jews would likely have imagined an angel just “getting killed” and being raised from the dead. That’s why no Jew ever imagined such a thing. They instead imagined an angel putting on a mortal body first, so as to conform to Jewish expectations about death and resurrection. And that simply does not require an actual angel to actually do that, for any Jews to believe that it happened. Once the angel told them it happened (Galatians 1:11-12), and told them the scriptures confirmed it (Romans 16:25-26), no more reason to believe it was needed. No historical man was needed, any more than a historical eternal archangel was needed (Philippians 2:6-7).

So the fact that McGrath thinks this is even an argument against the Doherty thesis tells us McGrath does not even understand the Doherty thesis. At best. At worst, he does understand it, and knows this is a straw man of it; in which case, McGrath is not just incompetent; he’s lying.

At any rate, whether by deception or incompetence, McGrath continues with this fallacy…

Paul states time and again that Jesus is the firstfruits of the resurrection, the first of humankind.

Referring to one statement Paul makes in 1 Corinthians 15:20-23. But Paul never says Jesus was “the first of humankind” (I assume McGrath means “to be resurrected,” and I assume he means in particular only the final resurrection, there having been plenty of other resurrections in Jewish history before that). Nor ever implied such in the sense McGrath must mean. Paul simply says Jesus was the first to be resurrected, and thereby the first of many brethren, all the sons of God by adoption (Element 12, Chapter 4, OHJ, p. 108), beginning the expected end of the world.

Paul says Jesus was not resurrected in a human body (1 Corinthians 15:35-53), nor did he have a human body before his incarnation (Philippians 2:6-7; 1 Corinthians 8:6; 1 Corinthians 10:4). He only was given a human body at one time so he could be subject to the elements and thus capable of dying (Philippians 2:7-8; Galatians 4; Romans 8:3 & 8:29). In no way does this require any of this to have actually happened. Paul and the Apostles need merely have believed it happened. And as Paul makes clear, only visions and scripture ever convinced them it had (Galatians 1:11-12; 1 Corinthians 15:3-8; Romans 16:25-26). This is the case even in the epistle of 1 Peter (Chapter 11.3 of OHJ).

And so here too, mythicism’s understanding of what Paul meant, if not impossible, is a meaning of the texts that is at odds with what a variety of words and technical terms normally meant in Paul’s context, and so, because Paul does not clarify that he is using those words in unconventional ways, he ought to be understood as saying something consonant with their usual meaning in his context. And that is the meaning that mainstream scholars ascribe to him.

And that’s the conclusion of McGrath’s argument. One huge non sequitur. It’s hard to see how one gets to this conclusion even from his stated premises. But since his premises include that fallacious straw man about what the Doherty thesis actually states, this conclusion does not even relate to the Doherty thesis, much less argue against it. What “understanding of what Paul meant” is impossible? That Jesus was an eternal celestial archangel who was later given a mortal humanoid body so he could experience death? That’s plainly stated by Paul in Philippians 2:6-8. It’s therefore the opposite of impossible. It’s what he actually said.

Or is what is supposedly impossible the notion of Paul referring to this archangel with the word anthrôpos (“man”)? But since Jesus was given a humanoid mortal body (Philippians 2:6-8), Paul certainly could refer to him as having been a man. Paul says Jesus was an eternal celestial being who chose to humble himself by taking on the body of a man, then shedding that body and returning to his celestial status (Philippians 2:6-8), now even more exalted than before. So even on the Doherty thesis Jesus was for a brief time a man. That’s the whole point of the incarnation. So there is nothing “impossible” or “unconventional” about Paul referring to an angel who wore a human body as having briefly been a man. Even in the literal sense (i.e. being a mortal in human flesh: 1 Corinthians 15:39). That doesn’t tell us anything about where this happened.

So to get his bizarre conclusion, McGrath has failed to honestly represent the mythicist thesis twice: he has ignored the actual Doherty thesis (which fully includes an incarnation to the status of a mortal man) and he has ignored the established ancient distinction between the heavens and the firmament (incarnation occurs in the latter section of outer space, not the former). McGrath therefore has no argument here against our actual thesis.

That’s bad enough. But it gets worse…

The Fail

This was all based on McGrath’s spontaneous armchair belief that no celestial being was called a man, an anthrôpos. Already, of course any celestial being who wore human flesh could obviously be so called in that form. So already the distinction is irrelevant to our minimal mythicism. But even celestial beings who never wore human flesh could be called an anthrôpos. And in fact, where McGrath finds Paul calling Jesus a man, is a passage where Paul is referencing a theological doctrine we know was present in Judaism, because it is also discussed by the Jewish theologian Philo, a contemporary of Paul (yet who was writing in ignorance of Paul or Christianity or any of its innovations).

The key passage is 1 Corinthians 15:45:

So also it is written, “The first man, Adam, was made into a living soul; the last Adam, into a life-giving spirit.”

Wait a minute. Written where? Is Paul here citing a lost scripture? Which Christians often did—the Jewish scriptures they revered and built their gospel on were not exactly the same as ours today, but included versions of books different from ours, and entire books no longer extant (see Element 9, Chapter 4, OHJ, pp. 88-92). It is usually assumed Paul is just taking extreme license with a misquoting of the Septuagint translation of Genesis 2:7 (which says “and man was made into a living soul”), but that’s not entirely plausible. Paul does not say, “as it was written of the first man, Adam, ‘man was made into a living soul’, so the last man was made into a life-giving spirit,” Which is how he would actually say that, if that’s what he meant. But he doesn’t. He actually is presenting the whole sentence as a quotation (as I’ve indicated above). A quotation of what? We don’t know. Some book that played on the Genesis passage with some prophecy of a coming messiah who would reverse the sin of Adam? We don’t know.

Since it’s not possible to know for sure if this is just a disingenuously massaged quotation from Genesis, or the quotation of some prophecy now lost but known to Paul’s congregations, I’ll set that aside. What we do know, is that this comparison does not come from Paul. It existed already in Jewish theology.

Paul had already explicitly called the Jesus who became a life-giving spirit a “man” (anthrôpos) in 1 Corinthians 15:21, where he began the Adam-to-Jesus comparison. And here at verse 45 he grammatically implies it again. McGrath thinks Paul can say this because Jesus at least had been a man, even though he wasn’t still (being afterward, at the time Paul wrote, a “celestial being,” as McGrath concedes). But that also holds for the Doherty thesis, on which Jesus also had been a man (when he temporarily assumed a mortal body of flesh). So if McGrath finds this acceptable, then he can’t object to it on mythicism either.

But the thing that’s worse here, is that McGrath didn’t check the literature. A quick lit search would land you with Stefan Nordgaard, “Paul’s Appropriation of Philo’s Theory of ‘Two Men’ in 1 Corinthians 15.45–49,” New Testament Studies 57 (2011), pp 348-365 (an accessible copy of which is currently available here). Nordgaard points out that the “two man” theory Paul uses here actually comes from Philo (or predecessors of both who developed this theory), and Philo was perfectly comfortable talking about an earthly “man” and a heavenly “man,” even when the latter never had a mortal body of flesh at all nor ever resided below the heavens! So much for McGrath’s “expert” claim that no Jews would ever say that. Foot, mouth.

As Nordgaard explains:

Philo developed his theory of the two men on the basis of the creation narratives given in the book of Genesis. As is well known, Genesis offers two different accounts of the creation of the human species (one in 1:26-27 and another in 2:7). While this has suggested to modern scholarship that the text of Genesis has come down to us as a compound of different sources, it suggested to Philo that God had created two categorically different ‘types of people’ (Leg. 1.31): a ‘heavenly man’ (ouranios anthrôpos), ‘fashioned in the image of God’ (cf. Gen. 1:26-27), and an ‘earthly man’ (gêinos anthrôpos), ‘moulded out of clay’ (cf. Gen 2:7). [Ibid. p. 353]

Philo in fact says this “heavenly man” is the first created being and viceroy of God, the “image” of God, God’s “firstborn son,” high priest of God’s celestial temple, the supreme archangel, whom God tasked with the rest of creation, and who governs the universe on God’s behalf. Philo says this Being is the Logos. The same exact being the Gospel of John says Jesus is. But Paul was already saying this. He only never had occasion to use specifically the word “logos,” aka the ‘word’ or ‘reasoning’ of God (though Paul does say Jesus is the ‘wisdom’ of God, which is what Philo equated with the logos of God), and doesn’t get around to discussing his celestial priesthood (that’s in Hebrews 9); but every other identification Paul made. And to know Jesus by so many specific and unusual attributes is an impossible coincidence. Paul clearly only knew his Jesus to be this supernal figure known to Philo. There is no evidence any Christians before him thought differently.

Screencap from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, showing the descent of the alien space city over Devil's Tower before it flips over to land; the image is clearly inspired by descriptions of the celestial cities of God and the Book of Revelation's claim that a fabulous crystal city would descend onto the earth from outer space in the end days.Indeed, though McGrath repels in horror at the idea (and always attempts to deploy Christian apologetics against it), in fact Philo identified this being with the ‘High Priest’ and ‘Son of God’ named Jesus in Zechariah 6 (see Element 40, Chapter 5, OHJ, pp. 200-05; see also Elements 6 and 10 in Chapter 4, pp. 81-83 and 92-96). Which if true, means the earliest Christians were not only equating Jesus with an archangel already known in Jewish theology, but that that archangel was already named Jesus even before Christians adopted the figure as their object of worship. As I wrote recently in Everything You Need to Know about Coincidences:

[W]hen we look for evidence that the Jewish scholar Philo understood a character named Jesus in Zechariah 6 to be the same archangel Paul thinks his Jesus is, [we note] that the alternative explanation requires so many coincidences to have occurred as to be extraordinarily improbable (On the Historicity of Jesus, pp. 200-05), including the fact that Paul and Philo assign all the same unusual attributes to the same figure, and the fact that Philo said he made the connection because the archangel in question was already known to him as the Son of God and the High Priest, and the only person in the Zechariah passage he quotes who is identified as the Son of God and the High Priest, is Jesus.

And as I’ve noted before, Bart Ehrman “also now agrees that Philo attests a Jewish theology in which the Logos is the firstborn Son of God and the eternal Image of God, the same being Jesus was identified with” in Paul (cf. How Jesus Became God, p. 75). And though Ehrman “overlooks the passage where Philo says a Jesus named in the OT is this very same being,” he nevertheless “also finds Philo attesting a Jewish belief that Moses was a pre-existent divine being who became incarnate to live on earth and then ascend back to his station in heaven, establishing yet another Jewish precedent for Christian incarnation Christology” (cf. How Jesus Became God, p. 82). That makes one more celestial being Jews referred to as a man. Sorry, James McGrath. Do your homework next time.

Oh, by the way. Do you know how McGrath also could have come to know about this article by Nordgaard? By reading my damned book (p. 198, n. 112).

