Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Bart Ehrman defends the historical Jesus

HT: Tim McGrew.

27 comments:

Anonymous said...

I am dumbfounded! the infidel guy does not know how to defend atheism. You don't need "Jesus did not exist" You need the much weaker claim that while Jesus existed, the supernatural claims are not justified. Why would he not know this? Why would he think that one needed to deny that Jesus existed?

Maybe he thought the evidence was in support of the non-existence of Jesus. That might make sense. But even with Achilles and Hector, its hard to argue that they DID NOT exist.

I'm a theist, but what is most upsetting here is the stupidity. People should be smart, whatever view they want to uphold.

Victor Reppert said...

Actually, Richard Carrier seems to be a supporter of the view that Jesus did not exist.

http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/jesuspuzzle.html

Gregory said...

Robert M. Price disputes the idea of a "historical" Jesus, but he is not, technically speaking, a historian. He is a "theologian". And I suspect that much of his analysis begins with the assumption that God doesn't exist....and then proceeds from that vantage point to evaluate the historical evidence in way that confirms that jaundiced perspective.

And the YouTube video vividly illustrates how "evidence" can be totally irrelevant in assessing historical claims. I mean...no matter how much Dr. Ehrman stated that St. Paul was, in fact, the author of Galatians, the "Infidel" show Host couldn't bring himself to embrace Dr. Ehrman's claim. And then when Dr. Ehrman turns the tables and asks him to point out one reputable historian and/or New Testament scholar that disagrees with him (Ehrman) on the authorship of Galatians, the host immediately affirms his agreement with Dr. Ehrman. But he doesn't really. Because almost immediately--in the wake of this hardball challenge--the "Infidel" just wants to make sure that we are being "skeptical" enough. He even insinuates, in his cocksure arrogance, that Dr. Ehrman might not be quite as "skeptical" as he ought to be; and then goes on to regurgitating his earlier stated "well-how-can-we-really-know-ancient-history-anyway?" thesis.

And then Dr. Ehrman says "yes, we must be skeptical". But, he then points out that strong historical evidence supports the claim that Jesus really existed and the claim that Paul was the true author of Galatians. And he invites everyone to challenge his claim that: all competent, responsible historians agree with him on this.

Meanwhile, the host continues to ride into that bleak sunset with Invincible Ignorance, his one-trick pony. I remember Bob Passantino, after similar impasses with individuals at his "Mars Hill Club" meetings, used to comment:

"There are some people who, when all is said and done, refuse to be rational. I cannot reason with somebody who believes "A" can also be "non-A", at the same time and in the same sense. This goes beyond reason and until a person can come to grips with the foundations of rational thought, then there's nothing I can do for them. They have committed a kind of epistemological apostasy."

Many years ago, I had the good fortune of meeting the former Bultmannian scholar, Eta Linnemann, at a Church I had previously attended, hosted by the Passantino's and "Answers In Action". Her talk consisted mostly of the reasons, academically, she had for rejecting the theology of Rudolph Bultmann, her former mentor. And, of course, there were personal sketches and historical incidences mentioned too. Much of the "core" of her presentation that day is laid out in much greater details in her book "Historical Criticism of the Bible" (Baker). Interestingly, her embrace of "evangelicalism" was precisely over the strength of the "evidence" for historic Christianity. As a parenthetical note: I bought a copy of her book that day and, eventually, read it....many years ago. It's an interesting intellectual biography. I highly recommend, to those who are interested, you discover what that journey was like in her own words.

There was a strong Linnemann influence in the Passantino article "The Mysterious Case of the Missing Q". You can Google the article by name or go to their link here:

http://www.answers.org/bible/missing_q.html

It really does appear that Dr. William Lane Craig has a strong historical case for the Christian faith.

Gregory said...

If those scholars can accept the "Q" document as reliable--at least, reliable enough to hypothesize some sort of literary correlation and dependence from which the New Testament must have relied--then why not accept the New Testament, itself, as a collection of reliable documents? If scholars are content with granting "Q" the status qua "reliable", even though there is no existing historical evidence to suggest that "Q" ever existed, then why can't these scholars accept the New Testament, which does have significant historical buttressing?

