Is Jesus mythicism "denialism"?

Abrahamic religion, you know, the one with the cross...

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Re: Is Jesus mythicism "denialism"?

#81  Postby Clive Durdle » Nov 30, 2015 12:28 pm

Some versions of pearlism also have end of the world traits, which I propose is called orgasmism, following the french concept le petit mort.
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Re: Is Jesus mythicism "denialism"?

#82  Postby Shrunk » Nov 30, 2015 3:25 pm

This thread keeps threatening to turn into a spinoff of the Interminable Thread of Doom. Still, I think the issue of what constitutes "denialism" in this context is a separate topic, and one worth discussing.

FWIW, having stayed out of the Thread of Doom, the discussion around the present thread has satisfied me that the case for historical Jesus is a sound one, by the standards of general historical scholarship. This discussion by Tim O'Neil, which he posted in Sandwalk, was particularly helpful:

http://historyforatheists.blogspot.com. ... tting.html

That said, I'm still suspicious of the term "denialist", particularly as McGrath uses it. It was very hard to pin him down in my discussions with him. At one point, he drew an analogy to someone who denies the existence of Tiktaalik. This confused me, and I asked if he was saying we know Jesus existed with the same degree of certainty that we know Tiktaalik existed. He replied that he was not saying that and, after a bit more discussion, he ballparked the likelihood of Jesus' existence at about the same level that of Socrates.

Nonetheless, he continued to insist on his previous analogy, whereas to me (based on what he had himself said) it is not at all the same thing for a layperson to day he is not convinced that Tiktaalik actually existed, as to say he is not convinced that Jesus (or Socrates) actually existed. Only the former requires such a wholesale disavowal of the facts that it qualifies as "denialism" IMHO. (This is not to disparage history as a discipline, but simply to acknowledge that there are varying degrees of certainty with which we can know certain things about the past).

My suspicions grow when McGrath writes things like this:

If a religious text claims that God made the sun stand still at some point in the past, then historians can look and see whether there is mention of such an occurrence in texts from around the globe, and finding none, conclude that the claim is false. But in general, historians do not bother doing that, because historical study deals in probabilities, and so historical study is not going to find an improbable event to be probable anyway, and so it makes more sense to bracket out such claims rather than to waste time investigating them merely to confirm their improbability.


A paleontologist might well say something similar about someone who claimed that Tiktaalik fossils were embedded in the earth by Satan to deceive people, but he would be saying so with the understanding that the claim is too absurd to take seriously. I'm not sure that McGrath is doing quite the same thing, and wonder if he is not, instead, saying "As an historian, of course, I can't say that Jesus was the Son of God who performed miracles and was raised from the dead. However, as a Christian...." My suspicions are bolstered when McGrath describes his personal religious beliefs:

Would if be going too far to say that those who have had mystical experiences are in very much the position of sighted people trying to explain color to the blind, or music lovers trying to explain why a piece moves them so much to someone who is tone deaf? In this conversation, however, it is not clear that the other side of the conversation is “disabled”. They simply have no interest in understanding the experience or appreciating the music. And there is no way I can introduce someone to the music or why it moves me just by talking in abstract terms about something that is deeply experiential.

On the other hand, part of the issue is that I have no interest in defending any particular doctrines about God, and so my “views” seem hard to pin down, because I hold them so loosely. I realized long ago that the life-changing experience I had when I cried out to God in surrender and felt a sense of peace wash over me does not prove that a tomb was empty 2,000 or so years ago, or that God is 3-in-one, or any other such claims. What seems to confuse some people is that I still can find Trinitarian language helpful and inspiring and meaningful, not as a statement about what God is “really like” (as though I had a means to study that scientifically or objectively), but as an image of how this God that we speak of only in inadequate symbols and metaphors can be eternal love (since love requires more than one person).

So I’m something of an unusual case. A born again Christian who is not going to try to claim more than he can demonstrate with evidence about history or doctrine.


Hmm, so as a "born again Christian", would that not mean that he believes in a Jesus who was the Son of God, performed miracles, and was raised from the dead? And would this not be the same Jesus of whose existence, as a historian, he is so certain that he would level the name "denialist" at anyone who does not share his level of certainty? If so, would he then be speaking as an historian, or as a Christian? I'm not convinced he's clear about that.

