In Which James McGrath Reveals That He Is a Fundamentalist Who Has Never Read Any Contemporary Scholarship in His Field

The title of this article is a joke. Sort of. But maybe not as much as you think. As I’ll show. Because James McGrath has added another entry to his bizarrely uninformed critique of On the Historicity of Jesus, and this time is the most dishonest of the bunch. For to get the result he wants, he has to essentially become a Christian fundamentalist, denying there is any mythmaking in the Gospels at all, and reject all non-fundamentalist scholarship of the last fifteen years.

I kid you not.

Ignoring My Book

Skipping almost the entirety of the book, McGrath jumps all the way now to one single part of Chapter 10, with his new entry at Bible & Interpretation, “Mythicism and the Making of Mark.” (I’ve addressed his previous entries in this series here and here.)

Neil Godfrey has already exposed how incompetently McGrath ignores what I actually wrote in the sections McGrath is talking about. My favorite example: McGrath complains that when I define three criteria that are markers of myth writing, I’m making a big mistake because no one of them is sufficient to entail a text is a myth…completely ignoring that I say exactly that, in the text he claims to be reading.

As Godfrey sums it up:

Ignoring Carrier’s point that “no one of these criteria is sufficient to identify a narrative as mythical but the presence of all three is conclusive” McGrath proceeds to “protest” that “no one of these criteria is sufficient to identify a narrative as mythical”.

I find this to be disrespectful and insulting. McGrath is pretending I didn’t say exactly what he is saying, and pretending that therefore he has a legitimate critique of what I said. McGrath therefore has no actual rebuttal to what I said.

[Edit: Possibly McGrath didn’t realize the logic of his argument entailed this. See comment. Some mistook Godfrey’s description as a direct quote, despite the fact that it is literally verbatim, which should have clued them in. Godfrey and I are describing the logic of McGrath’s argument, and pointing out the fact that it ignores the actual argument is disrespectful and insulting. Not a lie. Only in subsequent sections do I catalog McGrath’s lies.]

He has done the exact same thing in his last two entries. It’s starting to piss me off.

Lying about the State of Scholarship in His Field

McGrath leads with the shamelessly false claim that “Scholars of the New Testament typically view allegorical interpretation of the texts they study with disdain.” He evidently has never read Burton Mack, John Crossan, Dennis MacDonald, Harold Attridge, Thomas Sheehan, Mary Tolbert, Marcus Borg, William Lyons, Elaine Pagels, Morna Hooker, Craig Evans, etc., etc., etc. These are major, well-respected New Testament scholars. And a mere fraction at that. Because this list is just off the top of my head.

I want everyone to post in comments their own additional lists of big names in contemporary NT studies who also acknowledge the Gospels contain symbolic narrative constructions.

And it’s not like Thomas Brodie, Thomas Thompson, Robert Price, and Randel Helms are an insignificant addition to the list. Practically the entire fellows list of the Jesus Seminar (including me) consists of scholars who acknowledge that much of the Gospels is of symbolic construct. And as Neil Godfrey has shown, many luminaries praise the approach, even use it themselves, rather than “disdain” it.

Do you know who does disdain all that these scholars have shown regarding the Gospels being allegorically constructed? Christian fundamentalists. Do you know who pretends their view is the mainstream view and all other views are “disdained” in the field when in fact the opposite is true? Christian fundamentalists. Who is McGrath siding with? Hm.

It is thus telling that in “support” of this falsity, McGrath does not cite any living scholar or recent work, but an antiquated essay written by James Barr in 1966 (with a follow up in 1989). And to deceive you further, McGrath cites it as if published in 2014 (actually only the date of a reprinted historical collection). And to deceive you further, McGrath implies these articles by Barr demonstrate McGrath’s claim that allegorical interpretation is disdained by the mainstream today. Yet, first, being written 26 and 49 (!) years ago, they cannot have said anything about the state of the field today; and second, both argue for allegorical interpretation of the Bible!

Barr was arguing against Biblical literalists, not mainstream scholars, and pointing out that not only is literalism unscholarly, but that even the literalists were using “theological” and “typological” interpretations which were actually in fact allegorical, so that even the literalists agree with him, they just won’t admit it. How does any of this support McGrath? It doesn’t. And that looks like scholarly dishonesty to me.

In line with what looks like a constructed lie, McGrath then deceitfully makes it appear that I just make everything up in my demonstration of allegorical content in the Gospels. In fact I extensively rely on the mainstream peer reviewed literature in the field. Look at n. 41, p. 405 (several peer reviewed experts on the Barabbas allegory), n. 56, p. 412 (Norman Petersen on the allegorical construction of the travel narrative in Mark 4-8), n. 59, p. 415 (Paul Achtemeier on the allegorical function of the miracle sequences in Mark—notably, when McGrath uses this example, he completely omits to mention that I am relying on the work of Achtemeier, and instead gives the impression that I just made it all up [on this see also a followup by Neil Godfrey]), n. 71, p. 423-24 (Deborah Krause on the allegorical structure of the triumphal entry), n. 78, p. 426 (Calum Carmichael on the allegorical structure of Mark 12), n. 97, p. 433 (R.G. Hamerton-Kelly on the allegorical structure of the temple clearing and fig tree inclusio), n. 98, p. 434 (several peer reviewed experts on Mark’s use of narrative intercalation to communicate allegorical content), n. 118, p. 445 (several peer reviewed experts on Mark’s use of allegory in his concluding chapter).

And that’s just a few examples, and only on Mark. All mainstream peer reviewed scholarship. Don’t get me started on the mainstream peer reviewed scholarship showing the same for Matthew and Luke and John. For example, n. 218, p. 496 (Francis Moloney’s work on the allegorical construction of John’s travel narrative from Cana to Cana). For Luke alone, I show allegorical readings are backed in the peer reviewed literature by such luminaries as Arnold Ehrhardt, Francis Gerald Downing, Jean Magné, Barbara Shellard—even N.T. Wright, and you can’t get more mainstream than that!

Plus all the ancient evidence I presented that this is in fact how the Bible was both read and written, which I extensively documented, and which McGrath completely ignores and pretends I didn’t present (Element 14, pp. 114-24).

