How to Successfully Argue Jesus Existed (or Anything Else in the World)

In conjunction with my Critical Thinking course this month, and in light of a number of casual debates I’ve been in lately, I’ve drawn up this twelve step advice, which actually applies to all arguments for any conclusions in any subject whatever. But I’ll use defending the historicity of Jesus as the key example. The first rule is pretty obvious…

1. Tell the truth.

I wish I didn’t have to say that. But it’s apparently necessary to put this front and center, as the most important step. Don’t make things up. Don’t make claims you haven’t checked are true. Don’t make false statements about what any opponent has or hasn’t argued. The truth should not have to be defended with lies.

That you are lying, calls into question the truth of what you are defending. And your motives for defending it. And yet this has happened repeatedly in the historicity debate. Actual sitting professors have lied about the evidence and lied about their mistakes in addressing the evidence (examples include Bart Ehrman, e.g. this lie and this lie and this lie, and James McGrath, e.g. this lie, and all these lies). Amateurs and Christian apologists are even more prone to doing this. Which also means, you need to be on your guard against this. Sadly, you can’t even trust high-profile professors these days. Fact-check everyone.

2. Consensus is a weak argument.

If a peer reviewed study challenges the consensus, citing the consensus against it is literally a fallacy of circular argument. You need to explain why the consensus is correct and the challenge not sufficient to overturn it. “That it’s the consensus” does not answer that. And yet answering that is difficult in a field awash with strong religious biases and no coherent methodology for adjudicating what’s true.

False analogies, like Holocaust and Global Warming and Evolution denial, only make you look dishonest, or totally ignorant of the actual problem in the case of Jesus, for whom nowhere remotely near as much evidence exists as exists for those other things. But more importantly, for all of those things, we can explain why the consensus is right and the challenge to it wrong. And it is only because we can do that, that “it’s the consensus” works as an argument in those cases. So it won’t work in any other case, if you can’t do that. So do it.

A more apt analogy is Moses and the Patriarchs: consensus once held they existed; the mainstream consensus now, is that they didn’t, or that their existence is sufficiently doubtful we can’t affirm they did exist with any honest confidence. If the consensus was wrong about them, it can be wrong about Jesus. So you have to check…

What justifies the consensus? Is it a series of weak evidence and overt fallacies? Or a vast body of superbly clear evidence beyond reasonable dispute? Contrast, for example, the evidence we have for Tiberius, Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great, Socrates, Spartacus, Pontius Pilate, and even Herod Agrippa.

Essential reading on this point is my book Proving History (on the widespread abuse of fallacies in Jesus studies) and my previous article on Arguments from Consensus. The former in turn cites every dedicated peer reviewed study any scholar has made of the methods used in Jesus studies, and every single one found them to be too fallacious or inadequate to establish the conclusions claimed with them. When every study of your methods by multiple experts in your own field finds those methods don’t work, you know “consensus” has become a fallacious argument. Your field is in need of major reform. If you are an expert in the field, do something about that. If you are not, demand experts do something about that.

3. Take logical validity seriously.

You can’t fix your broken methods, or use any method properly, or justify any conclusion you assert, if you don’t even know how to vet an argument for logical validity, if you don’t even know what a fallacy looks like and how to fix or avoid it. You need to learn logic. You need to take learning logic seriously. And you need to apply it to all your reasoning toward any conclusion whatever, including whether Jesus existed. Don’t go around saying your conclusion “feels right.” Figure out why it feels right, and thus whether it feels right for logically valid reasons, or logically invalid ones.

This is another rule I wish I didn’t have to explain to an entire field, a field that sadly is bereft of almost any interest in or knowledge of logic, yet claims to be reaching logical conclusions (see Historians’ Fallacies for a broad survey of this problem). What kind of expert are you claiming to be, if you don’t even know if your conclusions are logical? And you can’t know if they are logical, if you don’t know why they are logical. So you have to master at least basic principles of logic. And apply them in testing and vetting and shoring up your reasoning for any important conclusion.

The failure to do this is most evident in the behavior of Bart Ehrman, who has mocked every demand for logical validity in his own probability reasoning, even mocking the logic of probability theory itself (in his debate with Robert Price, and elsewhere). So far his only response I have ever seen to the numerous fallacies I catalogued in his work on this (just search “fallacy” in my Ehrman Recap article), is to complain about my calling out his fallacies. If you are mocking being called out for fallacious arguments, rather than correcting those fallacious arguments or conceding they are fallacious and abandoning them or proving they aren’t fallacious, you are starting to trend toward becoming a fraud. Historicity, or any other claim about history, or the world and anything in it, should not need to be defended with fallacies. And you should care when it is. (See History as a Science.)