Another member on the Sandwalk blog, who I do not believe is a scholar, wrote that he found the historical implications of an historical Jesus "staggering". When I asked him to elaborate on these implications, he replied:

I still consider “Jesus” as an exquisite example of Edward Lorenz’s “Butterfly Effect” where seemingly trivial random events in Galilee unleashed a metaphorical “hurricane” that changed the course of history.

"Staggering"? I think so! Why not?!


To which I responded that I did not deny this was "staggering", but was merely interested in how this was any more or less so, depending on whether Jesus was entirely mythical, or merely mostly mythical. He did not reply further.
Last edited by Shrunk on Nov 30, 2015 4:36 pm, edited 4 times in total.
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Re: Is Jesus mythicism "denialism"?

#83  Postby proudfootz » Nov 30, 2015 4:17 pm

The hypothesis about the literary origins of christianity is one possible scenario, the 'historical Jesus' is another. Both are simply interpretations of what evidence is there.

In the field of evolution there could be competing hypotheses without the emotional need for partisans of one to denounce their rivals as 'denialists'.
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Re: Is Jesus mythicism "denialism"?

#84  Postby RealityRules » Nov 30, 2015 6:49 pm

Shrunk wrote:This thread keeps threatening to turn into a spinoff of the Interminable Thread of Doom. Still, I think the issue of what constitutes "denialism" in this context is a separate topic, and one worth discussing.

FWIW, having stayed out of the Thread of Doom, the discussion around the present thread has satisfied me that the case for historical Jesus is a sound one, by the standards of general historical scholarship.

There are no primary [contemporaneous] sources for Jesus ['the christ'] of Nazareth.

'He' has the hallmarks of being a literary construct.

Shrunk wrote:This discussion by Tim O'Neil, which he posted in Sandwalk, was particularly helpful:

http://historyforatheists.blogspot.com. ... tting.html

O'Neill appeals to authority and other spurious 'arguments' (such as trying to shoot the messener as he does in that rant).

It would be appropriate to argue the case on 'the Thread of Doom'.

eta - this is Tim O'Neill's last contribution there - http://www.rationalskepticism.org/post1 ... l#p1256343
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Re: Is Jesus mythicism "denialism"?

#85  Postby Leucius Charinus » Dec 01, 2015 2:57 am

RealityRules wrote:
Shrunk wrote:This thread keeps threatening to turn into a spinoff of the Interminable Thread of Doom. Still, I think the issue of what constitutes "denialism" in this context is a separate topic, and one worth discussing.

FWIW, having stayed out of the Thread of Doom, the discussion around the present thread has satisfied me that the case for historical Jesus is a sound one, by the standards of general historical scholarship.


There are no primary [contemporaneous] sources for Jesus ['the christ'] of Nazareth.

'He' has the hallmarks of being a literary construct.

Shrunk wrote:This discussion by Tim O'Neil, which he posted in Sandwalk, was particularly helpful:

http://historyforatheists.blogspot.com. ... tting.html


O'Neill appeals to authority and other spurious 'arguments' (such as trying to shoot the messener as he does in that rant).


O'Neill rants that James McGrath "has historical training":

    Larry Moran is a biochemist. Given that he is currently professor of biochemistry at the University of Toronto, the author of many papers on biogenetics in esteemed journals like Gene and is the co-author of the text Principles of Biochemistry, it's fairly clear that he is a very good biochemist. What Larry Moran is definitely not, however, is a historian.

    This last fact did not keep Moran from leaping to the defence of fellow non-historian Jerry Coyne when the latter's odd post referred to above was briefly criticised by New Testament scholar (and someone who actually has historical training) James McGrath, who called Coyne a "denialist"

McGrath has posted his CV here: http://works.bepress.com/jamesmcgrath/

Qualifications and Studies:

    Doctor of Philosophy: University of Durham (awarded July 1998). Title: “John's Apologetic Christology: Legitimation and Development in Johannine Christology.” Supervisor: Prof. James D. G. Dunn.

    Bachelor of Divinity: University of London (awarded July 1995). 2:1 honors and second prize.

    Diploma in Religious studies: University of Cambridge (awarded August 1993). With distinction.

I do not see any qualifications in history on the CV of James McGrath. Can anyone else see them (apart from O'Neil)?

