"Did Jesus Exist?" Bart Ehrman in difficulty with his own question

The New Apologists

R. Joseph Hoffmann and friends on a rescue mission for the "Jesus of history"

Jesus Never Existed –  Imaginary Friend


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Kenneth Humphreys

 


26.06.12

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With the supernatural elements removed from the gospel story what then is left of a man called Jesus to remember decades after his death?

Why would he be remembered at all when numerous other Jesuses were forgotten?

The proponents of a historical Jesus defend the idea that a single man became the focus about which a stupendous legend grew.

Yet does a mountain of artifice really need a dead nonentity to get going?

The scholarly establishment has failed to win the public over with their weak arguments and arrogant dismissal of the case for a mythical Jesus.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Joseph Hoffmann – biblical scholar “par excellence” or arrogant know-it-all?

1996

'It is no longer possible to dismiss the thesis that Jesus of Nazareth never existed as the "marginal indiscretion of lay amateurs".'

– Hoffmann

2012

"The non-historicity thesis ... is a disease spread by amateurs
..."

– Hoffmann

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is anyone listening?

Hoffmann has long flip-flopped between believing there was a Jesus and believing there wasn't. No crime there.

But he wants to project something masterful and profound about his enduring uncertainty by using obscure language, tortuous argument and an avalanche of complex, pretentious sentences.

Someone should tell him that people have stopped listening.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Maurice Casey – out in the sun too long?

Casey is author of Jesus of Nazareth: An Independent Historian’s View of his Life and Teachings.

He modestly admits to being "well-known to some people for his work on Aramaic sources behind the synoptic Gospels, careful scholarship and truth."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trust me, I'm a professor

"The underlying assumption that biblical studies is EZ PZ is a basic misconception about the field and one that makes Jesus denial and mythicism possible."

– Hoffmann, blog May 26, 2012.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stephanie Fisher – cheer leader for Hoffmann and Casey?

Quixotic Stephanie quotes approvingly theologian Lloyd Geering that the world has purpose and no ultimate meaning. Is that clear now?

Apparently, her penchant for radical (ab)use of language ran in Steph's family. Of her deceased mother she wrote,

"She was famous for renaming things, including her children. I expect we all have identity complexes. The fridge became the microwave, the airing cupboard became the piano. I was called Mar-man-pippa-nick-el-steffie but often was just called Pippa." – source.


Well you've been warned. You are about to disappear down the rabbit hole.

This young topsy-turvy took on the task of critiquing Richard Carrier's Bayes Theorem approach to Jesus historicity.

Good choice, huh?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What has math to do with history?

History requires that we make judgements about the past. But how can we decide between the 'possibly true' and the 'probably true' ?

Probability theory may help.

Thomas Bayes was an 18th century English Presbyterian with a passion for math, in particular "chance". The Reverend made an attempt to describe mathematically the normally unstated reasoning process and he worked out a theorem that subsequently took his name.

The same idea was refined by French astronomer Pierre-Simon Laplace early in the 19th century. It reemerged in the 1950s in risk analysis, and has since been applied to all manner of things. Theists have used Bayes to argue for the existence of God (Unwin, 2003)

The snag is that the whole enterprise pivots on initial, subjective judgements –  thus, Garbage In, Garbage Out.

 

 

 

"A recent attempt by a well-known NT scholar is exceptionally disappointing and not an adequate rejoinder to the routinely absurd ideas of the Jesus-deniers." – Hoffmann, June 9, 2012.

 

A trio of Jesus myth denouncers from the world of academe have rushed into the breach opened up by the failure of Bart Ehrman's final solution to the problem of Jesus' existence (Listen, he was a small-time deluded doom merchant who thought he was king, so there). Professors Hoffmann and Casey, and a young academic who worked for Casey, Stephanie Louise Fisher, have come to Ehrman's support with a few dubious arguments in favour of a historical Jesus and a visceral attack on Jesus mythicists as a thoroughly bad crew.

The blogosphere has been enlivened by a potpourri of ego wars, withering sarcasm, aspersions about competence, intellect, comprehension, and honesty. The mythicist who has drawn most of the ire is Richard Carrier, a scholar whose scholarly prowess is matched by an equally impressive opinion of himself.

But what of the "historical Jesus"? Has the posse that has rushed to Ehrman's side got a leg to stand on? For what it is worth, Hoffmann posted online three essays in what he called "The Jesus Process" on his blog, The New Oxonian.