4. Distinguish fact from inference.

Don’t state an inference as if it were a fact; identify it as an inference, and present the facts you are inferring it from and why. Did Paul say he learned the gospel “from those who were in Christ before” him? Is that a fact, or an inference? Do you mean to say, Paul said only that he “received” the gospel, and that you infer he meant “from those who were in Christ before him”? Because then, you need to explain why that inference follows. Because it’s not ever what he actually says. The difference between fact and inference is crucial, and confusing them is one of the key places arguments and reasoning go wrong. Even among experts. Even more often among amateurs.

5. Confirm your inferences aren’t assumptions.

Make sure your inferences follow by valid logic from true facts. Because if you can’t, if you can’t even work out by what rule or from what facts you are inferring your conclusion, then you aren’t reasoning; you’re assuming. And this is dangerous. Assumptions you are making can be the product of biases or desires, or the product of pervasive flaws in a whole field (e.g. something you were told but never checked or questioned, or even something you’ll be socially or professionally punished for questioning). If you can’t even remember where you learned it or why you believe it, it may be that you believe it simply because you needed to, to avoid a consequence you don’t like. It could simply be a hypothesis you made up to escape those consequences. But hypotheses need to be proved true, not assumed true. At the very least you need to be able to justify your conclusion that a hypothesis is probable.

Revisiting the same example from the last point: Paul never says he received anything from “those who were in Christ before him.” To the contrary, he spends an entire chapter to the Galatians swearing up and down and in no uncertain terms that he did not receive it from those who were in Christ before him. He is probably lying; but the significant point is that he had to tell this lie. If all he had to do was say he was preserving the gospel as eyewitnesses delivered it to him, and that they would corroborate that, then he would argue that. But he didn’t.

This is crucial to understanding Paul and his circumstances. If the Galatians were accusing him of not getting the gospel from those who sat at the feet of Jesus, or of not having sat at the feet of Jesus himself and thus not being a real eyewitness, he would have to answer those arguments. He doesn’t. He instead was forced to argue exactly the opposite: that he only received it by revelation; because, his argument makes clear, the Galatians would accept no other answer as confirming him an Apostle. So instead of arguing his revelation is as reliable as having known Jesus in life, his argument assumes the Galatians would accept nothing but revelation as reliable at all; and instead of arguing he honestly got the gospel from eyewitnesses, he has to swear he didn’t. Even lying about it. Why?

Any answer you give to that question must take into account two facts: (1) that Paul’s “I received and delivered” vocabulary is identical in Galatians 1 and 1 Corinthians 15 (see On the Historicity of Jesus, Chapter 11.2); and (2) there is no evidence anywhere in Paul that he ever meant by this “received from those who were in Christ before” him (Chapter 11.6-7); while there is ample evidence Paul meant by this “received by revelation” (Chapter 11.4). Because in the only place he ever says how he received it (which is in Galatians 1), that’s what he says (Element 16, Chapter 4). So why are we inferring a conclusion that is exactly the opposite of the one and only thing Paul says? By what logic does that make sense? On what facts is that warranted?

6. Do not straw-man or ignore opposing arguments.

Actually listen, pay attention, make a real effort to understand why your opponent reaches a conclusion, from what actual facts, by what actual rules of inference. Especially arguments published under peer review in your own field’s literature. Make sure your conclusion survives those arguments. Which requires learning what they are, and understanding the facts and logic they follow from…it requires steel-manning them, not straw-manning them.

You can only refute or defeat an argument by identifying a fallacy in it, or a factually false premise. And you can only do that, if you are correctly describing the logic of the argument and it’s premises. Similarly, you aren’t arguing for your position, if you are ignoring the arguments against it. You can’t honestly claim to be making a warranted case that way. Indeed, it starts to look dishonest, when you claim to be rebutting someone’s arguments, and then ignore in your rebuttal every actual argument they made. In the historicity debate, James McGrath practically makes a career out of doing this. Kristi Winters practically employs no other method.

7. Justify all your assertions about probability.

If you assert something is true, you are asserting it’s probable. And if you are asserting it’s false, you are asserting it’s improbable. So, how probable or improbable do you mean? And why is it that probability and not some other? For example, if you assert something is improbable, what do you mean? How improbable? Very improbable? Extremely improbable? Only slightly improbable? And what does that mean? What range of actual probabilities would you agree constitutes “extremely” or “slightly” improbable? And having clarified that, why are you sure it’s that range of probability, and not some other? What facts (about the case or about the context or about the world) justify your assertion that it’s that probability, and not a probability higher or lower than that?