Why not reverse this situation and say that "Q" ought to be evaluated in light of the New Testament documents? Why not say, instead, that the New Testament was written and preserved to guard against the myriads of claims that were circulating about Jesus, both positive and negative, as a way of giving a "sure testimony" of the events in question....."testimony" that was based on eyewitness accounts rather than spurious legends and idiosyncratic teachings (i.e. "Q"); none, of which, can be documented in any of the Biblical and non-Biblical writings of the first millenia.

Why believe that a "source" has to have a source?

Bilbo said...

Hi Gregory,

In The New Testament Documents, Are they Reliable?, F.F. Bruce argued that 'Q' was the Logia that Papias referred to.

John W. Loftus said...

I see this was posted in December of '09. I hadn't see it before, so thanks. I like Bart Ehrman a lot. He was fesity and I liked that too, and agree with him. This was interesting.

I too have been interviewed by Reggie and for all of his interviews he should be more informed than what we see here and there.

Gregory said...

Bilbo said:

"In The New Testament Documents, Are they Reliable?, F.F. Bruce argued that 'Q' was the Logia that Papias referred to."

I'm not disputing the idea that there were "oral traditions" that circulated about Jesus and the events surrounding his execution and apparent resurrection. I would expect that in the event of something that's, at the very least, uncanny, that there would be some sort of "gossip" or "story telling" or "philosophizing" about that event/s. And it need not even be about allegedly "miraculous" events. Consider the assassination of JFK. There have been rumors and speculations flying around, almost from the time of the event in question, that suggests that the C.I.A. had secretly plotted his death because of his position on Vietnam, or because of the aftermath of the Marilyn Monroe scandal....or some other hidden political motive/s. Some have gone so far as to suggest that a long existing shadow Government--the "Bavarian Illuminati"--has been operating behind the scenes, plotting to insure that a "one world government" is finally established. JFK was merely a hindrance to that objective. Or so I'm told.

But consider how these "stories" about JFK might appear to historians and laymen 1000 years from now. How would a historian of 3010 evaluate the "story" that JFK was assassinated on November 22, 1963 in lieu of the varied "explanations" of that event--explanations, of which, have persisted since it's inception?

If the historian of 3010 were to apply the same principles and methods that certain of our contemporary "scholars" have applied to the historical status of Jesus Christ, then our future historian would have solid grounds for denying the existence of JFK!!!

Competing accounts of historical events always have an underlying core of "fact" behind them. A story that is a complete fabrication, like a story that says that "California is now fully submerged in water because of the wrath of Poseidon", may circulate for a time. But the "facts" of the matter will emerge---and hopefully not submerge in the depths of ignorance---that shows that the "Poseidon's Wrath" tale is completely erroneous. And our rejection of this "tale" is not because of our subjective rating of the relative probability or plausibility of such a story, but because the "facts" do not support it.

But there will always be those individuals whom will reject the "Poseidon's Wrath" tale because it doesn't feel or appear true to them.....whatever "feel" and "appear" happen to mean. But if we address such things as "matters of fact", rather than dismissing them out of hand, then we can, per chance, discover the truth....more than that, we can speak confidently about the matter as a person who had really investigated, rather than being a person who had merely speculated.

In the case of "Q", the higher critical scholars have drawn the cart before the horse. It seems that the New Testament, itself, is, in fact, the "source" of the "Q" tale. Because, when it comes to the issue of the New Testament and "Q", we only possess copies of the New Testament documents. As far as today's historian is concerned, the alleged claims made by Papias concerning "Q" are irrelevant, when judged by the actual historical data. And why should we suppose that Papias' claim is true in lieu of the absence of hard evidence supporting the notion of "Q"? This is the dilemma for "Q" proponents, even if the "Q" theory is, in fact, true.

Gregory said...

The F.B.I. reports, the conclusion of the Warren Commission and the House Select Committee on Assassinations, as well as various books written on the subject, have concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald killed JFK....although the Congressional Committee has allowed for the possibility of other agents being involved. If there were others involved in the plot to kill Kennedy, then that only proves one thing:

Others had plotted to kill Kennedy.

And, certainly, it is far from obvious that there was any other insidious scheming involved, other than that.

