William Lane Craig on Bart Ehrman

by Luke Muehlhauser on June 3, 2010 in Historical Jesus,William Lane Craig

Recently, William Lane Craig gave a lecture critiquing the work of Bart Ehrman. Craig does not critique the only Ehrman book I have endorsed on this blog: Jesus, Interrupted. But he does make important points about other of Ehrman’s works.

Craig begins by saying there are two Bart Ehrmans: the scholarly Ehrman and the popular Ehrman. The scholarly Ehrman knows the text of the New Testament has been established to 99% accuracy, and with greater certainty than any other ancient document, but the popular Ehrman gives the impression that important Christian doctrines are up in the air because we are uncertain about which of the early textual variants for particular verses reflect the original text. I roughly agree with this criticism, and said so a long time ago.

Historical Jesus

Craig goes on to discuss Ehrman’s work on the historical Jesus. He says we must have solid criteria for deciding what is and isn’t historical in the New Testament documents about Jesus, and he says Ehrman again and again (1) mis-states each criterion, and then (2) misapplies it to the data.

As his first example, Craig quotes Ehrman’s lecture notes for his Teaching Company series on the historical Jesus, in which Ehrman defines the criterion of multiple attestation thusly:

An event mentioned in several independent documents is more likely to be historical than an event mentioned in only one.

Craig says this states the criterion wrongly, for it should really be:

An event mentioned in several independent documents is more likely to be historical than it would have been had it been mentioned in only one.

I agree that Craig’s formulation is more careful. The problem with Ehrman’s formulation is that a multiply-attested event may not be more likely historical than some other event if that other event has other criteria strongly backing it. Ehrman could have framed the criterion as “all else being equal,” but he doesn’t, at least not in the source I have available to me: pages 90-91 of Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millenium. Maybe Ehrman assumed that “all else being equal” was implied, but I don’t know.

Also consider Ehrman’s formulation of the criterion of dissimilarity:

Any tradition that does not coincide with, or that works against, the vested interests of the Christians who preserved it, is likely to be historically reliable.

Craig says this conflates and distorts two separate criteria: the criterion of dissimilarity and the criterion of embarrassment. Craig offers these two:

Criterion of dissimilarity: If a tradition about Jesus is different from the Judaism that preceded him and the Christian movement which came after him, then it’s likely to be historically reliable.

Criterion of embarrassment: If a tradition about Jesus is embarrassing or awkward for the early Christian movement, then it’s likely to be historically reliable.

In both these examples, Craig’s statements of the criteria are more careful than Ehrman’s. I suggest you watch Craig’s lecture in its entirety for all kinds of interesting details, but for now I would only like to make a more general point.

Many and perhaps most of Craig’s criticism’s of Ehrman are legitimate, if he is interpreting Ehrman correctly. I haven’t read much of Ehrman’s scholarly work, so I can’t say.

But more importantly, I don’t think the historical criteria that both Ehrman and Craig are attempting to use are as valuable as they think. Historical Jesus scholars have developed their own sets of criteria for historicity that are rarely if ever used by mainstream historians to assess the historicity of other ancient reports. And there’s a good reason mainstream historians don’t use these criteria: they don’t work.

Some such criticism can be found in, for example, Stanley Porter’s Criteria for Authenticity in Historical Jesus Research, but ancient historian Richard Carrier will be developing a more thorough critique of common Historical Jesus research methods in his upcoming book on the historical Jesus. Vridar writes about this, too.

For now, that’s all I will say.

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{ 121 comments… read them below or add one }

Ajay June 3, 2010 at 1:06 pm

Interesting post, Luke. I too never understood why we needed to develop any type of new methodology to investigate the historical Jesus. In what sense is traditional historiography lacking to deal with this problem?

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exapologist June 3, 2010 at 1:35 pm

There are legitimate doubts about the criteria of authenticity. See Robert Stein’s paper for a good analysis. However, even Blomberg, Marshall, and even Craig agree that they have significant worth when used carefully and properly.

In any case, I hope he doesn’t think he’s undermining any of Ehrman’s key theses with the ones you raise above. For example, E.P. Sanders uses the criteria properly to argue abductively for the apocalyptic prophet hypothesis. And Dale Allison, who harshly criticizes the criteria in his Jesus of Nazareth, establishes a solid abductive inference to the apocalyptic prophet hypothesis almost wholly independently of the criteria.

Also regarding Craig’s remarks on Ehrman on textual criticism: See Ehrman’s scholarly work, The Historical Corruption of Scripture where he painstakingly argues (e.g.) how adoptionist passages in earlier manuscripts were gradually changed so as to eliminate such language.

So it seems to me that Craig’s remarks don’t puncture the surface of Ehrman’s main theses. Of course, that doesn’t mean that Ehrman is right. It just means that Craig has a lot more work to do.

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exapologist June 3, 2010 at 1:37 pm

err… The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture…

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lukeprog June 3, 2010 at 1:40 pm

Ajay,

Traditional historical method is not necessarily lacking to deal with the historical Jesus problem – except that of course we will hopefully always be improving upon our methods. What I said instead is that the non-traditional, non-mainstream ‘historical methodology’ that is particular to Historical Jesus studies is lacking.

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ShaneSteinhauser June 3, 2010 at 1:47 pm

I watched those videos a long time ago. I made several civil critisisms of craig’s ideas and the user Drcraigvideos deleted my comments and blocked me.

My criticisms are as follows.

1. Craig makes terrible assumptions in the probability calc.

When craig does the probability calculus, in order to determine whether Jesus ressurrection is probable or not, he assumes two things. These two things are that God exists, and that his five facts are indeed facts. The first assumption is circular reasoning since he attempts to use the historical argument to prove that God exists. The second assumption is a terrible mistreatment of the ontology of a fact. A fact is something that can be either proved or has an overwhelming amount of evidence in favor of it. Last I checked historical facts cannot be proven, and “the apostles said so” is hardly convincing evidence, much less overwhelming.

2. Craig says that historical methods can show events in history to be true, but they cannot show events in history to be untrue. This seems to me a terrible double standard. After all if the principle of embarrassment shows that women discoveed an empty tomb, then wouldn’t a supposed principle of self-flattery show that Jesus did not do miracles or have post-mortem appearances?

I was interested in seeing how christians would respond to my criticisms, but Drcraigvideos doesn’t like debate. I wonder why?

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lukeprog June 3, 2010 at 1:52 pm

That’s too bad, Shane!

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ShaneSteinhauser June 3, 2010 at 1:56 pm

@Exapologist. I’m extremely skeptical of abductive reasoning. Just so you know.

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Mazen Abdallah June 3, 2010 at 2:02 pm

“Historical Jesus scholars have developed their own sets of criteria for historicity that are rarely if ever used by mainstream historians to assess the historicity of other ancient reports. And there’s a good reason mainstream historians don’t use these criteria: they don’t work.”

Nuff Said. Really the equivalent of two kids talking about what Batman has for breakfast. I’m an avid student of history and I can honestly say the criteria for the study are being conveniently disregarded by the Christian apologists.

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Hansen June 3, 2010 at 2:09 pm

Remember that Drcraigvideos is not William Lane Craig. He is just a fan. There is no particular reason to debate him. Especially not with his history of censoring comments.

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Ajay June 3, 2010 at 2:10 pm

Luke,

“What I said instead is that the non-traditional, non-mainstream ‘historical methodology’ that is particular to Historical Jesus studies is lacking.”

Right. I was just asking a rhetorical question: that is, why can’t traditional historiography deal with the Jesus question? I’d like an apologist’s take on that. Why do we need new methods at all, especially if as you (I think correctly) note these methods are lacking?

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David June 3, 2010 at 3:36 pm

Quick comment and qualification:

Qualification: I’ve not read Ehrman’s popular work. I’m frankly uninterested in it.

Comment 1: Craig’s claim that the NT is 99% certain based on word certainty is a pretty… flaky measurement. For example, because of the way (some of the) Greek works, you have plenty of instances where the words could’ve come in various different orders. I also suspect that corruptions and changes among the Synoptic gospels is a murky ground here.

Comment 2: Ehrman’s claim of the text being staggeringly corrupt is quite true – it’s just that modern criticism has recovered a good deal of it. I wouldn’t want to base any scholarship on Byzantine texts or the Textus Receptus and there are several wholesale passages which are entirely bogus (many modern Bibles mark these). In addition, much of the NT is pseudonymous (written under a false name). Paul didn’t write most of Paul’s letters, and that can also be viewed as an issue of “corruption.” These are separate philosophical problems for Christian theism though, and nothing like a claim that “we don’t know what these books originally said,” if that is indeed the claim Ehrman implies in his popular work (we know pretty well – we just know many of these were also forgeries from the 2nd century).

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Jayman June 3, 2010 at 3:40 pm

What books would people recommend for “real historiography”? I would prefer something that deals with ancient history but not Jesus or the New Testament (in other words something analogous to the historical Jesus). I’ve read Michael Grant’s An Historian’s Review of the Gospels and his methodology on the historical Jesus seems to be the same as Craig’s, Ehrman’s, and the like.

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Justfinethanks June 3, 2010 at 4:00 pm

I made several civil critisisms of craig’s ideas and the user Drcraigvideos deleted my comments and blocked me.