And I don’t just demonstrate, and show that countless peer reviewed experts have also demonstrated, that allegorical-symbolic structure exists in the Gospels, but also that the Gospels often do this through fabricating narratives by rewriting Old Testament stories about Moses and Elijah (and I cite numerous mainstream scholars supporting this fact, including Dale Allison, Raymond Brown, and many others, not “just” Thomas Brodie), by inventing stories that communicate things a given author wanted people to believe but that have no plausible basis in history (and again I cite mainstream scholars supporting the point), and by assembling narratives out of pesher-like readings of scripture (a conclusion so mainstream I cannot believe I need to explain this to McGrath…for example, the derivation of Mark’s crucifixion narrative from Psalm 22 and other passages is famously accepted as a mainstream fact, and that’s just the most famous example). Likewise, I show that many sayings were invented for Jesus, sometimes out of things said by others, and sometimes improvised to explain how history proceeded after Jesus supposedly died. And this, too, is an accepted fact of mainstream scholarship.

When you put all of that together, and add the fact that we can’t corroborate the existence of the central figure (no reliable evidence outside the Gospels places Jesus in Galilean or Jerusalem history, or anywhere on earth), and the fact that the story is fundamentally soaked with improbable events (from the unrealistic behavior of nearly every character, to the extensive array of miracles that occur), and we have what can only honestly be described as a myth. And that the Gospels are primarily myths, and that the Jesus in them is a mythical person, is almost universally agreed by all non-fundamentalist scholars of the New Testament. The mainstream view is that the historical Jesus was someone different than the mythical Jesus in the Gospels. But no one says the Gospel Jesus is not mythical. Except Christian fundamentalists.

Lying about My Appeal to Conspiracy

Not content to rest on those deceptions, McGrath dishonestly deploys a well poisoning fallacy by saying he “will not discuss here [Carrier’s] conspiracy theory approach to early Christian literature, summed up nicely when he writes, ‘This appears to be what typically happened to the evidence. It was erased, doctored or rewritten to support a historicity party line against a mythicist one’.”

First, no mainstream scholar doubts that “the evidence” for Christianity was extensively “erased, doctored or rewritten” (and fabricated) to support the victorious sect; the evidence for this is vast, we have countless proven examples, and I extensively cite mainstream scholarship demonstrating it. McGrath appears to be saying this is my own contrivance, that none of that went on. Once again, that’s the position of a Christian fundamentalist.

Meanwhile, this is what I actually say in the book about “conspiracy theories”…

[T]here was no organized conspiracy to doctor the record (except when it came to controlling faith literature, for which we have clear evidence of Christians actively eliminating disapproved Gospels, for example), but this along with all the other cases (above and below) indicates a common trend among individual Christians to act as gatekeepers of information, suppressing what they didn’t like. Which collectively destroyed a lot of information. (OHJ, p. 303)

[T]his doesn’t demonstrate any organized conspiracy, but there seems to have been a zeitgeist motivating many Christian scholars and scribes, independently of one another, to remove embarrassingly silent sections of secular histories, or to remove embarrassingly silent histories altogether (by simply not preserving them). (OHJ, p. 305)

[T]he epistles do reveal the constant vexation of novel dogmas; the devastating events of the 60s did occur; the history of the church is completely silent from then until the mid-90s or later; a historicist sect did later gain supreme power and did decide which texts to preserve, and it did doctor and meddle with numerous manuscripts and even produced wholesale forgeries to that same end—and not as a result of any organized conspiracy, but simply from independent scribes and authors widely sharing similar assumptions and motives. (OHJ, p. 609)

And most extensively:

Unlike most other questions in history, the evidence for Jesus is among the most compromised bodies of evidence in the whole of ancient history. It cannot be said that this has no effect on its reliability. This does not entail or require any particular ‘conspiracy theory’, however. Of course, the fact of it is so firmly in evidence it cannot be disputed (only its degree); so even if a conspiracy theory were required, it would be more than amply established by the evidence we have. But it isn’t needed, because all that one does need is a sect of fanatical believers who (a) have a common dogma to promote (e.g. that Jesus really lived and really said and did certain things conducive to the doctrines they wanted to promote), as we know the ‘orthodox’ sect did, and (b) have no qualms against destroying evidence (or just not mentioning or preserving it), forging evidence and doctoring evidence, as we again know the ‘orthodox’ sect did (i.e. these are not mere hypotheses, but established facts in our background knowledge). Any such community will organically produce the same effect as a conspiracy, without ever having to conspire to do anything. They do not require any top-down instructions or orders to follow, nor any collusion. If each independently did what made sense to him, each on his own initiative, the effect on the evidence that survives for us now will have been the same. (OHJ, p. 276)

How did McGrath miss all of that? It’s not conceivable…if he is actually reading my book. His contempt for the truth is therefore galling.

Lying about Myth & Historicity Criteria

We see this again in his treatment of my mythic marker criteria, which I did not invent (as McGrath dishonestly implies) but adopted from mainstream scholarship. As Godfrey also pointed out, McGrath does not address what I mean by mythical emulation as one of the three criteria. He says instead that mere similarities are inevitable; thereby implying I neither looked for nor found anything more than that. He doesn’t mention the example I give (Virgil’s emulation of Homer), which refutes him, or the mainstream peer reviewed scholarship I cite arguing my very point (I didn’t make this criterion up).

Nor does McGrath reveal that I actually address the importance of distinguishing inevitable similarities from actual emulations in my methodological primer for OHJ, Proving History (pp. 192-203), which he also reviewed and thus claims to have read. Nor does he offer any rebuttal to my solution. So again, McGrath is lying to you about what I said, and trying to make it look like I said something else.

McGrath also confuses my third criterion (the presence of uncorroborated persons and events as key to the story) as meaning lack of corroboration entails their non-historicity. I never say any such thing. All I said was, when that happens, that ups the probability, but does not guarantee, that we are looking at a myth. I said nothing about having determined anything as non-historical from such a criterion alone, and in fact elsewhere in the book I explain in detail that that can’t be done (e.g., chs. 2.1 and 8.3-4). McGrath effectively lies to you, by not telling you that, and telling you instead that I said the opposite of what in fact I actually said.