Amateur Kristi Winters gives us a good example of failing at this, when she mistakes the frequency of real miracle-workers for the frequency of mythical miracle-workers. And thus measured the wrong thing (real miracle workers, instead of the fact that there are vastly more mythical miracle workers than real ones!). And thus came to the fallacious conclusion that Jesus very probably existed, because the only two options are “real miracle worker” and “real man who wasn’t actually a miracle worker,” and “real miracle worker” is extremely improbable, therefore “real man who wasn’t actually a miracle worker” is extremely probable. Thus violating The Law of Excluded Middle, a basic principle of logic. Quite simply, she left out “mythical miracle worker.”

The real question is the relative frequency of “mythical miracle worker” vs. “historical but legendary miracle worker.” Because the frequency of real miracle workers is so small as to vanish from any relevant math. You should ignore it. Instead, you need to find data-sets filled with people most similar to Jesus, and look at how often members of those sets (like Moses) are mythical. When you do that, it doesn’t turn out so well for presuming historicity (see On the Historicity of Jesus, Chapter 6; especially Chapter 6.5).

8. Check your factual assertions.

Back your claims to fact with primary evidence, or with peer reviewed or at least well-vetted scholarship that does; especially if someone tells you a fact isn’t true; most especially if that person is an expert in the subject (or, an eyewitness, or someone otherwise directly experienced or studied in the matter you are debating—as can happen in other subjects you might find yourself debating besides the historicity of Jesus). Because as soon as someone as or more expert than you in the subject tells you a fact you asserted is false, how do you know you are right and they are wrong? You better make sure it’s not the other way around.

McGrath and Ehrman have both failed to fact-check claims to fact they’ve made, in ways that they really should never have (e.g. this, and this, and this, and this), and that evinces a sloppiness and irresponsibility we shouldn’t be seeing from professionals in this debate. So why are we seeing it? Expert or not, you should always stop before defending your position with a factual assertion, and ask yourself, “Wait, do I actually know this is true?” Find out.

9. Be your own best critic.

Most importantly of all, always ask yourself, of every conclusion you reach: How would I know if I’m wrong?

In the historicity debate, we see a lot of failure to self-question, for example in the matter of what Paul meant by “brothers of the Lord.” What if Paul meant baptized Christian? (In other words, just a rank-and-file Christian—ranking below Apostles, those not just cultic Brothers of the Lord, but the brothers actually sent by him as his representatives.) That’s the only kind of Brother of the Lord Paul ever explicitly says there is or ever seems aware of there being (see On the Historicity of Jesus, Element 12, Chapter 4; and Chapter 11.10). So how would you know he didn’t mean that when he used that phrase, but actual biological brothers instead? By reference to what facts in Paul? Or if not facts in Paul, why are facts outside of Paul relevant to interpreting Paul? And then, whichever it is, how logically strong is your inference from those facts? Is it weak and uncertain? Or is it decisive? Why? How do you know?

10. Control for cognitive biases.

Because we are all subject to them all the time (just peruse Wikipedia’s List of Cognitive Biases for a scary start). So if you aren’t controlling for them, it is a certainty that you are corrupting your judgment with them. For example, don’t simply try to prove you’re right. That we know leads too often to verification bias, cherry picking, seeing what you want to see, and other common errors. Instead, learn what we all learned that made science our most reliable source of progress in knowledge: Try to prove you’re wrong. Try as hard and honestly and reliably as you can. And then see if you fail. Because that’s the only way to substantially increase the probability you’re right.

And remember to control for biases even in that. Because if you try to prove yourself wrong by lazy, weak, or inept methods, methods not likely to find out you are wrong if you are, methods that can easily fail at that, then failing to prove yourself wrong is as weak and unreliable as trying to prove yourself right and ignoring all falsification tests. To the contrary, trying to prove yourself wrong and failing, increases the probability of your being right only in direct proportion to how effectively you tried. The most robust and challenging efforts to prove yourself wrong (and then failing to do so), produce the most robust and certain conclusions that you are right.

This is actually what happened to me. I was a staunch defender of historicity, dismissing challenges to it as crank and poorly researched and even more poorly argued. But then I read a still-imperfect but nevertheless well-researched, well-argued challenge (which I discussed in my Review of Doherty) and realized the consensus had never dealt with that particular challenge before, leaving me uncertain which would survive any straight-up debate. When my fans funded a post-doc research grant for me to investigate the issue under peer review, my singular goal was to prove my doubts wrong, to do everything in my power to confirm historicity holds up after all. And I tried. For six years. Uncovering every item of evidence. Looking for every argument. And the more I tried to refute the mythicist thesis, the more I failed. I even found historicity becoming less and less credible the further I tried confirming it. Historicity defenders need to engage as serious an effort to prove themselves wrong. Before they can declare any confidence they’re right.

