Jan 222015

Buddy christFair’s fair. Let’s try to make the best possible case for the historical existence of Jesus. One never learns about an issue completely unless they are willing to look at it from more than one angle. I intend to write a few more posts on this blog taking up the view of the loyal opposition. Thus I will presently, with respect for the dispassionate approach of Thomas Aquinas, look at the objections first.

The standard disclaimers apply. By the historical existence of Jesus, we are observing the traditional distinction between any possible “Jesus of history” and the Christ of faith. We are interested in knowing if there is a man behind the myth.

Also, we are interested in evidence even if it is barely a whisper, just because that is the sometimes sorry state of our evidence for antiquity.

Continue reading »

Dec 262013

Immanuel: the incarnationRecently Neil Godfrey has been commenting on Brodie’s position that Christian theology does not require the historical Jesus. The whole series blogging through his book Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus is excellent (almost, the book’s publisher might think, too good!).

I am not a Christian theologian, and, simply on a criterion of earnestness, I am ill-equipped to comment on what is or is not capable of being considered sound Christian theology. So that is not the point here. While it is easy to show that Brodie is not alone among Christian thinkers, it is also easy to see that there are some theological concerns in Christianity for which the historicity of Jesus (some might call it the incarnation) is at the center. Continue reading »

Dec 162013

Bertrand Russell’s “Celestial Teapot”

Okay, I’m sure some wonder why I would write a summary of Dharmakirti’s Logic of Debate in my last post. It’s primarily because I want to preserve this information for those interested in Dharmakirti and the history of logic. But it’s got a secondary interest here: Dharmakirti was one of the first philosophers, of whom I am aware, who takes on the question of whether one can make an argument for the non-existence of something, sometimes called proving a negative, even if such a thing isn’t inherently improbable or implausible. His answer is a highly-qualified “yes.”

The qualifications made by the Indian logician are that the object under consideration must be assumed to be nearby in space and time and, further, apprehensible by its self-nature to the one who wishes to know that it does not exist. This is a philosopher’s way of telling his reader to be humble enough to admit lack of knowledge about a specific claim of non-existence unless this reader is speaking of something that should be visible (or otherwise apprehensible) right then and there. If we agree with Dharmakirti, the relevance to the contemporary debate sometimes conducted over the historical existence of Jesus is twofold. Continue reading »

Dec 132013


We can distinguish between nine different and irreconcilable approaches to the subject of Christian origins, characterized by the amount of intrinsic weight given to the two main sources of ideas that could guide and limit the multiplication of hypotheses: (1) statements of tradition and (2) critical reasoning.

Minimal Regard for Tradition Moderate Regard for Tradition Maximal Regard for Tradition
Minimal Regard for Critical Reasoning Conspiracy Theory Novelizations Pious Imagination
Moderate Regard for Critical Reasoning Theories about no-HJ Theories about the HJ Pulp Apologetics
Maximal Regard for Critical Reasoning Minimalist History Bare Historicity of Jesus Academic Apologetics


To be clear, hypotheses derived from critical reasoning could include information derived from reading Christian sources and the tradition therein. It is privileging these sources that characterizes the regard for tradition. However, someone could also argue that “minimal regard” actually means antipathy, and I have left some room for that interpretation in the table above and in the discussion below. Continue reading »

Dec 052013

historical-jesusI have dusted off this old post to Usenet, with some parts whittled out, for republication.

“Historically, it is quite doubtful whether Christ ever existed at all, and if He did we do not know anything about Him, so that I am not concerned with the historical question, which is a very difficult one.” – Bertrand Russell, “Why I Am Not a Christian” (1927).

I once railed against the ‘mythicists’ as being irrational to the point of absurdity. I am now willing to grant that it is reasonable for someone not to believe the historicity of Jesus.