McGrath also complains that miracles sometimes are claimed in histories not just myths. Again lying to you, by implying I did not concede this very point in the very next paragraph, where I explain:

[I]f we find enough of those in a single text, this supports the conclusion that the remainder are as well, according to the principle of contamination, which Stephen Law has formally articulated for ‘miracle’ content. His argument can be fully extended to all improbabilities, including emulative features of a story that are improbable coincidences if posited as history but not improbable as an authorial creation. (OHJ, p. 394)

So here is what I actually said: the more improbabilities that are stacked in a story, the more likely the story is to be myth. Does McGrath have a rebuttal to that? To what I actually said? No, he does not. Nor could he. Because I’m right. And it would make him look like a fool to deny so obvious a principle.

McGrath also says my criteria would establish 1 Maccabees as myth, “but,” he complains, someone said 17 years ago (!) that 1 Maccabees was totes history and not at all mytho-historical fiction. Since he doesn’t actually perform the procedure I describe, and that he claims would get this result, on the text of 1 Maccabees, I get to call bullshit.

I am fairly certain the Gospels perform far worse by all three of my criteria than 1 Maccabees. And yet, everyone agrees there is myth and fiction in 1 Maccabees. The Gospels, many times more so. And that’s precisely what makes the difference between history with some myth in it, and myth with some history in it. Again, McGrath has no rebuttal to what I actually said. Because he cannot deny that what I actually said is correct. And, again, denying it would make him look like a fool. So he has to lie and pretend I said something else.

In a sense, even McGrath’s entire thesis is a lie: he tries arguing at length that I am wrong to dismiss the Gospels as of any use because some history may yet be in a myth-heavy narrative. A fact I never deny. To the contrary, I repeatedly say, “There is no good case to be made that any scene in Mark reflects a historical Jesus. Because most scenes clearly do not, and even if any do, we cannot discern which, or what in them is historical” (OHJ, p. 456); “There is in fact no way to discern what if anything Matthew has added to Mark has any historical basis, or even a source (and its having a source would still in no way establish that it’s historical…),” so “The burden is therefore on anyone who would insist there is anything in Matthew that is any more authentic than what’s in Mark,” otherwise, “Even if any historical facts about Jesus are in it, we have no way to identify them” (OHJ, p. 469); “Even if any historical facts about Jesus are in [Luke], we have no way to identify them” (OHJ, p. 487). Etc.

Notably, McGrath does not even attempt to demonstrate a single fact uniquely in the Gospels about Jesus is historically true. Thus proving my point: no one has done this with the needed certainty—nor can, given the problematic sources we have. And this isn’t just me saying this. This is more or less the shared view of numerous top mainstream scholars, from Dale Allison, Stanley Porter, and Anthony Le Donne to Mark Goodacre, Morna Hooker, and Fernando Bermejo-Rubio (and not just them; I cite about a dozen major scholars reaching this conclusion in Chs. 1 & 5 of Proving History, and the most recent scholarship in the field agrees with me: see Jesus, Criteria, and the Demise of Authenticity).

These scholars do claim they can infer some things about Jesus from the Gospels, but at the same time admit they can produce no certain proof of it because there are no reliable criteria to use. And McGrath presents no answer. He says there could be facts in the Gospels. But that’s what I myself said. I agree, there could be. And I say so. But what I also point out is that we have no way to figure out which claims in the Gospels are those facts, if any are even in there. And McGrath does not address that point. So once again, McGrath has no rebuttal to what I actually said.

More Lies from James McGrath

McGrath again lies when he says “Carrier … refrains from expounding what the mystical meaning of the texts is supposed to have been” because maybe that “would expose just how speculative and unconvincing such approaches to the Gospels really are.” In fact, I give several examples, from possible interpretations (that have at least a 50/50 chance at being true) to interpretations convincingly demonstrated in mainstream peer reviewed literature! My chapter is full of these, and many are from mainstream scholarship. So here we have the most appalling lie: to avoid addressing what I actually argued, McGrath says I didn’t do X, when in fact I did, and uses the false fact of my not doing X to insinuate I can’t because the attempt would expose the effort as untenable, when in fact I actually engage in the effort and show not only why (and when) it is tenable, but I also cite dozens of scholars who support me in that. Not one piece of which McGrath mentions or engages. That’s simply dishonest.

Another example of McGrath’s dishonesty appears in a footnote where he says:

Carrier’s confident assertion about talitha koum in Mark 5, ‘Certainly, Jesus never actually spoke those words, since the story is entirely a fiction’ (p. 410), illustrates how his presumption that the material is fictitious leads him to dismiss details which in fact suggest otherwise. Carrier’s speculation that Mark ‘adapted those words from a targum’ is not persuasive.

This remark contains several deceptions. First, he falsely claims this is a presumption, when in fact I outline an extensive case for the first conclusion. Which he does not address. At all. And pretending there is no argument to rebut is dishonest. Second, he merely asserts that my second argument is “not persuasive,” but does not explain why. That’s not dishonest so much as lazy. But where it becomes dishonest is that he does not mention what I actually argue. I only argue that anyone asserting historicity for this event must rule out that source, and for the very reasons introduced not by me, but by Bruce Chilton, an expert on targumic literature, whom I cite on the point, another fact McGrath deceitfully fails to mention.

So here, McGrath falsely represents me as arguing these words definitely come from a targum, when in fact my argument is that we cannot know they didn’t. This is a burden of evidence argument. My argument is that the burden is on him. It is not on me. It is dishonest of him to pretend that’s not the argument I made, and to not respond to my actual argument, but to respond instead to an argument I didn’t make, that he falsely represents me as making.

I won’t address McGrath’s shameless attempt at a well poisoning fallacy by attempting to equate me with Barbara Thiering. That’s just bullshit.

Nor will I bother addressing at length his closing assertion, that I have constructed the mythicism thesis to be unfalsifiable. That is a shameful lie. Anyone who reads OHJ will see I explain numerous times what would falsify the thesis. I spelled out more in Proving History (especially Ch. 5). And frankly I am disgusted that I should have to dig through and find the countless occasions of that just to prove McGrath is lying. It is his moral responsibility as a scholar to locate those passages in my work and actually address them, before maintaining a claim like his. That he did not do this disgraces him as a scholar.