11. Take seriously the likelihoods of the evidence.

Of the best competing hypothesis to your own, ask: If it’s true, is the evidence we have, what we would more or less expect? Why not? Are you sure? Is there any reason that some evidence you would expect to exist, wouldn’t exist? For example, is it probable it would have been destroyed or doctored out of the record, or that any document that would have contained it wasn’t preserved at all? (See On the Historicity of Jesus, Element 22, Chapter 4; and Chapters 8.12 and 11.1.)

Then of course ask the same questions of your own theory. How likely would the evidence that’s missing, actually be missing, indeed wholly gone, unquoted, and unmentioned? Such as all the odd ways Paul’s letters discuss Jesus, all the things missing, all the things no one ever asks him about and never argues with him (see OHJ, Ch. 11). Such as why later Christians had to doctor the Ascension of Isaiah to convert it into a historicist gospel (OHJ, Ch. 3.1). Why they had to forge 2 Peter to answer Christian mythicists (OHJ, Ch. 8.12). Why Papias knows so little about the first century of the church, and everything he claims to know appears to be wildly wrong (OHJ, Ch. 8.7). Why there are no actual letters or memoirs about Jesus by anyone who knew him, but only fabulous myths written a lifetime later (OHJ, Chs. 10 and 11.1; and Element 22, Ch. 4; and Ch. 6.7). Why all the histories that would have covered Jesus, apparently didn’t, even when they should have—like Pliny the Elder’s account of Nero’s scapegoating, supposedly the Christians, for the burning of Rome. Even though Pliny was an eyewitness to those events…so how could he have then failed to give an account of Christians and their origin, or no one have ever noticed he did? (OHJ, Ch. 8.3) And so on.

12. Take seriously the prior probabilities.

First you must distinguish doing those two things (taking seriously the likelihood of all the evidence on your own theory, and likewise when you assume the competing theory is true), from arguing a theory has a low or high prior probability. Why should historicity have a high prior? Or why should myth have a low one? On what past cases or background evidence are you deriving your expected frequency from? And if your sample is small, how do you know what you have is a reliable frequency? (Since the smaller the sample, the higher the odds any frequency you observe is an anomaly.) Mythical persons, it turns out, are more common in some sets, sets to which Jesus belongs.

There is a lot more to grasp about the proper logic of probability, when attempting to argue validly that any theory is probably true, or probably false. You can’t do either, by ignoring that logic. And that logic always requires doing a decent job of asking what the relative priors are, and what the relative likelihoods are. There is literally no other way to do it, if you want a probability (or improbability) to be your conclusion. (See If You Learn Nothing Else, We Are All Bayesians, and What Is Bayes’ Theorem.)

-:-

Now take those twelve points, and apply them to every other debate and argument you ever get into. Not just the Historicity of Jesus. But everything else. Feminism. Politics. Energy policy. Medicine. American history. Video game criticism. Literally everything. Those twelve principles, if you follow all of them every time, will make you a much better critical thinker and much less prone to defending and believing false things, and make the things you do believe far more likely to be true. And that’s what it means to be a competent skeptic.

17 comments

  1. Dear Richard, thank you for this lucid summary of how belief in the historical Jesus relies on fallacious argument when challenged. Surely the Christ Myth is at a tipping point.
    The only one of your twelve points that I question is your point ten, on the control for cognitive biases through the effort to prove you are wrong. Looking at the structure of scientific revolutions, the change from a historical to a mythical Jesus bears all the hallmarks of a classic paradigm shift. The old framework of literal belief has accumulated so many anomalies that a new paradigm, seeing the Gospels as fiction, is needed to explain all the extant data. Adherents of the old way are in denial, resorting to illogical argument to defend their position, as a matter of politics rather than scholarship.

    But when I look at previous champions of paradigm shifts in science, such as Galileo, Darwin and Wegener, I question the extent to which they applied your heuristic on cognitive bias. Rather, their experience was that their ideas cohered with the evidence, so they were trying to prove they were correct, and to show that their opponents suffered from cognitive bias. Galileo to be sure was biased, mocking the simpletons who thought the earth was flat or at the centre. He did not try to prove that the ‘Medician stars’ he saw in his telescope were not moons of Jupiter, because to him it was obvious that they were. Then after his forced political recantation, his allegedly apocryphal statement ‘but it moves’ illustrates that he was certain of his views, and therefore incapable of suggesting reasons why they would be wrong.