While I appreciate Drcraigvideos for tracking down and posting these sometimes hard to find videos, the dude seems a little unhinged. He hasn’t blocked me yet, but he has on occasion left an insulting comment to a criticism of the content of a video, then deleted my comment while leaving his own, thus looking like he’s responding to someone who didn’t even comment on the video.

He seems really attracted to the dichotomy of the smart sophisticated theists and the bumbling, philosophically illiterate, Dawkins worshiping atheists. If you challenge that perception, he gets pretty liberal with the delete key.

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J Wahler June 3, 2010 at 4:12 pm

“For now, that’s all I will say.”

Luke, this hints at a kind of tense wait-and-see what Dr. Carrier has to say about all of this… a.k.a his long anticipated work on historical Jesus studies. I’m right there with you. Speaking of which, where the heck is the book already Richard?

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ThePowerofMeow June 3, 2010 at 4:16 pm

“The scholarly Ehrman knows the text of the New Testament has been established to 99% accuracy, and with greater certainty than any other ancient document, but the popular Ehrman gives the impression that important Christian doctrines are up in the air because we are uncertain about which of the early textual variants for particular verses reflect the original text”

Ehrman spends most of his time, in his popular works when discussing textual criticism, going after biblical inerrancy. I believe this is a position that Dr. Craig holds to.

I typically read inerrantists making comments like – “who cares if Paul’s companions on the road to Damascus (in Acts) saw something or heard something? or if they hit the deck or stayed standing? It doesn’t matter.” Of course this is true. But the “verbal plenary inspiration” that Ehrman argues against says that every word in the original autographs of the canonical books is straight from God. So if the three different accounts of this event in Acts contradict each other, that is significant.

So the inerrantist says “It doesn’t matter” but then holds to a position where it does matter. Ehrman’s position is basically – if there is even one mistake, then why can’t there be others? And what standards do we use to judge what they are?

He is poking pinholes in the giant dam of inerrancy. So yes, to “Normal” folks, it may not look too captivating, but remember the extreme view that Dr. Craig holds.

Also, if there are significant textual mistakes in the biblical books, it may be likely that they would have occurred super early in the process, before any copies were made that we currently have. Perhaps even one or two people removed from the authors. Who knows?

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ayer June 3, 2010 at 5:34 pm

“Historical Jesus scholars have developed their own sets of criteria for historicity that are rarely if ever used by mainstream historians to assess the historicity of other ancient reports. ”

I don’t believe this is correct; the criteria for historical Jesus research appear to fall well within the criteria use in the historical method generally. See:

Wikipedia on “Historical Method”:
“Core principles

The following core principles of source criticism were formulated by two Scandinavian historians, Olden-Jørgensen (1998) and Thurén (1997):[1]

* Human sources may be relics (e.g. a fingerprint) or narratives (e.g. a statement or a letter). Relics are more credible sources than narratives.
* A given source may be forged or corrupted; strong indications of the originality of the source increases its reliability.
* The closer a source is to the event which it purports to describe, the more one can trust it to give an accurate description of what really happened.
* A primary source is more reliable than a secondary source, that is more reliable than a tertiary source and so on.
* If a number of independent sources contain the same message, the credibility of the message is strongly increased.
* The tendency of a source is its motivation for providing some kind of bias. Tendencies should be minimized or supplemented with opposite motivations.
* If it can be demonstrated that the witness (or source) has no direct interest in creating bias, the credibility of the message is increased.”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historical_method

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Ajay June 3, 2010 at 5:48 pm

Ayer – That is an interesting point. It seems to me one major distinction, however, is that mainstream historians would object to supernatural explanations for historical events (i.e. the resurrection). That seems outside the purview of historiography.

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lukeprog June 3, 2010 at 5:51 pm

Shane,

You’re skeptical of abductive reasoning? Science is abductive reasoning, and it’s the most successful research program in existence by far!

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lukeprog June 3, 2010 at 5:52 pm

Ajay,

Ah, okay. Thanks for clarifying. I’ll wait to see if any apologists have an answer.

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lukeprog June 3, 2010 at 5:58 pm

I should also have linked to my interview with Bob Price: “How to Study the Historical Jesus.”
http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=8044

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Steven Carr June 3, 2010 at 6:02 pm

‘The scholarly Ehrman knows the text of the New Testament has been established to 99% accuracy, and with greater certainty than any other ancient document,…’

Wow!

The text has NOT been established with 99% accuracy!

What does ’99% accuracy’ mean, when one little word can change the meaning of entire passages?

Simply add the word ‘NOT’ and you can have a 99% accurate text that now says the complete opposite.

‘An event mentioned in several independent documents is more likely to be historical than it would have been had it been mentioned in only one.’

The old story – If 4 Scientologists say something, then it must be true.

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Steven Carr June 3, 2010 at 6:04 pm

AYER
A primary source is more reliable than a secondary source, that is more reliable than a tertiary source and so on.

CARR
In other words, not a single Christian in the first century ever wrote a document claiming to have ever heard of Judas, Thomas, Bartimaeus,Jairus, Lazarus, Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Salome, Barabbas,Martha, the other Mary, Simon of Cyrene.

These only appear in anonymous Novels with no established provenance.

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Chris Hallquist June 3, 2010 at 6:07 pm

I’m baffled by the criticisms of Ehrman that you keep pushing here, Luke. Ehrman did a very good job of responding to it in Jesus, Interrupted:

“I have always insisted that most textual variants are insignificant (for example, right away on page 10 of Misquoting Jesus). I think maybe the objection is that I don’t say this enough, and that by focusing on the variants that do matter, I mislead people into thinking that the situation is worse than it is. I get the sense from these critics that they would have preferred me to write mainly about the insignificant textual changes that don’t matter for anything. Now wouldn’t that be an interesting book?”

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Joshua Blanchard June 3, 2010 at 6:11 pm

For some reason I find it unbearable when Craig accurately pronounces German terms and names. There is something too accurate about it.

Thus I end yet another extremely useful comment on your blog.

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Steven Carr June 3, 2010 at 6:12 pm

‘Most textual variants are insignificnat…’

Just wait until a sceptic makes a slight mistake translating a passage.

Christians will then tear the sceptic to pieces as a bumbling incompetent amateur who has distorted the message of the Bible, while also claiming that none of the missing verses in various ancient manuscripts make any difference at all.

If manuscripts leave out entire verses then this makes no difference, yet any sceptic who does not totally comprehend an aorist tense will have his interpretation of a Biblical passage written off as the work of a fool.

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Justfinethanks June 3, 2010 at 6:20 pm

For some reason I find it unbearable when Craig accurately pronounces German terms and names. There is something too accurate about it.

Usually I find it a bit douchey when people “correctly” pronounce foreign words, especially when the intent is obviously not accuracy but rather an attempt to project an image of erudition.

But considering Craig received a doctorate in Germany and speaks fluent German, I think it’s fair to give him a pass.

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Steven Carr June 3, 2010 at 6:29 pm

EHRMAN
An event mentioned in several independent documents is more likely to be historical than an event mentioned in only one.

CRAIG
An event mentioned in several independent documents is more likely to be historical than it would have been had it been mentioned in only one.

CARR
I see.

I can hardly see any difference between these two versions.

So THIS is the standard for deciding if textual variations are significant?

Early manuscripts leave ‘Son of God’ out of Mark 1:1.

Why is the ommission of ‘Son of God’ not significant, if the standard for significance is that tiny change in wording that Luke highlighted as really really significant?

Why the double standard?

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Tony Hoffman June 3, 2010 at 6:31 pm

Ayer, you are incorrect that”the criteria for historical Jesus research appear to fall well within the criteria use in the historical method generally.”

A good parallel here is military history. Ancient and medieval accounts that describe battles often use large, round numbers for the size of armies. These numbers are not taken at face value by military historians. Why? Because the numbers reported fly in the face of everything else we know — archaeology of the sites, ability of the cultures to sustain such forces across terrain, the obvious tendency to exaggerate and flatter the patrons that results from the telling of the story, etc. You don’t have to refer to Hume to use common sense and just call BS. And that, in my experience, is what most historians do, and where the NT scholars go off the reservation.

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Steven Carr June 3, 2010 at 6:33 pm

Criterion of embarrassment: If a tradition about Jesus is embarrassing or awkward for the early Christian movement, then it’s likely to be historically reliable.

CARR
How do we know it was embarrassing unless we see the early Christian movement lying about whether it happened or not?

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Jolly jon June 3, 2010 at 6:49 pm

I think there need to be more lectures singling out an criticizing William Lane Craig.

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ayer June 3, 2010 at 8:13 pm

“Ayer – That is an interesting point. It seems to me one major distinction, however, is that mainstream historians would object to supernatural explanations for historical events (i.e. the resurrection). That seems outside the purview of historiography.”

That was a point of dispute in Craig’s debate with Ehrman, but note that none of the facts Craig uses the historical criteria to argue for are supernatural events in themselves (Jesus crucified, women followers finding an empty tomb, disciples coming to believe in a risen Jesus, etc.). After arguing for the facts using the criteria, he then makes an inference to the resurrection (a supernatural event) as the best explanation (given the existence of God as part of the given background, as noted in his debate with Carrier).