Conclusion

McGrath leans on unchecked armchair assertions, which he falsely implies are researched expert knowledge, but which are actually in fact false. This is not the only example. If he was competent, he would check the literature before making such claims. Certainly before making them so assertively, as if he knew they were true (how do you know something is true when you’ve never even checked to find out if it’s true?). And this isn’t some obscure or recently overturned thing that can be excused (as for example when I unfairly expected Bart Ehrman to have obscure knowledge of a specialized subject, which is expecting too much even of a bona fide expert; competent scholars need merely correct the record when they encounter unexpected information like that). This is something easily discovered with a simple literature search. It is what you would discover almost immediately upon asking yourself, “Was the word anthrôpos ever used of supernatural beings?” and doing the most methodologically rudimentary check to find out.

McGrath also leans on blatant and inexcusable fallacies. He straw-mans the mythicist thesis egregiously—and in a way fatal to his argument. He makes bizarrely self-contradicting assertions about how Judaism and other religions fracture and evolve. He deploys outrageous well poisoning fallacies, like falsely equating the question of Jesus’s historicity with claims for which we have vastly more evidence. And he makes assertions of fact that he never checked to confirm, leaning on his credentials to persuade you to believe he is a trustworthy authority on what he declares. These are all the behaviors of Christian apologists. Indeed, these behaviors of his have far more in kinship with Young Earth Creationists than anything mythicists do! (Your irony meter should be pegging out now.)

In the end, Paul did distinguish between men and the risen Jesus as McGrath avers (in Galatians 1 repeatedly), but as McGrath also acknowledges, Paul could still reference Jesus as having been a man: “The first man [anthrôpos] is of the earth,” meaning Adam, “the second man [anthrôpos] is of heaven,” meaning Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:47). Exactly as Philo said of his Jesus, despite that Jesus never having worn a human body! (That was the Christian innovation.) Though of course Paul is here building an analogy to us—in which our mortal bodies are our “first man,” our sharing the condition of Adam, and our future bodies are our “second man,” our sharing of the condition of Jesus; in fact those supernatural bodies are already waiting for us in a storehouse in heaven (2 Corinthians 5). Unlike Jesus, who had had a supernatural body since the beginning of time (1 Corinthians 8:6 and 10:4; Philippians 2:6-8), and merely resumed it after his resurrection. But the analogy works because both Adam and Jesus were men—even in the literal sense, Jesus having been given a mortal humanoid body to wear just long enough to be killed in it (Philippians 2:6-8). Which occurred in the firmament on the Doherty thesis, not on the ground just outside of Jerusalem, nor in “the heavens,” which are above the firmament. And there is nothing in the actual writings of Paul that indicates otherwise. McGrath has deployed no valid argument to the contrary.

So when Paul wrote “for since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead” (1 Corinthians 15:21), there is nothing here that contradicts the Doherty thesis or my minimal mythicism. No special interpretation or understanding of Paul is needed. We can read that sentence fully literally as written. And still it conforms to our thesis. Jesus was an eternal celestial archangel. Who descended to the lower reaches of outer space where flesh and death resided, and put on a mortal human body like an overcoat, so that he could be killed and resurrected. Where exactly did that occur? Paul never says.

At least, not in any of the letters and portions of his letters we have been allowed to see.

For Paul wrote a great deal else. Which is suspiciously now missing (OHJ, pp. 279-80 and 582-83, with p. 511 n. 4 and pp. 349-56).

44 comments

  1. “For Paul wrote a great deal else. Which is suspiciously now missing.”

    Yes, like an Epistle to the Alexandrians, which is explicitly revealed in my historical suspense novel, “Mythos Christos.” Upon your advice from many years ago, I invented that as solid evidence my main character Lex and the Vatican archivist Thea would find in a subterranean vault. I hope you and your readership will check out my e-book (you’ve already read much of it). Hard cover coming soon. (No link = no spam.)

    PS I’m glad you never had to renounce your original mythicist thesis – it still stands strong!

    Reply
  2. Your brilliant deduction that Jesus was a vision in outer space seems so logical that I find it hard to understand why anyone would want to still believe Jesus was an historical person. I just don’t get it. What are they protecting? I guess it’s ego. Their religion is their identity. They have become blind to truth. It’s not that a mythical Jesus would ruin Christianity. It actually would all make more sense if understood as myth and allegory. It becomes pregnant with ever deeper meaning if understood as a myth. This orthodoxy historical ”belief” has created the craziest wall of ignorance I’ve ever seen.

    Reply
    1. There must be more to it than that. Since many secular, Jewish, and atheist scholars also are also stuck on needing a historical Jesus. There are issues of institutional inertia, career commitments, face-saving, the role of Christian money in influencing academic decisions even at secular universities, managing friends and family who are still believers, and the problem that even many assumptions secular experts have actually originated as Christian faith doctrines and not actual facts and they don’t know it, it’s just what they were told over and over again. Chapters 4 and 5 of On the Historicity of Jesus aim to dispel most of those, since many experts don’t know the facts in those chapters (and they are all well established facts, true whether Jesus existed or not). Others relate to repeated claims about Q that are false and about the letters of Paul that are false. Those are dealt with in Chapters 10 and 11.

      Reply
  3. I was interacting with McGrath on his blog, and I said that I suspect Paul was an invention of Marcion. He didn’t respond to me after that 🙁 – not really looking to debate that point (nor was I trying to debate with McGrath), I just was unfamiliar with his work until recently,and didn’t realize he was so anti-mythicist.

    In regards to 1 Corin 15, when I read it through a “Gnostic” lens, it seems like an interpolation…but even if it’s not, when I read the Apocalypse of Paul (I know that was written much later), the “up to Jerusalem” reference in Galatians seems to be interpreted in that text as an ascent through the heavens. I wonder if that’s how Paul’s reference to “up to Jerusalem” (and other references to apostles) was always intended to be interpreted…if Jesus is appearing to these apostles, I suppose it could be after his ascent from the Kenoma to the Pleroma (or whatever realm is being ascended)

    Reply
    1. I don’t think we can establish such specific 2nd century beliefs as extant in the time of Paul. 2nd century “Gnosticism” is as divergent from the original sect as 2nd century “Orthodoxy” is.

      So we have to stick to what we can prove. Possibilities are interesting to speculate about, but speculation in, speculation out. We can’t generate knowledge that way.

      I have several reasons to doubt that Paul was invented by Marcion (see, for example, my article on the Historicity of Paul). At best, we have insufficient evidence to establish that as the case. So even at best it is simply an unknown. But I don’t think the evidence we have can get us even to a marginal probability for it. The evidence is far more coherent if the authentic letters of Paul were cut-and-pasted together from a real body of correspondence from the man in the 50s A.D. It would even be more likely that they were written in the 70s B.C. than that they were forged in the 2nd century A.D. (in congruence with a Jannaeus-era Jesus cult—it’s often not noticed that Paul never references anything in his letters that actually wouldn’t fit in the immediately pre-Roman era of Judea and Damascus). And even that I consider very unlikely (such an enormous gap in production of literature would be improbable—as then we’d have near a whole century of zero publications from Christians).

      Reply
    1. I suppose the double irony you intend is that “Lord, liar, lunatic” is a false trichotomy. One can also be simply mistaken. And delusion is far too common to be called lunacy. And one can be several things at once.

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  4. MrHorse February 14, 2016, 6:54 am

    Well argued.

    McGrath’s “concerns of young-earth creationists and mythicists intersect” is as much, if not more, a false equivalence fallacy, too.

    Reply
  5. williamshart February 14, 2016, 12:17 pm

    Can Paul’s Human Jesus Not Be a Celestial Jesus?

    How do you determine the probability that Jesus was a purely mythical character crucified in a celestial realm using Bayesian method? The gospels and, some would argue, the epistles explicitly refer to a human Jesus traveling, interacting with ordinary, anonymous and historically identified humans, preaching, eating, drinking in the familiar territory of Judea within the Roman province of first century Palestine. To be sure, the authors of the gospels describe miracles performed by “this man.” To use an oxymoron, Paul and John certainly flesh out the theology of the risen Christ in a heavenly realm and refer to many mystical appearances of Jesus after his death to followers that take shape in revelatory visions, dreams etc. which may credibly be characterized as hallucinations to modern audiences. These claims, however, only imply that a divine supernatural identity may have been grafted imaginatively onto an actual person.

    The ALTERNATIVE THEORY of a purely mythic Jesus who acted out a paradigmatic blood sacrifice in a supernal realm outside of time and space simply writes a new gospel saddled with the incorrigible problem of claiming to be purely fictional tout court. We are back to square one with where to begin applying Bayesian method. Who wrote the alleged mythic gospel? Are there any surviving documents from independent sources that attest to the intentional fabrication of a mythicist Jesus? Comparing the Jesus narrative to Greek stories about the deeds of Hercules or more closely (and controversially) to the pagan Egyptian myth of Osirus fails to address the question because Bayesianism cannot calculate prior probabilities without calculating “objective” posterior probabilities that rely on two or more independent sources presenting SINGLE-EVENT-SPECIFIC EVIDENCE in a substantively similar way. The Mythicist Gospel According to Richard Carrier, Doherty et. al. and the Gospel According to Mark present the same obstacles to a credible implementation of Bayesian method to analyze and evaluate the evidence.

    Aviezer Tucker, who contrary to your self-assertion, largely disagrees with your dubious claims to apply Bayesian mathematical probability accurately to the evidence, – puts it this way: [Tucker] “There are two Bayesian approaches to discovering such values [regarding the evidentiary question of the crucifixion of Jesus or any other historical claim], “objective” and “subjective.” SUBJECTIVE BAYESIANISM interprets probabilities as DEGREES OF BELIEF THAT CAN BE MANIFESTED IN BETTING BEHAVIOR. Objective Bayesianism believes that probabilities are observable features of the world, the frequencies of things in classes. Obviously, it is easier to apply subjective Bayesianism to historiography. But though subjective Bayesianism does not assign values arbitrarily, it never the less cannot decide between some conflicting evaluations. Carrier endorses an idealized, what he calls “hypothetical,” version of objective frequentism. Sometimes, we know the reasons behind the appearances of frequencies and we can idealize them. For example, if we flip a coin a hundred times, we expect the frequency of heads to be 1 in 2, though the actual empirical frequency may deviate from it, say 49/100. Carrier expects historians to infer such idealized frequencies when there are large enough classes and enough information, it is possible to compute objective probabilities, for example, in archaeology and demographic history. BUT IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO COMPUTE THE FREQUENCIES OF EVENTS THAT ARE UNIQUE OR INFER THE RELIABILITIES OF SINGLE TESTIMONIES BY COMPUTING THE FREQUENCY OF THEM BEING CORRECT. Since there are no sources for the life of Jesus outside the Synoptic Gospels and the Epistles, and since we do not know who wrote the Gospels and where they had received their information, it is impossible or at least very difficult to compute such frequencies in relation to hypotheses about the historicity of Jesus. Carrier suggests that when it is impossible to ascertain precise probabilities, it is possible to replace them with ranges of probabilities. The wider the range, the higher the posterior probability of the hypotheses, but also the less informative it is. At one point Carrier retreats into subjective Bayesianism (239),
    accepting that when there is insufficient data, subjective estimates of priors are
    acceptable if made by experts who can explain their judgments and use a fortiori reasoning, choosing the least advantageous assumptions for supporting their favorite hypotheses.”

