Monday, January 31, 2011
For the record, let me note again that I don’t think Gundry’s thesis is solid. While I don’t back him on particulars, I am with him on concept.
Where we begin to engage the CT article is with this comment:
Writing in the current issue of the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, Norman Geisler, professor of systematic theology at Dallas Theological Seminary and the chief organizer of the effort to expel Gundry from ETS membership, rejects midrash in the Bible. "Any hermeneutical or theological method the logically necessary consequences of which are contrary to or undermine confidence in the complete truthfulness of all of Scripture is unorthodox," Geisler argues.
I have a certain amount of respect for Geisler, but I have to say that this just doesn’t add up. The main problem is (again) that it doesn’t regard anything but literal historical narrative as “truthful” reportage. But this is precisely the premise that is being questioned. The social and cultural values of the Biblical world were such that a literary production could act as a sort of coded message to report an entirely different truth than what one would get if a text were read as historical narrative.
The implied threat of undermined confidence is one I’d also dispute. On the contrary, what is undermining confidence is our refusal to face and discuss interpretation of the Bible as though it were anything but the product of modern, Western literalism. If this sort of thing is not heard from us, it will be heard from someone like Crossan or Borg, who will deliver this message in a way that will do a great deal more to undermine confidence in Scripture than if we presented it ourselves.
What’s rather interesting as well from this article is who is named on each side of the issue. On Gundry’s side we have people like Richard Longenecker and Alan Johnson, who are also Biblical scholars. On Geisler’s side we have people like James Boice (a pastor), Harold Lindsell (whose primary job in life had been as editor of Christianity Today), Roger Nicole (who was primarily a theologian) and Merrill Tenney (a professor of Old Testament). It seems interesting that the opposition is headed by persons whose interests and specialties are – unlike Gundry and Longenecker – not in the critical topics of the New Testament, and that some are not even serious Biblical scholars.
I also find this curious:
Geisler had clearly done his homework carefully. The evening before, he circulated a document, "Why We Must Vote Now on Gundry's Membership, and Why We Must Vote No on Gundry's Membership." He hinted that if the ETS did not remove Gundry, a new "International Theological Society" would be formed to "take the doctrine of inerrancy seriously."
Here again, the same assumption emerges: Only those who understand inerrancy in modern, Western terms are taking the doctrine “seriously” – which is again the very point at issue. In contrast, I would say that if we fail to define inerrancy in a way that Biblical writers would have understood the concept, it is we who are not taking it seriously, but are rather creating problems that will eventually come home to roost as it is realized that certain answers to apologetics questions simply aren’t satisfactory.
The article from CT was written in 1984 and I have purposely not looked for anything further on this issue so that I can address further developments from an objective and historical perspective. My sense is that many evangelicals have moved on from this restrictive position, while fewer and fewer have stuck by the “stricter” Western approach – perhaps because many of the luminaries who promoted it (like Lindsell and Boice) have since that time passed away. We’ll have a special post tomorrow, then return to this series on Wednesday.
CT article here
Saturday, January 29, 2011
Friday, January 28, 2011
In that sense the likeness of Gundry’s “midrash” solution to my own example yesterday, with respect to the death of Judas, is manifest. Moo’s descriptions of Gundry’s answer as “reorienting our conception of what Matthew was doing” and that Matthew “never intended that all the events he narrates be understood as historical in the modern sense” could just as ably describe my solution to the Judas problem. Finally, I too would maintain that “charges of error are unfounded” if Matthew’s intention was not to relate strict narrative history. So, if Moo critiques Gundry on philosophical and doctrinal grounds, any criticisms will apply as ably to my answer and require me to offer a defense. Although my idea is not as radical or as sweeping as Gundry’s -- he takes Matthew as a wholesale midrash, whereas I find such instances to be isolated -- it would be open to the same basic criticisms.
But as it turns out, there isn’t much criticism to be had that would apply to my thesis. Initially, Moo acknowledges the identifying the “inerrant meaning of a Scriptural passage within the parameters of its literary genre” as sound practice and says, “If Gundry is right, the accuracy of Matthew’s interpretation of Jesus cannot be assessed by modern historical standards. It is not, then, because of any theological conviction than I must criticize the approach Gundry has taken…” He then proceeds to criticize Gundry on grounds that would have no bearing on what I offer with regard to Judas: E.g., Gundry takes certain source-critical theories for granted; he regards too many word as distinctive to Matthew; he critiques Gundry on points regarding “the nature of Matthew’s editorial work.” Moo also critiques Gundry for a leap in reasoning from “Matthean theological emphasis” to “Matthean creativity” – much as we have criticized authors like Randel Helms and Dennis MacDonald for their theories. None of these considerations would have any application to my presentation regarding the death of Judas.
It is not until Moo is 2/3 of the way along that anything of any bearing comes to pass. He writes, “Only two factors appear to constitute genuine objections to the historicity of gospel events: contradiction in the accounts, and obvious anachronisms.” The matter of Judas’ death, of course, would be considered an example of the former. At this point, if any criticism on the grounds of inerrancy were to appear, we’d expect to see it. But none is to be found. Instead, Moo points out that Gundry does not admit to reasonable harmonizations, and later acknowledges that “Gundry’s identification of Matthew’s gospel as a midrash must be assessed on its own merits.” To this we heartily agree. Moo also notes how variably “midrash” is defined in the scholarly literature, which in turn makes it more difficult to identify an item of literature as midrash. I’d agree to this as well: I am not even sure my example of Judas’ death would be called “midrashic” or that I would even term it in some genre-related fashion. It is, generally, a technique involving allusion; that is all that I would put forward as certain.
Following this, Moo’s criticism regards how Gundry supposes readers would have recognized what Matthew was doing. For me, the recognition would be triggered by the allusion to Ahithophel. There are more criticisms after this specific to Gundry’s technique and method, but none would apply to my own findings – and as far as can be seen, inerrancy is never mentioned as a reason to reject Gundry’s thesis.
So, it seems that although someone recommended Moo’s article in the context of showing that regarding Matthew as midrash was contrary to inerrancy doctrine, it seems that this is not true at all.