But the conspiracy theorist---an advanced breed of diligent skeptic---will say:

"Yes, but that's exactly what they want you to think, man. Don't you think that the C.I.A. hadn't already considered all this? Why do you think they were doing all that psychological research into "mind control" and "Manchurian Candidatery" during the C.I.A.'s "MK-Ultra" project? Maybe you just like to put blind faith in the absolute authority and omni-benevolence of the U.S. Government....where you can't question anything they say or do.
If you don't think that Ronald Regan's Presidential Farewell Address isn't a strong indication that the Government has the means and purpose of bombarding you and I with propaganda, via popular media, on a regular basis--in order to reinforce fealty to the values and objectives of the State--then I'm not sure I can convince you of anything....not even that the decadent 1980's of Reagan and Bush Sr. were still red, white and blue."

We must, at times, take things at face value....otherwise, we can lose ourselves in a meticulous labyrinthine construct of plausible, yet elusive, conceptualizations and fantasies.

Gregory said...

When such skepticism, as illustrated above, is applied to the area of "religion", it is considered rational. But when these same principles of "skepticism" are then applied to Politics and Government, it is considered paranoia.

But.....just because you're "paranoid" doesn't mean that "they" aren't out to get you, right?

Gregory said...

Concerning the "paranoid" person who is not being followed, the "paranoid" person who is being followed and the "non-paranoid" person who knows that he is being followed, all feel the same way:

I think someones following me.

Shackleman said...

Gregory,

Great points. I hadn't thought of the parallels between government conspiracy theorists and religious skeptics before. It it indeed an irony that the latter look upon the former as kooks, and yet they often employ the same methods and have similar motivations.

"A man who jibbed at authority in other things as some people do in religion would have to be content to know nothing all his life."

-C.S. Lewis

Anonymous said...

Great points. I hadn't thought of the parallels between government conspiracy theorists and religious skeptics before. It it indeed an irony that the latter look upon the former as kooks, and yet they often employ the same methods and have similar motivations.


Are you just referring to Jesus Mythicists as kooks or do you include all religious skeptics?

Are you not a skeptic of all other world religions, or is it just the skeptics of Christian "orthodoxy" that deserve your derision?

Shackleman said...

Annoyingly Anonymous,

I try not to be a "skeptic" of anything because "skeptiscim" is a cowardly excuse to remain ignorant, especially of things which are displeasing to one's own preferences.

Instead, I try to seek the truth of matters, investigating reasons, logic, and evidence to the best of my abilities.

Sometimes my mind is changed by these evidences.

The "skeptic's" mind however is rarely changed because there is nothing to change. They don't stake a claim in the first place. Instead, like "agnostics" (just a skeptic in a different suit), they sit forever on the fence, lobbing questions they don't really want answered, and which are ignored anyway, especially if they offend the skeptic's preferences or a priori assumptions. I have no respect for these fence-sitters.

So, while I *disagree* with atheists (the real ones, of which there are few) or Hindus or Buddhists, I *respect* them, and even remain open to their evidences. The "skeptic" and "agnostic" however have *NOTHING* but questions. No evidences. Just questions. And they therefore do **NOTHING** to advance human understanding and knowledge and I have little use and little respect for them.

Walter said...

So, while I *disagree* with atheists (the real ones, of which there are few) or Hindus or Buddhists, I *respect* them, and even remain open to their evidences. The "skeptic" and "agnostic" however have *NOTHING* but questions. No evidences. Just questions. And they therefore do **NOTHING** to advance human understanding and knowledge and I have little use and little respect for them.

Fair enough! This agnostic "kook" will not try to engage you in any further discussions.

I can see how people can rationally believe in many different religions without considering them to be loons or kooks, but maybe that is just me. I feel that childish name-calling does not advance your position any.

Shackleman said...

(Formerly Anonymous?) Walter,

As I never once referred to you, nor agnostics as kooks or loons, it is obvious that your ability to comprehend what you read is impaired. That, or you enjoy sarcasm, libel and lying simply for the sport of it.

Either way, further attention devoted to you would be a waste of my time.

Walter said...

So, while I *disagree* with atheists (the real ones, of which there are few) or Hindus or Buddhists, I *respect* them, and even remain open to their evidences.

I'll just bet that you have respect for "real" atheists!

...they sit forever on the fence, lobbing questions they don't really want answered, and which are ignored anyway, especially if they offend the skeptic's preferences or a priori assumptions. I have no respect for these fence-sitters.