    Perhaps a difference between Christ Myth Theory and scientific paradigm shifts such as evolution, heliocentrism and plate tectonics is that in Christianity the positive theory is still historicism. To date the myth theory has only been negative, primarily trying to show that historicism is wrong. If mythicism had a positive theory there might be less basis for advocates to try to disprove their own views. For example, my view is that a secret Platonic Gnostic mystery society developed the Christ Myth on the model of the Noble Lie suggested in The Republic. If I want to discuss that with anyone, I am putting the positive conjecture, while being cognisant of possible criticisms and things that it explains. It is up to others to advance suggested refutations.

    Reply
    1. “To date the myth theory has only been negative, primarily trying to show that historicism is wrong.” — That’s actually not the case. All the best mythicism, for a hundred years even, and all of mine, has consistently taken the position of proposing an alternative positive theory of the origins of Christianity and compared it with the best models of historicity. And it argues against historicity by arguing for that positive alternative, showing that it has a higher prior and explains more of the evidence better. On the Historicity of Jesus is entirely structured that way.

      Also, it’s not true that Galileo didn’t employ the falsification method. His opponents kept looking for evidence they are right. Galileo looked for all the evidence he was wrong (e.g. testing the hypotheses of Ptolemy that argued for geocentrism for example and finding they didn’t hold up), and pointed out none was to be found where we expected it to be. That’s actually what makes him one of the contributors to the rise of modern science. Galileo also was a victim of cognitive biases he would have been better off avoiding. But we didn’t know the science of that then. We focus on his successes, but people forget all the silly theories he trumpeted that turned out to be false (e.g. he advanced an incorrect theory of optical stabilization when operating telescopes from conning towers; he insisted heliocentrism could be proved by tidal theory and elaborately attempted such a defense of it; etc.), based on exactly the failure to test if he was wrong. We know better now. And fewer scientists make mistakes as egregious as Galileo sometimes did.

      Reply
  2. Justin Legault October 19, 2017, 10:23 am

    Thanks for this Richard!

    Only question, regards to #2; Wouldn’t the consensus argument be the ad populum fallacy, not the circular?

    Ad populum would be “It’s the majority therefore it’s true”. Or “many people believe it thus must be true”.

    I’ve been answering with that particular fallacy as a response when discussing people who use the consensus argument.

    Unless both fallacies (Populum and circular) are both valid in this case.

    Thanks,

    Justin

    Reply
    1. I wouldn’t call it the ad populum or even the ad verecundium. Of course in deductive logic that’s true. It’s both. In fact every argument from consensus is deductively a fallacy; but by honest folk it’s not deployed deductively. It’s valid inductively, under the right conditions. And when it’s invalid, it’s not because you can’t cite expert authorities in support of a conclusion or the fact that all expert authorities support that conclusion. Those are valid inductive evidential arguments.

      What’s wrong with citing the consensus in a proper challenge condition (following the agreed upon procedures of peer review to present a challenge for consideration by the consensus group) is that the consensus is only reliable because it accepts and copes with such challenge conditions. If the consensus stops doing that, then the consensus is no longer reliable. And it’s no longer reliable at that point, because it has become properly circular, which is invalid even inductively.

      You can imagine it like a computer program given a decision tree, such that when a properly submitted challenge to an agreed fact is presented, a sound program will redirect to an “analyze challenge by evidence-and-reason” subroutine and only reject the challenge if it fails that test, while a broken program will just redirect to “gosub: parrot consensus,” and be permanently stuck in that loop, never able to ever even know when the consensus is wrong and should change. A literally circular loop of broken reasoning that can never be valid under any conditions, even inductively.

      Reply
      1. Justin Legault October 19, 2017, 12:31 pm

        Oh okay, I think I get it.

        I wasn’t aware of deductive and inductive reasoning, thanks for that clarification.

        Correct me if I’m completely off (Just a layman).

        In other words, if I call them out on fallacious reasoning, and mention it’s the ad populum or/and argument from authority instead of circular, I’m not wrong in doing so basically? But the circular fallacy is more of a valid generalization of the explanation and the Ad Populum is also valid just more specific?

        Kinda like Ad populum (consensus & Popularity) and No True Scotsman (No true historian would believe this) are pretty similar.

        I completely agree that argument from consensus is awful and fallacious from the start, and assumes the methodology to be correct. If the methodology is flawed, the conclusion is not as certain as they like to point out. If a bad lie spreads, and nobody fact checks and takes it prima facie, we get nowhere.