I am content that any honest person who reads my two books will see what I mean.

General Call to James McGrath and All Other Biblical Scholars Who Do This

Stop fucking lying about my work.

 

 

38 comments

  1. gshelley September 11, 2015, 1:13 pm

    This is why you need to get that summary book published, so that people who review your work are more likely to have actually read it.

    Reply
  2. If anyone is wondering how so many people can claim to have “read” a book and completely miss the point of entire chapters if not the whole thing, when I was a Christian one of my friends was a speed reader and an advocate of speed reading. He did not apply this solely to books critical of his faith, he had poor comprehension of everything he read, including the Bible. This is how I presume he was able to be such a huge fan of L. Ron Hubbard and be a fundamentalist Christian at the same time. The thing is we always had bible study sessions, which should have overcome poor comprehension, but that’s not what bible study is about. A bible study session basically picks a chapter of a book and then picks out a few verses from that chapter, and you spend an hour or more discussing how these few carefully selected verses support our interpretation of itself in classic circular fashion.

    Reply
    1. Note that he does not identify a single thing I said that was untrue. As I commented on his post, his claiming that he elsewhere uses and respects the method of allegory is precisely why his claiming it is despised is dishonest. He nowhere mentions in his review of my work that in fact he believes the method is valid and he even uses it himself. That is what constitutes lying. For him to now claim I am lying, and not offering a single example of my doing so, while I extensively document his lies and he does not respond to any of those examples, is simply disgusting.

      Reply
    2. It’s hard not to see this as a case where, failing to have any actual substantive criticisms, and claiming “Carrier has not done x” where Carrier HAS done x (it might be different if he said, “Carrier has not done x well because…”), McGrath is simply declaring victory and going home without having earned it.

      Reply
  3. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden September 11, 2015, 5:11 pm

    that the Gospels are primarily myths, and that the Jesus in them is a mythical person, is almost universally agreed by all non-fundamentalist scholars of the New Testament. The mainstream view is that the historical Jesus was someone different than the mythical Jesus in the Gospels. But no one says the Gospel Jesus is not mythical. Except Christian fundamentalists.

    An honest question as I’m not acquainted with the dynamics of your field even if I sometimes read its output: the statements I bolded, are they non-tautological? That is, wouldn’t believing that the Gospel Jesus is not mythical be nearly synonymous with being a Christian fundamentalist?

    I get that none of this was the main point of this post, and I sympathize with the main point. Others lying about one’s work is maddening. For someone like me, however, in determining “mainstream” as used by McGrath it would be more helpful to have percentages of people in the field, even rough guesses, who adhere to “Gospel Jesus = Myth” or “Gospel Jesus = Totally Real, Dudes!”

    Thanks for considering a comment on something that is decidedly a side issue.

    Reply
    1. No. They are not tautological. It’s possible, and had once been the case, that non-Christian and liberal scholars would regard the Gospels as straightforward biographies or transmitted recollections, with some legendary or speculative material. Like any other biography or history of the era.

      Fundamentalists, by contrast, regard the Gospels to be literally true and inerrant (even when they avoid outright admitting that, many of them have signed sworn statements to the effect, and operate in their scholarship in efforts to defend it).

      Reply
  4. Gakusei Don September 11, 2015, 7:49 pm

    >>McGrath leads with the shamelessly false claim that “Scholars of the New Testament typically view allegorical interpretation of the texts they study with disdain.”<>Barr was arguing against Biblical literalists, not mainstream scholars, and pointing out that not only is literalism unscholarly, but that even the literalists were using “theological” and “typological” interpretations which were actually in fact allegorical, so that even the literalists agree with him, they just won’t admit it. How does any of this support McGrath? It doesn’t. And that looks like scholarly dishonesty to me.<<

    Doesn't that in fact support McGrath, though? Barr, like most modern NT scholars, disdains such an allegorical approach by Christians. The argument is that the use of allegory to "prove" one's interpretation of texts is a slippery slope. I think you are being unfair to McGrath here.

    Reply
    1. No, Barr approves of allegorical interpretation. He regards it as fundamentally necessary to make sense of the text. He wants literalists to be honest and admit they agree with that, too, and then confront how they are letting theology influence their interpretations, which can be shown to be anachronistic (as their theology often is not that of the authors of the Gospels; indeed, the theology of each author differed from the others). Pointing out anachronism in a scholar’s approach to a text is a common and valid critique even of secular scholarship.

      McGrath can in no way use these facts as supporting his claim that the method itself is disdained by Barr or anyone (as opposed to their calling for it to be used properly), and he certainly cannot use Barr as evidencing disdain today, since Barr wrote decades ago. McGrath conceals this from his readers by using the reprint date and not the original date of the cited works.

      Reply
    2. Gakusei Don September 12, 2015, 8:22 am

      No, Barr approves of allegorical interpretation. He regards it as fundamentally necessary to make sense of the text. He wants literalists to be honest and admit they agree with that, too, and then confront how they are letting theology influence their interpretations, which can be shown to be anachronistic

      I think that’s exactly what Dr McGrath is referring to also, when he writes “Allegory is notorious for reading things into the text that simply aren’t there, things that are exceedingly unlikely to have been in view for the authors and their earliest readers.”

      So McGrath is not claiming that academia disdains the use of allegorical interpretation by modern scholarship, but that academia disdains its use by people who are driven by a separate agenda (with the later claim that this is what you are doing also)

      Reply
      1. That isn’t what he says. He never mentions there being correct ways to identify allegory. He says the method is disdained by the mainstream, period. That’s a lie. McGrath himself has elsewhere admitted that he approves of the method, and thus does not disdain it. He does not mention this in his review. He does not mention what he thinks the correct way to do it is. He gives no examples of a correct deployment. All he does is say it is some fringe thing that’s ridiculous. Period. And in making that argument, he concealed the fact that I am drawing on mainstream peer reviewed scholarship when I do it, even in the example he takes from my chapter. He also misrepresents what Barr argued, and who he was arguing against. And he also misrepresents when Barr argued it.