All people have cognitive biases which tend to cause us to ignore evidence which goes against our presuppositions. Don't think that you are immune; I know that I am not. The reason that I do not consider myself to be a "real" atheist is because of arguments like Victor's AFR--it gives me pause. Yet, since I reject the dogmas of most religions it leaves me in somewhat of a conundrum as to what to label myself as. Unitarian, maybe? Deist? Agnostic?

So you only have respect for people who take a firm position no matter what that position is? Will you have more respect for me if I came to this blog as a devoted Scientologist? Somehow, I doubt it.

It seems to me that a person should sometimes just admit that they do not have all the answers for every question in the world. Pretending to believe in something that I do not just so I can commit to a "side" is not my style.

Either way, further attention devoted to you would be a waste of my time.

Bye.

Bilbo said...

Hi Gregory,

When a trained historian, and non-skeptic such as F.F. Bruce thinks there is good reason to believe that there was a 'Q' document, and that it might be the Logia that Papias referred to, I take that opinion seriously.

Shackleman said...

Walter says: "All people [including myself] have cognitive biases which tend to cause us to ignore evidence which goes against our presuppositions.

So, you admit you ignore evidence when it offends your presuppositions, and yet you expect to be taken seriously when you triumphantly pronounce a lack of compelling evidence? So it is with most agnostics.

Is there any wonder why I have such little respect for this vacuousness?

Walter also says:"I reject the dogmas of most religions"

Really Walter? Most religions? You've examined the evidence for "most" religions and have determined that they fail to persuade?

Of course not. You haven't examined the evidence for "most religions", or if you have, there's no way to know if you didn't simply just ignore the evidence based on your cognitive presuppositions...you therefore simply have a cognitive bias against religion. Had you just said as much I would have respected it. But, like most other agnostics and "skeptics" you don't have any arguments or counterarguments. No evidence or counter-evidence. Nothing but questions from you, Walter.

And by the way, here's a tip for you. If you do not believe in God or gods of any kind, then you are not an agnostic. You're an atheist.

Walter said...

So, you admit you ignore evidence when it offends your presuppositions, and yet you expect to be taken seriously when you triumphantly pronounce a lack of compelling evidence? So it is with most agnostics.

It is called Confirmation Bias. Let's not pretend that Christians do not tend to filter the evidence to fit their own presuppositions as much as the rest of us. 'Ignore' was probably too strong of a word, but I am at least being honest that I have biases. I will be the first to admit that I do not WANT orthodox Christianity to be true. Frankly, any deity that puts people in an eternal hell is not a deity that I will EVER love and respect--fear maybe, but not one that I will praise.

As far as evidence goes, you have nothing but anecdotal tales of ancient miracles coming from an old book that our culture happens to revere. Word of God? I think not. All of man's religions are based on the dubious claim that a particular book or person speaks for God(s). I reject these claims. Any so-called revelation given to another man is nothing more that hearsay to me. A deity that wishes my belief in "him" can come and speak to me as directly as Jesus supposedly did with Paul.

Shackleman said...

To paraphrase Walter: "I tend to filter evidence to fit my own presuppositions and biases."

Walter continues: "I do not WANT orthodox Christianity to be true"

This, from your proud perch of agnosticism. And yet you still demand to be taken seriously.

But, why are you arguing with me anyway. Remember, you took issue with my saying, to paraphrase: "[Skeptics] ignore [answers], especially if they offend [their] preferences or a priori assumptions." Which, is tantamount to the same thing you've proudly admitted to about yourself twice now.

At least you're making progress though, Walter. You've gone from providing nothing but questions to now providing sweeping assertions and bold conclusions with no argument or evidence in between.

Typical for the "skeptic".

Tim said...

A deity that wishes my belief in "him" can come and speak to me as directly as Jesus supposedly did with Paul.

Ahh, the venerable Godspell objection. "Prove to me that you're no fool: walk across my swimming pool." Complaining about the evidence one doesn't have is a perennially popular way to evade the task of grappling with the evidence one does.

Victor Reppert said...

That line comes from Jesus Christ Superstar, not Godspell. Same era, different musical.

Walter said...

Complaining about the evidence one doesn't have is a perennially popular way to evade the task of grappling with the evidence one does.

The only evidence you have is stories in a book. That is why apologists knock themselves out to try to convince the rest of us about how "credible" and "trustworthy" the authors of those stories were. We simply do not know how trustworthy the authors were. It is all just a leap of faith.