        Reply
        1. I wouldn’t ever say it’s ad populum. Because that’s only a fallacy if arguing deductively, and pretty much no one citing the consensus means deductive certainty.

          Inductively, ad populum remains a fallacy only when “the people” in question aren’t qualified to know what’s true. When they are, it’s not a fallacy. It’s evidence for the conclusion being true. In other words, if all or by far most experts agree that x is true (and x is what they have expertise in), the probability that they are wrong is low. One can argue “maybe they are wrong” but that’s not “probably they are wrong.”

          Now, when a challenge gets properly vetted and entered, it is an argument that “probably they are wrong.” But it does not argue “the consensus is sometimes albeit rarely wrong, therefore they are probably wrong about x,” which would be fallacious. It argues “the evidence actually indicates they are wrong.” And the only way to rebut that, is to actually discuss the evidence. It would be fallacious to answer “here is evidence the consensus is wrong to say x” by arguing “the consensus says x.” That’s circular argument. It’s not ad populum, properly speaking.

  3. blambore October 19, 2017, 7:05 pm

    Hi Richard,

    I really liked your post although I couldn’t help but smile when I read “their existence [referring to Moses and Abraham] is sufficiently doubtful we can’t affirm they did exist with any honest confidence”.

    Certainly, as the consensus of a historical Abraham has already swung from “probable” to “extremely improbable”, one must be very confident… or very foolish to dare suggesting we should swing back to “extremely probable”!

    Without the notion of “paradigm shift” that Robert Tulip brings up in his comments, the claim of a historical Abraham would certainly not be admissible. However, when one abandons the premise of a divine covenant to embrace that of an earthly covenant, a real paradigm shift occurs, which invites us to reconsider all known facts from scratch. This exercise has allowed me to gather sufficient evidence to now feel comfortable making such a claim.

    I sincerely believe I have applied the twelve steps to the best of my abilities. I have spent most of the last fifteen years trying to prove myself wrong and this falsification process was instrumental in developing my argumentation because I now believe that very few stones were left unturned. This said, a peer review is still in order.

    Unfortunately, I have found it extremely challenging to get scholars to consider this alternative paradigm. Many are quick to reject this idea because it deviates from their beliefs and comfort zone. I wouldn’t mind if they disagreed with me, or identified flaws in my work, but until now, they have refused to even look at the evidence and it appears there is nothing I can do or say that will change their mind.

    And while scientists accept and expect that premises and hypothesis should and must be challenged, Max Planck duly noted the amazing resistance the same people can oppose to any paradigm shift. The example of Galileo is obvious. His arguments weren’t flawed, but his contemporaries kept rejecting the proposed paradigm instead of reconsidering the facts. At a time when fake news and conspiracy theories keep muddying the waters, I can understand why scholars are leery to consider my work. But given the above, how can our collective knowledge improve if diverging opinions cannot be properly confronted and argued?

    Reply
  4. Denis November 3, 2017, 8:13 pm

    Hi Dr Carrier ! Very interesting tool indeed ! Still seems to me that proving Jesus historicity is “Mission Impossible”.

    My arguments if they are valid are that we cannot tell all the people from the 3rd class that have died on the Titanic wreck that happened a hundred years ago, how can we assume for someone that might have lived or not 2000 years ago. Even homeless people die everyday with no ID, no relatives and being buried in nameless grave…

    My other question and I’m not familiar with all your work is why Paul can be trusted on anything he has written. My point is he was persecuting Jesus’ followers sect in the beginning, if that story is to be believe.

    Couldn’t be possible he was more like an infiltrating agent and his way to gain credibility amongst followers and Gentiles was to create that BS story about having revelations of a Jesus ? Like Mormon book fairy tales ?

    Narcissistic leaders can be doing much everything to gain fame and power, because why Paul was eager to get away from Jewish tradition in order to gain Gentiles over to his ministry ?
    So maybe there was a Jesus out there, but Paul came out to divide these people to prevent any movement to grow out in Judea in pushing for a more Godly Jesus than human…

    Isn’t a perfect way to divide to better conquer and confuse as Roman were good at, knowing that Paul has his Roman citizenship ?

    Reply
    1. Paul would in that case have constantly had to argue why his revelations equal having known and been taught and handpicked in life by Jesus. Instead, he argues as if revelation is the only way anyone, even the original apostles he was competing with and trying to court, ever met Jesus. Likewise, Paul is courting the original apostles, trying to get their endorsement. Rather than trying to turn people against them. He wants to integrate his novel ideas with theirs, rather than steal their congregations.