As there are sometimes ambiguities, I have attempted definition of the “historical Jesus” (as distinct from the “Gospel Jesus”) and what constitutes “the historicity of Jesus.” It does not mean that Jesus was born of a virgin, walked on water, or rose from the dead.  A believer in the historicity of Jesus may affirm these things, but that is not necessary to be a historicist.  Rather, for me to say that Jesus existed means that a sizeable subset of the core mundane claims in the Gospels are authentic with a single historical individual.  These “core mundane claims” include that his name was Jesus, he was baptized by John the Baptist, he was an itinerant preacher in Galilee, his message centered on the Kingdom of God, he performed acts deemed miracles by his contemporaries, and he was crucified by Pilate c. A.D. 30 (non-exhaustive).  I say a “sizeable subset” because not every “core mundane claim” must be true, only enough that we are talking about a person with more substance than, say, Hercules or Robin Hood. Continue reading »

Dec 022013

58423028_640This is not the post for arguing in favor of any of the metanarratives that frame thinking about Christian origins or, indeed, for their disposal. It’s just a little visual representation of the two most dominant ways of organizing Christian origins.

The first is quite ancient, going back to the mid-to-late second century struggle to define Catholic Christianity over against the schools (“heresies”) that were generally characterized as Gnostic. It continues to find adherents and can be considered the most popular metanarrative. Continue reading »

Oct 132013


I started out with a post that was long, verbose, and carefully calculated to impress the reader with its soft, moderate approach. I gave it the title “The Delights of Doubt,” explaining that doubt is a virtue in the face of evidence that doesn’t demand a verdict and pointing out the contortions people put themselves through when they try to claim knowledge when they have none.

Predictably, my browser ate the post, so let’s get right to the point. Tim Widowfield nails it on the head:

The public is the audience. We are receivers. It was never intended to be a two-way street. Our proper role is to buy their books, take their classes, write fan letters, applaud politely, and by all means shut up.

Jim West wears his heart on his sleeve (responding to a post that I found very admirable in its own approach, by Mark Goodacre) when talking about “claims that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married.”

I’m glad Mark is keeping an open mind.  Personally, however, I think all such claims are a priori absolutely idiotic.  Produce ONE SHRED of ancient (1st century CE) evidence that Jesus took Mary to wife.  Just one shred; then, I’ll have an open mind to the possibility.  But until you do, there’s nothing for me to be open minded about.  Simcha’s claims are proof of nothing.  Period.  Show me the evidence or don’t make the claim.  First century, authenticated, provenanced archaeological or textual material, or shut up. Continue reading »

Oct 082013

notovitchOver at Exploring Our Matrix, James McGrath brings our attention to a sensationalist (to put it mildly) press release from Joseph Atwill to the effect that “ancient confessions recently uncovered now prove, according to Atwill, that the New Testament was written by first-century Roman aristocrats and that they fabricated the entire story of Jesus Christ.” Could this just be nonsense trumped up to sell a book documentary? Say it isn’t so!

Certainly I have to agree with McGrath that the popularization of outlandish made-for-media headlines “makes the work of scholars that much harder, as we try to come up with scholarly reconstructions, float new ideas to their peers, critically evaluate evidence, and offer nuanced conclusions.” Or, at least, that it does make it harder for that work to penetrate the public consciousness.

One can read the subtext, however, made explicit here, that such nonsense “has many similarities of approach to that of Earl Doherty and other mythicists,” meaning to tar any writer disbelieving in a historical Jesus with the same brush. With a book from Richard Carrier forthcoming On the Historicity of Jesus, we can expect that a wide range of polemics will be applied liberally to him as well, with similar injustice.

Certainly, however, any number of books have come out of la-la land under the rubric of the study of the historical Jesus. And I’m not just talking about the apologetics industry (e.g.,  the tombs of Jesus and the Shroud of Turin). There are books telling us that Jesus sojourned in India or that Jesus faked his death and lived on in Rome. Or the latest oeuvre from Bill O’Reilly, as a simple case in point. Continue reading »