    COMMENT: Tucker’s conclusion follows logically from his argument. Bayesian method may be applied “subjectively” but NOT accurately to determine the probabilities for or against the historicity of Jesus because of conflicting evaluations that analysts attribute to the evidence. Bayesian method can only be reliably applied “objectively” with frequentist data input that may be calculated mathematically to an “idealized” degree of probability. (For example, flipping a coin with a 50/50 – heads/tails probability). Objective mathematical Bayesianism becomes virtually impotent in the absence of multiple events in a class that might otherwise supply pertinent numerical data sufficient to calculate probability within an idealized range of probability. In other words, the crucifixion of Jesus, whether or not it happened, could have happened only once. An objective determination of probability that it did happen and was reliably reported depends on multiple independent witnesses. Because multiple independent witnesses are lacking in the anonymous sources, historians who debate the question of the historicity of Jesus with respect to his crucifixion and many other recorded events, sayings, deeds, etc. must default to various and divergent consensuses derived from subjective Bayesian method. At the end of the day, there are two more or less polarized camps. The opposing scholars (per Tucker) are effectively “betting” that Jesus existed or did not exist based on conflicting evaluations of the evidence and the conjectured probabilities that follow from them.

    Reply
    1. For readers: Note this is all largely in continuing reply to another but related article.

      Williamshart: How do you determine the probability that Jesus was a purely mythical character crucified in a celestial realm using Bayesian method?

      Explained in Chapters 3 and 12 of On the Historicity of Jesus.

      Williamshart: The gospels and, some would argue, the epistles explicitly refer to a human Jesus traveling, interacting with ordinary, anonymous and historically identified humans, preaching, eating, drinking in the familiar territory of Judea within the Roman province of first century Palestine.

      So do the “gospels” of Osiris, Romulus, Hercules, Dionysus, Moses, Abraham, etc. etc.

      The epistles never mention Jesus traveling, preaching, or interacting in any way other than through visions. They also never mention him eating or drinking (not even in the eucharist vision Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, on which see On the Historicity of Jesus, Chapter 11.7). (Although of course an incarnate angel can eat and drink in outer space; just as easily as they can die there.)

      Williamshart: The ALTERNATIVE THEORY of a purely mythic Jesus who acted out a paradigmatic blood sacrifice in a supernal realm outside of time and space simply writes a new gospel saddled with the incorrigible problem of claiming to be purely fictional tout court. We are back to square one with where to begin applying Bayesian method.

      That conjunction of sentences is unintelligible.

      Try actually interacting with the argument in OHJ.

      You might also want to attend to how determining historicity works for other “tout court” histories invented for non-existent people. Like Osiris, Romulus, Hercules, Dionysus, Moses, Abraham, etc. etc. Likewise King Arthur and Ned Ludd. Even Betty Crocker teaches us lessons about how to approach historicity questions for “tout court” invented people using Bayes’ Theorem. All of which are discussed in OHJ.

      Williamshart: Who wrote the alleged mythic gospel? Are there any surviving documents from independent sources that attest to the intentional fabrication of a mythicist Jesus?

      Are there for Osiris, Romulus, Hercules, Dionysus, Moses, Abraham, Arthur, Ludd, etc. etc.?

      Do you seriously believe every mythical person set in history must have been historical because you can’t talk to the people who invented them?

      You must have a really bizarre world view. Good lords. Don’t anyone tell this guy about Hinduism!

      This isn’t how historians do history. We infer from circumstantial evidence. As I show in OHJ. All of whose arguments you are ignoring. I presume because you are lazy and don’t actually want to interact with any actual arguments or evidence.

      Williamshart: Comparing the Jesus narrative to Greek stories about the deeds of Hercules or more closely (and controversially) to the pagan Egyptian myth of Osirus fails to address the question because Bayesianism cannot calculate prior probabilities without calculating “objective” posterior probabilities that rely on two or more independent sources presenting SINGLE-EVENT-SPECIFIC EVIDENCE in a substantively similar way.

      That’s not true. At least, if you mean that sentence literally. Reference classes can be all different sizes and involve many different comparisons. We should indeed use the one we have the most data points for, and the most points of comparison. But when we do that (e.g. build sets in which comparable members number more than just the singular Jesus all by himself, and for which there are the most points of similarity) we get sets in which half or more members are mythical.

      See Chapter 6 of OHJ (with Elements 44-48 in Chapter 5). Especially on this one point Chapter 6.5, “The Alternative Class Objection” and then 6.4, “The Causal Objection.”

      The bottom line is, there is no clear evidence of a historical Jesus in the Epistles, and the Jesus in the Gospels has far more in common with mythical saviors than real historical actors. That Christianity essentially is a Jewish version of the mystery cult fad (Elements 13 and 14, Chapter 4; and Elements 30 and 31, Chapter 5), and that all mystery cults had mythical savior deities represented as historical founders, is alone enough to be doubting. And more than adequate for a Bayesian prior. And we have even better sets than that to work with. (Like Element 48, Chapter 5.)

      Your bias would become obvious if we were talking about the new discovery of a pagan cult in the 1st century that worshiped a certain Herconius, savior son of God, with baptismal initiation into his celestial spirit procuring individual salvation, and whose papers portrayed Herconius as a historical miracle-working holy man conforming to numerous mythotypes. Since that’s what all mystery cults did, for every other national culture (Persian, Egyptian, Thracian, Phrygian, etc.), yet no mystery cult saviors are plausibly actually historical, our prior assumption should be that this mystery cult is no different than the others—that the biography of Herconius is as fabricated as for Osiris, Romulus, Hercules, Dionysus, Moses, Abraham, etc. etc. Until we got evidence corroborating otherwise.

      That’s how this works.

      Williamshart: The Mythicist Gospel According to Richard Carrier, Doherty et. al. and the Gospel According to Mark present the same obstacles to a credible implementation of Bayesian method to analyze and evaluate the evidence.

      Since you have never addressed any of my actual implementation of Bayesian method to this specific question, you seem unqualified to know what problems my actual implementation of it faces.

      Williamshart: Aviezer Tucker, who contrary to your self-assertion, largely disagrees with your dubious claims to apply Bayesian mathematical probability accurately to the evidence, – puts it this way: [Tucker] “There are two Bayesian approaches to discovering such values [regarding the evidentiary question of the crucifixion of Jesus or any other historical claim], “objective” and “subjective.” SUBJECTIVE BAYESIANISM interprets probabilities as DEGREES OF BELIEF THAT CAN BE MANIFESTED IN BETTING BEHAVIOR. Objective Bayesianism believes that probabilities are observable features of the world, the frequencies of things in classes. Obviously, it is easier to apply subjective Bayesianism to historiography. But though subjective Bayesianism does not assign values arbitrarily, it never the less cannot decide between some conflicting evaluations. Carrier endorses an idealized, what he calls “hypothetical,” version of objective frequentism. Sometimes, we know the reasons behind the appearances of frequencies and we can idealize them. For example, if we flip a coin a hundred times, we expect the frequency of heads to be 1 in 2, though the actual empirical frequency may deviate from it, say 49/100. Carrier expects historians to infer such idealized frequencies when there are large enough classes and enough information, it is possible to compute objective probabilities, for example, in archaeology and demographic history. BUT IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO COMPUTE THE FREQUENCIES OF EVENTS THAT ARE UNIQUE OR INFER THE RELIABILITIES OF SINGLE TESTIMONIES BY COMPUTING THE FREQUENCY OF THEM BEING CORRECT. Since there are no sources for the life of Jesus outside the Synoptic Gospels and the Epistles, and since we do not know who wrote the Gospels and where they had received their information, it is impossible or at least very difficult to compute such frequencies in relation to hypotheses about the historicity of Jesus. Carrier suggests that when it is impossible to ascertain precise probabilities, it is possible to replace them with ranges of probabilities. The wider the range, the higher the posterior probability of the hypotheses, but also the less informative it is. At one point Carrier retreats into subjective Bayesianism (239), accepting that when there is insufficient data, subjective estimates of priors are acceptable if made by experts who can explain their judgments and use a fortiori reasoning, choosing the least advantageous assumptions for supporting their favorite hypotheses.”

      And where do I or Tucker disagree with any of that?

      Since I find the Gospels afford no evidence for mythicism or against, Tucker is here agreeing with me: they don’t generate any usable probability to the question at all. You just quoted him saying that. And that’s exactly what I say in Chapter 10.8 of OHJ. So…what are you questioning? You seem not to know that Tucker is saying we should conclude exactly what I conclude in OHJ.

      Which tells me you haven’t read OHJ. And are therefore not at all qualified to be critiquing it.

      (I should also note that one can go too far with the “unique event” argument, as I demonstrate in Proving History, pp. 272-76. Tucker does not address that in his review, but generally agrees with it in his book. But you just revealed you don’t know about it either. So you clearly haven’t even read PH. Or Tucker’s book on Bayesian history.)

      Williamshart: COMMENT: Tucker’s conclusion follows logically from his argument.

      Indeed. Which is why I agree with him.

      And accordingly in OHJ I get exactly the result he predicts for the Gospels.

      You are starting to look foolish by not knowing that.

      Williamshart: Bayesian method may be applied “subjectively” but NOT accurately to determine the probabilities for or against the historicity of Jesus because of conflicting evaluations that analysts attribute to the evidence.

      Exactly what I say in both books. How funny you don’t know that.

      Pay attention in particular to Proving History, index, “disagreement” and “subjective priors, problem of.”

      Williamshart: Bayesian method can only be reliably applied “objectively” with frequentist data input that may be calculated mathematically to an “idealized” degree of probability. (For example, flipping a coin with a 50/50 – heads/tails probability).

      Funny you should say this and think Tucker is saying this. Tucker famously disagrees with you: he wrote an entire book explaining why Bayesian reasoning describes all correct historical reasoning. All. And he has written many papers in support (one of which I even cited here). And in almost no case do historians have the kind of data you are describing. For anything. Not even for Caesar’s crossing the Rubicon. So this notion that you “need” “objectively” “frequentist” data to input into a Bayesian equation is flatly refuted by Tucker’s entire body of work. It is also rejected by all notable Bayesians of this century and the last. So I have no idea what you think you are accomplishing by going against the entirety of the Bayesian epistemology community, and citing Tucker as on your side when in fact he is the one who has most rigorously refuted exactly what you are now claiming.

      A good example of this is how Tucker praises and approves my application to Bayesian reasoning to determining literary emulation (in Proving History, pp. 192-204. Notice how that does not involve any “objective” “frequentist” data. It simply involves unarguable a fortiori estimates. And only ever could. Yet Tucker approves. Curious that you don’t seem to know that.