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lukeprog June 3, 2010 at 8:15 pm

Chris,

But the meat of my criticism of Misquoting Jesus here is precisely that the variants Ehrman is worried about do not matter in the way that Ehrman thinks they do.

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lukeprog June 3, 2010 at 8:17 pm

jolly jon,

I would be happy to do those. :)

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Carl June 3, 2010 at 9:04 pm

When you get down to it, William Lane Craig believes in magic. Why do we care what he thinks about the historical Jesus? It’s not history he’s really concerned with. He’s concerned about belief in his invisible omnipotent friend in the sky who has his whole life planned out in secret and who couldn’t come up with a better way to save the vile, stupid humans than to magically impregnate one have his half-man offspring sacrificed in one of the most brutal ways imaginable.

As someone pointed out, no one who lived at the same time as Jesus supposedly did wrote anything about him. The gospels were written many years, even decades, after his death by third parties. None of the writers interviewed any of the characters in their stories! This would be akin to me trying to write an accurate account of world war 2 by talking to people in Normandy circa 1980 and asking them what they knew about D-day. Trying to defend the accuracy of the bible as coming from something other than divine inspiration is complete farce. Then again, WLC believes in magic!

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Hermes June 3, 2010 at 9:57 pm

Steven Carr: The old story – If 4 Scientologists say something, then it must be true.

I tried to improve upon that one. I gave up. Maybe some other day?

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Hermes June 3, 2010 at 10:14 pm

Carl, well said. He’s also anti-enlightenment.

(If anyone has a time index for the quote where he says that, please post it.)

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Steven Carr June 3, 2010 at 11:20 pm

LUKEPROG
But the meat of my criticism of Misquoting Jesus here is precisely that the variants Ehrman is worried about do not matter in the way that Ehrman thinks they do. lukeprog

CARR
Should I link to the article by Daniel Wallace where he accuses Richard Carrier of totally distorting a passage by writing ‘spirit’ instead of ‘his spirit’?

And of not putting a capital letter on spirit?

How can Christians get so upset by a missing capital letter, while claiming that there are no significant textual variants?

Imagine Craig seeing evidence that Muslims had changed the Koran to make Muhammad look better, and then saying ‘These changes to make Muhammad look better don’t jepoardize the doctrine that Muhammad was sinless’

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Bram van Dijk June 3, 2010 at 11:34 pm

WLC says that these criteria if dissimilarity can be used to prove positive things, but it cannot be used negatively.

I’d say that – given that they are stated using the words more likely – the criteria cannot prove anything. They can provide evidence, make something more or less probable, but never prove anything.

And as long as you’re using probability they can be used both positively and negatively. Really, the examples WLC gives are really weird.

—————-
About the 99% accuracy of the Greek text we have, I think that it is still significant:
-It goes against inerrancy.
-If Ehrman is correct in that the text has been changed to be more orthodox, that is important. Because there may also be changes where we don’t have variants. For example, if Mark really had a lost ending, it is plausible that it is somewhat unorthodox and was deliberately discarded by early scribes.
-Maybe we can now reconstruct the original text, but for almost 2000 years, Christians had to make due with a corrupted text. It seems awfully egocentric to say that the differences don’t matter because now we can reconstruct the text for 99%.

——————
In the end WLC is just nitpicking and tries to make it look as if Ehrman is incompetent. But I really don’t think his critique is anywhere near as strong as he tries to make it look.

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worldwar4 June 4, 2010 at 1:22 am

The fact that Craig uses the words: “Apostate”, “Atheist” (I could be mistaken but I have yet to hear Ehrman label himself as an Atheist), and “Bad Bart”, to a Christian audience makes the whole point of his lecture suspect. Especially the “Apostate” reference. Anyone who has ever been a believer knows how damning that label is to a persons credibility. A blatant low blow by Craig.

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Nick Barrowman June 4, 2010 at 3:31 am

Luke wrote:

… Ehrman defines the criterion of multiple attestation thusly:

An event mentioned in several independent documents is more likely to be historical than an event mentioned in only one.

Craig says this states the criterion wrongly, for it should really be:

An event mentioned in several independent documents is more likely to be historical than it would have been had it been mentioned in only one.

I agree that Craig’s formulation is more careful.

Ehrman’s formulation allows the relative plausibility of different events to be judged. I think that “all else being equal” is implied, as it so often is when we make comparative statements about a single characteristic in isolation.

Craig’s formulation is useless as a criterion for relative plausibility of different events, because it is counterfactual. It proposes that we compare what is with what might have been. It’s not clear to me that such an approach is at all helpful.

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Reginald Selkirk June 4, 2010 at 5:04 am

He says we must have solid criteria for deciding what is and isn’t historical in the New Testament documents about Jesus,…

Yes, and those standards should be consistently applied within the New Testament, and to other ancient documents.
Historical Double Standards by Matt McCormick

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Reginald Selkirk June 4, 2010 at 5:09 am

Craig: An event mentioned in several independent documents is more likely to be historical than it would have been had it been mentioned in only one.

Misdirection. Yes, Craig’s wording is more careful, but it ignores the fact that the gospels are not independent.

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Reginald Selkirk June 4, 2010 at 5:16 am

ThePowerofMeow: Ehrman spends most of his time, in his popular works when discussing textual criticism, going after biblical inerrancy. I believe this is a position that Dr. Craig holds to.

Ehrman did a good job of hammering that nail during a debate with Craig. Craig is employed by the Talbot School of Theology at Biola University (formerly the Bible Institute of Los Angeles). Here is their Doctrinal Statement:

The Bible, consisting of all the books of the Old and New Testaments, is the Word of God, a supernaturally given revelation from God Himself, concerning Himself, His being, nature, character, will and purposes; and concerning man, his nature, need and duty and destiny. The Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are without error or misstatement in their moral and spiritual teaching and record of historical facts. They are without error or defect of any kind.

Craig, as a scholar, surely must know that the Bible contains errors and contradictions.

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Reginald Selkirk June 4, 2010 at 5:21 am

worldwar4: (I could be mistaken but I have yet to hear Ehrman label himself as an Atheist)

You are not mistaken. From God’s Problem:

I don’t know if there is a God. I don’t call myself an atheist, because to declare affirmatively that there is no God (the declaration of atheists) takes far more knowledge (and chutzpah) than I have.

One might argue that Ehrman’s concept of the distinction between atheist and agnostic is off-target and unsophisticated, but it remains that he is not a self-declared atheist.

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ayer June 4, 2010 at 5:31 am

“Misdirection. Yes, Craig’s wording is more careful, but it ignores the fact that the gospels are not independent.”

Each Gospel is not entirely independent, but even skeptical scholars regard Mark, Q (Matthean unique material), Paul, and John as independent sources:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Criterion_of_multiple_attestation

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ayer June 4, 2010 at 5:34 am

“Ehrman did a good job of hammering that nail during a debate with Craig.”

Yes, he hammered a nail that was irrelevant to Craig’s case, since Craig presents the case for the resurrection using the rules of secular New Testament scholarship, not by arguing for inerrancy. Craig played on Ehrman’s chosen field and still beat him.

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k3tsm June 4, 2010 at 7:36 am

“Yes, he hammered a nail that was irrelevant to Craig’s case, since Craig presents the case for the resurrection using the rules of secular New Testament scholarship, not by arguing for inerrancy. Craig played on Ehrman’s chosen field and still beat him.”

That’s incorrect. I would urge you to listen to the debate again and remember the topic of the debate, “Is There Historical Evidence for the Resurrection?” Ehrman’s point was not simply to point out that there are contradictions in the bible and that they therefore undermine the case for the resurrection, but rather that Craig’s refusal to admit that the gospels have contradictions and mistakes reveals his lack of an unbiased and critical approach to his sources, which is necessary for any serious historical research.

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Steven Carr June 4, 2010 at 7:38 am

AYER
Each Gospel is not entirely independent, but even skeptical scholars regard Mark, Q (Matthean unique material), Paul, and John as independent sources:

CARR
In that case Mark and Q are not multiple attestation, as Q is defined as what is not in Mark….

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Haecceitas June 4, 2010 at 9:13 am

“About the 99% accuracy of the Greek text we have, I think that it is still significant:
-It goes against inerrancy.”

I think this is inaccurate. The doctrine of inerrancy could be true even if the the manuscript traditions were 99.9% corrupt. That doctrine is about the original texts, not the copies. You may respond that we don’t have the originals (as if the people who formed the Chicago Statement etc. did not know this) and that this makes the whole issue of inerrancy quite irrelevant, but that doesn’t change the actual definition of inerrancy one bit.

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Haecceitas June 4, 2010 at 9:24 am

“In that case Mark and Q are not multiple attestation, as Q is defined as what is not in Mark….”

This seems somewhat simplistic. If a historical conclusion is supported by some material M1 in Mark, then surely there can be material Q1 in Q that is different enough in form from M1 or anything else in Mark (while being shared by Luke and Matthew) to warrant the conclusion that it isn’t based on Mark, while it is at the same time such that it supports the same kind of historical conclusion.