Under the circumstances, my next move will be to see if I can find any other relevant criticisms from other parties. As this may take some time, my next Ticker entry will likely be a break from this series, and will continue again on Tuesday if needed.
Thursday, January 27, 2011
1) The doctrine of inerrancy, as it is frequently explained, is sometimes made unnecessarily demanding by an understanding of “error” in modern, Western, precision-literalist terms.
2) While eminently defensible, we do not need to make Biblical inerrancy harder to defend than it actually is.
The inspiration for these next few days’ postings have come of a brouhaha that has occurred of late in which accusations were delivered that evangelical scholar Robert Gundry is compromising inerrancy with his assertion that Matthew’s Gospel is reporting in certain portions (the birth narratives) not literal history, but midrash. I will say to begin that I do not think Gundry’s specific thesis is correct. However, I have offered similar ideas myself, as for example regarding the resolution of accounts of the death of Judas in Matthew and Acts. Here is what I said on that matter:
However, I would now opt for the idea that this is an example of Matthew's creative use of an OT "type". This would combine the idea that Matthew is not actually describing Judas' death, with Matthew's use of the OT texts as typologies.
Audrey Conrad, in "The Fate of Judas" (Toronto Journal of Theology  1992), notes that Matthew's unique words "departed" and "hanged himself" are found in combination in another place in the LXX:
2 Samuel 17:23 And when Ahithophel saw that his counsel was not followed, he saddled his ass, and arose, and gat him home to his house, to his city, and put his household in order, and hanged himself, and died, and was buried in the sepulchre of his father.
Conrad notes that rabbinic interpretation of Ps. 41:9 ("Yea, mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, which did eat of my bread, hath lifted up his heel against me.") thought that Ahithophel was the traitor David was describing -- and of course this same verse was applied by Jesus to Judas (John 13:18).
Conrad still thinks there are not enough parallels (!) but we would maintain that the parallels are sufficient, and that Matthew is indeed alluding to the traitor Ahithophel in this passage, and is therefore NOT telling us that Judas indeed hanged himself, but that Judas fulfilled the "type" of Ahithophel by being a traitor who responded with grief and then died. Matthew is thereby making no statement at all about Judas' mode of death, and Luke's "swelling up" stands alone as a specific description of what happened.
The difficulty here is that those accustomed to a Western, precision-literalist understanding on inerrancy will frequently find this sort of answer objectionable, and say that I am somehow accusing Matthew of “lying” or “erring” in his report. But this is a response that assumes (again) the very sort of precision-literalist reading that I am saying is NOT present in the text.
Put it this way. As it now stands, the NIV reads:
So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself.
My thesis here, following Conrad, is that a reader of Matthew would recognize the allusion and understand this to literally mean:
So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he died a death worthy of that traitor Ahithophel.
In short, “went and hanged himself” is an allusion to Ahithophel, and Matthew’s literal message in this allusion is not about the mode of Judas’ death, but is saying something about Judas as one who acted in history in a way similar to Ahithophel. In this, Matthew is engaging in the practice of highlighting what are called “probabilities” – as I have said in another context:
Malina and Neyrey report in Portraits of Paul [89-90] that one form of support for testimony was "probabilities" -- verification from general experience.
Rhetoriticians noted that when setting forth a statement to a judge or jury, orators should "pay attention to the question of whether he will find his hearers possessed of a personal knowledge of the things of which he is speaking, as that is the sort of statement they are most likely to believe." An appeal to common experience was always helpful to aid in understanding.
When Bible stories follow typical forms, they do so for this very purpose. Using words and phrases from the Old Testament accomplished a similar purpose. Material is phrased in such a way as to appear verifiable from experience. Of course this again says nothing about historicity, but it gives ancient writers every motive to report what they say, true or false, in terms recognizable from previous experience.
It would be my contention that such views are no threat to an informed, contextual understanding of inerrancy. However, it is readily apparent that some wedded to a Western notion of how texts are to be read will find such concepts threatening if not outright offensive. Our next few postings will take a closer look at this, and evaluate how the doctrine of inerrancy is interpreted and applied by some modern writers.
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Chua’s native Chinese culture is of course not an exact match for the Biblical world, but that’s not quite the point. I cal upon such native witnesses as much to open minds as to draw analogies. Too many – whether Skeptic or Christian – assume that Western thoughts and values are a) universal, and b) if they’re not, it’s because everyone else hasn’t caught up yet. That isn’t the case at all.
I won’t spoil the fun by quoting the article extensively, but its main focus is on how different parenting is from one cultural situation to the next – especially when it comes to education. I’ll just select a point that relate to apologetics issues I have discussed:
Chinese parents can get away with things that Western parents can't. Once when I was young—maybe more than once—when I was extremely disrespectful to my mother, my father angrily called me "garbage" in our native Hokkien dialect. It worked really well. I felt terrible and deeply ashamed of what I had done. But it didn't damage my self-esteem or anything like that. I knew exactly how highly he thought of me. I didn't actually think I was worthless or feel like a piece of garbage.
As an adult, I once did the same thing to [my daughter], calling her garbage in English when she acted extremely disrespectfully toward me. When I mentioned that I had done this at a dinner party, I was immediately ostracized. One guest named Marcy got so upset she broke down in tears and had to leave early. My friend Susan, the host, tried to rehabilitate me with the remaining guests.
This is not only an illustration of honor and shame and how it works differently – it’s also a fairly good example of why we shouldn’t be so judgmental about Biblical texts that seem as offensive to us. (Chua rightly notes that “Western parents are extremely anxious about their children's self-esteem” whereas Chinese parents “assume strength, not fragility…” That is one assumption we can be sure held true in the Bible’s agonistic world as well.)
For extra amusement, read some of the (sometimes bigoted) comments by some of the shocked Westerners reading the article. They sound an aeful lot like fundy atheists at times.
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
Part 2B to 4
Part 5 to 8
Part 9 to close
Maybe one of these days the Christ-myth camp will produce something intellectually challenging...but I wouldn't miss your next medical appointment waiting for it.
