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Author Topic:   Did Jesus Exist? by Bart Ehrman
Granny Magda
Member (Idle past 124 days)
Posts: 2462
From: UK
Joined: 11-12-2007


Message 135 of 563 (915284)
02-12-2024 12:09 PM
Reply to: Message 134 by Percy
02-12-2024 11:04 AM


Hi Percy,
I have to ask; how much information do you think we ought to have?
If Jesus was a real person he was, during his life, an obscure religious mystic, born of a no-account family in a cultural backwater. Most of his followers would have been illiterate and the Gospels never mention him producing writings of his own. He died young. It's not like we have a wealth of exacting records from that time and place. What is it exactly that you think we ought to see if he were real?
To be clear, I assume we're talking about a realistic Jesus here, not one who walked on water and got into fights with fruit trees. The idea of Jesus as an apocalyptic preacher who left an outsized legacy doesn't seem at all implausible to me.
Mutate and Survive

On two occasions I have been asked, – "Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?" ... I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question. - Charles Babbage

This message is a reply to:
 Message 134 by Percy, posted 02-12-2024 11:04 AM Percy has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 136 by Theodoric, posted 02-12-2024 12:54 PM Granny Magda has replied
 Message 137 by AZPaul3, posted 02-12-2024 1:49 PM Granny Magda has replied
 Message 138 by Percy, posted 02-12-2024 2:22 PM Granny Magda has replied

  
Granny Magda
Member (Idle past 124 days)
Posts: 2462
From: UK
Joined: 11-12-2007


Message 139 of 563 (915296)
02-12-2024 2:27 PM
Reply to: Message 136 by Theodoric
02-12-2024 12:54 PM


Hi Theo,
That there was someone that preached and may have been named Jesus and may have had followers and may have angered authorities and people may have written stories about him is a pretty low bar to set.
I find that a bit of an odd comment. Low bar? The bar is set at... reality.
Neither of us believes in magic or divinities. No reputable historian incorporates miracles into their interpretation of the past. In talking about a historical Jesus, in the framework set by normal historical practice, we are necessarily talking about a non-divine, non-magical Jesus. That's just where the bar is set, whether we like it or not.
Of course we could talk about whether the magical Jesus of popular Christian imagination was real or not, but I think we both know that's a waste of time. I'm not proposing we have that silly conversation. That's off the table as far as I'm concerned. Certainly if we were academics publishing papers on history it would be off the table.
It doesn't make that person the Jesus of the bible or anything like that mythical character.
As rhetoric I agree with that. It's true in a sense and I'm pretty sure I've said it myself before. The distinction between a plausible historical Jesus and the mythic Jesus is a useful one. I would quibble a bit over the phrasing though.
Even before his death, people said that Julius Caesar was divine, the descendant of Ares and Aphrodite (talk about being a nepo baby). This is obviously made up, just a bit of myth making. They're still talking about the same guy though. They're talking bollocks about him but that doesn't mean they're not talking about Julius Caesar, the real guy. They are talking about the historical Julius, they're just saying things about him that aren't true. Similarly, even when the claims about him are clearly fiction, the Gospels are, possibly, talking about a real historical person called Jesus. They're just saying a lot of things about him that aren't true.
I find it more plausible that the Gospels are heavily fictionalised accounts of a real person than that they are complete fiction.
Mutate and Survive

On two occasions I have been asked, – "Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?" ... I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question. - Charles Babbage

This message is a reply to:
 Message 136 by Theodoric, posted 02-12-2024 12:54 PM Theodoric has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 142 by Theodoric, posted 02-12-2024 2:54 PM Granny Magda has replied

  
Granny Magda
Member (Idle past 124 days)
Posts: 2462
From: UK
Joined: 11-12-2007


(1)
Message 143 of 563 (915301)
02-12-2024 2:57 PM
Reply to: Message 137 by AZPaul3
02-12-2024 1:49 PM