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Haecceitas June 4, 2010 at 9:31 am

“Ehrman did a very good job of responding to it in Jesus, Interrupted”

Granted that there are issues of reading comprehension etc that an author may be unable to do anything about, I still think that if a very significant part of the readership of a book that aims to popularize the more technical/scholarly material in some subject matter come away from reading the book with completely mistaken views on the subject (thinking that scholars have no idea what the NT texts originally said, etc), then it isn’t totally unwarranted to criticize the author for this.

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Steven Carr June 4, 2010 at 9:33 am

HAECCITAS
This seems somewhat simplistic. If a historical conclusion is supported by some material M1 in Mark, then surely there can be material Q1 in Q that is different enough in form from M1 or anything else in Mark (while being shared by Luke and Matthew) to warrant the conclusion that it isn’t based on Mark, while it is at the same time such that it supports the same kind of historical conclusion. Haecceitas

CARR
Huh?

So things are multiply attested if they refer to different incidents?

How can that be?

Npbody has found this document called Q.

Matthew and Luke obviously stole from Mark.

John’s Gospel is clearly rewriting stories in Mark that did not suit – for example, the baptism.

They are not independent sources.

Perhaps if you just found a Cristian in the first century who named himself as ever seeing an emtpy tomb or Judas or Lazarus, or Joseph of Armathea, or Nicodemus or Joanna or Salome.

But there is no more evidence that these people existed than there is evidence for the second gunman who shot JFK

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ayer June 4, 2010 at 10:02 am

“Ehrman’s point was not simply to point out that there are contradictions in the bible and that they therefore undermine the case for the resurrection, but rather that Craig’s refusal to admit that the gospels have contradictions and mistakes reveals his lack of an unbiased and critical approach to his sources, which is necessary for any serious historical research.”

If so, that is a silly point, because no historian is without biases–the purpose of the criteria is to facilitate the putting aside of biases through the use of objective standards of analysis. Ehrman’s job was to contest the merits of the arguments Craig presented, which were based on secular historiographical standards, not inerrancy. Ehrman himself could be accused of being suffused with bias as a deconverted Christian disturbed by the problem of evil (see his book “God’s Problem”). Craig could just as easily have come back at Ehrman with the accusation that he is a biased analyst because of his bitterness at God over the problem of evil–but that would have been silly, so he didn’t.

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Steven Carr June 4, 2010 at 10:09 am

AYER
Ehrman’s job was to contest the merits of the arguments Craig presented, which were based on secular historiographical standards, not inerrancy.

CRAIG in the debate with Ehrman
In order to show that that hypothesis is improbable, you’d have to show that God’s existence is improbable. But Dr. Ehrman says that the historian cannot say anything about God. Therefore, he cannot say that God’s existence is improbable. But if he can’t say that, neither can he say that the resurrection of Jesus is improbable. So Dr. Ehrman’s position is literally self-refuting.

CARR
Yes, ‘secular historical standards’, which is why Craig says Ehrman had to take God into account.

How is Ayer getting on with evidence that Judas, Thomas, Lazarus, Joanna, Salome , Joseph of Arimathea existed?

Is he still hoping that question will go away if he buries his head in the sand?

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Haecceitas June 4, 2010 at 10:45 am

“So things are multiply attested if they refer to different incidents?”

They can refer to different aspects of the same thing. Or they can contain the same type of description/teaching but with different vocabulary, etc.

“How can that be?”

Let’s say that a scholar wants to argue for the hypothesis that Jesus saw himself as one through whom the Jewish expectations of God’s rule among his people would be fulfilled. Are you incapable of thinking of ways in which it could be the case that:

1. Markan material and Q material both testify to this element in Jesus’ ministry

while at the same

2. they are distinct enough so that clearly the one isn’t just copied from the other?

“Npbody has found this document called Q.”

Right. But I responded to your statement that seemed to take for granted (for argument’s sake perhaps) the existence of Q.

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Haecceitas June 4, 2010 at 10:54 am

“but rather that Craig’s refusal to admit that the gospels have contradictions and mistakes reveals his lack of an unbiased and critical approach to his sources, which is necessary for any serious historical research.”

I don’t see why a person can’t use very critical methods when dealing with the NT texts on a historical level even if one has additional reasons (which lie outside the domain of critical history) to hold that the texts are inerrant. To the extent that we are dealing with arguments and methodology, the psychological biases of a person become somewhat irrelevant. I don’t think that Craig has ever argued that inerrancy is primarily a historical conclusion for him, or that he necessarily thinks that the application of historical methods would not make him lean toward seeing the Bible as errant unless he had extra-historical reasons for thinking that it is inerrant.

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ayer June 4, 2010 at 11:12 am

“How is Ayer getting on with evidence that Judas, Thomas, Lazarus, Joanna, Salome , Joseph of Arimathea existed?

Is he still hoping that question will go away if he buries his head in the sand?”

Since that question is, like inerrancy, irrelevant to Craig’s case, I am “getting on” just fine.

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Tony Hoffman June 4, 2010 at 11:24 am

Haecceitas: “Let’s say that a scholar wants to argue for the hypothesis that Jesus saw himself as one through whom the Jewish expectations of God’s rule among his people would be fulfilled.”

If she used the word hypothesis I would presume that the scholar was poorly educated in the field of history. I know that the word hypothesis is used in a colloquial way, but it also appears in context like these to be a way to upgrade the study of history to a level equivalent to the hard sciences. If you mean hypothesis as best explanation, then why not say best explanation, or historical interpretation, or any of the terms that reflect the more modest strength of historical conclusions and consensus?

Regarding inerrancy, I don’t think it’s an out-of-bounds premise for Craig to apply. The question then becomes, basically, is the premise of inerrancy productive with regard to NT study? What does it allow Craig to predict, how does it better explain our historical understanding than a theory without the premise, are the explanation derived from the premise of inerrancy more ad hoc than those without it, etc. It appears that inerrancy fails on these grounds as a productive premise for study.

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Haecceitas June 4, 2010 at 12:26 pm

“If she used the word hypothesis I would presume that the scholar was poorly educated in the field of history.”

I think your presumption would be quite unwarranted since the word is not that uncommon in the field of history.

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ayer June 4, 2010 at 12:54 pm

“The question then becomes, basically, is the premise of inerrancy productive with regard to NT study?”

Since Craig does not rely on that premise to make his case for the resurrection, it would be irrelevant to the dispute between Craig and Ehrman.

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ShaneSteinhauser June 4, 2010 at 1:08 pm

@Luke

Science is different than abductive reasoning because it has the added criteria of demanding that an explaination be tested constantly and pass.

Abductive reasoning on the other hand simply asks for the “best explaination”. No testability required.

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Steven Carr June 4, 2010 at 1:12 pm

CARR
How is Ayer getting on with evidence that Judas, Thomas, Lazarus, Joanna, Salome , Joseph of Arimathea existed?

Is he still hoping that question will go away if he buries his head in the sand?”

AYER
Since that question is, like inerrancy, irrelevant to
Craig’s case, I am “getting on” just fine. ayer

CARR
Ayer is basically admitting that he cannot produce any evidence that ‘Mark’ did not write a Novel.

The evidence for Christianity is so pathetic that Christians have to plead ‘No contest’ in even such basic things as whether the guy who allegedly buried jesus even existed!

At least Mormons can prove Joseph Smith existed. Ayer cannot even produce any Christians who named himself as having seen Joseph of Arimathea.

Really, why do Christians even pretend they have evidence?

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ayer June 4, 2010 at 1:36 pm

“The evidence for Christianity is so pathetic”

Yes, so pathetic that Craig keeps defeating atheists in debates on the resurrection up one continent and down another

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MauricXe June 4, 2010 at 1:52 pm

“Yes, so pathetic that Craig keeps defeating atheists in debates on the resurrection up one continent and down another ”

It has nothing to do with the amount of evidence. It has everything to do with who makes the best argument and how that said argument is made.

—-

Thanks for this post luke. I wish I could contribute to this discussion a little more but I haven’t read Bart’s book yet. I will after finals….hopefully

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Tony Hoffman June 4, 2010 at 2:24 pm

Haec: “I think your presumption would be quite unwarranted since the word [hypothesis] is not that uncommon in the field of history.”

Maybe in history of science, or historiography, but I read a lot of history and I can’t think of any instance, offhand, of a historian I’ve read discussing their “hypothesis.” So I’ll call BS on that.

I get the feeling that few apologists read much history. I think if they did, they’d be a lot more skeptical about the New Testament, and religious documents in general.

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k3tsm June 4, 2010 at 5:03 pm

Ayer,
You’ve once again missed the point. You cannot say that you are honestly applying critical research when you (and your institution) believe that the book you are using for your source is without error because it was divinely inspired. By the way, how does one know that?. Ehrman’s point was that Craig is not serious about historical reasons for his belief, because the belief that the book was inerrant preceded his actual research. That’s not how you do historical analysis.
In response to your assertion that there is always bias amongst historians, while that is true, there are ways for controlling for it, which Craig is clearly not interested in doing. Furthermore, and more importantly, I would think few historians of the American Revolution would approcach the 18th century colonial documents with the assumption that they are necessarily true, correct, and withhout bias or exaggeration. Thus, to compare the bias of Craig and the Gospels with the work of mainstream historians is simply ridiculous.