        If you want to say that the method can be deployed correctly, but not if X, then you have to explain: what the correct way is, what X is, why X causes a problem, and how that problem can be controlled for. You don’t say “the method is disdained” (period) and so-and-so said it was disdained today (when they didn’t say that, and didn’t say it today but decades ago) and then only talk about how it doesn’t work, which clearly implies it never works (again, McGrath never says it can work, much less that he agrees that it can, or how and when).

        Reply
    3. Barr disapproved of literalist criticism of allegorical interpretations, while at the same time embracing their own allegorical interpretation. In other words, he disdained literalists doing exactly what McGrath is doing. See?

      Reply
      1. I’m not sure what you mean. Barr favors allegorical interpretation and considers it essential to Gospel scholarship. What he objects to is literalists claiming they disagree, when in fact they are using the method. And he argues that if they admit they use the method, then it can enter the mainstream discourse of scholarly debate (and thus, you can then talk about whether their deployment of a method is anachronistic, e.g. based on modern theology and not the theology of the original author).

        Reply
    4. I just posted this on McGrath’s blog in response to GDon’s muddying the waters:

      No, GDon, once again you are very confused. James said this in his review:

      “Scholars of the New Testament typically view allegorical interpretation of the texts they study with disdain.”

      Cannot be more clear than that. James then cites Barr’s criticism of Christian use of allegory:

      “Allegory is also notoriously unconstrained, allowing one to find in the text just about anything one wishes to.[1]…

      [1] See James Barr, “Allegory and Typology” and “The Literal, the Allegorical, and Modern Biblical Scholarship” chapters 26 and 27 in Bible and Interpretation: The Collected Essays of James Barr, vol.2, ed. John Barton (Oxford University Press, 2014).”

      I do not have this volume, but I am familiar with Barr’s work and he was generally critical of Bible fundamentalism and literalism. Carrier’s characterization of Barr’s work rings true:

      “Barr was arguing against Biblical literalists, not mainstream scholars, and pointing out that not only is literalism unscholarly, but that even the literalists were using “theological” and “typological” interpretations which were actually in fact allegorical, so that even the literalists agree with him, they just won’t admit it. How does any of this support McGrath? It doesn’t. And that looks like scholarly dishonesty to me.”

      So it appears very clear that James has contradicted himself:

      “Scholars of the New Testament typically view allegorical interpretation of the texts they study with disdain.”

      “No one who has read things I’ve written – or listened to things I’ve said – would ever believe that I claimed that the Gospels have no symbolic stories in them, when I have so often said the opposite.”

      Well, it seems that James is perfectly capable of making arguments either way with no memory of what he said in the past. Right? That’s the only way I can reconcile his position and still believe he has a shred of intellectual integrity.

      Reply
  5. Michael Macrossan September 12, 2015, 1:35 am

    John Selby Spong (“Reclaiming the Bible for Non-religious World” ) probably qualifies as a respected scholar who sees a lot myth making in the Gospels. He is an histrocist with regard to Jesus, though, as you might expect.

    Reply
  6. I’d just finished reading Neil Godfrey’s take down when I wandered over here.

    He’s hoping it will be accepted by B&I so fingers crossed.

    Maybe McGrath’s blog can now be moved to the evangelical christianity section of Paethos where it belongs.

    Reply
  7. “Nor will I bother addressing at length his closing assertion, that I have constructed the mythicism thesis to be unfalsifiable”

    I think that the problem here is that McGrath can’t falsify it, not that it is unfalsifiable. James doesn’t appear to know the difference.

    Reply
    1. I also think he might not understand the logic of probability. For example, when I argue competing hypotheses A/B are 50/50, he reads that as arguing for A, rather than as pointing out that anyone who insists upon B must actually show that it has a probability above 50%. Hence he doesn’t understand a burden of evidence argument.

      That’s my most charitable reading. Otherwise, he is simply lying, by not reporting what my actual argument was. That he conceals so many facts in that case (e.g. falsely transforming a detailed argument into a mere “presumption”; omitting to mention that my point comes from Chilton, an expert on the subject; and so on) argues for dishonesty. I cannot believe he is so fantastically stupid that he didn’t notice any of that or didn’t think any of it was relevant. And likewise all the other cases of concealment and misrepresentation I document. So I’m all out of charity with him by now.

      Reply
  8. P. George Stewart September 13, 2015, 9:55 am

    Yeah, his parting shot about falsifiability seems to me to to be an obvious sign that he hasn’t actually read your book, only skimmed it, and then zeroed in on a bit that particularly caught his attention. Had he actually read the book, he couldn’t possibly have made that comment in good conscience.

    I think, rather than him being deliberately dishonest about you, it’s rather that he has a preconception that it’s rubbish, so he’s not really prepared to treat it seriously and go through it with a fine-toothed comb. (Although I suppose that’s a more general, subtler form of dishonesty, given that he’s writing something like a review.)

    Reply
  9. Tim Bos September 13, 2015, 3:33 pm

    Have you considered the possibility that McGrath is not intentionally trying to deceive his readers (i.e., “lying”), but that the misinformation he is putting out there is simply a result of cognitive dissonance, and that he is actually not fully cognizant of his numerous misreadings and distortions of the facts?

    Reply
    1. I am less and less convinced in general of the “they are just fantastically delusional” hypothesis. Some people I can buy it (David Marshall, for example) but others I no longer can (William Lane Craig, for example).

      McGrath has so consistently misrepresented my arguments, even going out of his way to remove references to scholarship or premises in arguments, and even saying the opposite of what he himself believes, that I can no longer believe he is insane. He is a liar.

      Cognitive Dissonance might be the motivation for his lying, but I don’t see any evidence that he is, for example, “negatively hallucinating” away the reference to Achtemeier in my treatment of the miracle sequences, or “negatively hallucinating” away the fact that my argument for the possible use of targums is actually that of Chilton, or “negatively hallucinating” away all the scholars I cite as having developed the actual mythmaking criteria I am using (and thus “hallucinating” that I made them up instead), or “negatively hallucinating” away an entire page long argument for my conclusion that the Jairus episode was fiction and saying it was instead just a presumption, or “negatively hallucinated” away all the mainstream peer reviewed scholarship I relied on, and all the views of all the leading mainstream interpreters of the Gospels today (including his own views, as he now revealed in his reply!), or “negatively hallucinated” away all the times I conceded there might be historical facts in the Gospels and that the problem was our inability to show any are there beyond 50/50 odds, or “negatively hallucinated” away the dozens of times I discussed the symbolic interpretation intended by the authors (and instead claiming I never did and basing an entire argument on the absence of my having repeatedly done this); or that he “hallucinated” Barr making an argument that he didn’t (but in fact nearly the opposite), or that he “hallucinated” it as being a discussion of the current state of the field rather than the state of it nearly half a century ago.