      Likewise, Tucker’s peer reviewed article on testimonial evidence and its Bayesian effect on historical certainty, which I cited, at no point relies on “objective” “frequentist” data. It relies on the same kinds of a fortiori estimating I do in PH and OHJ.

      I’m starting to think you don’t know what you are talking about.

      Williamshart: Objective mathematical Bayesianism becomes virtually impotent in the absence of multiple events in a class that might otherwise supply pertinent numerical data sufficient to calculate probability within an idealized range of probability. In other words, the crucifixion of Jesus, whether or not it happened, could have happened only once.

      This isn’t relevant. Bayes’ Theorem is used to predict unique events by intelligence and search and rescue communities all the time. Indeed they commonly do so without “objective” “frequentist” data, too.

      Unique events are not a problem. Because all unique events are the assembly of non-unique events, and therefore have an estimable probability of occurring according to the conjunctions (if you don’t believe me, then you need to interact with my argument demonstrating it in Proving History, pp. 272-76). That’s why you would agree (I hope!) that “Jesus was crucified” is vastly more probable than “Jesus grew so tall after his crucifixion that his head passed the clouds” (as the Gospel of Peter reports), even though both would be unique events. Because you actually do know roughly what the relative priors are for men being crucified then, and men growing taller than the clouds then (or anywhen). You don’t need precisely “objective frequentist data” to know that.

      And if you want to argue this point, you need to start getting off your lazy ass and actually reading my books and interacting with the actual arguments in them against you. I wrote the books precisely so I didn’t have to keep repeating myself. So interact with the arguments in the books. Stop this silly armchair ignoramus act. It’s disrespectful to both Tucker and me.

      Williamshart: An objective determination of probability that it did happen and was reliably reported depends on multiple independent witnesses. Because multiple independent witnesses are lacking in the anonymous sources, historians who debate the question of the historicity of Jesus with respect to his crucifixion and many other recorded events, sayings, deeds, etc. must default to various and divergent consensuses derived from subjective Bayesian method. At the end of the day, there are two more or less polarized camps. The opposing scholars (per Tucker) are effectively “betting” that Jesus existed or did not exist based on conflicting evaluations of the evidence and the conjectured probabilities that follow from them.

      Which conflicts resolve at the a fortiori level with the exchange of information. For all honest and reasonable experts. (Proving History, index, “disagreement” and “subjective priors, problem of.”)

      All subjective Bayesian probabilities are estimates of objective actual frequencies (Proving History, pp. 265-80).

      The propensity for error in such estimating is controlled for by the method of a fortiori estimation. (Proving History, index, “a fortiori, method of.”)

      At no point in his review does Tucker challenge or disagree with any of those points. Except in small respect the first, where he mentions the possibility of dogmatism etc. preventing historians from seeing reason. Which concerns I discussed here in my article about the Tucker review.

      Reply
  6. You said in your January’s course, that “There are many possible reconstructions. The probability of any of them is the sum of the probabilities of them all”. Could you explain what you mean by this? Since my first language isn’t english, I find this sentence hard to understand properly.

    Reply
    1. Suppose there are four things that could have happened, and we call them A, B, C, and D.

      Suppose the probabilities of them are as follows: P(A) = 10%, P(B) = 20%, P(C) = 15%, P(D) = 2%.

      The probability that any one of those things happened (any one of A, B, C, or D) is then P(A,B,C,D) = 10% + 20% + 15% + 2% = 47%.

      So, 47%, the sum of the probabilities of all four options, is the probability that any of those options occurred.

      When the options have really small probabilities, e.g. if they all are 0.001%, then the sum of them all remains so low (e.g. 0.001% + 0.001% + 0.001% + 0.001% = 0.004%, or four thousandths of a percent) that we can usually ignore them, since their probabilities will be smaller even than our rounding error. There are exceptions. But that’s a longer story.

      Reply
    2. Richard Carrier: The probability that any one of those things happened (any one of A, B, C, or D) is then P(A,B,C,D) = 10% + 20% + 15% + 2% = 47%

      OK, I think I get it. I thought it would mean that. And because the probability is under 50%, it means that we are not reasonably justified to believe that any of them actually happened. And what did happen is not part of our calculation. Right?

      But let’s suppose that those four things are the only possibilities that could actually have happened. Should then P(A,B,C,D) be 100%?

      Reply
      1. But let’s suppose that those four things are the only possibilities that could actually have happened. Should then P(A,B,C,D) be 100%?

        Correct. If A through D exhausts all logical possibilities, then by definition P(A,B,C,D) = 1.

        And because the probability is under 50%, it means that we are not reasonably justified to believe that any of them actually happened. And what did happen is not part of our calculation. Right?

        We are slightly more warranted in believing something else happened in that case, yes (something other than A through D). And I didn’t include that something else in the example. It could also be split among many alternatives.

        Here is an example of this: in Stephen Davis Gets It Wrong, search for the paragraph discussing “Alexander.” That paragraph works out a whole example of this very thinking.

        Reply
  7. I want to ask one question about legendary development:

    I think W.L. Craig has argued, that because Mark doesn’t show signs of rapid legendary development, it must be the most earlies source for the story and therefore most reliable (or something like that, I can’t remember exactly how it was phrased).

    This “legendary development” thing has made me thinking. How does these people actually know how much legendary development has occured until Mark finally wrote the thing? Apologists like to compare Mark and Gospel of Thomas (or Peter, or whatever), and say “look, look how much bullshit is in this other Gospels, but look how simple Mark is! This means Mark is older, and that’s why it’s more simpler”. But even if Mark is older than the other Gospel, how do they know it’s actually reliable at all? It might be more reliable than the other Gospel becauce it’s older and closer to the events that it’s talking about, but that doesn’t mean Mark is “at the beginning”.

    So my point is that how is this legendary development thing argued by the apologists. If Mark is written somewhere in the 70s, then how the hell anyone knows how much legendary development has happened before Mark put pen to paper? Of course, at this point the magical oral tradition comes to the scene and tries to save Mark’s reliability, but we know that that doesn’t work either (you showed that in OHJ, if I remember correctly, with mock-analogy [did you come up that yourself?]).

    Apologists say “Mark doesn’t show signs of legendary development as much as later Gospels do”. Okay, but if they want to argue that Mark hasn’t gone through legendary development, then should this argument be made in the respect of earlier sources of Mark? So to say that B has (or has not) gone through legendary development, we should have A to verify this. But in the case of Mark, we don’t. So this legendary development thing can’t really be verified.

    What do you think? Am I on right tracks?

    Reply
    1. NK: I think W.L. Craig has argued, that because Mark doesn’t show signs of rapid legendary development, it must be the most earliest source for the story and therefore most reliable (or something like that, I can’t remember exactly how it was phrased).

      Of course that’s false. Mark is littered with legendary content (every single chapter is full of implausible, improbable, or impossible events, or events wholly convenient to the author’s dogmas: see Chapter 10.4 of OHJ and pp. 41-45, 131-33, 145-49, 151-55, 180, etc. of PH). It’s far more so than almost any other biography of antiquity—other than the biographies of non-existent people! (Or biographies that are wholly fictional even when of existent people: see Element 44 in Chapter 5 of OHJ, esp. in respect to the work of Lefkowitz and Fairweather, see the author index.)

      NK: This “legendary development” thing has made me thinking. How do these people actually know how much legendary development has occurred until Mark finally wrote the thing? Apologists like to compare Mark and Gospel of Thomas (or Peter, or whatever), and say “look, look how much bullshit is in this other Gospels, but look how simple Mark is! This means Mark is older, and that’s why it’s more simpler”. But even if Mark is older than the other Gospel, how do they know it’s actually reliable at all? It might be more reliable than the other Gospel becauce it’s older and closer to the events that it’s talking about, but that doesn’t mean Mark is “at the beginning”.

      You are quite right. Mark could contain the same amount of legendary development from 30 to 70 A.D. as the Gospel of Peter adds to Mark. They are confusing “rate of accumulation” with “amount of accumulation.” The rate of accumulation between Mark and even just Matthew is enormous (if you consider the nativity and overblown resurrection narratives as accumulated legend). So the rate was clearly very high. If one thinks Matthew was written within 20 years of Mark, then one should expect Mark to contain twice as much legendary accumulation as occurs between Mark and Matthew (since Mark is at least 40 years after its supposed source events).

      You are also right that even knowing the rate doesn’t get you to what’s true. Completely fake stories get composed immediately. Mark could be completely a fake story completely invented tout court by Mark. Or Mark could be the collection of nothing but isolated fake stories completely invented by others before him. Rate of accumulation is not useful to know if you don’t first know what the initial state of the story was. This is why urban legends pop up instantly and accumulate details rapidly. Not over decades. Not even over years. But within weeks or even days. Without even a single detail being true.

      NK: So my point is that how is this legendary development thing argued by the apologists. If Mark is written somewhere in the 70s, then how the hell anyone knows how much legendary development has happened before Mark put pen to paper? Of course, at this point the magical oral tradition comes to the scene and tries to save Mark’s reliability, but we know that that doesn’t work either (you showed that in OHJ, if I remember correctly, with mock-analogy [did you come up that yourself?]).

      Indeed. In OHJ I have the critic imagine they are on trial for murder, and the only evidence against them is a Gospel of John written anonymously decades later that says lots of people saw you commit the murder (pp. 251-52). Once prison is on the line, any confidence they had in the reliability of the Gospels quickly gets tossed. (Another mock analogy is the Hero Savior of Viet Nam story I use in Why I Am Not a Christian.)

      And an important point here, is that the gospel had evolved enormously over four decades and across three continents, before Mark composed. I discuss this in Proving History, pp. 126-28. And more in OHJ, index, “rapid legendary development.”

      NK: Apologists say “Mark doesn’t show signs of legendary development as much as later Gospels do”. Okay, but if they want to argue that Mark hasn’t gone through legendary development, then should this argument be made in the respect of earlier sources of Mark? So to say that B has (or has not) gone through legendary development, we should have A to verify this. But in the case of Mark, we don’t. So this legendary development thing can’t really be verified. What do you think? Am I on the right track?

      Yes, you are.

      They can’t say Mark “shows no signs of development” without a prior text to compare it to.

      What they usually instead mean is that Mark “looks” unremarkable to them. That is, that its ridiculous claims (withering fig trees, suns going out for three hours, conversations with demons, instantly converting disciples without even a conversation, walking on water, clearing a ten acre temple square single-handedly, Sanhedrin trials on a holy day, missing bodies, mysterious prophetic boys, etc.) are not “as ridiculous” as later ridiculous claims (like Matthew’s nativity story or Peter’s gigantic Jesus story). That’s ridiculous. But these are Christian apologists. They actually think there is nothing ridiculous in Mark. When in fact Mark is actually almost exactly as ridiculous as Matthew. Matthew has only added an expanded beginning and ending. And some speeches. And some other minor tweaks. But really, even by itself, Mark looks as fully ridiculous as any other mythic prose tale of its time.