      Certainly, we should not assume Paul is always being honest. But even a liar is restrained to lies that actually have any chance of working, and has to defend himself against challenges. Those restraints and challenges then become visible. From that we can reconstruct a lot of what was really going on. But when we do that, “what was really going on” seems mysteriously never to be a real Jesus, only a revelatory one.

      More in Ch. 11 of On the Historicity of Jesus.

      Reply
      1. Denis November 4, 2017, 3:28 pm

        Thanks for your reply Dr Carrier ! As being born and raise from Catholic ground and roots, even in an earlier age I was disputing my mother about Paul…

        Today I no longer consider myself as a Christian, but agnostic with deist views, and honnestly I still use some of Jesus’ saying in my personal life as carry your cross or forgive your enemy (truly a hard one) and I can see the wisdom of some.

        If Jesus never existed, where that wisdom comes from, knowing that the 4 Gospels were not written by the apotles?

        Also in a previous post we spoke about the probability that Jesus was a construct of more than one person?

        Could that wisdom be taken from multiple sources as well?

        Reply
        1. I discuss in OHJ the scholarship pointing out Christian wisdom came from preceding movements (e.g. Cynic philosophy and Jewish counter-cultural sects) and their own internal reformers (e.g. Paul invented the Torah-free gospel, and “by revelation” came up with a bunch of “laws” from “Jesus”; on minimal mythicism, the first apostles, especially Peter, would have been doing the same).

          No differently than “where did all the wisdom in the Book of Mormon come from” or “where did all the wisdom in the John Frum cult come from” or “where did the Torah and Mishnah come from if there was no Moses” and so on.

          Christians were doing the same things Rabbis were doing: inventing, selecting, and disseminating their own favorite wisdom. And giving it authority by “crediting it” to Jesus. This isn’t even a controversial hypothesis. All mainstream scholars agree this is where most of the wisdom in the Gospels came from. They continue to debate what little of it may still go back to Jesus. A lot of them, think very little does (just look at the results of the Jesus Seminar!).

          So, yes, this is a “many sources” conclusion. The same way probably Homer came to be composed, and the Fables of Aesop came to be collected. And the “teachings” of Moses. No one author. Just many contributors over time, all assigning their innovations to a one respected authority, so people will pay attention.

          This is a little different from the biography of Jesus being assembled from many sources (though that seems evident too, historicity or not). And that is different from Jesus originating by amalgamation of many persons (which cannot have happened: Jesus begins an archangel in Jewish angelology, and is suddenly a singular figure at the launch of Christianity—if historicity is true, his twelve knew who he was, so they certainly weren’t inventing him out of other people yet; and if mythicism is true, his twelve only knew him by revelation, which would mostly be at the suggestive influence of Peter, and not as a historical figure to even be amalgamated in the first place…that happened decades later).

        2. Denis Gaudreau November 6, 2017, 11:37 am

          Thanks again for your comment and answer, so nice to be communicating with someone of your level of knowledge !

          I’m looking to buy your book on Amazon Canada, price was reduce from 55 $ to 45 $…. But still I’m trying to deal it from Amazon.com from a independant seller.

          One last point about your saying in the last paragraph: “And that is different from Jesus originating by amalgamation of many persons (which cannot have happened: Jesus begins an archangel in Jewish angelology, and is suddenly a singular figure at the launch of Christianity—if historicity is true, his twelve knew who he was, so they certainly weren’t inventing him out of other people yet; ”

          Maybe my comparison will be weak, but I was seeing it a little bit like what Mel Gibson did in his historical drama : Braveheart, with the historical William Wallace. All that revenge part never happened and else.

          Even in the movie they have almost made a joke about it, when people were spreading his legend of a 7 foot tall warrior and so on…

          Either Jesus was real or not, couldn’t that be that either Peter or Paul would just boast their story to match already known Deity for Paul and for Peter he was the true Messiah ? Or even trying in Paul case to create some kind of a new Hercules of Jesus, as a champion of the poor and the widow.

          Isn’t it what we are seeing from Gospel of Mark to the Gospel of John ? That in each Gospel they are boasting Jesus’ deeds with more miracles, John having even that miracle for the wedding of Cana ?

        3. John is using miracles that way; the Synoptics were not. And that’s actually intentional (John does not like what the Synoptics were saying). I discuss this in my section on John in Ch. 10 of OHJ.