      And indeed, one might suppose he missed all my repeated explanations of the absence of any conspiracy thinking required in my discussion of the evidence being problematized only if you adopt the conclusion that he lied about actually reading my book. And even then, how can one explain his claim that the things he mentions (that Christians destroyed evidence, let evidence vanish, altered evidence, and forged evidence) entail specious conspiracy thinking, when he well knows (his actual real belief is) that all those things are true, and are the mainstream view of the matter (as shown from Ehrman’s Forged and beyond)? To say that this requires specious conspiracy thinking is a lie. And he knows it is a lie.

      McGrath cannot be this wildly insane. Therefore, he is a liar. There is no other possibility.

      Reply
    1. Correct, that article is antiquated. But it also doesn’t discuss scholarship today. It only discusses the use of allegory in ancient writing and interpretation (entirely positively, BTW), and never addresses the composition of the Gospels. It in fact says not one thing relevant to McGrath’s point. I charitably took this as simply his providing a reference to explaining what allegorism is, and not as backing his claim that it was disdained in the field today (since it never discusses modern views).

      Reply
  10. wilsoncole September 14, 2015, 4:41 pm

    Mr. Carrier,

    People waste a lot of time arguing about things that are not at all essential to the truth or falsehood of the gospels.

    I read about you and your work and I have to wonder:

    If the gospels, and perhaps the entire bible, are myths, why do they contain principles that are, without a doubt, infallible?

    Seeing that all humans are prone to error and quite fallible, how on earth did infallible principles find their way into a book full of myths?

    Reply
    1. I share Dr. Carrier’s interest in any examples you can cite, because that will tell me what you actually mean, which I’m not sure of at this point. Still gonna bet in advance that (1) we’ll also be able to find the same or similar “infallible principles” in pagan literature and (2) if the principles are infallible, it won’t prove that the rest of the Bible is infallible anymore than Pilate being a real person in history proves that Adam and Eve were, too.

      Reply
    2. I’m also interested in what you define as “infallible principles”. I assume you mean good things in the bible that secular people and people of other religions almost unanimously agree are good things. Specifically, things like the golden rule, help the poor, do not murder, all of which are good things even if you were to find them in a tabloid newspaper. Remember that any mythical tale, or any piece of fiction, can have good things that seem infallible. For instance, the “with great power comes great responsibility” principle seems pretty infallible to me, even if it comes from a fictional comic book. I will add that the bible’s “terrible principles” to “good principles” ratio is a bit too high for my ethics, but that doesn’t mean the good stuff in the bible is bad.

      Reply
    3. wilsoncole September 16, 2015, 7:09 pm

      Sir, I am interested in a civil discourse and hope to avoid being required to respond to sarcasm and personal insult.
      Let me explain my perspective – the Christian perspective:
      The Bible is God’s set of instructions to believers only. The Hebrew scriptures were never available to pagan nations nor were they interested in and expected to live by its directives.
      A principle is defined as “a general or fundamental truth: a comprehensive and fundamental law, doctrine, or assumption on which others are based or from which others are derived.” (Webster’s Third New International Dictionary)

      But this is not a Biblical principle.
      Biblical principles are living, essential truths, and wise Christians learn to love them.

      There are fundamental directives in the Bible that cover a variety of situations and aspects of life. That reveals that the God of the bible has our eternal benefit in view.
      These principles have a bearing on our relationship with him and with fellow humans, our worship, and our everyday lives.
      I came across this article and it expresses the idea much better than I can:
      “God provides principles related to our dealings with fellow humans, such as the Golden Rule:
      “All things, therefore, that you want men to do to you, you also must likewise do to them.” (Matthew 7:12; Galatians 6:10;
      As to everyday aspects of our life, the apostle Paul says to believers: “Whether you are eating or drinking or doing anything else, do all things for God’s glory.” (1 Corinthians 10:31)

      How do principles differ from laws?
      Principles provide the basis for laws. Rules, which tend to be specific, may be for some particular time or situation, but principles are timeless. (Psalm 119:111)

      Divine principles do not become outdated or pass away.
      The inspired words of the prophet Isaiah prove true:
      “The green grass has dried up, the blossom has withered; but as for the word of our God, it will last to time indefinite.”—Isaiah 40:8.

      Having a firm grasp of such basic principles can help us to understand and apply more specific directives. Furthermore, if we do not thoroughly comprehend and accept basic principles, we might not be able to make sound decisions and our faith may be easily shaken. (Ephesians 4:14)

      If we fix such principles in our mind and heart, we will be ready to use them in making decisions. When we apply them with understanding, they bring success.—Joshua 1:8; Proverbs 4:1-9.

      Discerning and applying Bible principles is not as easy as following a set of laws. As imperfect humans we may shy away from the effort required to reason on principles. We may prefer the convenience of a rule when we are faced with a decision or a dilemma.

      We might be given or receive a specific rule that applies to our situation by a friend or instructor. Yet, the Bible or Bible-based publications may not provide a definite rule, and even if we are given one, it might not be a blanket guide for all times and under all circumstances.
      “Keep your eyes open and guard against every sort of covetousness.” Thus Jesus provided a guideline or principle that was useful back then and remains so now.—Luke 12:13-15.

      You have probably seen people who are inclined to obey laws grudgingly, out of fear of a penalty. Respect for principles precludes such an attitude. The very nature of principles moves those governed by them to respond from the heart.

      In fact, most principles do not involve an immediate punishment for those not conforming to them. This gives us the opportunity to reveal why we obey Jehovah, what our heart motivation is.