 

Alarm bells ring in the ivory towers

Increasing numbers of web-savvy enquirers are asking, "What real evidence is there for a historical Jesus?" and are not convinced by the replies. The result is that a paradigm shift is in progress. The mythic Jesus, an idea largely ignored in the 20th century by the vested interests of religion and conservative scholarship, has argued its way back onto the agenda, if only to compel the mandarins to issue contemptuous rebuttals.

Yet whisper-thin defences of a historical Jesus do not cut it in the internet-enabled world – and established academics don't like that one little bit. The on-line arena can be rude and crude but, as with the printing press six hundred years ago, the power of a cartel has been broken. For some tastes, the wrong kind of people have gained an audience.

"One of the most remarkable features of public discussion of Jesus of Nazareth in the twenty-first century has been a massive upsurge in the view that this important historical figure did not even exist." – Maurice Casey


"The endorsement of amateurs by amateurs is becoming a rampant, annoying and distressing problem for biblical scholarship ... The disease these buggers spread is ignorance disguised as common sense ... the popularity of the non-historicity thesis ... now threatens to distract biblical studies from the serious business of illuminating the causes, context and development of early Christianity." – Joseph Hoffmann

 

Lamentations of a lapsed Catholic

R. Joseph Hoffmann is a curious breed of atheist. He devotes considerable energy into attacking atheism. He does so, he says, because "modern atheism is hardly worth defending." He calls it the "New Atheism" whereas Hoffmann likes to think of himself as a "classical humanist", unlike those ill-mannered louts of the "atheist militia, the campaigners, the billboard mongers." He even fumes at "movement humanism", cursed for giving birth to a more "uncompromising form of radical secularism." Hoffmann suggests that articulate atheists (like Richard Dawkins) should "shut their trap". He seems to hanker after halcyon days when atheism respected God as a "very big idea" and academic freethinkers could take afternoon tea with the bishop and no one took umbrage. (source)

Oh dear, have we now got atheist tanks on the manicured lawn?

Raised in a Catholic family, Hoffmann seems never to have escaped the allure of Catholic culture and has a fondness, even a longing, for the "most humane, uplifting or learned elements in religion." He speaks of an "appreciation of human frailty, including the limits of reason" and quotes with evident approval the philosopher Alvin Plantinga, “It is perfectly possible that the process of natural selection has been guided and superintended by God, and that it could not have produced our world without that guidance.” (Blog, June 12 2012).

Hostility to the "new" atheists leads Hoffmann seamlessly into visceral attacks on Jesus mythicists, whom he whimsically styles "Mythtics", perhaps to suggest that they are of a kind with lunatics? He likes to project an image of himself as an intellectual giant, taxing the understanding of his readers with a mix of tortured statements and ambiguous language. Hoffmann may certainly impress with his erudition – he's been in the game a long time – but in the end, he creates more confusion than clarity. But then, his own position on the man from Galilee has been confusing and erratic.

Back in 1996, writing a foreword to The Jesus Legend by George Albert Wells, Hoffmann was of the opinion that New Testament literature began with a fictive story, the saviour-revealer-god (Christ the Lord) of Paul's letters. The "early insistence" by the Church on the historical character of the gospels, said Hoffmann, was driven by "liturgical" rather than historical elements. Back then he was able to ask:

"Why is the core historical episode of the gospel tradition, the story of Jesus's death on the cross, completely lacking in convincing historical detail, being rather a liturgical drama built up from the psalms and prophetic texts?"


Hoffmann was himself a mythicist as little as five years ago. On June 15, 2007, albeit with some equivocation, the prof went on the record as saying he thought the non-existence of Jesus more likely than his existence:

"All of us, certainly, have an agenda, all of us have a commitment to a certain view. I happen – I'm going to say this for what it's worth – I happen to believe that Jesus of Nazareth did not exist. I happen to believe that, but I'm certainly persuadable.You just have to sit me down and show me the historical elements in the gospels which point me in the direction of a plausible historical figure who is more plausible than the alternative explanation for the origins of Christianity." – Source.