It follows that McGrath's charge of denialism is not based on his academic qualifications in the fields of history, but is based on his academic qualifications in the field of Divinity and Bible Studies. What McGrath is definitely not, however, is a historian.

It may be quite helpful to understand that these people - the Biblical Scholars or "Biblical Historians" - are, in the words of the ancient historian Arnaldo Momigliano, best thought of as the "INSIDERS". They are not trained to be ancient historians. They are trained to be Biblical Historians. And there is a great gulf between the two fields of study. The latter field is essentially part of an industry - the Jesus Industry. There is no such comparable "industry" for Ancient Historians.

The standards of general historical scholarship are not the standards of biblical historical scholarship, as has been mentioned above. The Criterion of Embarrassment, for example, and other early 20th century inventions in the field of Biblical Scholarship are not used by general historical scholarship.
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Re: Is Jesus mythicism "denialism"?

#86  Postby RealityRules » Dec 01, 2015 9:10 am

Saying 'Jesus mythicism' is 'denialism' is essentially a version of 'attack is the best form of defense'.

The Jesus historicists are essentially denying there is (i) no credible historical evidence for an historical Jesus and (ii) no or scant information about how the narrative of a 1st century messiah was so obscure until the 4th century.
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Re: Is Jesus mythicism "denialism"?

#87  Postby Cito di Pense » Dec 01, 2015 10:39 am

Shrunk wrote:This discussion by Tim O'Neil, which he posted in Sandwalk, was particularly helpful:

http://historyforatheists.blogspot.com. ... tting.html

That said, I'm still suspicious...


Why are you not also suspicious of the way 'students' of this topic alert you to their expertise by telling you "I've been studying history for x decades, and this is what I think..."

Tell me how to find a methodology in that, and I'll happily STFU.

I'll preliminarily grant you that nobody knows more about the topic than somebody who's been studying it for decades, but how the fuck much is that, when it comes to ancient history, where results are variable, depending on how much data there is? Why would someone try to turn 'literature' into 'data"? Could it be because data is the gold standard, and 'literature' is not 'data'?

Tim O'Neil is not a professor of anything, but only a prolific blogger, and I've already alerted you to the possibility that even professors who specialize in this topic don't actually know a heck of a lot more than you do. How much respect do you want to accord them?

I care nothing as to what the actual facts might turn out to be. What I don't like is to see people parading what is not obviously not an invented discourse as 'data'.
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Re: Is Jesus mythicism "denialism"?

#88  Postby Shrunk » Dec 01, 2015 3:23 pm

I'm not sure we're really in disagreement. My thoughts on this matter can be summed up as "Where there's smoke, there's fire," and there seems to me to be enough smoke to make it, on balance, more probable than not that some guy named Jesus existed about whom a lot of tall tales ended up being written. And, despite appearances to the contrary, I'm really not sufficiently interested in the subject to delve into it much more deeply. The mythicists set themselves up for a much tougher task, so it's only to be expected that they would lose out. If there were scholars who set out to prove that Jesus did not have an accountant named Bernie, they'd have an even more difficult time of it.

From my admittedly limited perspective, it just seems that no one is entitled to stake a position too firmly on this question, and it puzzles me that so many people do so regardless. I can understand the motivations of the mythicists. If it were possible to use empirical evidence to prove, at a stroke, that the most widespread and influential religion in the history of humankind was a fraud, then that would be a worthwhile endeavor. But that's just not possible, so too bad. The motivations of some of the historicists I find somewhat more suspect. McGrath, for instance, insists he is just doing his job as an historian and trying to find answers to questions that historians wonder about. I asked him if he then gets so uptight when people express doubts over the existence of Socrates and he didn't really answer, other than to say he would get "upset" if people did that (as if they actually don't). Larry Moran also raised a good question, also unanswered, on why there was not a proliferation of books on the existence of the thief Barabbas.
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Re: Is Jesus mythicism "denialism"?

#89  Postby Thommo » Dec 01, 2015 5:33 pm

I'm looking forward to a 1,000 page historical Robin Hood thread. I am given to understand (and I was fucking amazed) he's apparently "real" as well. I've been an ignorant Robin Hood denier almost my whole life.
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Re: Is Jesus mythicism "denialism"?