Monday, January 24, 2011
Ch 9 is just more of the same as before: A collection of past-refuted canards. Here Fitzgerald offers the theme of early Christian diversity, which is accomplished either by vastly overstating the significance of divisions related in the NT, or by giving credence to fringe, late expressions like the Gospel of Thomas. Fitzgerald also offers the standard error of dating the Acts 15 conference before Gal 2. Most of the rest is simply repetition of arcane theories from Zindler and Price, which we have addressed in various places; two particular oddities come of a treatment of the hymn of Phil. 2:8-11:
And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Price is noted as saying that “even death on a cross” was not part of this hymn originally, because it “interrupts the meter of the rest.” That’s quite all right and may even be true, but it goes too far to then deduce that this means early Christians didn’t believe Jesus died on a cross! Besides, what about Phil. 3:18?
Additionally, the early Christ-myther Couchoud is noted as arguing that:
1) The Son was given at death “the name above every name”.
2) “Lord” is not a name, but “Jesus” is.
3) Therefore, this hymn says that God gave his son the name “Jesus” after death, and this in turn is “fatal to the historicity of Jesus.”
No, I don’t see anything but an enormous non sequitur here, either. For one thing, even if this did say the name “Jesus” was bestowed on the death of Jesus, it does not thereby follow that he was not a historical person. The giving of a name at death doesn’t make a person non-historical. Second, Couchoud’s reading is idiosyncratic and neglects the point that “the Lord” is a circumlocution for YHWH in the OT. For that reason, “the Lord” is not merely a title, but also, in effect, a name. (See Witherington’s commentary on Philippians, p. 68.) One wonders why Fitzgerald is using someone like Couchoud as a source when there are so many more qualified and recent commentaries available.
In Fitzgerald’s end matter, he discusses some of the secular sources, and here we will again treat one point as exemplary. For Tacitus, Fitzgerald spends most of the entry remarking on how absurd it would be to suppose that Tacitus would rifle through so many documents just for a casual mention of Jesus in some archive. That’s a “does not follow” in a few ways. For one, Tacitus was a competent enough researcher that he would know where exactly to look among records for what he needed; he wouldn’t need to rifle through “thousands” of documents.
That said, as I note in my article on Tacitus there were plenty of other potential written sources aside from a record of the crucifixion. For my part, I think Jesus’ existence and death was common knowledge and that Tacitus did not need to do any digging to find out what he reported in Annals 15.44. However, if he did lack any knowledge, he would have done what was necessary to check it and be sure it was accurate – that is shown by his nature and performance as a historian. Fitzgerald prefers to see Tacitus as merely asking Pliny or relying on Christian testimony, but as shown in the article, that severely underestimates Tacitus.
Thus we close our treatment of Nailed. I had estimated that this book would have nothing new in it, and I was even more correct on that count than I anticipated. Nailed seems to be little more than a rather vain attempt to win the “prize” awarded by Salm’s mythicist committee of himself, Price, Zindler, and Doherty by way of appeal to what the intended audience wanted to hear. It’s unfortunate for Fitzgerald that he didn’t win the prize – but nor did he provide what could be regarded as a winning effort.
Friday, January 21, 2011
For that reason, all we’ll have today is a few examples from Chs. 5-7 of the sort of poor arguments Fitzgerald is offering, adding in anything we recognize as new to us (which is not much). Ch. 8 we will not bother with past this paragraph at all – it’s little more than a summary presentation of Earl Doherty’s “silence” argument, and needless to say, Fitzgerald shows no signs of having interacted with any criticisms of this thesis, much less any familiarity with the critical concepts of high and low context.
Chapter 5, “The gospels offer a consistent picture of Jesus” – main focus is to claim that Gospel portraits of Jesus are too different to all be true. In the main this is argued by either misinterpreting differences, or by refusing to recognize options as not mutually exclusive. Examples of misinterpretation include the “messianic secret” motif (which is badly misunderstood) and Matthew 27:46, and there are also a selection of the usual canards of contradiction, such as concerning the death of Judas.
Chapter 6, “History confirms the gospels,” is substantially a collection of canards about the trial of Jesus and from the bibliography, it is clear that few sources were used and that Haim Cohn (one of the sources we refute) was given inordinate credence. The one new objection I found is derived from Price, and claims Paul is in error to call the Pharisees the “strictest” sect of Judaism (Acts 26:5), for the Essenes were more strict. That’s a matter of opinion either way – whether Price’s or Paul’s – so it’s absurd to claim this is an erroneous statement; beyond that, the Pharisees would regard the Essenes as a deviant group, especially for their failure to support the Temple cultus. For this alone, Paul’s opinion holds a great deal more weight than Price’s, speaking over 2000 years later.
Chapter 7, “Archaeology confirms the gospels,” despite the title hardly mentions archaeology and is again mostly about problems in the text, though this time pride of place is given to McDonald’s Homeric epics thesis, which has rightly died an ignominious death from being ignored. Plus there are a host of refuted canards such as Joseph of Arimathea being a myth and hailing to Bart Ehrman on textual corruptions (while quietly ignoring his points of caution). Fitzgerald’s grasp of textual criticism is remarkably dim, and he falls for the typical trap of failing to judge the NT in comparative terms.
So it is: We’ll close with our assessment next week.
Thursday, January 20, 2011
By now I have read ahead in Nailed and made an unsurprising discovery – this book is little more than a roster of many standard canards that have been refuted before. So our treatment will speed up after this point, and since this is indeed all there is to Nailed, from here on we’ll provide a list of refuting links at the end of postings, only addressing arguments that might be regarded as unique and not repeating links from prior posts, and providing notes of arguments exemplary of the failures of the volume.
The rest of chapter 2 is devoted to a resuscitation of parts of Remsberg’s List, and while we are glad to see that Fitzgerald doesn’t use all of it (he leaves out such obvious non-starters as Columella), that he uses it at all is bad enough.
In some cases Fitzgerald goes off topic to ask why writers do not mention Christianity, which has nothing to do with why they do not mention Jesus. Here Fitzgerald fails to consider that Christianity was still considered a sect of Judaism by many writers, so that expecting Christianity to be mentioned separately is a case of misplaced expectations.