Hi AZPaul,
I have to wonder what happened to the historians and scribes of the time. Why did they not record the strange and mysterious workings of this young rabi? They recorded quite a bit about the movers and shakers of the time and, with their exchange of letters, we get a glimpse into the social sides of the society. Not a word of the miracle worker from the Levant.
Well quite. If "many holy people who had died" really did jump out of their graves and go wandering around Jerusalem to the considerable surprise of "many people", I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that somebody might have thought that worth mentioning somewhere. The obvious reason we have no record of such incredible events is because they never happened.
If a divine priest was performing such miracles to the extent the myths indicate then someone, even in a pitifully illiterate society, would have noticed and recorded, even the rumors, of the events. Those are the missing pieces of evidence that should be there if this myth were true.
I agree. The myth isn't true. But that doesn't mean that it wasn't based upon a real man, nor does it mean that there aren't elements of historical truth in the Gospel accounts. Likely they are a mix of;
a) Broadly true accounts of real events and/or the real teachings of the actual historical Jesus.
b) Heavily fictionalised or distorted versions of real events/teachings. These might resemble reality quite closely or be wildly errant, or anywhere in between.
c) Fan fiction, based on no real event and/or which does not represent or actually contradicts Jesus' original teachings.
How much is there of each and which bit is which? That question is kind of above my pay grade, although I do suspect that there's quite a bit more of the latter two categories than the first.
Mutate and Survive

On two occasions I have been asked, – "Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?" ... I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question. - Charles Babbage

This message is a reply to:
 Message 137 by AZPaul3, posted 02-12-2024 1:49 PM AZPaul3 has not replied

  
Granny Magda
Member (Idle past 124 days)
Posts: 2462
From: UK
Joined: 11-12-2007


Message 155 of 563 (915315)
02-12-2024 4:31 PM
Reply to: Message 138 by Percy
02-12-2024 2:22 PM


I wouldn't expect any evidence, or at least very, very little, for "an obscure religious mystic."
And yet we have the Gospels. Dodgy evidence they may be, but they are evidence. There are reasons to think that there is some truth in them, not least the fact that Jesus makes for such a terrible candidate for the Messiah. Jews of the 1st Century were not expecting their Messiah to kick up a bit of ineffectual fuss and then get ignominiously executed. They were expecting an ass kicker who was going to smite their enemies and win back their lands. The spiritual savior of the Gospels was kind of a hard sell. If an author were to invent a Messiah out of whole cloth it seems implausible that he would have invented this one.
I think Paul created Christianity.
I think that might be over-egging it. Certainly Paul's influence is great. I think it likely though that the proto-Christian church existed before him and that James and Paul were both leaders of that church before Paul.
He might have made Jesus up out of whole cloth, or he might have based him upon a real person.
I think Paul was probably sincere. I think he really had a vision, which he genuinely believed was of a divine Jesus and it changed his life, not necessarily for the better. I don't see a strong motivation for him to devote his life to this if he wasn't sincere. Also he mentions meeting James the brother of Jesus and Peter, so if he's making it all up, that's at least three people he made up out of whole cloth, two of them ostensibly still alive at time of writing. He's also necessarily making up the church in Jerusalem and the Christians he supposedly persecuted before his conversion. These seem like big lies, easily exposed even in the ancient world. No, I think he's telling the truth, as he sees it.
I wouldn't venture a guess which and I don't think it matters.
Does any fact of history really matter? It depends what you mean by "matter" and what your priorities are I suppose.
If by that you are alluding to whether it matters with regard to whether or not we should become Christians though, I agree; it doesn't matter. I don't reject Christianity simply because I don't trust its historical claims. I reject the supernatural altogether. Absolute proof of the existence of a historical Jesus would do nothing to win me over.
Overall, I also think there's a disconnect here. You say there is no evidence. Even if that were true, that would surely seem to justify a position of neutrality, a mythicism-agnosticism if you will. But instead you seem to be coming down on the side of mythicism. I think that's an over-correction. You have to understand that scholars in the field, including non-Christian ones, tend to view Jesus Mythicism as a bit of a joke. Many if not most of its major proponents are a bit flaky. I think that concluding that Jesus was not real simply because there is little evidence is a bit odd, given that we all agree that a historically plausible Jesus would not have left much evidence.
Mutate and Survive