      Today, Christians want to be guided by Jehovah’s principles when it comes to personal matters, such as choice of associates, entertainment, music, and reading material. (1 Corinthians 15:33; Philippians 4:8)

      As we grow in knowledge, understanding, and appreciation of Jehovah and his standards, our conscience, our moral sense, will help us to apply divine principles under whatever circumstances we face, even in very private matters.”
      (WT 02 4/15 p.12)
      Guided by Bible principles, believers will not look for loopholes in God’s laws; nor will they imitate those who try to see how far they can go without actually breaking a certain law. They realize that such thinking is self-defeating and harmful.—James 1:22-25.

      Let me say in advance, that biblical principles are not duplicated anywhere else in literature and their infallibility can be verified. Efforts to prove them fallible will not succeed.
      INFALLIBLE
      Those who apply biblical principles in their lives cannot fail to live meaningful lives.
      Failure comes when we do not apply them. Application of Matthew 7:12 can eliminate warfare, etc.
      Jehovah never leaves his people without guidance on a daily basis.
      An infallible principle is found here:
      “. . .By their fruits you will recognize them. Never do people gather grapes from thorns or figs from thistles, do they? Likewise, every good tree produces fine fruit, but every rotten tree produces worthless fruit. A good tree cannot bear worthless fruit, nor can a rotten tree produce fine fruit… Really, then, by their fruits you will recognize those men.”
      (Matthew 7:16-20)
      Others are:
      Matthew 7:12
      1 Corinthians 13:1-8
      Romans 12:17-20
      Eccl. 5:10
      Here’s another:
      “. . .For the love of money is a root of all sorts of injurious things and by reaching out for this love some have been led astray from the faith and have stabbed themselves all over with many pains.” (1 Timothy 6:10)
      And countless others
      Sir, if I say or do something that you do not like, just say so and it will be rectified. I have no need of conflict.

      Reply
      1. I’m a bit perplexed by all this tinfoil hat.

        “The Hebrew scriptures were never available to pagan nations” — Um, yeah they were.

        “Nor were they interested in and expected to live by its directives” — Except, um, all the ones who did.

        “God provides principles related to our dealings with fellow humans, such as the Golden Rule” — Except, that didn’t come from God.

        “Divine principles do not become outdated or pass away” — This is a tautology.

        “Yet, the Bible or Bible-based publications may not provide a definite rule, and even if we are given one, it might not be a blanket guide for all times and under all circumstances.” — There are no times or circumstances in which slavery is good. Therefore, the Bible is evil.

        “Let me say in advance, that biblical principles are not duplicated anywhere else in literature” — Yes they are. Everything in the Bible that is ethically true, is found in literature outside the Bible, either preceding it or uninfluenced by it.

        “…their infallibility can be verified…Those who apply biblical principles in their lives cannot fail to live meaningful lives.” — Fallacy of Denying the Antecedent. … Also, um, based on what study?

        “By their fruits you will recognize them. Never do people gather grapes from thorns or figs from thistles, do they? Likewise, every good tree produces fine fruit, but every rotten tree produces worthless fruit. A good tree cannot bear worthless fruit, nor can a rotten tree produce fine fruit.” — Since all people produce both, your principle is empirically refuted. Therefore, not infallible.

        Since none of this has anything to do with the historical Jesus, I’ll just yawn now.

        Reply
  11. Tom Higgins September 16, 2015, 1:30 pm

    I think a correction to the first item [Ignoring My Book] above is warranted. Please note though that even if McGrath was *not* saying that “no one of these criteria is sufficient to identify a narrative as mythical but the presence of all three is conclusive”, he fails entirely to address the points you were making – characteristics of a myth.

    This coming out of a discussion over at McGrath’s blogs, which I reproduce below in full:

    Tom Higgins • 2 days ago
    Could you please give examples from what Dr. Carrier wrote that would demonstrate his dishonesty as taken from your title? (I was asking McGrath initially)

    Thanks

    This Guy–> Tom Higgins • 2 days ago

    I don’t know if McGrath is still reading these comments, so I will offer an example. Carrier writes…

    My favorite example: McGrath complains that when I define three criteria that are markers of myth writing, I’m making a big mistake because no one of them is sufficient to entail a text is a myth…completely ignoring that I say exactly that, in the text he claims to be reading.

    As Godfrey sums it up:
    Ignoring Carrier’s point that “no one of these criteria is sufficient to identify a narrative as mythical but the presence of all three is conclusive” McGrath proceeds to “protest” that “no one of these criteria is sufficient to identify a narrative as mythical”.

    I find this to be disrespectful and insulting. McGrath is pretending I didn’t say exactly what he is saying, and pretending that therefore he has a legitimate critique of what I said. McGrath therefore has no actual rebuttal to what I said.
    Godfrey puts the second “no one of these criteria is sufficient to identify a narrative as mythical” in quotes, as if McGrath had written it. Not only does Carrier cite Godfrey’s misleading quote, he affirms that McGrath said what Godfrey purported he said. I thought this was the most damning piece of Carrier’s argument until I actually read what McGrath had written and discovered that Godfrey’s claim that “McGrath proceeds to “protest” that “no one of these criteria is sufficient to identify a narrative as mythical”” was an invention of a quote to (mis)characterize what McGrath had written.

    More generally, Carrier’s problem is that he not only assumes the least charitable interpretation of what McGrath has written, but he proceeds to indignantly condemn McGrath for it. That is probably an effective debate technique, but it is piss-poor scholarly behavior.

    2

    Tom Higgins–> This Guy • a day ago

    Thanks TGuy,

    McGrath quotes Carrier as saying the following:

    “Characteristics of myth are (1) strong and meaningful emulation of prior myths (or even of real events);…”

    McGrath responds to this point with the following sentence:

    “Since similarity between real events and other real events is not at all unlikely, and on the contrary well-documented, the first alleged characteristic of myth simply doesn’t work.”

    Carrier statement is speaking about characteristics of *myth*, not characteristics of real events. Carrier did not say that similarity between real events are unlikely.

    Further McGrath does not inform readers that there is footnote to the section he is quoting. The footnote in full is as follows:

    “13. For the logic underlying this, see Carrier, Proving History, pp. 114-17 (for emulation as a signature: 192-204; for improbable events as a signature: 177-79; and for when missing corroboration can be a signature: 117-19).”