Hoffmann now retrospectively qualifies that statement. Of course, everybody is entitled to clarify what they meant to say – or even change their mind, hopefully in response to new information. But in Hoffmann's case he cannot say what that new information is. As of June 9th 2012, after a lifetime of study, Hoffmann reached a definitive answer on the existence of Jesus: "Yes and No because of the inadequacy of the sources." This appears to be his latest "final conclusion". It's the same lack of certitude that he had five years ago, but this time round he elects for an historical Jesus – "the only reasonable postulate based on the material we now possess." This scholar is still wavering. Raised as a Christian, and having lived with Jesus as man and boy, Hoffmann, like Ehrman, finds it's too difficult to dismiss his beloved Jesus for good.

What is surprising about Hoffmann's vacillation is not whether he veers towards the yeas or the nays at any particular point in time, but the vitriolic abuse he currently pours on mythicists. Hoffmann may have plumped for historicity – for the moment – that's his opinion on the matter, but he is so besotted with his own superiority that he vilifies anyone who happen to disagree with him, a sorry state of affairs.

Hoffmann admits that he still has doubts about the historicity of Jesus but he's quite sure the myth theory is unprovable and, far worse, that its proponents are knaves and clowns. His on-going "rebuttal" of mythicism is more vitriolic than informative. And apparently it's all tied up with that dastardly "New Atheism":

"This had to happen: the coalescence of God deniers and Jesus deniers I mean ... trivializing the settled or nearly-settled conclusions of modern scholarship itself, and if that doesn’t work, bashing the scholars."


Nearly-settled conclusions, huh? Did they get nearly-settled in the last five years then, and if so, by what?

Is Hoffmann so apoplectic because he's disappointed by the arguments for non-historicity? He has after all been pursuing Jesus for a very long while (the Jesus Seminar, the Jesus Project, the Jesus Process) and now admits to Jesus fatigue. But that in itself wouldn't explain his atrocious abuse of mythicists and his confessed "prickliness."

Rather, it is because of the people who make those arguments and the global audience the internet affords them. After years of being "out in front" (chair for the Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion, etc.) Hoffmann's is a voice from a bygone era, bypassed by a growing tide he no longer can control. Perhaps Hoffmann has always wanted to be the scholastic genius who finally unmasked the Fraud of Ages? Maybe. Hoffmann, like his pal Casey, is incandescent that peons are allowed a voice and that voice is being heard.

It isn't the sin that Hoffman hates but the sinner.


"New Atheism" or the New Apologetics?

What has really happened in the last sixteen years?

Well not the discover of new evidence for Jesus in the Levant but rather the ascendancy of the Christian Right in the United States, and a concomitant domination of New Testament study by well-funded Fundamentalism. The well has been poisoned and Hoffmann still draws from that well, as can be seen in his "Case for Jesus".


Hoffmann's arguments for a historical Jesus:

1. "Unique historicism"?

When you hack through the luxuriant but rather tedious verbiage that fills Hoffmann's blog what fruit do you find? It seems that the persuasive argument for Hoffmann is nothing other than "the evidence of the New Testament" and "an unbroken literary tradition extending from the very century in which the events are supposed to have happened." William Lane Craig could not have put it better. This Hoffmann styles "The Literary Matrix" – apparently, "The gospels retain a stubbornly historical view of Jesus".

Hoffmann assures us that the apostolic fathers of the 2nd and 3rd centuries were determined to preserve fragments of an oral tradition of a real man despite the assault of the fantasists. Unlike the Gnostics and others, the proto-orthodox were not given to flights of fancy and religious imagination, or if they were, nevertheless clung tenaciously to a historical kernel, faithfully handed down to them, about a flesh-and-blood figure called Jesus. In this respect, says the prof, Christianity was unique.

"We have no examples from classical antiquity of a religion that insisted from the beginning on the historical existence of its founder in both explicit and implicit ways and no way of explaining why Christianity would differ so markedly from the cults in this respect."


Yet every cult had unique features – how could it not do so if it wanted to exist? So, yes, Christianity's "unique selling feature" was a claim that it's god had incarnated on earth in the time of the stiff-necked generation of Jews that had been engulfed by war (a conflagration that had conveniently destroyed all records).

Is it really so difficult to grasp that Hellenised Jews, finally cast adrift from a devastated Temple Judaism, should concoct precisely that syncretism of man and god, which merged Jewish notions of historical determinism and its anticipated messiah with the mores of polytheism? Like his pal Ehrman, Hoffmann concedes "antecedent and unrelated mythologies" may have influenced the "form of transmission" but not, as he would have it, the "historical core".