In other cases, as with Gallio and Seneca, or the Slaughter of the Innocents, the problem is the same as we noted in prior postings: Fitzgerald overstates Jesus’ fame as reported in the Gospels (or the impact of an event), and presumes that writers like Seneca would grant instant acceptance to reports about Jesus.
Fitzgerald wrongly designates Philo as a “huge influence…on Christian theology.”  This is incorrect; rather, both Philo and Christian theology were influenced by the same pre-Christian Jewish theology. It might be added that since Philo was mainly a philosophical writer, expecting him to report a wider range of historical events in misguided.
Fitzgerald’s use of Drews to explain why certain portions of Tacitus are missing has been negated by Van Voorst here. His other suggestions of texts missing because Christians were “embarrassed” by lacks of mention of Jesus is simply vain paranoia, especially after Fitzgerald has gone to so much trouble to argue that there are obvious gaps in other works that should have mentioned Jesus. If scribes were so intent on scrubbing these embarrassing portions that lack reference to Jesus, why was Remsberg able to compile his list in the first place?
On Remsberg’s list. Fitzgerald frequently resorts to the sort of vague reasoning used by “Iasion” to argue that Jesus ought to have been mentioned by this or that writer. Yet this is not effective as an argument unless a writers’ treatment of such subjects as “gods” or “sacred teachings” is purported to be exhaustive. Fitzgerald does not go into anything like enough detail to justify claims that someone like Athenaeus ought to have mentioned Jesus or the Christians.
See the June 2009 issue of the E-Block regarding the Paul-Seneca correspondence.
We can close this post by taking care of Chapters 3 and 4 rather quickly, since it’s almost all “old news”.
For Chapter 3 on Josephus, please see Christopher Price’s chapter in Shattering the Christ Myth. I feel rather free to simply give such references to STCM, because it is missing from Fitzgerald’s bibliography – as are many other critical works such as Van Voorst’s.
Chapter 4 is merely a collection of summary claims regarding the inauthenticity of NT books of the sort I have responded to in Trusting the New Testament. Fitzgerald also refers to Marcan priority (though he seems to decline on the existence of Q), and the idea that Luke used Josephus.
One of the more amazing errors in this chapter has Fitzgerald thinking that Peter would not know what a “church” is (Matt. 16:18). The word used, ekklesia, referred to an assembly of persons of a given group and would have been immediately understood to mean those who were followers of Jesus; the equivalent Old Testament concept would have been the assembly of the Lord.
Other claims by Fitzgerald of anachronism or error in the Gospels are equally misinformed; he is even so insensate as to use the absurd Mark 7:31 “geography” error. It is difficult to take Fitzgerald seriously when he displays such amateurism and does not even bother to consult any reputable sources on the subject.
I’ll note in close from Ch. 4 that Fitzgerald picks up on an obscure argument that John’s reference to a catch of 153 fish is some sort of allusion to Pythagoreanism. I looked into this subject some time ago and found that there was no evidence that Pythagoreans had an interest in the number 153 prior to the Christian era. I can’t find my analysis right now, but here’s an analysis by the CADRE.
We’ll see if we can’t finish up on Nailed in the next one or two posts.
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
We continue our look at Carrier's blog on Santa and it's still a
wonder as to how this is to be taken. If atheists are sitting back and
laughing and thinking that they've put the theists in their place,
then I say nothing of the sort has been done. Instead, it's been shown
that apparently some atheists are so bad at comedy that you can't tell
when they're being serious, or it could rather be that they're so bad
at serious argumentation, that you can't tell if it's supposed to be
Anyway, on to the argument from Christmas Miracles with the first premise:
1.Miraculous events have been documented to occur at and around
Christmas (by multiple eyewitnesses and even mechanical recording
devices that never lie, like TV cameras).
Of course, not knowing how to take this, it's hard to determine if we
should ask for documentation or not. It's also difficult to know how
he means us to take recording devices that never lie. True, these
cannot lie since a lie requires intent. However, they can be
manipulated or their content messed with in such a way as to picture
something as happening that never did. (To which, if the resurrection
had taken place in our times, we know skeptics would claim someone was
messing with the video tape.)
2.It is extraordinarily improbable that those miracles occur just by chance.
A miracle by chance is the term that doesn't make sense. If a miracle
means an agent outside of nature has acted in nature, then that is not
by chance but is by some sort of intention. They may seem to be chance
events to us, but they cannot be.
3.It is very probable that they would occur if Santa Claus caused them.
And here, if this is to mock God, I believe the argument is false. If
Santa caused a miracle, it would be very probable that the miracle
occurred? It would not be probable. It would be certain. Of course, we
just need to replace "Santa" with "God" to see how it works. What we
should say is "If a miracle occurs, it is probable some supernatural
agent caused it." (Keeping in mind that the dichotomy really doesn't
exist.) I am fully open to the possibility of a miracle happening
outside of Christian or even Judaistic theism. It could be another
agent like a demon or it could be God giving light to non-Christians.
4. Therefore it is far more probable that Santa Claus caused them than
that random chance did.
Given the backwardness of the last claim, I find this one doesn't
make sense. If God caused a miracle, then we do not say that it is
more probable that God caused a miracle.
5. Therefore it is very probable that Santa Claus exists.
From here, Carrier concludes that Santa exists, but I would argue that
while it could be more probable, you cannot get from a probability to
a certainty. You can only get to greater certainty or maybe beyond a
Again, I just keep wondering how to take this. Carrier gives no clues.
Tuesday, January 18, 2011
While I was recovering from our household mishap last week, some news surfaced regarding the Arizona shooter Jared Loughner and his fondness for the Zeitgeist movie – that online virus which is one part 9/11 conspiracy hatch, one part “the government is out to get you” blather, and one part “Jesus was stolen from pagan copycat” thesis – the latter of which is one of my specialty areas as an apologist.
Some background is in order. I declined to engage Zeitgeist for a long time because I had resolved not to deal in exceptionally foolish material that I had already answered in substance. I had already answered all the “pagan copycat” material in detail years before (as it came from the likes of Acharya S) so I saw no need to give Zeitgeist the credit of a fresh refutation.