      Reply
    2. Richard Carrier: What they usually instead mean is that Mark “looks” unremarkable to them. That is, that its ridiculous claims – – are not “as ridiculous” as later ridiculous claims (like Matthew’s nativity story or Peter’s gigantic Jesus story). That’s ridiculous. But these are Christian apologists.

      Right. It seems that to them “less ridiculous” means “credible”, when to everyone else it means just “less ridiculous but still bullshit”. The oral tradition must have been more reliable in the case of Mark, than in the case of these other Gospels. Or something like that.

      But anyway, thanks!

      Reply
    3. gshelley February 17, 2016, 6:17 am

      Does this mean Craig accepts that the other gospels do have legendary development and aren’t reliable history? I don’t know apologists well enough to know which ones are biblical innerantists, which ones thing that there may be minor errors, but the stories are all essential true, which think there is a historical core that was embellished etc.
      On the face of it, it seems a strange argument for someone who thinks that the post resurrection stories (absent in Mark) and the whole “empty tomb” provides compelling evidence of a historical Jesus.

      Reply
      1. William Lane Craig is a liar. So he often argues as if the later gospels are legendary, and then out of the other side of his mouth insists they are not. He is a literalist and an inerrantist in fact (he would be fired from his faculty position and kicked out of the Evangelical Philosophical Society if he ever declared he was otherwise, since both require him to sign sworn declarations of agreement with inerrantism). So your question depends on whether you want to know his real beliefs, or his declared beliefs, or the fake poses he takes in debates and arguments. I doubt any of those three are entirely in alignment.

        But on the matter of his declared beliefs, he believes the Gospel narratives, all of them, are 100% true as written. Obviously someone who believes that, will believe Jesus existed (and will be more inclined to believe Jesus was raised from the dead by the Jewish God). One could say that in fact Craig’s very career, job, and livelihood depends on his believing Jesus existed (and was raised from the dead by the Jewish God).

        Reply
  8. lsamaknight February 14, 2016, 5:34 pm

    As a something of an aside since it’s referred to in your quote of Nordgaard, what’s your stance on the documentary hypothesis, that the Pentateuch as we know it was actually stitched together from multiple texts (or compiled from multiple textual traditions) some time in the post-Exile period? Regardless of who the proposed Redactor actually is.

    Reply
    1. Rob: So Jews did believe that humans (I mean created celestial beings) could become equal to YHWH.

      No.

      No Christian believed Jesus was “equal to God” until about fifty to a hundred years after the sect began.

      The earliest Christians (as attested by Paul) believed Jesus was a created archangel, merely God’s viceroy (see OHJ, Chapter 4, Element 10). The notion that Jesus was God was a much later development, and a bizarre one in the later scheme of Christian sectarian disputes, which appears to have arisen within the Gentile wing of the Church, not the Jewish. It prevailed only because of a happenstance of 4th century Imperial politics.

      Reply
  9. This for me was a key question when I completed OHJ. More so as a test for myself, even though I was fully convinced that Jesus could not have ever been a human from birth. To have the first instance of Jesus presented indisputably as a celestial being and only as such, places all that follows in perfect context. To include McGrath and his typically reactionary stance to answer this, as well as the inclusion of Christian apologetics tactics is, for me, a dark Belgian chocolate icing bonus.

    I put this above resurrection as the stick in the spokes of Christianity.

    So, a kind of question, then. There always seemed to me to be a rush to get Jesus to adulthood and to the resurrection, and for decades I just assumed that the missing years of his life were not missing at all but just never of great importance. Is there any truth or evidence or consideration for this notion or anything close to it? I can’t help but draw the unlearned conclusion that this giant hole in his timeline is suggestive of a completely fabricated being.

    Reply
    1. It is a common feature of mythic heroes (OHJ, Chapter 4, Element 48).

      Biographers in antiquity typically considered childhood and upbringing an important part of telling anyone’s story. So the absence of that from the Gospels makes them peculiar if you want to claim they are biographies. (Until the 2nd century when they started inventing “Infancy Gospels” that have the horrid toddler Jesus going around town killing anyone who offends him like an internet troll with superpowers; though even then the childhood was treated as a sole unit, and not in the context of a life.)

      So to avoid that problem, the claim will be made that they aren’t quite biographies or are somehow a wholly new genre of literature. I agree. They aren’t like biographies at all. Except the biographies of mythic heroes.

      Reply
  10. William Humenansky February 14, 2016, 8:49 pm

    In all the years I practiced Christianity, under such diverse denominations as Church of God, Roman Catholic, Methodist, etc., I could never get the idea of what Paul was talking about until I landed on Doherty’s website. That lead me to Price as well as you (and some others). I can understand what you and the other people are saying and it seems to me that Paul does nothing to substantiate an actual, walk around Palestine, Jewish preacher. He calls is deity “Christ Jesus” which has always meant to me “anointed savior.” That is a title, not a name, and that is what I take away from these discussions. That and the fact the gospels were fictional life stories of a non-existent godman written for propaganda purposes. You, your peers and readers are fortunate to reach this understanding of a mythic savior early on in your lives. But, it doesn’t come too late for anyone searching for what makes sense through reasoning and fact checking. I could never be a believer again under the nonsense that christianity was and still is. There is too much information available to show that while anything may be possible, the probability in this case is as close to nil as humans can get. Thanks for you work and eye-opening research and conclusions.

    Reply
  11. Intaglio February 15, 2016, 2:54 am

    Having recently come across Robert Price and Hermann Detering I find any reliance on the epistles, and the way modern apologists interpret them, is very dubious. While I am not entirely convinced by Detering’s equating Paul with Simon Magus his identification that Paul/Saul are just cognomen attached to a possible source for Gnostic and Marcionite concepts is intriguing.

    Equally interesting, in relation to your own work on the historical reality or otherwise of Jesus, is that Detering emphasised that Josephus finds room to mention the minor figures of John the Baptist and Simon Magus but finds no room for Jesus, Paul, Cephas/Peter or James the Just.

    Off topic. The Google+ log in is not working

    Reply
    1. I find the Detering hypotheses so laden with too many ad hoc assumptions as to have a vanishingly small prior, and nowhere near the evidence required to overcome that. On the historicity of Paul and his “authentic” letters in general see here.

      P.S. Sorry about the tech issue. There is a link at the top of every page on Freethought Blogs for reporting Tech Issues. That will go to the right person who will know about such things.

      Reply
  12. gshelley February 15, 2016, 7:25 am

    “It’s not clear to me what McGrath means. What is the intersection here? That Adam is mythical? McGrath just agreed with that. That Jesus is mythical? No creationist agrees with that. “

    I assume he is arguing that Creationists and Mythicists both agree that we don’t need just one to be mythical, they can both have the same status. It’s kind of bizarre and even re-reading what he wrote twice, I can’t see what deeper point he is trying to make, especially as that also seems to be his argument, that Paul thought both of them were actual men

    Reply
  13. Dudley Dawson February 15, 2016, 9:04 am

    You said:

    “I have noted before how McGrath makes armchair assertions without fact-checking them. Yet he represents his opinion as authoritative, giving the impression that he researched it and knows what he is talking about. As such he is deceiving his readers.”

    And:

    “Instead McGrath just ran with the first thing that came into his head. And asserted it as a fact. And instantly believed it was true without even knowing if it was.

    This is how a Christian apologist behaves. Not a competent and reliable expert in the matter.”

    Don’t you regularly do the same thing you accuse McGrath of doing? I recall very recently hearing you talk on a podcast about how the M1 Abrams cost $1 billion per tank. You clearly just pulled a number out of your ass and ran with it. Also, in your exchanges with Luke Barnes, he has caught you misrepresenting the scientific consensus in the field of Physics, and you did so while preteding you had some kind of authoritative knowledge of the subject. Going by what you said in the quoted portion above, why should anyone trust your historical work?

    Reply
    1. And in every such case I publicly corrected my error.

      Notice the difference there?

      (I also have never represented myself as a professor of cosmology or military procurement economics or asked anyone to believe me because I was. So the analogy doesn’t even fit. But indeed, I do not say above that competent historians can’t make errors. I very explicitly said they could. And when they do, they correct them.)

      Reply
  14. Giuseppe February 15, 2016, 10:05 am

    Hi Richard,

    GakuseiDon insists again and again in his review of OHJ that:

    3.I don’t see any evidence in Paul or other early writings, either Christian or pagan, for the idea of a celestial being getting incarnated (‘into flesh’) and killed above the earth.

    But, against GakuseiDon’s arguments, I read this curious passage in Josephus:

    I suppose the account of it would seem to be a fable, were it not related by those that saw it, and were not the events that followed it of so considerable a nature as to deserve such signals; for, before sun-setting, chariots and troops of soldiers in their armor were seen running about among the clouds, and surrounding of cities. Moreover, at that feast which we call Pentecost, as the priests were going by night into the inner [court of the temple,] as their custom was, to perform their sacred ministrations, they said that, in the first place, they felt a quaking, and heard a great noise, and after that they heard a sound as of a great multitude, saying, “Let us remove hence.”
    http://sacred-texts.com/jud/josephus/war-6.htm

    And this from Tacitus, Histories, 5.13 :

    Prodigies had occurred, which this nation, prone to superstition, but hating all religious rites, did not deem it lawful to expiate by offering and sacrifice. There had been seen hosts joining battle in the skies, the fiery gleam of arms, the temple illuminated by a sudden radiance from the clouds. The doors of the inner shrine were suddenly thrown open, and a voice of more than mortal tone was heard to cry that the Gods were departing. At the same instant there was a mighty stir as of departure. Some few put a fearful meaning on these events, but in most there was a firm persuasion, that in the ancient records of their priests was contained a prediction of how at this very time the East was to grow powerful, and rulers, coming from Judaea, were to acquire universal empire. These mysterious prophecies had pointed to Vespasian and Titus, but the common people, with the usual blindness of ambition, had interpreted these mighty destinies of themselves, and could not be brought even by disasters to believe the truth. I have heard that the total number of the besieged, of every age and both sexes, amounted to six hundred thousand. All who were able bore arms, and a number, more than proportionate to the population, had the courage to do so. Men and women showed equal resolution, and life seemed more terrible than death, if they were to be forced to leave their country. Such was this city and nation; and Titus Caesar, seeing that the position forbad an assault or any of the more rapid operations of war, determined to proceed by earthworks and covered approaches. The legions had their respective duties assigned to them, and there was a cessation from fighting, till all the inventions, used in ancient warfare, or devised by modern ingenuity for the reduction of cities, were constructed.

    Can be the two above mentioned passages in Josephus and Tacitus used as definitive counter-example against all GakuseiDon & McGrath’s speculations, confirming definitively the idea of more celestial entities (hallucinated while) getting in war and even killed above the earth ?

    According to Tacitus, the Pagan gods were seen to exit the temple, after a cosmic battle seen (or better, hallucinated) ”in the sky”.