Yet even a unique lie is still a lie. Would the proto-orthodox not have been capable of lies and fabrication, just like the competition (and religious charlatans throughout history)? Perish the thought. "It would be irresponsible to think that he [Irenaeus] systematically misrepresents the traditions of an earlier period." And again,

"To impugn their motives moves us away from a methodological suspicion of sources into the realm of master-theories, cynicism and baseless assumptions for which there is no textual support."


There you have it.

If you think early Catholics lied then you are a cynical conspiracy theorist.

This weak argument is quickly spun into an ad hominem attack on mythicists and Hoffmann blames Richard Dawkins, no less, for popularizing the idea that “religion is a lie so the study of religion is a study of lying.”

As we said before, Hoffmann is a curious breed of atheist.

 

2. "Too soon for a myth" ?

The orthodox early Christians, says Hoffmann, made "a coordinated effort to prevent a deposit of historical tradition from being eviscerated by the religious mythicizers of the period," whereas apocryphal and Gnostic gospels "fly off in all directions." (Were the genres ever that distinct? And what of the many orthodox writers that drifted off into heresy?)

According to our professor, "the history of Jesus was being compiled, but not created in the churches" and this contention he supports (knowingly) with the tired old apologetic that the "compiled oral tradition" was,

"Written .. fairly early in point of time compared.  As old and inconvenient as this defense of the historicity of important elements of the gospels may be, it is still a detail to be reckoned with."


In this fantasy world in which primitive Christian "truth" had a tenacious existence, no doubt the throngs of supposed Jesus witnesses could have "checked-up" and filed a complaint if any of the "compilers" got the details wrong?! Hoffmann even adds a 'classic' flourish from the stable of apologetic rhetoric:

" ... we know more about Jesus than we know about a great many figures that we think existed."


Now where have we heard that one before? Or this one:

"No ancient writer questioned the historicity of Jesus and the fact that no church writer felt compelled to defend it." (June 8th, 2012)


Unbelievably, Hoffmann declaims the rhetorical question, "Could the Gospel writers have referred to 'real' people like Caiaphas and Augustus and yet made up Joseph of Arimathea and Simon of Cyrene?" As if historical fiction were an unknown genre he asks, "How would we justify that assumption?"

Trial and death? "Entirely probable", says Hoffman, "if not a chronicle of events". I guess we can agree that if Jesus actually lived then he did indeed die.

The resurrection? "Not historical, but does clearly refer to historical outcomes: the belief of Jesus’ followers."

My gosh, does not this belief ("unto death" one presumes) point towards something extraordinary (like a resurrection?!) or are we thrown once again into the pit of mass hallucination or hysteria? Hoffmann is just as clueless as Ehrman when it comes to explaining the supposed spontaneous outbreak of resurrection belief.

 

3. Parsimony of a human Jesus ("The Mythicists make their own myth")

"Mythicists are forced to manufacture unknown proto-Christians who build up an unattested myth ... about an unspecified supernatural entity that at an indefinite time was sent by God into the world as a man to save mankind and was crucified …"


Hoffmann has concluded that there is "compelling evidence" for a 1st century teacher about whom an elaborate cult formed  – and no evidence at all for the alternative scenario, in which those self-same extravagant beliefs (incarnation of a spirit entity into human history, salvation of mankind by the self-sacrifice of that entity) could have formed in the mind of men without the catalyst of a simple Jewish carpenter (or misunderstood apocalyptic rabbi).

Yet with the supernatural elements removed what would be left of a man called Jesus to remember?

And if one minor figure could influence a very tall tale why not several?

Yet Hoffmann, and other proponents of a historical Jesus, argue that a single minor character was the focus about which a stupendous legend grew. But does a mountain of artifice really need a nonentity to get going? Here our professor presents the "Argument from Context"

"Does parsimony then lead you to the following: Jesus of Nazareth, who is perfectly typical of this context ..."


In other words, Jesus, as now defined (a failed eschatological prophet), "fits" all that we know of the historical, geographical and political context.

"If you begin with facts that are supported by general agreement: Rome existed, the province of Palestine existed, the Herodians existed, Pilate existed, apocalyptic Judaism existed, radical political and dissident religious parties existed, food rules existed, sexual apartheid between men and women existed, sects existed, the Herodian building project existed, “publicans” existed, eschatological preachers existed, the Galil ha’goyim called Galilee in the the gospels existed, magicians and healers existed, cults existed, the crucifixion of bandits and troublemakers existed, messiahs existed, baptism existed ... (non-historicity requires) it seems to me an exception to the clear historicity of context ..."