My disdain for the film was so great that Nick Peters and a friend of his, Dave Sorrell, even turned it into a sort of prank in which they’d ask me when I planned to refute Zeitgeist. I didn’t, but I did give a few readers permission to use my material in their own refutations, and asked another reader, Jonathan Brown, to provide a refutation for Shattering the Christ Myth. I never did see the film myself until the Christian Research Journal asked me to write an article on it. But when I finally did see it, I found I had been correct – nothing new, nothing I had not refuted before. (See link below for the “hub page” for my series on the pagan copycat myth.)
So, now the story has broken that one of Loughner’s former friends, Zach Osler, has said on an ABC news interview that Loughner had a strong interest in the film. I’ll let he experts in psychology decide to what extent Loughner’s actions were influenced by Zeitgeist; on the surface, with Osler saying Loughner used to watch and talk about it all the time, it doesn’t look too bright for Peter Joseph, the film’s producer, who is doing some rather amusing attempts at damage control over on his website, saying, for example, that Osler hadn’t seen Loughner for two years. Yes, and in that time, Loughner managed to find some OTHER “the government is out to get you” and “pagan copycat” inspiration and forgot all about Zeitgeist. Of course he did.
Situations like this tend to have a chicken and egg conundrum: Did Zeitgeist inspire Loughner, or was he already inspired and looking for confirmation which he found there? I’m not near expert enough to solve this, so again, I’ll leave that to the experts, and my focus will continue to be the same, for whether or not Loughner was inspired by Zeitgeist, it’s arguments are still ribald nonsense – in all three parts. That means I am out to stop anyone being influenced to any extent by it – whether they are inspired to gun down a member of Congress, or leave their Christian faith, or even if it just inspires them to buy bonds, Zeitgeist isn’t a source anyone needs to be basing any decisions on, because it is patently and egregiously false. That’s something Peter Joseph ought to be ashamed of even if Zeitgeist had ended up with only 6 views on YouTube in ten years, and then unceremoniously disappeared.
In the meantime, this is certainly an aspect of the situation we need to hear more about – and I’m all for that, since it seems I can’t bring this issue to the attention of churches by normal routes. Perhaps this will finally convince a few pastors out that that it is time to bring more apologetics to the pulpit!
Nick Peters will have the helm tomorrow for a final post on Carrier’s Christmas post, then we’ll return to Nailed.
Here's an article on the subject which includes a transcript of the interview with Osler.
Pagan copycat series.
Friday, January 14, 2011
There’s a “Beg your pardon?” in this at once: Jesus was wildly famous? Not in the least. I am with those who, like John Meier, find little reason for the gatekeepers of the first century’s history (those we have left) to mention Jesus. In this chapter, Fitzgerald takes two tacks, and we’ll deal with each one in a separate posting. The first tack is to argue that certain events in Jesus’ life “should have made history” but didn’t.
As with the Chapter 1 premise we discussed yesterday, however, this is a non sequitur. Any number of events – whether amazing or mundane – could readily end up attached to persons who are otherwise completely historical. And that is indeed the case. The story of figures ranging from Alexander the Great to Socrates to Stonewall Jackson have been appended with what historians regard as sheer fabrication, with none thereafter reaching for the conclusion that this provides a step towards suggesting that these figures are non-existent. Even if Fitzgerald is right and all of the events he lists did not occur as recorded in the NT, none of this would lend a bit of assistance to a Christ-myth thesis.
And what of those events? Well, it’s a collection that we’ve dealt with again and again – not one shred of news here. So we’ll have some comments to start, and links below.
The Lukan census – contrary to Fitzgerald, scholarship is now turning in the direction of seeing this event as more and more historical. Fitzgerald’s charge that it looks “suspiciously convenient” is one that could be raised against any number of claim; the simple fact is that much history turns on conveniences. In The Collected What If?, a book we reviewed this past week, historians recount a number of “convenient” incidents, such as a fog that just happened to come at the right time to enable Washington to escape capture by British forces, and a taxicab that just happened to hit Winston Churchill not hard enough to kill him. Appeal to a record being “too convenient” is a non-argument that ignores the realities of life and history – especially since Rome did indeed conduct frequent censuses. Certainly people did not stop being born or conceiving babies during those events.
Fitzgerald also appeals to the alleged incongruity of the two nativity accounts, which we have dealt with. He also raises the standard objection about the alleged difficulty of travel for a pregnant Mary, which was also made by Robert Price. Our answers are the same:
First of all, where did the donkey come from? Price is confusing Nativity with New Testament here. (Added note: They more likely walked or perhaps had a wheeled cart.)
Second, this comment does a grave disservice to ancient people. We modern couch-potato Americans who find even a hike to the fridge and back tiring would do well to remember that in the ancient world, with very few exceptions, fitness was paramount to survival. Walking was the usual mode of transport, especially for poor families like Jesus', and there is no reason why even the "most pregnant" woman (even today, in many cases) could not make such a trip.
Third, and as a matter of speculation, if the census journey coincided with a Jewish feast - as I think it may have - then Nazareth would have been deserted, and all of Joseph and Mary's nearby relatives would be out, too. Would you want to be left alone in such circumstances? Would you want to be left alone anyway?
Finally, we must notice that this "stupidity" was not optional. It was a Roman decree with military teeth in it, and travel with a pregnant wife is much simpler than travel with a newly-delivered wife and a suckling infant.
The second event Fitzgerald notes is the slaughter of the innocents. He makes the usual error of supposing that this involved an enormous number of deaths that should have been noticed.
Third, Fitzgerald appeals to Jesus’ supposedly “famous” ministry. But he offers little grounds for arriving at a conclusion that Jesus was “famous,” particularly with those who were literate and capable of reporting. Indeed, Jesus’ “fame” with the poor and downtrodden, in a heavily stratified society like the New Testament world, would be seen as all the more reason for the elite and literate to snub him as an option.
Fitzgerald also notes that Jesus healed certain people who were prominent, like the daughter of a synagogue ruler, but as none of these people left us any records, it is hard to see why this is in any sense meaningful. It is asked, “how is it that [Jesus] wasn’t whisked off to the royal court, or even Rome itself?” 