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k3tsm June 4, 2010 at 5:12 pm

“I don’t see why a person can’t use very critical methods when dealing with the NT texts on a historical level even if one has additional reasons (which lie outside the domain of critical history) to hold that the texts are inerrant. To the extent that we are dealing with arguments and methodology, the psychological biases of a person become somewhat irrelevant. I don’t think that Craig has ever argued that inerrancy is primarily a historical conclusion for him, or that he necessarily thinks that the application of historical methods would not make him lean toward seeing the Bible as errant unless he had extra-historical reasons for thinking that it is inerrant.”
No serious historian approcahes his sources like Craig does with the Gospels. If he believes that they are inerrant for reasons other than historical, it demonstrates that he does not approach his sources in the way a historian would. In that case, it doesn’t matter what the Gospels say about the resurrection, as he would believe it anyway for the simple reason that the book was divinely inspired by God, and therefore the resurrection had to happen.

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Hitch June 4, 2010 at 5:38 pm

Do we expect apologists to have an unbiased presentation? Heck I know distinguished Christian scientists who have their views of science biased by their belief, e.g. endorsing anthropic arguments or claims about the big bang that are beyond our capabilities to establish.

I cannot speak to historicity of the bible, but Craig Lane will happily exaggerate points drawn from science (not knowing any) to make an apologetic case, and downplay it when it doesn’t. So for Craig Lane quantum mechanics does not draw into question big bang arguments of creation. Mostly he neither understands general relativity nor quantum mechanics but will present his opinion with lots of confidence and suave.

I really think people need to take especially Craig Lane much less seriously. Maybe I do have to write a detailed piece how he misuses science for his apologetics. Why should we believe that he is better in the use of the historicity of the bible, when he has a horse in that race as well.

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ayer June 4, 2010 at 5:42 pm

“In response to your assertion that there is always bias amongst historians, while that is true, there are ways for controlling for it, which Craig is clearly not interested in doing.”

You need to provide some evidence for that assertion, as well as explaining how you know that Ehrman’s anti-Christian bias does not infect his a priori claim that an inference to the resurrection as the best explanation of the data cannot be made (especially since, as noted in the original post, Ehrman appears to have allowed that bias to distort his presentation of the textual evidence in his popular works).

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Hermes June 4, 2010 at 5:57 pm

Erm, he (Craig) said as much. Why not accept it and continue to the next topic?

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k3tsm June 4, 2010 at 7:30 pm

“Biola holds to the key doctrine of Biblical inerrancy, the idea that the original writings of the Bible were without error with regard to both theological and non-theological matters. The institution also officially holds to the teaching of premillennial dispensationalism, and requires its faculty members to be in accord with this theological and cultural perspective. As a final guarantee of strict adherence to its theological and cultural worldview, the University requires every faculty member, when first hired and again upon application for tenure, to submit their understanding of and complete agreement with each item of the doctrinal and teaching statements to the Talbot School of Theology for evaluation.”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biola_University

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ayer June 4, 2010 at 7:46 pm

Craig’s theological commitment to inerrancy is not in dispute. The question is whether he succeeds in putting that aside and playing by the historiographical rules when making his case for the resurrection. It is clear that he does; indeed, as the original post points out, he appears to understand and formulate the relevant criteria better than Ehrman does.

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Hermes June 4, 2010 at 8:03 pm

Craig is clear that he does not serve two masters. Everything he does is towards one goal. Why dispute that?

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Steven Carr June 4, 2010 at 11:04 pm

AYER
Yes, so pathetic that Craig keeps defeating atheists in debates on the resurrection up one continent and down another ayer

CARR
SO Ayer once again ducks out of providing ANY evidence that Judas, Thomas, Lazarus, Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea, Barabbas, Bartimaeus, Jairus, Joanna, Salome exsted.

He cannot provide a shred of evidence that Joseph of Arimathea, existed. Not one Christian ever named himself as seeing him.

He cannot provide a shred of evidence that an empty tomb existed. Not one Christian ever named himself as seeing it.

He cannot provide a shred of evidence that these alleged women who visited this alleged tomb existed. Not one Christian ever named himself as having seen them.

Ayer and Craig no more do history than people who read Macbeth and believe it happened like in the play are doing history.

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Steven Carr June 4, 2010 at 11:31 pm

Can miracles be established without Craig’s precondition that we must factor in his god before analysing the data?

I saw a miracle once.

I knew a valuable wallet had been left in a room.

I wanted to go and count the money, so went there early one morning. When I got there I remembered that somebody had put a safe in front of the door, and wondered who could move the safe when I got there.

Anyway, when I got there, I found that the safe had been moved, the door was open, and that the money had vanished.

It must have been a miracle.

This was about 30 years ago.

Obviously this is not true.

If this had really happened 30 years ago, then for the last 30 years, I would have been accused of stealing the money.

And if I had had to spend 30 years dealing with accusations of money-stealing, I would never tell the story in a way that did nothing to counter the obvious accusation that I must have stolen the money.

There could never have been an empty tomb, or else Mark’s Gospel would not have left Christians so wide open to the charges of grave-robbing that would have been circulating
for 30 years before he wrote.

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kilopapa June 5, 2010 at 3:03 am

I frequently see the word “independent” attached to the gospels(from Christian apologists). Even if that were true,though it’s not,why would it necessarily be significant? What really matters is whether the gospel authors had access to accurate historical information about Jesus. Anyone today could write a book about the life of Jesus and claim that it was divenely inspired by God and that would be an “independent” source. ( A guy actually did something like this a few years ago with a bestselling book called “Conversations with God”.

“Independent” sources seem far less important than “accurate” sources and the accuracy of the gospels is a matter of much debate and speculation.

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Steven Carr June 5, 2010 at 3:15 am

KILOPAPA
“Independent” sources seem far less important than “accurate” sources and the accuracy of the gospels is a matter of much debate and speculation.

CARR
In other words, not even a Christian in the first century ever wrote a document naming himself as having heard of an empty tomb, Judas,Lazarus, Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea, Barabbas, Simon of Cyrene, Joanna,Salome – the people in Mark’s Novel

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ayer June 5, 2010 at 5:09 am

“Not one Christian ever named himself as seeing him.”

So what? Your standard is that no historical event is attested to unless attested to in a personal memoir? That’s bizarre.

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Steven Carr June 5, 2010 at 5:23 am

So Ayer thinks it bizarre that anybody should ask for the name of a Christian who claimed to have seen these people in the Gospels!

Why doesn’t he just write a big sign in the sky saying ‘I have no evidence and I will call people bizarre if they ask me for evidence that Judas or Thomas or Joseph of Arimathea existed’?

Is it because such a sign would cost too much money?

Ayer has had 2000 years to find SOME EVIDENCE THAT THESE PEOPLE EXISTED.

I have put that in capital letters so that even Ayer can see what is needed before I stop laughing at Christians.

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ayer June 5, 2010 at 6:09 am

Carr, interesting theory of historical evidence you have there: no personal memoir = no history. Of course, that would exclude 99% of the history that we currently study, but ho hum.

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Hermes June 5, 2010 at 6:35 am

On the scale of credibility, similar propositions are not necessarily equal. For example;

* Some guy preached a few thousand years ago.

* Some guy preached a few thousand years ago — and was a god who rose from the dead and … .

The first is trivial to accept. The second is not. If you disagree, then the claims of others that are of similar character (not necessarily identical details), should also be accepted.

I hope that these general ideas can be acknowledged and we can move on to something interesting.

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ayer June 5, 2010 at 6:49 am

Hermes,

Your objection is on a different topic from Carr, who in his comments disputes not just supernatural events, but whether certain individuals can even be said to have existed absent evidence in the form of a personal memoir. That idiosyncratic (to say the least) view of acceptable historical evidence would exclude 99% of non-supernatural events from history.

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Steven Carr June 5, 2010 at 7:18 am

SO Ayer still refuses to give ANY evidence that these people existed!

He can’t even find a Christian who claims to have seen any of Judas, Thomas, Lazarus, Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea, Bartimaeus, Joanna, Salome, Barabbas, Simon of Cyrene, Martha, Jairus.

Almost the entire cast of characters in Mark’s Novel is entirely missing , even from Christian memories.

And Ayer claims he is using secular historical standards, when his Novels claim a whole host of people existed that NOBODY EVER SAW or WROTE ABOUT – not even Christians, apart from the Novelists.

These are ghost people. They did not exist.

Ayer has no evidence they existed.

And he is desperately trying to cover up that he believes without evidence – without even a shred of evidence that these people existed, people not even Christians mentioned as having existed, apart from in the anonymous, unprovenanced Novels.

Ayer’s inability to produce a SHRED of evidence is so brazen that even he must feel ashamed that he believes without evidence – the very thing New Atheists are calling people like him on, and the very thing that every post by Ayer confirms New Atheists are right to call his bluff.

Ayer – put up or shut up.

Produce some evidence that Mark’s Novel is not populated almost entirely by people that nobody ever saw.

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Steven Carr June 5, 2010 at 7:24 am

AYER
Your objection is on a different topic from Carr, who in his comments disputes not just supernatural events, but whether certain individuals can even be said to have existed absent evidence in the form of a personal memoir.