On two occasions I have been asked, – "Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?" ... I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question. - Charles Babbage

This message is a reply to:
 Message 138 by Percy, posted 02-12-2024 2:22 PM Percy has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 157 by Tanypteryx, posted 02-12-2024 4:58 PM Granny Magda has replied
 Message 161 by Theodoric, posted 02-12-2024 9:18 PM Granny Magda has not replied
 Message 172 by Percy, posted 02-13-2024 12:23 PM Granny Magda has replied

  
Granny Magda
Member (Idle past 124 days)
Posts: 2462
From: UK
Joined: 11-12-2007


Message 158 of 563 (915318)
02-12-2024 5:20 PM
Reply to: Message 142 by Theodoric
02-12-2024 2:54 PM


Wow Theo. I'm just gobsmacked by how far you've missed the point I was making here.
Caesar? Irrelevant. We have reams of historical evidence for Julius Caesar. Jesus? Nothing. Absolutely totally nothing.
I was not comparing the strength of the evidence for the historical existence of Julius Caesar to the strength of the evidence for a historical Jesus. I'm not doing that because that would be completely stupid.
I was using Caesar as an illustrative example only. The point I was trying to make is that just because a story about a particular person isn't true doesn't mean that the story isn't about that person. It's just a story about that person that happens not to be true.
Let's try another example, just to be as clear as possible.
Taylor Swift is a real person. Crazy little online right wing weirdos have concocted a bizarre story about how the Superbowl has been fixed so that Taylor Swift can help Joe Biden win the election... or something. It's honestly quite hard to parse what they think is happening. Whatever it is though, it's 100% horseshit. The story isn't true. That doesn't mean that it's not a story about Taylor Swift though. It is a story about Taylor Swift, just a stupid false one.
Again, to be clear, this is not an attempt to examine the strength of the evidence for the existence of Taylor Swift. It's just an illustrative example.
If Jesus was a real person then even the most fanciful stories about him are stories about the real Jesus at some level. They're just bullshit stories. Just because a story isn't real doesn't mean the person in the story isn't real.
Theodoric writes:
Granny Magda writes:
I find that a bit of an odd comment. Low bar? The bar is set at... reality.
Then we can reasonable say there was no Jesus.
I have literally zero idea how you think that comment follows from what I said in any way.
What I'm saying here is that in discussing a historical Jesus we should be discussing the version that is plausible, or at least possible, a non-magical Jesus. I'm saying that we should discount the magic Jesus; that blatantly isn't real.
The bar is set here because that is where the bar would be set for any and all sane historical analysis of this or any claim. I essentially describing a form of methodological naturalism. I don't see what possible problem you could have with that. I think you've perhaps got the wrong end of the stick.
He is a mythical story built from other mythical stories.
Or a mythic story was built around a real man with influence from other mythic stories, poetry, philosophy, etc. Seems pretty reasonable to me.
He is most likely (IMHO) a literary device to create a story showing perceived fulfillment of perceived prophecies of ancient religious texts and oral stories.
If that were the case, why not make up a Jesus who actually fulfilled the prophecies? Why piss around trying to trace Jesus' lineage to David, even though it plainly isn't the case, when you could just make someone up who actually fitted that prophecy? Jesus is a poor fit for the Messiah. Given the luxury, why not create a Messiah who more closely resembled expectations?
Mutate and Survive

On two occasions I have been asked, – "Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?" ... I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question. - Charles Babbage

This message is a reply to:
 Message 142 by Theodoric, posted 02-12-2024 2:54 PM Theodoric has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 162 by Theodoric, posted 02-12-2024 9:27 PM Granny Magda has not replied