Fitzgerald can hardly be serious here. What does he think a person like Tacitus or Nero would make of a report that came in that some backwoods Jewish preacher had healed someone? Does he think they would have given it a moment’s notice – even if it happened to be true? Rather, whoever made the report would be dismissed out of hand as deluded, or giving in to Jewish superstitions. Skeptics today certainly do not rush to be healed by Benny Hinn simply because they hear multiple positive testimonies about him!
The next event discussed is Jesus’ triumphal entry. Fitzgerald labors under the assumption that this event was a “momentous occasion” , which it would indeed have been seen by Christians. But as far as writers like Josephus and Tacitus were concerned, this was not a defining moment in Jesus’ career. Rather, the most defining moment for them would be Jesus’ shameful crucifixion as a criminal. The “Triumphal Entry” would be little more to such writers than a tragic farce and an example of precisely why Jesus got himself crucified. Once again, Fitzgerald approaches the text without the proper perspective of Jesus’ contemporaries.
Fitzgerald’s further comment that the Romans “would’ve looked very dimly” on Jesus’ actions, and done something about it at once, also demonstrate a serious lack of perspective. Rome only had a limited number of troops in Judaea, and Jesus entered into town in what was clearly intended to be a peaceful gesture. His followers carried no weapons and were not fomenting rebellion. Given the expense of engagement, a “wait and see” approach is precisely the sort we would expect the Romans to pursue.
Fifth, we have the trial of Jesus, and the least that can be said is that at least Fitzgerald doesn’t appeal to alleged court records that do not actually exist, as many Skeptics do. But he does seriously overplay the trial as an event (eg, calling the arrest “dramatic” when it was doubtful that it was any more or less dramatic than the arrest of any suspected rebel figure, of which there were many) and calling the trial “illegal” (not in the least – see link). As an aside, this last point is an example of precisely Fitzgerald is not to be trusted as a secure source. Countless books have been written on the trial of Jesus, but all we have from him is a mere sentence or so of assertion that assumes that the case is already proven.
Sixth, there is the crucifixion, and although this event is indeed confirmed by several sources (Josephus, Tacitus, Lucian), Fitzgerald resorts to generally vague charges that the Gospels offer the story with different tones, a charge that could also be made for any four biographies of any figure (see link). His only specific charge is the “Passover” canard (see link).
Finally, there is a grouping of miracles, but nothing more than the usual misconceptions. The darkness at the crucifixion is taken to have been seen by the “whole ancient world”  but no such thing is shown in the text and the standard appeals are made to Pliny and Seneca (and others, but these would have even less reason to refer to it). (link) Also, the standard appeal to silence about Matthew’s signs at the crucifixion (link) Finally, the Resurrection and ascension are added to the list as supposed “immediate bombshell(s) on the consciousness of the first-century world,”  which is again a serious lack of perspective: These again are claims that would simply be dismissed as fiction, out of hand, by the likes of Tacitus, even if true – to say nothing of Jesus’ resurrection itself as anachronistic in context (link).
In conclusion, Fitzgerald does little more than haul out arguments that have been refuted repeatedly. While this may have impressed those who judged his book on Rene Salm’s kangaroo committee awarding a prize for the best mythicist book, it is hardly impressive to those who are seriously educated in the subject.
The census – see our summary of the matter
The nativity accounts – Fitzgerald devotes a mere paragraph to this and does not even consider that Matthew and Luke are reporting events two years apart.
Four biographies – as in, four of Lincoln, as I show
Darkness: Two items of relevance here and here
Anachronistic resurrection: Point 3, here
The Ticker will return Tuesday with a guest post, then we will look at more of Nailed on Wednesday.
Thursday, January 13, 2011
As a preface, Nailed itself has apparently impressed the Christ-myth crowd, as there are endorsements from the high rankers of the set, including Earl Doherty, Robert Price, Frank Zindler and Richard Carrier. Of course, that’s also a fair sign that Nailed is a failure in what it proposes, since none of that gathering presents arguments for Jesus not existing that pass the test of scrutiny.
Myth #1: The idea that Jesus was a myth is ridiculous!
One would think that this would be something to be dealt with after all the arguments had been delivered rather than being put at the forefront. But it becomes clear at once that Fitzgerald sees a need to pad his material with rhetoric in order to obscure a lack of hard arguments. Most of this chapter is summary of what is to come, and sermonizing about how absurd it is to think that Jesus could not possibly have been non-existent. Then a few quotes from apologists decrying the Christ-myth as absurd is waved off as “bluster” and it is claimed that “since at least the 18th century a growing number of historians have raised serious problems that case Jesus’ historicity into outright doubt…” 
Oh really? In the opening chapter of Shattering the Christ Myth, James Hannam showed that “historians” are not among those who raised the Christ-myth as an option. Rather, this thesis came from non-historians and non-experts. (Example: Bruno Bauer was a theologian.) But we’ll see if Fitzgerald ever comes up with specifics on this in later chapters.
In terms of actual argument, when we finally get to it, Fitzgerald changes tracks and discusses not the mere existence of Jesus, but the Resurrection of Jesus, and attempts to analogize that event to Caesar’s crossing of the Rubicon. I have analyzed this analogy before (see link below) and noted various pros and cons of it. But what does this have to do with Jesus merely existing? Nothing whatsoever.
Apocryphal acts and events are readily attributed to figures whose existence is historically certain. Indeed, at this moment my “Reads for Fun” book is a biography of Stonewall Jackson, the great Confederate military genius. The author asserts that a certain story from the beginning of the Civil War about how Jackson managed certain captured trains in the area of Harper’s Ferry is likely apocryphal. I will not here take a stance on this particular story; it is one of a handful that the author also thinks are apocryphal with respect to Jackson’s life. But no Civil War historian would think that any of these stories being apocryphal lends credence to the idea that Stonewall Jackson was himself a non-existent figure.
In short, Fitzgerald’s first chapter doesn’t do a thing to support his thesis. He is attempting to arrive at a sort of “guilt by association” in which a leap is made from “this event can’t be proven” to “this person didn’t exist.” Of course, even in that respect, merely defeating a single analogy (Jesus vs Caesar on the Rubicon) isn’t doing much to show that the Resurrection was ahistorical. But that’s another matter – for now, we’ll stick to Fitzgerald’s case for the “Christ myth” – assuming he can even stick to it himself!