With this, Hoffmann shows himself well-versed in the inanities of apologetics. Jesus is "perfectly typical" of his context precisely because "historicists" excise every aberrant quality and story element which makes him notable. Jesus thus blends seamlessly into the Palestinian background, indistinguishable not only from the melee of apocalyptic preachers and rabble-rousers but also from Jewish males in toto. In other words, we have a man. We know nothing that he said, nothing that he did. But because others, decades later, write about a man-become-god, we can be really confident that those writers were recalling the memory of an obscure man and not formulating a syncretic and humanoid saviour god, primarily from Old Testament prototypes.

Did it require a human component to fabricate the high priest Melchizedek? the archangel Michael? the 'Son of Man' Enoch? the tribal autocrat Moses? the conquering hero Joshua? the miracle-working prophet Elijah? With such a cornucopia of templates to work from, what, precisely, did the myth-makers require from a mere dead man before they could get to work?

 

4. Paul's "Active Silence"

Mythicists, quite rightly, make much of Paul's silence on the historical Jesus – of his birth, his teachings, his miracles, etc. This is a point Hoffmann says he would grant to the mythicists – but for the fact he has (he thinks) a super-rebuttal, ready and loaded. Paul is silent because he's an ambitious maverick, more concerned with his own success than anything Jesus might have said or done. He just wasn't interested, his was an "active silence." Jealous of his rivals, envious that they had known Jesus "in the flesh", Paul chose to omit the life of Jesus from his writings, and instead expatiated on the meaning of a crucified and risen Jesus. It was only because Marcion made so much of Paul that this minor apostle was placed centre stage in the 2nd century, as a result of the battle for his legacy.

Yet if – as is certainly the case – a minor figure has been inflated by Church politics into a colossus bestriding the world of early Christianity, and dispatching seminal epistles in all directions, can we really hang so much on questionable references within those letters to "brother" or "brothers" or to supposed close associates of Jesus? Hoffmann thinks so, despite acknowledging that the Pauline body of "evidence" has been tampered with, and sarcastically demands that dissenting "conspiracy theorists" name the counterfeiters!

Paul's "lack of interest" in a historical Jesus is quite bizarre support for the existence of a historical Jesus. Perhaps Paul's lack of interest – and he was ostensibly in the right place at the right time – was because there was no Jesus of Nazareth to be interested in!

Hoffmann's "finely nuanced" argument here will be lost on most of humanity – as it surely should be – but my guess is that our irate academic grand master doesn't give a damn and even remains unaware that his ambivalent and tortured message is not passing through to his confused readers.

 

Coalition of the Willing – support from Nottingham

Maurice Casey probably speaks for many old-school academics when he expresses his horror that the internet appeals directly to a mass audience, who are, it seems,

"... closed minds who are impervious to evidence and argument", "ineducable", "maliciously inventive", "a quite different world from the critical scholars among whom I am happy to have spent most of my life."


Shock! Horror! Who opened the door to the riffraff?

Several centuries ago the printing press doubtless prompted similar disgust from the hierarchs of Holy Mother Church. Yes, the internet can be rude and rebellious. To which there is one obvious answer: get over it.

Casey's article is tedious and rambling. He begins by "reviewing" the work of Earl Doherty, D. Murdock, Tom Harpur, Neil Godfrey, Steven Carr, and Robert Price. They are, of course, all found lacking. Amusingly, it was Price who collaborated with Hoffmann in pulling together the ill-fated Jesus Project; and – would you believe it! – the much-pilloried Murdock (aka Acharya S.) was also invited by the very same Joseph Hoffmann to join the team!

Casey delights in identifying the likes of Harpur and Price – erstwhile Christians – as "trapped in their fundamentalist past." A more balanced view might be that their Christian background gives them unique insights but Casey's having none of that. And let's not mention that Casey himself "drifted away from the church in 1962 during his first degree in theology at Durham."


Casey's arguments for a historical Jesus

1. "Mythicists are hopeless" – Not really a positive point for a historical Jesus but Casey makes this charge five times: mythicists are hopelessly biased, hopelessly unlearned, hopelessly late daters, hopelessly out of date, and hopelessly fundamentalist! Gee whiz, I guess that means that without Jesus there's no hope!