Even if I am swayed by arguments that lead to Deism, we are still quite a long way from establishing that trinitarian "churchianity" is truth. Maybe Judaism is closer to truth? Maybe none of man's religions are that close?

Bilbo said...

Though both musicals were very good, I thought Godspell came closer to portraying what Jesus woul have been like.

Tim said...

Whoops! I was just a little kid in that era; sorry for conflating the two musicals.

Walter writes:

The only evidence you have is stories in a book. That is why apologists knock themselves out to try to convince the rest of us about how "credible" and "trustworthy" the authors of those stories were. We simply do not know how trustworthy the authors were. It is all just a leap of faith.

Our evidence for most actual historical transactions is written evidence; why this should be a dramatic disqualification I cannot understand. The decision that these books are fundamentally trustworthy certainly need not be a "leap of faith."

You overlook a very substantial evidence of veracity by speaking of the New Testament as "a book," since one of the most striking lines of confirmation takes as its starting point the fact that the New Testament is a collection of books written by eight or nine different authors that were not, originally, written with a view to being collected into a single volume.

And in any event, written evidence is not the only evidence we possess that the principal events narrated in the New Testament occurred substantially as they are presented.

Gregory said...

Bilbo said:

"Hi Gregory,

When a trained historian, and non-skeptic such as F.F. Bruce thinks there is good reason to believe that there was a 'Q' document, and that it might be the Logia that Papias referred to, I take that opinion seriously."


Fair enough, fair enough Mr. Baggins. And I will agree to all that you and Mr. Bruce have said.....if you can show us the "Q" documents. That's all.

"Q" is a phantom document. The New Testament is not.

But let's look at this from another angle. If the reference to Papias and the "Logia" is a good reason for believing in "Q", then it's, a fortiori, a great reason to trust the historical reliability of the New Testament....because the New Testament has an exceeding number of historical attestations. Furthermore, it's also a great reason to believe that some sort of "epic" flood occurred in the ancient past, which corroborates the "Noah's Ark" story, because it's multiply attested to in the lore of many ancient cultures and civilizations (i.e. China, Africa and Australia). It's not important whether any of these countries had experienced a "global", catastrophic flood, first hand. It makes no difference whether there was any "global" flood. On the contrary, the significance of the "flood story" is that it was, at the very least, important enough to transmit. What's more, it was probably transmitted because people thought that it was true or trustworthy. And people thought that it was true--and rightly so--because some catastrophic flooding did happen.

And, what reason would we have to suppose that it didn't occur? Because things like that can't happen? Surely, this can't be the "claim". I mean....we can have "Ice Ages", meteor collisions and their resultant calamities, the extinction of dinosaurs, "Evolution" and "Big Bangs"....but we can't have massive flood/s?

But, regarding the various "interpretations" and "understandings" of that epic flood amongst the diverse cultures, I would like to point something out: the importance of the "flood" does not consist in any uniform "interpretation" of the incident; but, rather, that there is, in fact, a "core" that they all agree upon.....namely, the flood itself!!! And it was passed upward and onward to the following generations, who would also have questioned it's veracity, because it was historical. Certainly, that's a much better way to approach this than the highly controversial speculations about the ancient's "myth-making" mind set and/or the "biological" origin of their beliefs. I'm not sure the "modern" mind set is any better....and certainly "modern man" is bound by the same laws that the "ancients" were bound to. So, they couldn't have been neglecting any proper epistemic duties because, in a naturalized epistemology, there simply isn't any "duty" that can be performed. It's all physics, my friend.

But, this brings me back to my original point. If the criteria of respectable historical research can allow for the reality of "Q" based upon a circumstantial historical footnote, then why is there even a debate over the "historicity" of the New Testament???

Gregory said...

We, today, are inundated with "myths". From "Star Wars" to "Spiderman", we will go spend our $12 to see a Hollywood fantasy with as much zeal as we go to Church or watch sports. We pay to watch people like "Chris Angel" and "Penn and Teller" perform illusions for an audience....and some people will even pay "Penn and Teller" to tell them all about bovine fecal matter.

Yet, in the midst of all this love of modern "myths", we still distinguish "fact" from "fantasy". The ancients were no different. And to say that the ancients did not appreciate, nor differentiate, the distinction between "fact" and "fantasy", is to begin---afresh the twilight hilltops---the fine art of myth-making.