Link on Rubicon crossing here.
Wednesday, January 12, 2011
Nearly 1000 readers responded to the poll. They were allowed to choose more than one option. Of the 15 tangible options listed (there is a 16th category for “other”), only one ("never believed in the first place") does not have to do with an issue addressed by apologetics.
Of those 15 remaining options, three are outside my scope of expertise – but those that are within my scope admit to very simple solutions in general. It was particularly interesting that 161 respondents (16%) cited, “Doubts About the Existence of Jesus”. It was also interesting to me that 105 (11%) cited, “Jesus Did Not Come Back as Promised” and 243 (25%) cited “Sinners go to Hell”. My own answers to these, of course (preterism, hell as shame) are not of the ordinary type, and I have felt that they improve on the standard answers.
Admittedly, we didn’t need Loftus’ poll – we already knew all of this, but many pastors and teachers have not wanted to admit it. Their idea is that establishing emotional ties to Christian faith is the way to go. Clearly, that’s going to do the job for many people.
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
The historians in this book address counterfactual possibilities from all over the chronological spectrum, though the weight is towards 20th century events. In some cases they lay out alternate historical scenarios (eg, what if Pilate had refused to crucify Jesus?). In other cases they lay out the effects of a historical event and leave it to the reader to decide what history would have been like otherwise (eg, what if Pizarro had not discovered potatoes in Peru?). Even such small things as the death of one man (for example, in one essay, Socrates) or a meteorological phenomenon (for example, some fog that once allowed Washington’s troops to escape the British) could have had enormous ripple effects.
For example, it is pointed out that without the potato found by Pizarro, Spain could not have fed certain miners who extracted the silver which in turn financed Spanish power in Europe from 1559 to 1640. Also, without the potato, the Irish could not have survived British efforts to displace them. Other crops like wheat didn’t have the potato’s hardiness, and as a result, each of these efforts would have been less effective – and that in turn would have meant a different course of history.
I recommend this book for students of apologetics because I believe that having an understanding of the long-term effects of even the smallest events is important for answering many questions that are raised in apologetics scenarios – especially those of the “couldn’t God have thought of a better way to deal with the Canaanites” variety. Critics frequently have a very narrow view of how history can proceed, and little understanding of cause and effect in the long term. Counterfactual history is an excellent way to expand one’s horizons and thinking processes.
Monday, January 10, 2011
I should first note that because the article did not name an author, I was not aware of who it was until today. The author is apparently Christian Lindtner – who has made “Jesus = Buddha” one of his personal hobbyhorses.
Unfortunately, there is little to suggest that Lindtner is anything but a quack. In addition to his odd ideas about Jesus and Buddha, he is also a Holocaust denier (see links below). I am therefore thoroughly inclined to distrust any claim he makes automatically if it cannot be verified by a more credible source. This will be important below.
The first argument of Lindtner is to try to make the text incoherent as it is. It is said:
One person cannot possibly be the son of two different fathers belonging to two widely different periods of time. The son of David, the son of Abraham not only has two fathers.
Quite frankly, this is a grade school error. The word for “son” (huios) has long been recognized, as any lexicon will indicate, to be able to refer to any male descendant – on through grandson, great-grandson, and so on. This is so elementary that it indicates that Lindner has little interest in serious Biblical scholarship (but his stance on the Holocaust could have told us that too).
Once past this, an alleged solution to this non-problem is offered. It is claimed that Matthew is imitating a Buddhist document called the Mûlasarvâstivâdavinaya, which also offered a listing of persons that is numerically identical with Matthew’s. But even if he were not a manifest quack, Lindtner would have much more he needs to prove for this argument to be accepted. By his own admission, this document is not available in translation yet. I have confirmed that this remains the case. As it is, we only have his word that this is what the document says. We also have nothing to show that this document pre-dates the New Testament. Lindtner hints that it is part of the Gilgit collection of manuscripts, but these date to the 5th or 6th century AD.
But would it matter if it was true? Not really. It seems that Lindtner arrives at his total of 42 for the Buddhist document by combining a list of 35 kings with a list of 7 Buddhas. That’s clearly an artificiality to reach the Matthean total.
Following this, Lindtner offers some commentary about alleged numeric value correspondences and alleged correspondences between Matthew’s Greek and Sanskrit in terms of “syllables and consonants.” For example, we are told that a “king” in Sanskit is deva, and that this “is nicely is nicely assimilated [sic] to the king David.” “Abraham” is also connected to the Sanskrit word “Brahma”. Since this all relies upon Lindtner’s supposed expertise in Sanskrit to be proven, and his own word regarding the contents of the Buddhist document, and since Lindter is a proven quack, there is little reason to accept his authority on this connection, especially since there is no indication that he has any authority in the Greek language. Moreover, it is patent that this is an attempt to prove a correspondence using English translations from both languages.
In sum: Lindtner’s conclusions should be ignored unless verified by a more credible authority.
Here -- article by Lindtner is which he frankly aligns himself with the revisionist camp as though he were just picking daisies
Here – site for countering anti-semitism that lists Lindtner among Holocaust deniers. One of several instances I found documenting his stance.
Friday, January 7, 2011
Once again, I approach this subject just confused. I do not wonder if
it is my own mindset or not, but I am just wondering how it is Carrier
expects me to take him. Does he think that these arguments show
theistic arguments to be silly? Does he already know that they are
silly? One can't really say for sure. However, let's look at the
argument from the Christmas Spirit.
To begin with, it's the kind of argument that is based on a more
subjective phenomena and not one I would use. For instance, I would
not use Bill Craig's argument about God being personally experienced
through the Holy Spirit and it's not a surprise to me when atheists go
after this argument. However, let's look at the first premise:
1.Every Christmas season everyone the world over experiences the
Now if we had had something like "Every year, all over the world,
everyone at the time we call December 25th has a certain experience"
we might have something interesting to explain. As it is, I really
don't know what Carrier expects me to get from this. What does it mean
to experience the "Christmas Spirit"?