    But it’s not probable that Josephus thought those exiting the Temple (”Let us remove hence”) were the same Pagan gods (the implication would be that Josephus thought that the Pagan gods reside in the temple of the Lord!!!).

    I think probably Josephus is suggesting that God’s angels that normally protected the sanctuary and city, left it as an unholy place. But then this implies that these God’s angels were defeated (thus… …wounded or killed?) ”in the sky” after a cosmic battle against evil’s forces.

    That would be strong evidence, coming directly from Josephus!, that the angels & demons events ”happened” in heaven, in a celestial realm, and not on terra firma (if not as mere reflection, cfr. Doherty’s ”paradigmatic parallelism”). Do you agree with it?

    I wonder why you don’t use this strong evidence in Josephus against the fool Christian apologist McGrath on duty.

    very thanks,
    Giuseppe

    Reply
    1. Giuseppe February 15, 2016, 10:12 am

      I add another observation on my previous comment.

      Assuming that Tacitus is based on Josephus (see quote above), the more logical implication is that Tacitus is evidence that for a Roman public:

      the (Jewish God’s) angels = Pagan gods.

      This makes the point with Pliny the Younger’s ”Christo quasi deo”.

      1) Christ is an angel (per Carrier’s OHJ, per Ehrman’s HJBG)
      2) angel = god, for Romans as Tacitus (per Histories, 5.13 based clearly on relative Josephus episode in JW)
      3) therefore: Christ is a ”quasi deo”, for the Romans.

      Reply
      1. That’s sound.

        We can’t know for sure if that’s what Pliny meant.

        But it’s entirely plausible.

        There is a lot more evidence than that that pagans regarded Jewish angels as gods, and even that Jews regarded pagan gods as angels (more usually, as fallen angels, or their progeny). See my discussion of henotheism in OHJ (Element 11, Chapter 4). There is actually no metaphysical distinction relevant on either Jewish or Pagan theology. The Jews only differed in predominantly believing one ought not worship these other divinities (though some Jewish sects we know nevertheless did, and the Christian sect is another example of doing so: Ehrman’s latest book covers some of this; I also reference examples in my survey of Jewish sects TET).

        And Pliny would not likely have acknowledged any such distinctions. If they spoke of Jesus as an archangel, Pliny would hear that to mean a god. They would then object to the term (because that would not be how they deem it correct to refer to him). Leaving Pliny confused. Is he a god or not? “Whatever, I’ll just say quasi-god; that will cover all bases.”

        But there are any number of things he may have meant or that may have been said in his conversations with second century Christians. So we don’t really know.

        Reply
    2. That’s not evidence clear enough for what he means.

      Clear evidence is that of Plutarch explaining that the real story of Osiris (the one told to insiders) has him incarnate and die just below the moon every year (OHJ, p. 172; and I will add here that it is extremely annoying when someone reviews my book and doesn’t actually read it). That refutes GakuseiDon directly and explicitly.

      Philo (the Jewish theologian) likewise says supernatural beings in the air can take on mortal bodies there and become subject thereto (OHJ, pp. 195-96).

      And the Ascension of Isaiah in the earliest redaction we can reconstruct appears plainly to say that Jesus would die in outer space, just below the moon, at the hands of Satan and his sky demons (OHJ, Ch. 3.1).

      So there is plenty of precedent for this being a thing understood to be possible and to have even happened in Jewish and pagan cosmology.

      But more importantly, one should not suffer a failure of abstract-categorical reasoning here. If everything below the moon is subject to death, then by definition anyone below the moon who acquires a mortal body can die. Anywhere below the moon. One does not need a precedent to conclude this was something the ancients were capable of imagining. This is again that silly argument that unless someone thought of it before the Christians did, the Christians can never have thought of it. This would entail no innovations have ever occurred in human history—because without an infinite regress of prior inventors of a thing, no one can possibly have invented anything. Please.

      As I wrote in my discussion of Maurice Casey:

      A stark example of this is when Casey repeatedly says no one else ever talks about crucifixions in heaven, therefore it’s impossible that anyone would imagine crucifixions occurring in heaven (6-5013, 5126, etc.). This is just like claiming not to know if bears in the north are white because you haven’t seen one. It’s hyper-concrete thinking.

      In actual fact, in Jewish cosmology, all sorts of things that exist or occur on earth also do so in heaven: fighting, writing, scrolls, temples, chairs, trees, gardens. The Revelation of Moses has Adam buried in heaven (in the Garden he was made from, the very Garden Paul says was in the “third heaven” in 2 Cor. 12, just as the Rev. Mos. also says, in which Adam’s fall is described literally: a fall from the heavenly Garden to the earth below). So there’s even dirt in heaven, and corpses, and graves (Eve is also buried there, along with others). And indeed as the Ascension of Isaiah and the book of Hebrews both say: in general things on earth have correlates in heaven (Asc. Is. 7.10; Heb. 9.22-24; Philo provides an elaborate explanation; many Jewish cosmological texts elaborate on the objects and occurrences in heaven that have counterparts on earth).

      If people can be buried in heaven, and fight battles in heaven, and visit temples in heaven, then they can be crucified in heaven. But to grasp that requires abstract-categorical-hypothetical reasoning: you have to be able to infer from the abstract hypothesis “ancient Jews imagined all kinds of things happening in heaven” to “crucifixion can be one of those things,” just as one has to be able to infer from “it snows in the north and bears in snowy places are white” to “bears in the north are white.” Saying bears in the north can’t be white until you literally see one yourself exhibits a major deficit in ACHR. And here, though we’re even explicitly told that the things and activities on earth have correlates in heaven (and have countless examples of this belief), Casey can’t imagine any unless he can find a specific text specifically saying so. That is a cognitive defect. And it greatly impairs his ability to reason.

      So, the reasoning is fallacious (we don’t need hyper-specific precedents; we have enough general precedents to conclude this fits the going paradigm). And the premise is false (we have explicit examples of incarnation and death in outer space being possible and happening).

      Reply
  15. “The evidence is far more coherent if the authentic letters of Paul were cut-and-pasted together from a real body of correspondence from the man in the 50s A.D.”

    Are you saying that individual Pauline epistles might have been composites of multiple letters? My understanding is that the epistles are excessively long, given the supposed time they were written…and the supposed economic profile of the apostle.

    Reply
    1. Those letters are certainly pastiches of smaller letters (see the references pages for scholarship).

      Assembled as such, they do create uncommonly large letters.

      However, our sample is biased: we have no other religious institutional correspondence from antiquity discussing matters of internal politics and theology. So we don’t actually know what was normal in that context. Paul was raking in the dough, so finances were not an issue (in fact several times in his letters he has to defend himself against charges of misusing funds because he was collecting so much: JDM Derrett has a chapter on this in TET). And we know speeches could be delivered by courier and they were this kind of length (1 Clement is a good example of what is in fact not an epistle but an oration that elders were instructed to read out at its destination, and as such is a coherent piece of ancient rhetoric; Paul’s letters are rambling from topic to topic, and so do not read like an oration, except perhaps in bits).

      However, overall, I think it’s more likely Paul never wrote any letter so long as these. He wrote smaller letters and maybe some speeches, which were torn up and pieces used to build the letters we have. Again, examples in the cited pages.

      And even if Paul did write unusually long letters, their content entails he had to, to address all the issues he needed to address in his absence. The only thing unusual about that then would not be that the letters are long, but that someone had to address so many issues in one codicil. And that does not look to be hard to explain for a new religion spread across three continents that’s threatening to fragment and which one of its leaders has to keep together to maintain his social position within it. So even if they were unusually long that doesn’t afford us evidence of forgery. It only affords us evidence of the uncommon situation Paul had put himself in.

      Reply
  16. williamshart February 16, 2016, 12:32 am

    Carrier and I are going in circles. My view of a failure to address the issue may be derived from the following quotes:

    Carrier: “ [The] Doherty thesis, which in stripped down form is what I find most likely to be true in On The Historicity of Jesus.”

    Carrier admits adopting a substantive version of the mythicist thesis presented by Earl Doherty in the late 1990s, distilled in his major work The Jesus Puzzle published in 1999, fifteen years BEFORE Carrier’s publication of OHJ. “His” thesis is derived substantively from Earl Doherty who in turn doubtlessly derived it from others. Carrier’s works, Proving History followed by OHJ,first explain then practice a method called Bayesianism that allegedly proves the probability, beyond serious doubts, that Jesus existed exclusively as a mythical-literary fabrication without reference to an actual historical person. The Bayesian theorem ostensibly provides one upmanship over Dougherty by virtue of mathematical prowess.

    Enter Aviezer Tucker: “The Bayesian perspective on historiography is commonsensical: If historiography is not certain like a priori knowledge or sense data, and it is not fiction, historiography is probable.

    Tucker goes on to say that ordinary folks use Bayesian logic every day. For example when the power goes off when an appliance is turned on, we conclude that a fuse has (very probably – almost certainly) blown. Doherty does not explicitly claim to employ or even know of Bayesian methodology to infer his mythicist interpretation of the evidence in 1999 but Tucker would probably grant that he informally used what may be characterized as “SUBJECTIVE BAYESIANISM that interprets probabilities as DEGREES OF BELIEF THAT CAN BE MANIFESTED IN BETTING BEHAVIOR.” Carrier came along and claimed he could quantify the probability of correct/incorrect evidence under examination by assigning numerical values within a range of idealized or “hypothetical” probabilities. He aspired to step up the level of proof to mathematical validity bolstering the credibility of Doherty’s mythicist narrative based on merely subjective evaluations of evidence. Contrary to “endorsing the program of “my” [Carrier’s] book,” Tucker clearly disqualifies OBJECTIVE [Mathematical] BAYESIAN METHOD FROM CARRIER’S ANALYSIS AND EVALUATION OF EVIDENCE BECAUSE: “ IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO COMPUTE THE FREQUENCIES OF EVENTS THAT ARE UNIQUE OR INFER THE RELIABILITIES OF SINGLE TESTIMONIES BY COMPUTING THE FREQUENCY OF THEM BEING CORRECT. Since there are no sources for the life of Jesus outside the Synoptic Gospels and the Epistles, and since we do not know who wrote the Gospels and where they had received their information, it is impossible or at least very difficult to COMPUTE such frequencies in relation to hypotheses about the historicity of Jesus.

    The most parsimonious explanation is that Carrier read Doherty’s work with interest, became increasingly persuaded and then as early as 2006 began to entertain undertaking projects defending Doherty in book form. Realizing that Doherty is largely an autodidact in the field, Carrier could bring his scholarly but limited credentials to add a layer of professional authority to an amateur thesis. Carrier discovered Bayesian method and deluded by wish-fulfillment that the 18th century theorem could be applied to provide a mathematical proof of Doherty’s mythicist argument, he set about writing PH and OHJ .

    Tucker (and others, including mathematicians) have shown that such a mathematical application of Bayesian calculation is virtually impossible in the absence of the criteria cited above. (If Dr. Tucker wishes to abjure his article and “actually agree” with the self referential claims that Carrier uses in his own defense on his own blog post, then he is free to enter a comment here.)