CARR
What Ayer is admitting is that NOT EVEN CHRISTIANS ever saw those people he claims exists.

Although the Novels claim Lazarus was famous, not a single Christian in the first century ever named himself as ever having heard of the guy….

Not one shred of evidence.

Ayer is simply a faith-head, who openly admits he has no evidence for his beliefs, apart from Old Novels, full of people who never existed.

It is like talking to a Scientologist…..

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Hermes June 5, 2010 at 7:36 am

Ayer, Steven Carr is right. It’s a novel. While I do not completely agree with him, Joseph Campbell had quite a few insightful things to say on this topic;

Every religion is true one way or another. It is true when understood metaphorically. But when it gets stuck in its own metaphors, interpreting them as facts, then you are in trouble.

Mythology is often thought of as ‘other peoples’ religions and religion can be defined as mis-interpreted mythology.

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Steven Carr June 5, 2010 at 9:32 am

AYER
Your objection is on a different topic from Carr, who in his comments disputes not just supernatural events, but whether certain individuals can even be said to have existed absent evidence in the form of a personal memoir. That idiosyncratic (to say the least) view of acceptable historical evidence would exclude 99% of non-supernatural events from history.

CARR
Ayer never seems to name any of these 99% of people who are only attested to in anonymous, unprovenanced works, despite rising from the dead in the case of Lazarus.

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ayer June 5, 2010 at 10:10 am

“While I do not completely agree with him,”

Yikes, I would hope not

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Hermes June 5, 2010 at 10:14 am

Want to add to the conversation, or just repeat something I’ve already noted but phrase it as a jab?

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Hermes June 5, 2010 at 10:15 am

How about addressing Steven Carr’s comments?

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drj June 5, 2010 at 2:20 pm

Ayer said:

I don’t believe this is correct; the criteria for historical Jesus research appear to fall well within the criteria use in the historical method generally. See:

IIRC…

In Craig’s debate with Carrier, Carrier took issue with the historicity of the resurrection because of its miraculous nature. Miraculous explanations he says, by definition are about as improbable and unexpected as its possible for an explanation to be, at least when trying to explain historical events.

Craig concedes that the resurrection does seem improbable and less believable than other non-miraculous explanations. But he defends his case for the historicity of the resurrection, claiming that natural theology proves that a personal God exists, thereby making the miraculous nature of the resurrection a probable event.

So his theology really is inseparable from his historical case here. In fact, it seems to be *the key*. And this theology certainly isn’t a mainstream historical method…

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ayer June 6, 2010 at 10:51 am

“So his theology really is inseparable from his historical case here. In fact, it seems to be *the key*. And this theology certainly isn’t a mainstream historical method… ”

The point of my statement which you quoted had to do with whether the methods used in historical Jesus research (even by skeptics such as Ehrman and the Jesus seminar) are in line with those used in historical research generally. I say they are, and that those standards are better understood by Craig than by Ehrman (as the original post notes). This particular did not come up in the Craig-Carrier debate. Whether the drawing of historical conclusions requires a priori methodological atheism is an entirely different issue.

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Hermes June 6, 2010 at 11:02 am

Ayer, the difference is that Craig’s isn’t ‘a priori methodological atheism’ but a narrow ‘a priori methodological sectarianism’ — one that historians do not typically follow regardless of their personal theistic beliefs, yet Craig unabashedly does. This would be no different from holding some presupposition before performing the investigation.

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MKandefer June 8, 2010 at 11:50 am

Carr,

Speaking of Lazarus…

“The graves were opened. When Jesus died, there was an earthquake, the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints arose. And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.” Matthew 27:52-53

How many Saints do you suspect there were? How many people do you think saw them? How many of these resurrected Saints wrote about their experience? What about those that saw them?

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Hermes June 8, 2010 at 12:30 pm

Ayer, anytime now… Silence is considered agreement with what Steven Carr wrote.

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lukeprog June 8, 2010 at 1:07 pm

Hermes,

No, I don’t think silence should be considered agreement with your interlocutor! I cannot count how many comments on this blog I have not had time or interest to respond to.

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Hermes June 8, 2010 at 3:47 pm

Luke, normally I’d agree. On a one-off instance, that is actually quite normal. In this case, Ayer has been asked a direct question by Stephen Carr a few times and has decided to spend his time making other comments instead.

He could have said he did not know the answer.

He could have provided one.

He could have agreed with him.

He could have provided a link to a resource.

He instead dismissed the question as irrelevant, though it seems to me to be quite important and possibly embarrassing.

So, in this case, it’s reasonable to consider his continued silence to be that he is embarrassed or frustrated that he is unable to give a response — beyond dismissal — that fits with his presuppositions. To me, that’s as close to a concession as can be expected from many people.

Of course, Ayer is not required to do anything yet I’m not required to grant that he has supported his point of view by doing nothing. I’ve found that evasion usually ends in concession but it take quite a bit of effort for the evading person to fess up. Why not skip to the end and take this instance of silence as a concession in this case? If it’s not true, the control of that conclusion is entirely in Ayer’s hands.

Personally, I’d like to learn something new if I’m unaware of it and Ayer is.

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ayer June 9, 2010 at 2:39 pm

“In this case, Ayer has been asked a direct question by Stephen Carr a few times and has decided to spend his time making other comments instead.”

Actually, I have to admit I have trouble following Carr’s style of communication (I am more of a linear thinker). If you could rephrase what you see as his question I would be glad to attempt to respond to it.

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Hermes June 9, 2010 at 4:14 pm

If you could rephrase what you see as his question I would be glad to attempt to respond to it.

OK. I’ll post something later. Right now, I’m dealing with a party that will probably go for a couple more hours. It’s hard to concentrate with the commotion of kids and babbling adults.

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Steven Carr June 9, 2010 at 9:15 pm

Can Ayer produce one named person in the first century AD who wrote a document naming himself as having heard of Judas, Thomas, Bartimaeus, an empty tomb, Lazarus, Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea, Joanna, Salome, Jairus, Barabbas etc etc

As soon as there is a public church in Acts 2, with the possibility of public records, these people vanish from Christian records , only to appear in Novels.

Does Ayer have any evidence that Judas existed?

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ayer June 9, 2010 at 10:59 pm

Carr: “Can Ayer produce one named person in the first century AD who wrote a document naming himself as having heard of Judas, Thomas, Bartimaeus, an empty tomb, Lazarus, Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea, Joanna, Salome, Jairus, Barabbas etc etc

As soon as there is a public church in Acts 2, with the possibility of public records, these people vanish from Christian records , only to appear in Novels.

Does Ayer have any evidence that Judas existed?”

Please explain why this is relevant to Craig’s “minimal facts” defense of the resurrection–otherwise the discussion would be an interesting diversion for students of ancient history, but irrelevant to the original post.

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Steven Carr June 9, 2010 at 11:09 pm

Who would have guess it?

When asked for somebody who named himself as seeing an empty tomb, Joanna , Salome, or Joseph of Arimathea, Ayer……

ask why that is relevant to Craig saying women saw an empty tomb after Joseph of Arimathea buried Jesus!

I suppose when asked if anybody saw this second gunman who shot JFK, Ayer would say this was a diversion from the claim that a second gunman show JFK….

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ayer June 10, 2010 at 3:48 am

Why are you talking about me into the ether instead of addressing me? I will wait for Hermes to translate.

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Steven Carr June 10, 2010 at 4:06 am

Ayer still ducks the question.

Oblivious to the effect this is producing on people who are wondering why he cannot produce any evidence that Mark’s Novel differs from Harry Potter.

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Tony Hoffman June 10, 2010 at 4:47 am

Ayer: “Please explain why this is relevant to Craig’s “minimal facts” defense of the resurrection–otherwise the discussion would be an interesting diversion for students of ancient history, but irrelevant to the original post. ”

I agree that you appear to be dodging the question and its implications, btw.

Why is it relevant to Craig’s minimal “facts” defense? Because Craig can easily be criticized for mis-using the term historical fact if his sources materials are to be considered works of fiction.

At this point, we have far more of the kind of “factual” evidence for Harry Potter — 7 books, 5 (or is it 6?) movies produced by named directors, several video games, thousands of pieces of artwork, etc.

So, how do Craig’s “facts” differ materially from the “facts” we have of Harry Potter? That is the implication of Steven Carr’s question. I would have thought that was obvious.

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ayer June 10, 2010 at 5:08 am

“Why is it relevant to Craig’s minimal “facts” defense? Because Craig can easily be criticized for mis-using the term historical fact if his sources materials are to be considered works of fiction.”

Because Craig relies on portions of the New Testament texts agreed upon by scholars such as Bart Ehrman, who are skeptical of other portions of those same texts (i.e., they are not regarded as “Novels” but as examples of biography similar to others in that genre in the Graeco-Roman world; see http://www.amazon.com/What-Are-Gospels-Comparison-Graeco-Roman/dp/0521483638). Different portions of the texts are given different levels of creedance according to the criteria discussed in the original post.

(Btw, I am impressed that you deign to address me directly instead of in the third person).