  
Granny Magda
Member (Idle past 124 days)
Posts: 2462
From: UK
Joined: 11-12-2007


Message 159 of 563 (915319)
02-12-2024 5:52 PM
Reply to: Message 157 by Tanypteryx
02-12-2024 4:58 PM


Hi Tanypteryx,
You say little evidence, but it seems to me like no physical evidence at all.
No, none whatsoever. Why would there be? What physical evidence would a man who was famously unkeen on material possessions leave? I'm suggesting that he would leave no physical evidence at all. Indeed if someone were to announce an archaeological discovery of physical evidence for Jesus' existence, I would assume that it was just another pious fraud.
There's no Jesus lived here signs,
There's no what! WTF! Please tell me that this entire post was just a wind up, please.
I saw someone protest that we don't have Jesus' DNA once. No foolin'.
Historians of the time documented other obscure preacher characters
Citation needed.
You can't seriously think that our records of 1st Century Judea are so perfect that they mention everyone can you? Jesus is only supposed to have preached for about three years or less. I don't know how much impact you think a person like that would have had on the historical record.
You would think someone would have noticed a white man preaching to a dark skinned culture and contemporary scribes would have mentioned it.
I'm really hoping that Jesus is real right now so that he can have mercy on my poor goddamned soul.
Humans are very good at imagining voices in their heads and it seldom seems to make their lives better.
Yeah, that's exactly my point. I'm not saying that Paul's vision was a bona fide supernatural vision from God. I'm saying it was a psychologically induced event that the superstitious Paul took to be a divine revelation. That provides him with a compelling motivation to preach the message of Christ, as he saw it.
Mutate and Survive

On two occasions I have been asked, – "Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?" ... I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question. - Charles Babbage

This message is a reply to:
 Message 157 by Tanypteryx, posted 02-12-2024 4:58 PM Tanypteryx has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 160 by Tanypteryx, posted 02-12-2024 7:44 PM Granny Magda has seen this message but not replied

  
Granny Magda
Member (Idle past 124 days)
Posts: 2462
From: UK
Joined: 11-12-2007


Message 193 of 563 (915415)
02-13-2024 3:09 PM
Reply to: Message 172 by Percy
02-13-2024 12:23 PM