#90  Postby Cito di Pense » Dec 01, 2015 6:33 pm

Shrunk wrote:I'm not sure we're really in disagreement. My thoughts on this matter can be summed up as "Where there's smoke, there's fire," and there seems to me to be enough smoke to make it, on balance, more probable than not that some guy named Jesus existed about whom a lot of tall tales ended up being written.


That's not what I think this is about. It's not generally history's job to say merely whether 'some guy' existed or not. The people (HJs or MJs) who have anything interesting to say about these writings have it to say about the people who did the writing. In this case, existence is a booby prize to make ancient history 'relevant' away from campus. On campus, history is vying with engineering for real estate -- and losing big, hence the need to get everyone else excited. How can people get so exercised about the mere existence of 'some guy' without the 'relevance factor'? Don't talk to me about probability, here, because I've already made posts in this thread about using that word as if it meant something in this 'debate'. You don't need any scholarship to find it subjectively likely that 'there was this guy' and stuff got written about him, about any of which you have no clue any detail is accurate. That's why (out in the ol' blogosphere) all the fuss is always and only about existence. If history was worth anything on this question, it would know how to find out some facts. Existence, in the absence of facts, is about ontology only. In old-fashioned ontology, you just needed to believe in something in order for it to exist, and times change.
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Re: Is Jesus mythicism "denialism"?

#91  Postby RealityRules » Dec 01, 2015 8:26 pm

Shrunk wrote: ... My thoughts on this matter can be summed up as "Where there's smoke, there's fire," and there seems to me to be enough smoke to make it, on balance, more probable than not that some guy named Jesus existed about whom a lot of tall tales ended up being written. And, despite appearances to the contrary, I'm really not sufficiently interested in the subject to delve into it much more deeply. The mythicists set themselves up for a much tougher task, so it's only to be expected that they would lose out. If there were scholars who set out to prove that Jesus did not have an accountant named Bernie, they'd have an even more difficult time of it.

From my admittedly limited perspective, it just seems that no one is entitled to stake a position too firmly on this question, and it puzzles me that so many people do so regardless ...

You're 'begging the question'.

One might also say, with respect to mythicism, "Where there's smoke, there's fire", especially considering the name Joshua/Jesus has a reasonable history of prophecy in Judaism & early Christianity. There is a lot of attention around the prophecies centered on Joshua/Jesus the high priest, son of Jozadak, in Zechariah chapters 3 and 6 and how these, along with other OT passages, such as some in Isaiah, Daniel, and the books of Samuel, may have been the basis on which to create new [testament] narratives.

Expecting the mythicists to 'lose out' is a 'confirming the consequent' fallacy.
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Re: Is Jesus mythicism "denialism"?

#92  Postby Shrunk » Dec 01, 2015 8:42 pm

RealityRules wrote:
Shrunk wrote: ... My thoughts on this matter can be summed up as "Where there's smoke, there's fire," and there seems to me to be enough smoke to make it, on balance, more probable than not that some guy named Jesus existed about whom a lot of tall tales ended up being written. And, despite appearances to the contrary, I'm really not sufficiently interested in the subject to delve into it much more deeply. The mythicists set themselves up for a much tougher task, so it's only to be expected that they would lose out. If there were scholars who set out to prove that Jesus did not have an accountant named Bernie, they'd have an even more difficult time of it.

From my admittedly limited perspective, it just seems that no one is entitled to stake a position too firmly on this question, and it puzzles me that so many people do so regardless ...

You're 'begging the question'.

One might also say, with respect to mythicism, "Where there's smoke, there's fire", especially considering the name Joshua/Jesus has a reasonable history of prophecy in Judaism & early Christianity. There is a lot of attention around the prophecies centered on Joshua/Jesus the high priest, son of Jozadak, in Zechariah chapters 3 and 6 and how these, along with other OT passages, such as some in Isaiah, Daniel, and the books of Samuel, may have been the basis on which to create new [testament] narratives.

Expecting the mythicists to 'lose out' is a 'confirming the consequent' fallacy.


OK. So maybe there was no Jesus. Who knows? Who cares?
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Re: Is Jesus mythicism "denialism"?

#93  Postby RealityRules » Dec 01, 2015 10:42 pm

Shrunk wrote:
... Who knows? Who cares?