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Tony Hoffman June 10, 2010 at 5:34 am

Ayer: “Because Craig relies on portions of the New Testament texts agreed upon by scholars such as Bart Ehrman, who are skeptical of other portions of those same texts.”

The premise here seems to be that the corroboration for the events described in the New Testament are on a par with the events surrounding other historical figures, which they are not. We have artifacts, named sources and described historical methods, etc. for biographies of figures like Alexander the Great, Augustus, etc. These are all conspicuously absent from the “biography” of the person and surrounding cast described in the synoptic Gospels.

In every Harry Potter story we have the basic facts that Harry is a Wizard who faced Voldemort as a child, went to Hogwarts, and was surrounded by his friends Ron and Hermione. All Harry Potter scholars agree on these basic facts. The question then becomes, what is the best explanation for these basic facts.

Ayer: “Btw, I am impressed that you deign to address me directly instead of in the third person.”

Have I done otherwise?

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drj June 10, 2010 at 5:41 am

Have I done otherwise? Tony Hoffman

Pretty sure that comment was a jab at Carr.

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drj June 10, 2010 at 5:51 am

The point of my statement which you quoted had to do with whether the methods used in historical Jesus research (even by skeptics such as Ehrman and the Jesus seminar) are in line with those used in historical research generally. I say they are, and that those standards are better understood by Craig than by Ehrman (as the original post notes). This particular did not come up in the Craig-Carrier debate. Whether the drawing of historical conclusions requires a priori methodological atheism is an entirely different issue. ayer

Ok… Would you agree then, that Craig’s historical argument for the resurrection uses special criteria for historicity (ex. natural theology) that are rarely if ever used by mainstream historians to assess the historicity of other ancient reports?

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ayer June 10, 2010 at 8:08 am

Tony,

Ok, we just disagree. The sources involved are simply not considered the equivalent of “novels”, even by most skeptical scholars (the Jesus seminar, Ehrman, etc.).

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ayer June 10, 2010 at 8:17 am

“Would you agree then, that Craig’s historical argument for the resurrection uses special criteria for historicity (ex. natural theology) that are rarely if ever used by mainstream historians to assess the historicity of other ancient reports?”

The criteria Craig uses to establish the “minimal facts” are consistent with those used by mainstream historians. When it comes to drawing the inference to the best explanation of those facts, I’m not aware of a standard of historiography that takes a position one way or the other regarding whether philosophical reasoning (cosmological argument, fine-tuning argument, moral argument, etc.) can be used to determine whether the background knowledge includes God’s existence or non-existence. Perhaps you know of such a criterion? I believe Ehrman cited Hume to the effect that the historian must assume that God can never enter into a historical explanation, but Hume was not an historian. My impression is that there is no professional consensus on that issue.

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Tony Hoffman June 10, 2010 at 9:09 am

Ayer: “Ok, we just disagree. The sources involved are simply not considered the equivalent of “novels”, even by most skeptical scholars (the Jesus seminar, Ehrman, etc.).”

I think they’re considered historical novels of the fantasy genre by everyone who is not a Christian or Muslim. I think it telling that the evidence you provide for your position is the assessment of others, when the evidence is there for all of us to consider.

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ayer June 10, 2010 at 11:17 am

Well, Ehrman is not a Christian and regards them as within the genre of ancient biography, not “historical fantasy novels”:

“Many recent scholars have come to recognize that the New Testament Gospels are a kind of ancient biography. Most of the distinctive features of the Gospels relate directly to their Christian character. They are the only biographies written by Christians about the man they worship as the Son of God who died for the salvation of the world.” Ehrman, Bart D. The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings. Third Edition. New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

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Steven Carr June 10, 2010 at 1:12 pm

Ayer keeps claiming the Gospels are not Novels, and ducks any challenge as ‘irrelevant’ to show they are not as full of non-existent people as the Harry Potter Novels (which feature real places like King’s Cross Station)

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Steven Carr June 10, 2010 at 1:13 pm

AYER
The criteria Craig uses to establish the “minimal facts” are consistent with those used by mainstream historians.

CARR
In other words, Ayer cannot show that it is a fact that Joseph of Arimathea existed, yet claims it is a fact that Joseph of Arimathea buried Jesus, despite Joseph being a non-existent person.

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Tony Hoffman June 10, 2010 at 1:14 pm

Ayer: “Many recent scholars have come to recognize that the New Testament Gospels are a kind of ancient biography.”

Exactly. The kind of ancient biography where a character’s life story unfolds, fantastical things happen, etc. I’ve read accounts of Heracles, too, and they are a kind of ancient biography.

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Jayman June 10, 2010 at 3:31 pm

Tony Hoffman:

The premise here seems to be that the corroboration for the events described in the New Testament are on a par with the events surrounding other historical figures, which they are not. We have artifacts, named sources and described historical methods, etc. for biographies of figures like Alexander the Great, Augustus, etc. These are all conspicuously absent from the “biography” of the person and surrounding cast described in the synoptic Gospels.

Can you point me to scholarly works on ancient persons (e.g., Alexander, Augustus) that spend time on historical methodology? You’re general outline of their approach seems quite similar to the approach taken by scholars studying the historical Jesus.

I think they’re considered historical novels of the fantasy genre by everyone who is not a Christian or Muslim. I think it telling that the evidence you provide for your position is the assessment of others, when the evidence is there for all of us to consider.

First of all, Muslims are skeptical of the Gospels because they contradict the Koran. Second, Ayer described the consensus correctly as far as I can tell and he pointed you to a book-length treatment on the genre of the Gospels that has persuaded most scholars. Third, the position you take, identifying the Gospels as “fantasy novels,” may be popular in certain internet circles but doesn’t have much acceptance among actual historians.

Exactly. The kind of ancient biography where a character’s life story unfolds, fantastical things happen, etc. I’ve read accounts of Heracles, too, and they are a kind of ancient biography.

Ayer cited Richard A. Burridge’s What Are the Gospels? as a work explaining why the Gospels are considered Greco-Roman biographies. Burridge finds the Gospels to be of the same genre as works about the Caesars, which you appear to accept as historical figures. What scholarly work shows the Gospels to be more like a biography of Heracles than Augustus? It would be nice if it included statistical analysis and a list of the dozens of criteria used to define the genre, since this is what Burridge does.

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Tony Hoffman June 10, 2010 at 4:57 pm

Jayman: “Can you point me to scholarly works on ancient persons (e.g., Alexander, Augustus) that spend time on historical methodology?”

How does that relate to my point that we do not have a described methodology or equivalent primary sources for the story about Jesus compared to Alexander or Augustus? Do you understand the importance any historian places on attribution and primary sources?

Here’s a link for the kind of difference in source material I’m talking about.

http://virgil.org/augustus/primary-sources.htm

Jayman: “You’re general outline of their approach seems quite similar to the approach taken by scholars studying the historical Jesus.”

No, they’re really not. The two (ancient history and New Testament scholarship) are similar in that they study ancient languages, documents, and learn the skills necessary to sift through the data. They are entirely dissimilar in that those who study ancient history do not place any credence in accounts of supernatural events (mythological, biblical, mystical religions, etc.), although those accounts themselves are historical. Do you understand the difference?

Jayman: “First of all, Muslims are skeptical of the Gospels because they contradict the Koran. “

I believe that the Muslim position is that the events of the Old and New Testament were accurate depictions of God’s involvement on earth, but God subsequently revised his thinking and sent this information down through his prophet Muhammed. If the Bible is bunk, Islam tumbles with it.

Jayman: “Second, Ayer described the consensus correctly as far as I can tell and he pointed you to a book-length treatment on the genre of the Gospels that has persuaded most scholars.”

No, Ayer did not accurately describe the consensus, he pointed me to a book instead of deigning to summarize the argument, or, more importantly, cite evidence, and how in the world do you know that this book has persuaded most scholars?

Do you understand that historians care less about the opinion of other historians than they do the data? Historical opinions come and go, but the data remains.

Jayman: “Third, the position you take, identifying the Gospels as “fantasy novels,” may be popular in certain internet circles but doesn’t have much acceptance among actual historians.”

Since you are repeatedly telling me that I am misinformed about the field of history I have to tell you that I studied Ancient History, Roman History, the New Testament, Latin, and lots of other histories at an Ivy League university. In all my study there I can assure you that there was no talk of the historical Jesus (because there’s really nothing there to discuss), but only about Christianity as a cultural phenomenon. In other words, we have lots of good evidence for Christians, albeit spotty until the 2nd Century, but really nothing credible for the historical Jesus. That’s not to say that a man named Jesus did not exist, mind you (I think he probably did), but that the accounts in the synoptic Gospels are best explained as mythological narratives.

Jayman: “What scholarly work shows the Gospels to be more like a biography of Heracles than Augustus? It would be nice if it included statistical analysis and a list of the dozens of criteria used to define the genre, since this is what Burridge does.”

Historians don’t bother with such a trivial mission because it’s a non-question. I sincerely believe you couldn’t get a PhD anywhere with such a thesis.

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Jayman June 10, 2010 at 6:43 pm

Tony Hoffman:

How does that relate to my point that we do not have a described methodology or equivalent primary sources for the story about Jesus compared to Alexander or Augustus?