          As to Peter and Paul, their Jesus was a celestial archangel only known through mystic visions. They had no knowledge yet of a minister traveling Galilee. In fact, Paul all but says Jesus performed no miracles in life at all (Phil. 2 says he surrendered all his powers and became a slave to the natural order; elsewhere he says no signs were performed before the Jews; etc.). So they weren’t even looking for “men” to build a “historical” Jesus out of. That task wasn’t even attempted until the first Gospel was written, likely Mark, after the Jewish War, which so far as we know was after all the original apostles, including Peter and Paul, were dead.

        4. Denis November 8, 2017, 6:43 pm

          Ok I understand the whole here. Are you covering the Gospel of Thomas in OHJ? Some scholars seem to think its oldest parts were written even before Mark, like the Q source, because it’s only Jesus’ sayings, no cross, no resurrection. Also no need of churches or temples in some of his sayings or that his only fake assumptions as well?

        5. I find that thinking far too speculative and of no use. It’s funny how biblical scholars will do that, and then ridicule those mythicists who are just as speculative and fact-less as that. They should turn that criticism back on themselves.

          Goodacre proved GThom is based on the Synoptics. And we have no evidence anything GThom adds to that base existed before. And what we have no evidence for, we can’t argue.

          The method applied is fallaciously circular as well: if one excludes all the cross/resurrection/church sayings and then claim wow isn’t it amazing that what’s left has no church/resurrection/cross sayings, one badly needs a course in logic. I point out this flaw in respect to Bermejo-Rubio, who does the same thing to the Synoptics.

          Likewise, the church began fundamentally about cross/resurrection/church (Paul repeatedly attests these were core to the creed from day one, and attests no other version of the religion). So to find it missing does not argue for early. It argues for late: someone is trying to change things away from where they originally were. And this gets to the problem of where new sayings come from. Jesus? A later innovator? A Jewish or pagan sage they are borrowing sayings from for Jesus? Or some other revelator? Even if original (e.g. somehow they predate even Paul), are these just the revelations of a different apostle, maybe one of those condemned by Paul in Gal. 1 as listening to deceiving angels? In short, you can’t get to historicity this way.

          So I don’t treat GThom in OHJ. It’s post-canon. And therefore derivative, late, and useless. And any suggestion otherwise is not fact but speculation. And speculation in = speculation out. That’s of no use when we are trying to ascertain what’s probable, not just what’s “possible.”

          (OHJ, p. 94, n. 66, and p. 273, and p. 274, n. 41, summarize much of the above, and cites experts concurring, on why I don’t consider it evidence of anything in the first century.)

        6. Denis Gaudreau November 10, 2017, 8:50 am

          Merci again for all your explanations, patience and time, Dr Carrier. Even if we do not share same beliefs as I’m an agnostic deist with spiritual views, you were quite respectful, which I didn’t see much from Christian fundamentalists wishing everyone to go to Hell or from dogmatic atheists trolling and bashing on everything that is not atheism.

          Sure on some points I do agree with atheist, there is no personal God walking around the planet, watching for us…

          I’m now following your blog for almost 1 year now. It was my decision to know more about you and your work and not let the Christian bashers determine my view about mythicism as I wanted to go 360 as an amateur in the field.

          I’m also critic and open minded, which is why I’m agnostic and deist. Atheism as theism, with respect to your position, seem to me more like the two sides of the same coin, and I’m trying to get in the third way, as we don’t know everything about Universe, life on Earth, etc.

          I’ve worked in medical field until 2016 with people having mental health issues and having myself a PTSD, and my view from my biology and pathology courses were like : Are we on Earth like a human cell in the body of the Universe / God / Creator. Or a drop of water into all the Oceans that surround us.

          I’m amazed to read your work and like you said in your 12 points on this post, you really have to be critic toward all the information and the evidences (9 and 11).

          It sadden and disapointed me a lot to learn there is not much evidences about a real Jesus out there. But as you already mentionned, you were not into mythicist, until you started your own research…

          For me Jesus, as Buddha, Krishna were kind of Saints or Masters that came down to guide mankind and than Religions came along with their agenda and corrupted all. I was portraying Jesus doing like Martin Luther King (Jesus in the Temple going against the merchants) and Gandhi, which were great men from XXth century.

          Also book I’ve loved from a French modern philosopher that studies religions: Frédéric Lenoir, that was about Socrate, Buddha and Jesus: https://www.fredericlenoir.com/essais/socrate-jesus-bouddha-trois-maitres-de-vie/

          But as you point out evidences are dim to nothing.
          I’m looking forward to have your book with some impatience. My spouse will buy it for my upcoming birthday !

          Hope to see you in Montreal, Quebec, Canada for your next tour and lecture in 2018 !!!

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