    The footnote points readers to where Carrier elaborate and offer reasons for the three (3) characteristics of myth. I would expect that it would be the arguments found here that would be discussed by McGrath.

    McGrath then jumps to the third “characteristics of myth”, which Carrier states “(3) the absence of external corroboration of key (rather than peripheral) elements (because a myth can incorporate real people and places, but the central character or event will still be fictional).”

    He says “The third point is equally problematic, not only because it is unclear what “external corroboration” entails (external to one literary work and confirmed in another, or external to the entire tradition in question?),”…

    Again, the footnote goes into detail about what “external collaboration entails”. So McGrath was not aware of the footnote or he was aware of it and failed to mention it to his readers.

    McGrath does not define for the benefit of the reader what are the characteristics of a myth as he sees it. I doubt if he thinks that myths do not have any characteristics.

    This Guy–> Tom Higgins • a day ago
    I appreciate the time you took to lay this out. Did McGrath misapprehend Carrier, or provide a logically fallacious response to his argument? I don’t know. Maybe so. And if so, Carrier would obviously be justified in pointing it out.

    But the problem I referenced was not about the merits of their arguments. It was about Carrier reproducing and affirming a claim that McGrath had said something that McGrath did not say. When I read Carrier’s piece, before reading McGrath’s piece, I was under the impression that McGrath had actually written “no one of these criteria is sufficient to identify a narrative as mythical”. When I discovered that, despite the sentence being in quotes, he did not write that, but that it was instead a least-charitable-paraphrase of what he wrote, I thought that was extremely misleading. Even if the characterization was accurate, putting it in quotes as if McGrath had actually written that sentence is unequivocally inappropriate.

    You seem to be correct about this. After you pointed it out to me I rechecked. Will direct Carrier to our discussion here.

    McGrath did *not* in fact say what the quote(quote of quote actually) implied he said in that instance.

    Reply
    1. …even if McGrath was *not* saying [X] … he fails entirely to address the points you were making…

      This actually describes almost the entirety of his review. He assiduously avoids ever discussing what my actual argument is, or on what it is based, in any instance he comments on. He instead says something else that is irrelevant to the actual content of my book. Without telling anyone that he is doing this.

      However…

      [Other guy said]

      Godfrey puts the second “no one of these criteria is sufficient to identify a narrative as mythical” in quotes, as if McGrath had written it. Not only does Carrier cite Godfrey’s misleading quote, he affirms that McGrath said what Godfrey purported he said. I thought this was the most damning piece of Carrier’s argument until I actually read what McGrath had written and discovered that Godfrey’s claim that “McGrath proceeds to “protest” that “no one of these criteria is sufficient to identify a narrative as mythical”” was an invention of a quote to (mis)characterize what McGrath had written.

      That is not a mis-characterization. That is how McGrath proceeds to argue. Although, maybe he doesn’t know how logic works? It’s possible that McGrath didn’t realize that my words mean (because they explicitly say) that you have to look at the accumulation of criteria and not each one in isolation. I’ll add a note granting that possibility. But here your communicator seems to think I included this in McGrath’s lies. I did not. I only list it as incompetent and insulting (that he ignores my actual argument). Only afterward do I then begin cataloging his lies.

      So it’s weird for this fellow to think this point was the most damning. To the contrary, what follows is vastly more damning. This was just embarrassing.

      [Other guy said]

      More generally, Carrier’s problem is that he not only assumes the least charitable interpretation of what McGrath has written, but he proceeds to indignantly condemn McGrath for it. That is probably an effective debate technique, but it is piss-poor scholarly behavior.

      It’s rich to see someone say that of my accurate presentation, but not realize I was correctly saying exactly the same thing of McGrath’s.

      I actually show several time McGrath claimed I said the opposite of what I said, or concealed what I said that rebutted what he said, or left out key and crucial data that would substantially alter his case. This is not being uncharitable. These are things McGrath actually did. And that I documented him doing.

      But yes, your other observations are likewise apt!

      Reply
  12. John MacDonald September 16, 2015, 3:26 pm

    I think it’s 50/50 as to whether a mythic pericope in the gospels leads back to an historical Jesus or not:

    (1) Perhaps the gospel writer was just rewriting an Old Testament story, and there was no historical core.

    or:

    (2) In the synagogue, the Jews of Jeus’ time heard scriptures read, taught, discussed, or expounded. The vast majority of first century people could not read. So people didn`t own bibles. The Jews had access to their sacred stories in the synagogue. The memory of the historical Jesus would have there been recalled, restated, and passed on (in the synagogue). This would have shaped stories told about the historical Jesus to reflect The Old Testament stories. And the gospel stories may also be shaped in terms of Jewish liturgy. The crucifixion may be shaped against the passover. The transfiguration echoes Hanukkah. Many things are reminiscent of Rosh Hashanah. So, as it says in Acts, they would have read from the Torah, then from the former prophets (Joshua through Kings), and finally from the latter prohets (Isaiah through Malachi). At that point the synagogue leader would ask if anyone would like to bring any message or experience that might illumine the readings. So followers of Jesus would have then recalled their memories of Him which that Sabbath elicited. This is what Paul does in Acts (13:16b-41). They went through this process for about forty years during The Oral Period before the gospels were written. Through this process of myth-making, Allusions to the Old Testament, religious celebrations, political ideas, and the like would have all been mixed in to the stories about the historical Jesus until historical memory and mythic fantasy became inseparable.

    It seems to me there is no way to tell whether a mythic pericope has an historical or not, so that the presence of a mythic pericope isn’t evidence for or against the existence of Jesus.

    Reply
    1. I think it’s 50/50 as to whether a mythic pericope in the gospels leads back to an historical Jesus or not

      Indeed. I say basically that very thing in my Chapter 10. If it’s 50/50, then it’s evidence for neither hypothesis.

      That’s why I conclude my chapter on the Gospels that they do not increase the probability of the mythicist thesis. (Only one exception I discuss separately in Chapter 6.)

      Yes. McGrath failed to tell you that, too.

      Reply

Add a Comment (For Patrons & Select Persons Only)