I’m asking you to demonstrate your claim while realizing the comment box may not be the appropriate place for such a demonstration to occur. I’m looking for the methodology that historians use when studying Alexander or Augustus so that I can compare it to the methodology used by historians when studying Jesus. As a student of history I’m hoping you have numerous quality recommendations.

Do you understand the importance any historian places on attribution and primary sources?

Yes. I would like a reference to a work that explains why historians use the sources mentioned in your link as opposed to other sources so that I can determine whether their reasons are different than the reasons given by historians using the Gospels to study the historical Jesus.

They are entirely dissimilar in that those who study ancient history do not place any credence in accounts of supernatural events (mythological, biblical, mystical religions, etc.), although those accounts themselves are historical. Do you understand the difference?

Are you saying that historians (1) deny that so-and-so worked a miracle (e.g., Jesus did not heal Bartimeus) or (2) reject any source that mentions the supernatural (e.g., the mere fact that Mark mentions miracles means we can’t use the book as a primary source)? If (1) then there are historians who work that way with regard to Jesus. If (2) then I’ve definitely seen historians break the rule (even when the topic is not Jesus).

I believe that the Muslim position is that the events of the Old and New Testament were accurate depictions of God’s involvement on earth, but God subsequently revised his thinking and sent this information down through his prophet Muhammed. If the Bible is bunk, Islam tumbles with it.

Muslims believe that the Taurat was revealed to Moses and the Injeel to Jesus. However, they believe that the Torah of the Jews and the Gospels of the NT are corrupt. A notable contradiction between the Koran and the Gospels is that the Koran (4:157) states that Jesus was neither killed nor crucified whereas the Gospels quite clearly state that Jesus was both killed and crucified. Islam requires that the Bible is neither too accurate nor too inaccurate.

No, Ayer did not accurately describe the consensus, he pointed me to a book instead of deigning to summarize the argument, or, more importantly, cite evidence, and how in the world do you know that this book has persuaded most scholars?

I’m guessing he thought you could read reviews of the book and the book itself if you’re interested. In a similar fashion, I merely ask for reading suggestions as I don’t expect you to summarize books in these comments. Based on my reading of other scholars, Burridge’s book has been quite persuasive. But I’m open to hearing other scholarly opinions if you know of them.

Do you understand that historians care less about the opinion of other historians than they do the data? Historical opinions come and go, but the data remains.

I realize that, which is why I asked for a book that counters Burridge and includes as much data as he did.

Since you are repeatedly telling me that I am misinformed about the field of history I have to tell you that I studied Ancient History, Roman History, the New Testament, Latin, and lots of other histories at an Ivy League university. In all my study there I can assure you that there was no talk of the historical Jesus (because there’s really nothing there to discuss), but only about Christianity as a cultural phenomenon.

But that’s just your personal experience. Yale is famous (at least among Bible nerds) for its publications relating to the Bible, including the historical Jesus. Helmut Koester (Harvard) included the historical Jesus in his introductory textbook to the New Testament. Dartmouth has a class evaluating the archeological evidence surrounding the life and death of Jesus. Relgious Studies 435 at Penn deals with the sources for the life of Jesus. Religious Studies 240a at Yale is entitled “The Historical Jesus.” Clearly there is talk of the historical Jesus at Ivy League universities.

Historians don’t bother with such a trivial mission because it’s a non-question. I sincerely believe you couldn’t get a PhD anywhere with such a thesis.

Burridge teaches at King’s College London, which, according to their website, is one of the world’s top 25 universities. He used be a classicist so he knows about other ancient sources and even works with those from your link. You’re making me choose between the data presented by Burridge and absolutely nothing.

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Tony Hoffman June 11, 2010 at 8:19 am

jayman: I’m asking you to demonstrate your claim while realizing the comment box may not be the appropriate place for such a demonstration to occur. I’m looking for the methodology that historians use when studying Alexander or Augustus so that I can compare it to the methodology used by historians when studying Jesus. As a student of history I’m hoping you have numerous quality recommendations.

I’m not sure that there is a single, set methodology – I think it’s approximately what the popular understanding is of what counts in a court of law, and it varies on the milieu being studied. Eyewitnesses are better than hearsay, hard evidence trumps memories, that sort of thing. Among other things, there is tremendous variety in the kind of data that a historian can work with. We know that things had to have happened during the Dark Ages, for instance, but the picture we get is heavy on conjecture and short on data compared with, say, the U.S. Civil War. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have histories of the Dark Ages, just that less of the picture is certain than it is for other epochs.

A good rule of thumb when looking at written accounts is for the historian to look at the probable motivations, prejudices, and agenda of the person who wrote the accounts. The Alexiad of Anna Comnena, for instance, gives us one of the best glimpses into the first Crusade, principally because she gives us a critical and third party perspective of the Crusaders that we would otherwise lack; she looks down on the crude, uncultured Crusaders, and to what extent she recounts their admirable traits and successes we can assign much more credence because she is clearly not motivated to do so. Additionally, we give her account greater credence than that of someone who wasn’t there, writes decades or centuries later, and whose patron sponsored the writing of the account to glorify their ancestor and thus strengthen their claim to a power they then held. This is mostly just basic common sense, and calling it a methodology makes it seem a tad grand to me.

Jayman: “Are you saying that historians (1) deny that so-and-so worked a miracle (e.g., Jesus did not heal Bartimeus) or (2) reject any source that mentions the supernatural (e.g., the mere fact that Mark mentions miracles means we can’t use the book as a primary source)?”

Yes on 1, and no on 2. I think this is a principle cause of confusion, although I don’t really understand where the confusion comes from.

Jayman: “I’m guessing he thought you could read reviews of the book and the book itself if you’re interested. In a similar fashion, I merely ask for reading suggestions as I don’t expect you to summarize books in these comments. Based on my reading of other scholars, Burridge’s book has been quite persuasive. But I’m open to hearing other scholarly opinions if you know of them.”

Okay. For the record I consider book recommendations on a blog impolite, especially when they seem used to provide cover for an equivocation. Just as Craig appears to mislead with the term “basic facts,” I believe that Ayer is equivocating with the term “biography.” I think that he would like us to mean, “properly historical,” that something deemed a biography conforms with the same historical standards we see in something like Caro’s biography of Lydon Johnson. But this is eqivocation, as even the first reviewer on Amazon sets us straight:

Amazoe Reviewer: I think Burridge proves his case, that the canonical Gospels do belong to the category of ancient bioi, or biography. (Be prepared for a few words of Greek in the text.) But what does that mean to call the Gospels “biography?” Among the examples of Bioi he considers are Tacitus’ Agricola, a sober account of a Roman general written by his son in law a few years after his death, and Apollonius of Tyana, a tall tale loosely based on a New Age guru that talks about various breeds of dragon in India, and was written more than a hundred years after the alleged life it portrays. So the simple fact that a work belongs to the category of bioi, does not prove that it is true.

Jayman: “But that’s just your personal experience. Yale is famous (at least among Bible nerds) for its publications relating to the Bible, including the historical Jesus. Helmut Koester (Harvard) included the historical Jesus in his introductory textbook to the New Testament. Dartmouth has a class evaluating the archeological evidence surrounding the life and death of Jesus. Relgious Studies 435 at Penn deals with the sources for the life of Jesus. Religious Studies 240a at Yale is entitled “The Historical Jesus.” Clearly there is talk of the historical Jesus at Ivy League universities.”

Yes, a lot of the Ivy League colleges started out as religious schools, and some still have seminary schools. (By Yale above, do you mean Yale Divinity school, or do you mean the Religion Department?) Of course, I would expect someone like Koester to include “the historical Jesus” in a textbook on the New Testament. I would also expect him to conclude that precious little can be known about him, and that study of “the historical Jesus” is really confined to study of the earliest stories of Jesus. And I do think the question is interesting as a meta-topic – to talk about historical methodologies, etc. And to that extent it will always be live. And I do think I flatly overstated or clumsily stated what I was trying to say earlier, and for that I apologize. But I also think that talk of the historical Jesus from apologists takes advantage of a confusion about what historians are actually investigating when they talk about the historical Jesus, and to what extent they can be confident that any event described in the New Testament occurred in the way that we think of historical events having occurred.

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Tony Hoffman June 11, 2010 at 9:18 am

Jayman: “Helmut Koester (Harvard) included the historical Jesus in his introductory textbook to the New Testament.”

By the way, I looked at this online (on Google Books) and I couldn’t find this as a topic in the book, but maybe I was just reading from the wrong book. Can you be more specific about what book you’re talking about, and can you summarize what Koester says?

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ImDumm April 20, 2011 at 12:54 am

Well, Ehrman is not a Christian and regards them as within the genre of ancient biography, not “historical fantasy novels”:“Many recent scholars have come to recognize that the New Testament Gospels are a kind of ancient biography. Most of the distinctive features of the Gospels relate directly to their Christian character. They are the only biographies written by Christians about the man they worship as the Son of God who died for the salvation of the world.” Ehrman, Bart D. The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings. Third Edition. New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Didn’t you watch the debate he had against WLC? Surprisingly, he went as far as to even doubt the historicity of the empty tomb. So, just because it is a biography, doesn’t mean it’s excactly correct.

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