Carrier doesn't explain any of this. Again, if this is to be a parody
of an argument, it doesn't really work if we don't know if we're even
supposed to laugh.
Premise 2 gets even shakier:
2. Santa Claus is by definition the Christmas Spirit.
No reference is given to this. I have not heard of Santa Claus being
described as the Christmas Spirit nor do I think he could be seen as
whatever Santa Claus is: he is a material being and a material being
cannot be an immaterial being like a spirit.
3. Therefore every Christmas season everyone the world over
experiences Santa Claus.
This would follow of course if the first two premises are true, but
really, none of it makes any sense whatsoever.
4. It is extraordinarily improbable that six billion people would
simultaneously, the same time every year, hallucinate exactly the same
Well, yeah. Of course, I have no reason to believe that any of this is
going on.... (JPH note: And aside from that, a substantial portion of those six billion -- now much closer to seven billion, actually -- don't observe Christmas.)
5. Therefore Santa Claus is not a hallucination.
This would depend on what is meant by a hallucination exactly. Does it
mean some external experience or some internal experience? Thinking
you see or hear something could qualify. Feeling something, I do not
believe does. I do not doubt, for instance, that many Mormons have
prayed the prayer in Moroni 10:4-5 and experienced something very
strong. I question the content of that experience however, but not
that the experience happened. If all the world feels something, that
would not make it real, though it could lead to some strong reasons
for why we could think it real.
6. That which is experienced and is not a hallucination, is real.
Based on what I said earlier, I am not sure. For instance, I could say
I am experiencing right now the thought of a unicorn being outside my
door. Because I am experiencing thinking about opening my door and
seeing a unicorn, it does not mean that when I open the door, that
there will be a unicorn.
Furthermore, how many people have to experience something before it is
real then? Everyone? Suppose half the world experienced something and
the other didn't. How could we tell who was right? The obvious way is
simply to look at the real world the best that we can. Perhaps those
who think they see something could take pictures and see that what
they thought they saw wasn't real.
From this, Carrier concludes that Santa is real and Santa exists.
I, however, conclude that Carrier just doesn't know what he's talking about.
Thursday, January 6, 2011
As a reminder, Q, generally, is reputed to be the source from which Matthew and Luke drew their common material. It is also, in my findings, an unnecessary scholarly fantasy (see link below). To that extent, this article claiming a link to a Buddhist document is merely one fantasy atop another. (It is also said that this Buddhist document was a source for “most of the other books of the NT, above all The Acts and Revelations.” We know we are dealing with a true authority when they add an S to the end of that book’s name!)
In terms of actual arguments for this dependence – well, they’re of the sort we have come to expect from “copycat” theorists, who rely on broadly generalizing subject matter in order to achieve parallels. There is also the standard tactic of not revealing specifics – indeed, avoiding them as much as possible. If you want quotes of some of these Buddhist documents, that’s not going to happen much if at all. Instead, here’s the sort of thing we’re given:
The emphasis on mere faith in the Buddha as sufficient for salvation, and the idea that tricks, puns, symbolic language, codes, parables etc., should be used by Buddhist missionaries to convert all living beings to the secret of the Buddha, derives directly from the SDP [Buddhist document, the Saddharmapundarîka-sûtram].
There’s a few obvious problems here. The first is that “faith” refers to loyalty (see link 2 below), and that’s what any religious leader would expect – whether Jesus or Buddha or Jim Jones. The parallel here is a universal, one the author of the article (who is not named) dishonestly obscures by playing upon the common perception of “faith” as something uniquely demanded by Christianity. But that is not at all the case.
The second problem is one of lack of definition as well. What is meant by “salvation”? As we have remarked in other context, “salvation” has not been, as it is today, uniquely Christian language. “ It is not even so in the New Testament. The word for “saved” (sozo) is used in the context of a person being healed from disease (Matt. 9:21), of Peter being rescued from drowning (Matt. 14:30), of Elijah rescuing Jesus from the cross (Matt. 27:49) – and so on. I do not know much about Buddhism, but I know with certainty that “salvation” in Buddhism is not achieved by means of trusting in Buddha’s atoning death for remission from sins.
After some non-specific reference to alleged “Sanskritisms” in the Gospels (a claim that mainstream scholarship would find rather amusing), and an equally vague claim that “[t]he Greek text of the Gospels is often obscure, ambiguous or otherwise odd” – again, no specifics offered – it is claimed that there is “an old Bactrian inscription that reproduces the standard homage to the Buddhists Trinity.” I have little doubt that in this, there is no legitimate understanding of what a “Trinity” actually is, especially within Christianity. Are there hypostatic elements associated with Buddha in Buddhism? Unfortunately, rather than try to explain how the doctrine matches, we are awarded only more vague claims of alleged “puns on the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit of the SDP.”
Finally, in the first part of the paper, we are told of an alleged parallel between a Sanskrit text and “Revelations 13:18”:
a-rith-mos gar an-thrô-pou es-tin
provides a perfect and typical imitation of
It does? Apparently, only for those with eyes to see: “If you have a bit of sophia, as required, you cannot fail to see that the Greek imitates the sense, the sound and the numerical value of the Sanskrit, for the numerical value of pundarîka is, of course, 666. So the Man is the Pundarîka.”
This is simply contrived nonsense. It would hardly be difficult to find such a short phrase between two texts with an equal number of syllables. Statistically, such a match is meaningless. In terms of “numerical value,” the missing point is that textual criticism indicates that 616, not 666, is the original reading of Revelation (note: no “S”), and if “the numerical value of pundarika” is what is being used, then there’s a bit of fudging here of the sort Edgar Whisenant would be proud of – why not use the “numerical value” of the whole phrase (“sad-dhar-ma-pun-da-rî-ka-sût-ram”)?
It is asked to close the section, “Who, then, can deny that SDP is a part of Q?” The irony is that using the same sort of techniques, various eschatological authors have asked, “Who, then, can deny that Jesus will return on [this date]?”
We’ll look at a second portion of the essay next week.
On Q here.
On faith here.