    In the meantime…Talk about Matthew copying Mark, Luke copying Matthew and Mark…talk about Richard Carrier copying Earl Doherty who in turn copied…..

    Reply
    1. Carrier came along and claimed he could quantify the probability of correct/incorrect evidence under examination by assigning numerical values within a range of idealized or “hypothetical” probabilities.

      That’s not my invention. Hypothetical frequentism is standard in Bayesian epistemology. Tucker is well aware of it and tacitly endorses its use in his book.

      He aspired to step up the level of proof to mathematical validity…

      Not at all. I do not use the math to “step up the level of proof.” I use it to model the argument that already exists, so that it could be better understood, evaluated, and critiqued. There is nothing “more proved” by the math. The math just translates into a more convenient language the same proof that always existed. That’s why it’s there. So you can analyze the argument better, because with a correct model of the argument’s logic, you can now see all its parts and test its premises. That of course requires actually doing that. Which requires actually interacting with my book.

      Which, if you had done, you wouldn’t need to fabricate your speculative history of how I came to this. How I came to it is explained in the preface! History based on your imagination; or history based on the reports of the people actually involved—which do you think is going to be closer to the truth?

      …bolstering the credibility of Doherty’s mythicist narrative based on merely subjective evaluations of evidence.

      Not at all. You are committing an equivocation fallacy with the word “subjective” here. My estimates are as subjective as his. And his estimates are based on the same hypothetical frequentism as mine. Tucker is using “objective” in a different sense than you are.

      You would know this if you bothered to read either of my books. In Proving History I extensively discuss how all its inputs are subjective, not objective; and how all subjective estimates are merely attempts to estimate otherwise unknown objective probabilities (Chapter 6), and that subjective estimates approach objective probabilities with increased access to information (expertise thus is key: experts are in possession of far more relevant information, as argued in Chapter 2). See index, “subjective,” for more. In On the Historicity of Jesus I lay out what information about frequencies all my a fortiori estimates are based on, so that those estimates can be critiqued. If you want to argue they should be different, you have to explain why; which means on what evidence should we move our estimated frequency to a different estimate of frequency (or to greater uncertainty, if that should be the case).

      Contrary to “endorsing the program of “my” [Carrier’s] book,” Tucker clearly disqualifies OBJECTIVE [Mathematical] BAYESIAN METHOD FROM CARRIER’S ANALYSIS AND EVALUATION OF EVIDENCE BECAUSE: “ IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO COMPUTE THE FREQUENCIES OF EVENTS THAT ARE UNIQUE OR INFER THE RELIABILITIES OF SINGLE TESTIMONIES BY COMPUTING THE FREQUENCY OF THEM BEING CORRECT.

      Tucker in no way believes you can’t estimate relevant frequencies for unique events in the sense you mean. Read his book. All prior probabilities are based on background evidence regarding what is usually most frequently the case. And all consequent probabilities are likewise based on estimates of what most frequently happens when certain causes are in place. Our subjective degrees of belief are based on this. His whole book is about this.

      So nowhere in his review does he “disqualify” this.

      You seem to be confusing his description of my solution to that charge against Bayesian history, with a critique of it. Tucker is not disagreeing with my solution to that charge. He actually agrees with the solution (apart from the points I identified in my reply). As you will see in his own book. I am very clear on the logic of it myself in Proving History, pp. 272-77 (you show no indication of having ever read that).

      Tucker shows how to do it himself, e.g., in his discussion of Common Cause hypotheses in OKP, pp. 110-20. Likewise his discussion of fidelity as frequency in assessing reliability of testimony, e.g. we distrust criminals testifying in their defense in court because criminals frequently lie in just that circumstance (p. 134). And yet when two different sources, even such criminals, agree when we have no other reason to expect them to, we can conclude their testimony is highly reliable precisely because their testifying falsely yet identically will have a very low frequency of occurring (p. 134). The uniqueness of these events is irrelevant.

      Tucker has a whole section in his book on “unique events” (pp. 240-53). You should read it.

      There he means something different than you do. And yet even there he declares “unique hypotheses can be confirmed scientifically and offer knowledge of the past” and “historiographic evidence with the usual information theories that historians use habitually can confirm hypotheses that describe all kinds of events in terms that cannot be compared with other historiographic hypotheses” (pp. 244-45). He goes on to explain that most hypotheses that seem unique in fact are not. For instance, he gives the example that if you describe the French revolution as unique, then you can’t draw any inferences about its causes from other revolutions. Which is of course absurd. We know that revolutions often have shared dynamics, and one can show this precisely by identifying commonalities between the French revolution and other revolutions. Only if one failed to find any such commonalities would it follow that other revolutions offer no guidance to understanding the French revolution. And I agree. When we find ourselves in that odd circumstance, we have only an uninformative prior to work with (all possibilities are equally likely by principle of indifference). Exactly as I say in Proving History! (Index, “principle of indifference” and “ignorance, problem of.”)

      But I show in OHJ that in regards the evidence for Jesus we are often not in that circumstance.

      And yet, I find that we are in respect to the Gospels! Exactly as Tucker says.

      There we have no relevant comparisons to tell how frequently the Gospels would be wholly mythical if Jesus was historical or not. Except in the one respect where we have a lot of comparisons: the respects in which the Gospels match other mythical persons.

      This corresponds exactly to what Tucker says in his book about determining priors (p. 97): “the probability of the hypothesis that there was a city of Troy that was destroyed in a war during the twelfth century BCE was low given the background information that had been known prior to the archaeological discovery of the city in the late nineteenth century.” What background information would lead one to think it’s prior probability was low? The infrequency with which mythic tales of the Homeric era accurately portray real cities and events. Similarly his discussion of determining the likelihoods: it’s an estimate of how expected the evidence is, which is a frequency estimate (“unexpected” means “unusual” which means “uncommon” which means “infrequent”; we only deem that as unexpected which infrequently results from the causes alleged, and that’s an estimate of frequency).

      Since there are no sources for the life of Jesus outside the Synoptic Gospels and the Epistles, and since we do not know who wrote the Gospels and where they had received their information, it is impossible or at least very difficult to COMPUTE such frequencies in relation to hypotheses about the historicity of Jesus.

      Indeed. The result I find in OHJ.

      Tucker (and others, including mathematicians) have shown that such a mathematical application of Bayesian calculation is virtually impossible in the absence of the criteria cited above. (If Dr. Tucker wishes to abjure his article and “actually agree” with the self referential claims that Carrier uses in his own defense on his own blog post, then he is free to enter a comment here.)

      I have no idea why you think Tucker thinks that. He wrote a whole book that said the opposite! And nowhere does he defend any “criteria” in alternative to Bayesian estimates of expectancy and relative frequency based on previous experience. He defends no other method of doing history!

      Again, his praise of my method of determining literary emulation is an example of his agreeing with me, not you: it is not “virtually impossible” to do this; yet it is based on subjective but informed estimates of relative frequencies (how frequently certain coincidences can occur vs. how frequently a coherent design would produce the same results). Tucker agrees.

      I have no idea why you think he doesn’t.

      Reply
  17. Rather, isn’t Jesus a midrashic personification of Yahuwah from the outset; whu serves as edification tu a pepl whu feel the yoke’v rome upon their necks and a roman emperor’s cum on the torah scroll in their templ?

    Eg all creation shall be on bended knee before Yahuwah [Isa 45.23]

    All creation shall be on bended knee before Jesus [Phil 2.10]

    Yahuwah saves the israelis out of Egypt [ex 17]
    Jesus saves the israelis out of Egypt [jude 1.5]

    Christian apologists du a better job’v listing such the parallel attributes – that illustrate Jesus and Yahuwah being wun n the same item.

    Reply
  18. williamshart February 17, 2016, 1:35 pm

    “Carrier does not present explicitly his Bayesian philosophy of historiography
    as explicative, but he seems to assume that historians generally practice methods
    that are derived from Bayesian logic, or at least they should. He does not provide
    detailed case studies of what he takes exemplary historiographical practice to be.
    Rather, he concentrates on examining in detail one case study where historians
    have not reached a consensus, in his opinion, because they have not adopted the
    Bayesian method. Since Carrier thinks that the historiographical research into the
    historicity of Jesus is mostly an example of “worst practices,” an obvious question is: Why bother?”

    I am trying to comprehend Tucker’s critique and something of his intentions based on the text of his article. I discern in this passage and many others cited that he is comprehensively critical of your attempts to apply Bayesian method, specifically the charade of assigning numbers to probabilities and then performing pseudo-calculations.

    I admit I have neither read your book nor Dr. Tucker’s work but I have read many pertinent excerpts and criticisms on the issue noting responses and arguments that include extensive passages in your own words. It would seem better, of course, to write a point by point critique of your books – pages one through one thousand – but that would plunge us into the same cycle of recriminations, denials and rebuttals. As a fellow atheist I appreciate that we wear our cherished beliefs, confidently based on reason and evidence, like a second skin. To abjure those beliefs would be like submitting to being flayed alive. It is the same for pious Christians. William Lane Craig will debate you, Richard Dawkins and other atheists until the wee hours of the morning and never give an inch on the irrefutable near-certain empirical Bayesian- affirmed evidence of the empty tomb and the bodily (and spiritual) resurrection of Jesus. You are not going to agree with me no matter what I say. However, telling me and your readers that you know what Dr. Tucker “really means” and that he clearly agrees with you on all matters is disingenuous. I believe he is highly critical of your misunderstanding of Bayesian methodology, BUT I COULD BE WRONG. Dr. Tucker could easily clarify his article with respect to our controversy by commenting here or writing a follow-up article on the subject. If he chooses to remain silent about our disagreement then the neutral observer must defer to what he “really means” in his original text rather than in your extensive self-defense on this blog with page references to your own books.

    The history of your conversion to Earl Doherty’s mythicist theory of Jesus, not original to him, is also highly problematic. In a 2002 review of “The Jesus Puzzle” (Doherty 1999), you said, “First of all, let me say this: having read the entire book carefully, and having checked those facts I did not already know, I can honestly say as an expert that Doherty’s facts are generally all in line. He does not make anything up or fudge the truth. And as far as I could tell, he doesn’t leave out anything significant. Where he puts his own spin on things, he is usually explicit about that, and argues for his particular interpretation rather than asserting it as given.” You profess discovering a newfound conviction or justified belief that Earl Doherty offers substantively THE BEST ALTERNATIVE EXPLANATION to theories of a historical Jesus. This explanation is radically mythicist: Jesus never existed as an actual human being but rather as a purely mythic-spiritual being crucified in a celestial sublunar realm, later portrayed in the narratives of the synoptic gospels as a fictionalized itinerant rabbi in order to provide ostensibly tangible, though actually fabricated, earthly historical evidence of incarnation to proliferate the faith of the gullible illiterate masses.