2. "Mythicism has been decisively refuted" – According to Casey any doubts about the existence of Jesus have has been put to rest by exceptionally competent authors:

"In the later twentieth century, competent New Testament scholars believed that it [mythicism] had been decisively refuted in a small number of readily available books, supported in scholarly research by commentaries and many occasional comments in scholarly books."


Is Casey aware that his pal Hoffmann was of the "mythtic" persuasion only five years ago? And just what were these earth-shaking works of erudite scholarship? A footnote provides the alarming answer:

"The major generally available books were S. J. Case, The Historicity of Jesus: A Criticism of the Contention that Jesus Never Lived, a Statement of the Evidence for His Existence, an Estimate of His Relation to Christianity (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1912; 2nd edn, 1928); M. Goguel, Jesus the Nazarene: Myth or History? (1925. Trans. F. Stevens. London/New York: Unwin/Appleton, 1926. With a new introduction by R. Joseph Hoffmann, Amherst, New York: Prometheus, 2006."


1912? 1925? And profs like Casey and Hoffmann delight in accusing mythicists of using antiquated scholarship! True enough, these works by the American Baptist Shirley Case and the French Protestant Maurice Goguel are "classics" of the genre – pioneering many, if not most, of the arguments fine-tuned by the apologetics industry that Casey himself decries for its pernicious domination of New Testament studies. It is amusing to note that Hoffmann /Prometheus connection in the re-issue of the Goguel book!

3. "High context culture" – So this is what explains the ignorance of Paul. "He didn't need to mention things everyone knew." Plain remarkable (not to say ludicrous) how that glorious "oral tradition" so rapidly spread the same message everywhere from Galatia to Macedonia to Rome in the 1st century AD but then got into such a muddle in the 2nd century AD when scribblers started to write it down! For more on this, see any of a gazillion books from Christian apologetics.

4. "Aramaic source points to a Jesus" – Yes, there are a handful of Aramaicisms in the gospels (as indeed there are a handful of Latinisms). Most famously, “ ... Eli, Eli, lamasabach-thani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Most of these Aramaicisms are quite trivial: a reference to a '"little girl" at Mark 5.41 (in the phrase “talitha cumi”) when the author is quite happy to use Greek elsewhere for "girl". Is this the residue of an original Aramaic gospel or merely an attempt to lend some authenticity to a magical utterance placed on the lips of Jesus? Neither Matthew nor Luke follow Mark's use of this particular bit of realia. Either way, a few erratics scarcely move us any closer to a "Jesus of history": it's just as easy to fabricate a story in Aramaic as it is in Greek – the Old Testament should be evidence in abundance for that!

Casey would have us believe that there was a clear Aramaic-speaking personality behind the gospels – and of course there will be if he goes on writing the script! Aramaic is beyond the understanding of most of humanity, which rewards Casey with a privileged position: Unless you know the language of Jesus how can you possibly understand what Jesus said, and if he said anything at all then he must have existed! That's watertight, wouldn't you agree? Casey is thus at liberty to construct all kinds of imagined Aramaic "documents" that nobody else has ever seen and will never see.

 

And a Girl Friday to help the guys

Stephanie Fisher – young Kiwi helpmate of Maurice Casey who redefines language as fancy takes her:

"I’ve never believed in gods or religions but that doesn’t make me an atheist of any sort at all ... To be an atheist is to maintain God. His existence or his nonexistence, it amounts to much the same, on the plane of proof."

– Fisher (Source: stateofformation website).


Steph is credited (by Casey) with wonderful work for him "about mythicists", so I guess that got him up to speed. The purpose of her contribution, she says, is "to refuting the methods of recent mythicists and drawing attention to their unprofessional attitudes and prejudices", so she is not to be faulted with providing nothing here to support the case for a historical Jesus. She succeeds admirably in her stated aim of scything through her opponents, at least judged by her prolific use of damning adjectives. In a little over six and a half thousand words she slaps the following labels on mythicists:

prejudiced
ideological
radical
undiscerning
egotistic
evangelising
incompetent
irrelevant
bumbling
flawed
ignorant
hopeless
supercilious
muddled
fundamentalist
overblown
bigoted
pseudo
out-of-date
biased
over-confident
self-promoting

Thank heavens Steph puts her faith in "recognized academics in top tier universities" and "the best critical scholarship", which just happens to mean Aramaists like Casey.

