Thursday, January 13, 2011

Critical Review: David Fitzgerald's "Nailed", Part 1

Tekton Research Associate Punkish recently asked me to have a look at what is supposed to be the latest and greatest advocacy for the “Christ myth” – an item by David Fitzgerald titled Nailed. Fitzgerald lays out ten “myths” that reputedly show that Jesus “never existed at all.” In the next ten (or more, depending on chapter lengths) posting days I do here at the Ticker, I’ll offer comments on these ten myths.

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…” [16]

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.

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