    But how do I know you “discovered” Doherty’s thesis by way of experiencing a transformative intellectual “revelation” so to speak? As an atheist, why not presume that you believed in some version of the mythicist theory all along – prior to reading “The Jesus Puzzle?” Well, once more I take you at your word from the same review: “For all his efforts, Jesus might have existed after all. But until a better historicist theory is advanced, I have to conclude it is at least somewhat more probable that Jesus didn’t exist than that he did. I SAY THIS EVEN DESPITE MYSELF, AS I HAVE LONG BEEN AN OPPONENT OF AHISTORICITY.”

    You grant that Doherty is not recognized as a scholar in the field. In fact, to the contrary he has largely suffered rejection and ridicule among mainstream academic professionals at universities and colleges, in peer-reviewed scholarly journals, etc. Not surprisingly he [and you] enjoy niche popularity among mostly amateur atheist bloggers, organizations, and assorted enthusiasts. In the review cited, you effectively offer [Doherty] a number of scholarly suggestions for cleaning up minor defects in his knowledge and analysis. What is left standing after the b-b gun pummeling of the Appendix is the substantively affirmed Doherty Mythicism in “The Jesus Puzzle” that curiously remains intact in OHJ allegedly bolstered by scientific Bayesianism (mathematical proof) published 15 years later. You’ve hitched your star to Earl Doherty and therefore suffered his fate. With the cold comfort of a nod to your superior PhD credentials, you both are nibbling on stale ideas of a fabulist CELESTIAL JESUS THEOLOGY excluding the existence of a historical person.

    Reply
    1. Carrier does not present explicitly his Bayesian philosophy of historiography
      as explicative

      As opposed to prescriptive. Tucker’s book is explicative (i.e. descriptive). He argues Bayesian reasoning already describes all historical reasoning. My book is prescriptive. My book argues that historians ought to learn and use Bayes Theorem and describes ways to do that. He is not criticizing my book for being prescriptive and not explicative. He is describing my book as prescriptive and not explicative.

      You seem to not understand that academic book reviews are primarily descriptive. They aim to simply neutrally describe what’s in the book. You are assuming every description is a criticism somehow. That makes no sense.

      but he seems to assume that historians generally practice methods that are derived from Bayesian logic, or at least they should.

      Tucker’s book doesn’t just assume this but actually demonstrates this. Tucker thus does not disagree with the conclusion that all historical methods are already Bayesian. His whole book defends that very point. He is merely describing my book as not occupying itself with demonstrating that, but simply working out the consequences of that, as advice for historians to operate with.

      Again, you seem to be confusing Tucker’s description of my book, as a criticism of it.

      In his own book Tucker actually does all the things you think he is criticizing: he uses many case studies and surveys of actual history and shows that it’s all Bayesian. So obviously Tucker does not disagree with that. Again, he is simply describing the difference between a book like mine, which is about how to do Bayesian history better, and a book like his, which is concerned with showing that historians are already unconsciously doing all this (and he does not concern himself with describing ways to do it even better). He is doing historiography. I am doing methodology. Our books thus have different purposes. But we agree on all the underlying principles.

      If you want to enter this debate, you have to read our books. You can’t argue from ignorance of their contents.

      never give an inch on the irrefutable near-certain empirical Bayesian- affirmed evidence of the empty tomb and the bodily (and spiritual) resurrection of Jesus.

      Saying that someone is committed to irrationality and delusional thinking is not a criticism of any method. Craig also uses standard deductive syllogistic logic to prove God exists with the Kalam Cosmological Argument. 100% bullshit. But that does not discredit standard deductive syllogistic logic. That soneone delusionally abuses logic and never listens to reason does not warrant abandoning logic and reason. So, too, Bayesian reasoning. You have to be committed to obeying logic to use any logic, including Bayes. If you won’t even obey logic, there is no method that will help you. All methods will fail in your hands. Even bare logic itself.

      But how do I know you “discovered” Doherty’s thesis by way of experiencing a transformative intellectual “revelation” so to speak?…

      I was an anti-Mythicist for years. I had to be persuaded by multiple people to even bother reading Doherty’s book. I had never heard a theory like his before that. Or seen a competent defense of any such theory before.

      I tell this story in the first chapter of On the Historicity of Jesus. And the whole story of what then happened after that. Including my extensive years long effort to find any evidence against it and any effective arguments against it. The only ones there were only trimmed his theory of unnecessary speculations. He turned out in core to be right. Contrary to my expectations at the start.

      So if you want to know history, read the account of what happened. Don’t fabricate narratives from the armchair.

      You’ve hitched your star to Earl Doherty and therefore suffered his fate.

      Quite clearly not. Unlike him, I was able to develop a book that passed peer review and was published by a major academic biblical studies press. And it stands on its own. I don’t rely on anything uniquely in Doherty. So there is no sense in which my star is hitched to his. My star floated, and floats, entirely on its own merits. He gets credit for the discovery. But I’m not relying on his work at all. Everything I argue, I demonstrate independently, from other peer reviewed scholarship, or the evidence itself.

      So maybe you should read it. Instead of using these armchair rationalizations to justify your lazy biases.

      Reply
  19. The following was posted by williamshart in a later thread. That violates my comments policy. Conversations don’t go on forever. I have a life and a job. So this will be the last on this until I blog a related subject again. But I’m not responding any further. He refuses to read my work or Tucker’s work and he doesn’t even understand what Tucker says most of the time. And this is compounded by his refusal to read any of Tucker’s work, or any of mine. I’ve tried explaining this repeatedly. He still doesn’t get it. I consider further discussion with him pointless.

    Note: This comment is in response to Richard Carrier on the “Tucker’s Review” post and the post, “Can Paul’s Human Jesus Not Be a Celestial Jesus? ” I hope the discussion is not closed.

    Tucker: “Avoiding philosophical imperialism, there can be four non-mutually exclusive relations between the philosophy of historiography and historiography: prescriptive, descriptive, explicative, and exemplary… For example, I attempted to offer the best explanation of the history of historiography as a descriptive project while considering the success stories of Ranke, Bloch, Mommsen, and others as examples of best practices…Carrier does not present explicitly his Bayesian philosophy of historiography as explicative, but he seems to assume that historians generally practice methods that are derived from Bayesian logic, or at least they should. He does not provide detailed case studies of what he takes exemplary historiographical practice to be. Rather, he concentrates on examining in detail one case study where historians have not reached a consensus…”

    I will deal quickly with the criticism developed in Tucker’s discussion of “the four NON-MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE RELATIONS:… PRESCRIPTIVE, DESCRIPTIVE, EXPLICATIVE, AND EXEMPLARY…” He implies that analysts must combine two or more of these ‘relations’ in their approach to avoid PHILOSOPHICAL IMPERIALISM. He seems to condemn the predominant use of the PRESCRIPTIVE that simply asserts an authoritarian method for examining historiographical hypotheses and the self-asserted TRUTH of the conclusions thereby inferred. He goes on, “Carrier does NOT present his Bayesian philosophy…as EXPLICATIVE = you fail to find the middle way between the PRESCRIPTIVE AND THE DESCRIPTIVE. You simply tell the reader that you are applying the method correctly as everyone else SHOULD and that your conclusions are sound and indisputably valid. Tucker immediately advances his criticism with, “He (Carrier) does NOT provide detailed case studies of what he takes EXEMPLARY historiographical practice to be…” The indictment is clear: you fail to employ two of the four crucial historigraphical practices in favor of prescribing the method that “proves” Jesus [probably] did not exist.
    The prescription begs the question instead of explaining what question you are trying to answer.

    Tucker: “Yet when it comes to the historiographical discussions of the historicity of Jesus, Carrier writes “the methods so far used by Jesus historians are either invalid or invalidly employed” (204). Carrier does not try to explain this alleged peculiar failure of historiography. There is probably more rational historiographical consensus on inferences from the Synoptic Gospels than Carrier admits, for example, that Matthew and Luke were affected by Mark and by a lost source, Q. From a Bayesian perspective, the following nonexclusionary and nonexclusive hypotheses may explain the remaining differences: Historians may be working with different Jesus hypotheses (both positive and negative) because “Jesus” may have different meanings. The absence of consensus may then be semantic, not methodological.

    At this stage in the discussion, it is most helpful to synthesize the major points of the article into what I believe are Tucker’s critical conclusions. The hypotheses “Jesus [probably] existed” or “Jesus [probably] did not exist” cannot be examined under “objective” Bayesian method because of the absence or paucity of reliable evidence. (Bayes theorem is a simple way to calculate probability and no “magical” explanatory power should be attributed to “Bayesianism.” It is commonsensical.) The mathematical application of the method depends on the observed frequency of events in a class. Sometimes these frequencies may be “idealized” as in the class of a purely random flipping of a coin. The probability of landing heads or tails is exactly calculated at 50%. The quantitative mathematical application cannot be applied to a class where there is no frequency of events available to provide data. For example no one can prove mathematically that the crucifixion took place because it was a singular event without multiple independent sources of attestation. We may attempt to infer the probability of the event from “surrounding” documents (the Gospels, Paul, Josephus, Tacitus etc.) and historical circumstances: the probability of a lost oral tradition that referenced independent eyewitness accounts; the probability of the account that Pontius Pilate executed someone accused of fomenting civil unrest in crowded Jerusalem during the Passover pilgrimage, and so on) But now we are immersed in the cognitive exercise of “Subjective Baysianism” where all we can do is consider multiple, diverse, sometimes conflicting evaluations of evidence and the probability that the “information’ derived from that evidence tells us something reliable about the event. Trying to idealize “a range of probabilities” is a circular exercise because it brings researchers back to the same range of diverse speculative evaluations that define the controversy in the first place.

    Finally in the absence of new evidence confirming the crucifixion, Tucker concedes that all we can rely upon is “rational consensus.” By “rational,” Tucker does not mean accurate or correct in reference to the occurrence or non-occurrence of an event but rather how different scholars have come down on speculative affirmative or negative probability of the event, then splintered into discrete partisan groups. Paramutual betting on a horserace provides a vague idea of this kind of consensus formation.

    Obviously, you and Doherty and others have helped to encourage an opposing consensus among mostly young atheists against the academic consensus that Jesus “existed” in some human form as an obscure founding influence for the largely fictional and theological identities attributed to “Jesus” in the sources which have come down to us augmented with more recent discoveries (The Dead Sea Scrolls, The Gospel of Thomas, etc.) This consensus, revived from 19th and 20th century mythicism, encompasses a small non-professional constituency, suspiciously biased by atheist agendas just as some establishment scholars are suspiciously biased by faith commitments to Christianity. Personally I believe in the preponderance of evidence that implies “Jesus existed.” In any event, the better way to promote the opposing consensus is by getting employment at accredited, preferably prestigious, colleges/ universities and “teaching” your scholarly findings and arguments within that venue and by extension to the broader public through academically peer-reviewed books and articles. The bombast and vitriol you have heaped upon the scholarly establishment do not bode well for your chances of finding a home there.

    Reply

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