Allah (pbuh) (?? - that's tongue-in-cheek)

Christianity is diminishing in most Western societies. I think a reasonable proportion of Christians are agnostic about God but are happy to participate as Christians on the basis of there's a "good-dude" 'Jesus' in the mix. If 'He' had not existed ...
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Re: Is Jesus mythicism "denialism"?

#94  Postby Leucius Charinus » Dec 02, 2015 2:00 am

Shrunk wrote:OK. So maybe there was no Jesus.


Maybe that's a form of denialism? Isn't that what this thread is about?

Is questioning the existence of Jesus a form of denialism?


Who knows?


The Jesus Industry?


Who cares?



Those who value the historical truth?
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Re: Is Jesus mythicism "denialism"?

#95  Postby RealityRules » Dec 02, 2015 2:05 am

Leucius Charinus wrote:
Shrunk wrote:
Who cares?

Those who value the historical truth?

Exactly
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Re: Is Jesus mythicism "denialism"?

#96  Postby Thommo » Dec 02, 2015 2:31 am

RealityRules wrote:
Leucius Charinus wrote:
Shrunk wrote:
Who cares?

Those who value the historical truth?

Exactly


So, Shrunk thinks we can't get to that truth and so shouldn't care and the counter is that we should care about the truth?

I think there's a problem with this as a rebuttal.
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Re: Is Jesus mythicism "denialism"?

#97  Postby RealityRules » Dec 02, 2015 3:38 am

Thommo wrote:
I think there's a problem with this as a rebuttal.

It's not a rebuttal. It's a philosophical position. A previous post provides more, though is also not a rebuttal.
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Re: Is Jesus mythicism "denialism"?

#98  Postby Thommo » Dec 02, 2015 3:58 am

Let's not get bogged down in semantics. Caring about the truth does not give you a reason to care about contesting a statement where the truth or untruth of that statement cannot be known, surely this is straightforward enough.
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Re: Is Jesus mythicism "denialism"?

#99  Postby Leucius Charinus » Dec 02, 2015 7:41 am

Thommo wrote:
RealityRules wrote:
Leucius Charinus wrote:
Shrunk wrote:
Who cares?

Those who value the historical truth?

Exactly


So, Shrunk thinks we can't get to that truth and so shouldn't care
and the counter is that we should care about the truth?

I think there's a problem with this as a rebuttal.


Shrunk said "I'm really not sufficiently interested in the subject to delve into it much more deeply." So I can understand the comment "Who cares?" However there are various parties who are interested in the subject to research it, and the historical method, quite extensively.

The summary of Shrunk's OP is this question ....

So is the evidence in favour of an historical Jesus so strong that someone holding the contrary position can justifiably be called a "denialist"?


It follows that anyone who wishes to evaluate a meaningful answer to this question needs to review or research as much of the evidence as possible. After this research on the evidence has been conducted, the researcher may be able to get an idea of the evidence in favour of an HJ. In all fairness one should also review and research any negative evidence which may or may not exist against the proposition of an HJ. Finally the researcher will be in a position to determine whether the OP is true or false.

I think that most people here have answered this question with a NO.

But who knows?
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Re: Is Jesus mythicism "denialism"?

#100  Postby Thommo » Dec 02, 2015 8:02 am

That's all fine and well, it does not make the answer to "who cares [that 'maybe there was no Jesus' as opposed to it being 'on balance, more probable than not that some guy named Jesus existed']" "those who value the historical truth" though.

You could very well research what Tony Blair ate for breakfast yesterday, but justifying such an interest with an interest in "historical truth" would be a non-sequitur - and at least there's a historical truth to be found in that case.

People are free to be interested in whatever they like, no justification is required. The thing is that other people are equally free to point out the inconsequentiality of a debate. It simply doesn't matter whether there was some guy at the centre of the myth, or if he was a composite or some other subtle variation on a theme. Nothing at all follows from this fact. Similarly it doesn't matter what Tony Blair ate for breakfast yesterday (noting that it's pretty unlikely he dined on unicorn steak, fairy dust, pure cyanide or other miraculous "possibilities").

Or to put it another way the difference between people who do not care a jot whether "Jesus existed" or even exactly which direction the "balance of probabilities" tilts and those who do care is nothing to do with an interest in the truth (or even the truth of Christianity or similar). Clearly there are a lot of people heavily invested in the question who do not much care about truth or investigating it fairly and impartially, just as there are those who are not invested who do not so do.
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