"How many of these 'scholars' read more than 3,500 examples of the Aramaic term  br ’nash(a)' when they were deciding what it meant? Casey is the only such scholar known to me!"


Sadly, as Steph is obliged to admit, Casey's synthetic "Aramaic original" of the gospels is rejected not only by mythicists but also by many mainstream scholars and "all fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals" – but then they just aren't competent Aramaists, so what would they know?

 

Giving Carrier a good kicking

Richard Carrier, erstwhile editor of Internet Infidels, is a activist for atheism (he prefers the word "naturalism"). He's also a blogger, historian and writer: Sense and Goodness without God (2005); Not the Impossible Faith (2009) – and most recently, Proving History (2012). At one time unconvinced by the arguments for mythicism, in July 2005 Carrier announced:

"I have come to realize that mythicism is significantly more probably true than historicity. This I consider as radical a departure from my previous agnosticism as my agnosticism was from my previous historicism."

 

In recent times, Richard Carrier has argued for the use of Bayes' Theorem as a way out of the befuddled mess that besets Jesus studies (Proving History: Bayes’s Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus). If Carrier could pull off this master stroke it would be as revolutionary as he claims.

The Fisher (Hoffmann) retort to Carrier is to denounce the use of Bayes's theorem as useless in deciding questions of historical probability. Any attempt to apply a simplistic mathematical formula like Bayes to composite historical texts is hopelessly flawed methodology, "one that fails to differentiate between primary and secondary traditions". The literary record is way too complex for that sort of resolution, says Fisher.

We will have to wait until Carrier reveals his promised detailed treatment of Jesus in an intended second volume and then judge whether he has fed plausible assumptions into his probability engine.

The odds of Carrier making an historical breakthrough? Not very probable and we can be quite sure that a mathematical solution is unlikely to enjoy mass appeal.

 

Whither the Historicists?

Hoffmann is immeasurably well-qualified to have an opinion about Jesus (Harvard Divinity School, Oxford, professorships at various universities, etc.), but then, equally well-qualified academics have disagreed with him on just about every contention, beginning thirty years ago with his doctoral thesis that argued for an earlier dating of Marcion (Marcion: On the Reconstitution of Christianity).

Like a swaggering mafioso brought into town to gun down all naysayers from the comfort of his limo (in this case a blog called The New Oxonian) super-brain Hoffmann amuses himself by decapitating lesser beings with the temerity to question his magisterial rulings. His verdict on mythicism has been delivered: mythicists are conspiracy theorists, invoking "unknown proto-Christians who build up an unattested myth."

For all his own recent dalliances with mythicism, Hoffmann is today smugly of the opinion that the breaker for mythicism was and is the unmet "challenge" issued by Shirley Case a century ago. Really? Had Hoffmann not read Case back in 1996? or 2007? In any event, Case challenged the mythicists to

" ... reconstructing, without reference to him [Jesus], so strong a theory of Christian origins that the traditional view will pale before it as a lesser light in the presence of a greater luminary."


Yet the challenge can be reversed: who precisely were the authors of the canonical gospels if not also "unknown proto-Christians who build up an unattested myth"? Is it not very curious indeed that these "compilers of history" were unknown in time or place even in the 2nd century? For that matter, where is the compelling evidence that early Christian writers were referring to the same minor individual?

The New Apologetics is at its weakness at precisely those points where the old apologetics offers miracle and marvel to resolve difficulties. Why was Jesus notable if he did not draw multitudes from across the region? Why was he remembered decades later if he did not perform spectacular healings and miracles? Why did his followers "just start believing" that he had been resurrected if the laws of the universe had not been suspended?

There is a poverty, emptiness, and a certain hard-headed obstinacy, about a view that resolves those sort of difficulties with a shrug yet is quite insistent that "of course Jesus existed" and mercilessly vilifies those who say otherwise.


References:
Hoffmann’s blog “The New Oxonian” (Hoffmann - Controversy, Mythicism, and the Historical Jesus;
Casey - Mythicism: A Story of Bias, Incompetence and Falsehood; Fisher - An Exhibition of Incompetence, Trickery Dickery Bayes)
Earl Doherty responses to Ehrman, Vridar, and Maurice Casey, Vridar
Neil Godfrey
response to Maurice Casey and Stephanie Fisher Vridar
Steven Carr's blog
Richard Carrier's blog


 

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Copyright © 2012 by Kenneth Humphreys.
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