Evidence of what?
Evidence for the existence of Jesus as I made clear.
People are fond of saying that there is "no evidence", That is simply false. People saying this are seemingly pretending that the Pauline Epistles, the Gospels and the rest of the NT don't exist. They are certainly not the most reliable evidence, to put it mildly, but to pretend that they don't exist is asinine. Same for the References to Jesus by Josephus and Tacitus. They exist. They are evidence. You are not compelled to take them at their word, but the claim of zero evidence is false.
Believers have interpreted every part of the Bible in a multitude of ways.
Of course, but I'm not suggesting we give the job to candle2 or something. Modern historians and textual critics hold to a higher standard than those who torture the Bible for their own weird purposes. There are also agnostic, atheist and Jewish scholars, with no axe to grind, who are not under the same pressure for the text to conform to some presupposition. It would not be fair to compare someone like Bart Ehrman to a fundamentalist apologist.
Or since there was no such person as Jesus it was necessary for the story's conclusion to include his disappearance, otherwise his absence from the world would have been difficult to explain.​
Not what I'm talking about. It's easy to kill your fictional character off at the end, and that would indeed be convenient for a fraudster. But that's not what I meant.
I'm talking about places where the Gospel authors tie themselves in knots trying to make problems go away, when need not have created the problem in the first place were they simply writing fiction. Take the narratives of Jesus' birth for example. The early Christians had a problem. They had come to think of Jesus as Messiah, but he didn't fit the bill in a number of ways. One of those was Micah 5:2, which was taken as prophecy.
quote:
But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.
So the Messiah was supposed to come from Bethlehem, whereas Jesus was from Nazareth. Worse, he had probably gone by "Jesus of Nazareth", a common way of identifying individuals in a world where few people had surnames. There was no hiding it, certainly not from the people of Galilee, where Jesus was known and where his followers would have been based. This was a problem and the solution was to invent the story of the census, the journey to Bethlehem and everything that goes with it. The problems with this story are well known, it contains much that is spurious or ahistorical, censuses did not and could not work that way, etc. The versions presented in Luke and Matthew are highly contradictory. I think we can all agree that the story is made up and indeed that is the majority opinion of scholars. Why go to all this trouble? If one was creating a wholly fictional Messiah, why not simply have him born in Bethlehem? Why bother with the story at all? The most parsimonious answer is that Jesus was real and he was inconveniently from Nazareth. People knew this. He was "Jesus of Nazareth". Jews of the time would have made this objection, just as in the Gospel of John;
quote:
41 Others said, “He is the Messiah.”
Still others asked, “How can the Messiah come from Galilee? 42 Does not Scripture say that the Messiah will come from David’s descendants and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?
To get around this, the idea was planted that he was born in Bethlehem. It's quite clever really. Even if most people who had heard of Jesus knew he was brought up in Nazareth, very few people outside of sleepy little Nazareth would be in a position to deny that he might have been born elsewhere. If the whole thing is a fabrication, why even include an insignificant detail like Nazareth at all? It was an obscure little place that hardly anyone had heard of and no-one cared about. Why not just cut it from the narrative altogether? The most parsimonious explanation and in my view the most likely, is that Jesus did indeed come from Nazareth. It was a known fact and the early Christians couldn't make it go away, so they had to create a workaround.
Don't forget Peter.
Ah! Thank you. That should of course read "James and Peter were both leaders of that church before Paul".
I also forgot that Paul claims to have met John the Apostle as well in a later visit to Jerusalem and he alludes to Jesus' other siblings. Are all these people made up? Is everyone Paul mentions made up? This seems unlikely. These are letters to other Churches after all. He is writing to people who would be in a position to know if none of these people or proto-churches didn't exist.
But "an obscure religious mystic" is not the Jesus people of faith believe in. Generally, Christians believe in the Jesus of the gospels, and I'm saying that Jesus didn't exist.
But I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about a plausible historical Jesus and you know that. Why insist upon responding to a claim I'm not making? It's obtuse, it's unnecessarily confusing and in my opinion it's just sloppy rhetoric . Your doing the same thing as Theodoric, addressing only the lunatic claims of Christians and ignoring the far more plausible claim that I am making. This matters because a bad habit of Jesus Mythicists is a sort of bait and switch. They claim to address a plausible Jesus but then switch to arguments that only matter for the magical Jesus. It's infuriating. Saying "Jesus didn't exist" when you're really talking about the magic Jesus is just confusing and contrary. It has no place in any sensible conversation about a plausible historical Jesus. It's a waste of time; we're all already agreed that no-one walked on water. People who are not onboard with that aren't engaged in any recognisable kind of scholarship. I don't care what Christians believe; I'm not interested in that conversation.
I don't understand why you insist upon framing it like this. I know that you don't believe in magic. You know that I don't believe in magic. I just don't get it.
Mutate and Survive

On two occasions I have been asked, – "Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?" ... I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question. - Charles Babbage

This message is a reply to:
 Message 172 by Percy, posted 02-13-2024 12:23 PM Percy has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 229 by Percy, posted 02-13-2024 5:22 PM Granny Magda has replied

  
Granny Magda
Member (Idle past 124 days)
Posts: 2462
From: UK
Joined: 11-12-2007


(1)
Message 260 of 563 (915503)
02-14-2024 10:12 AM
Reply to: Message 229 by Percy
02-13-2024 5:22 PM


For the existence of Jesus as "an obscure religious mystic?" Why would such a person even be necessary?
I'm not sure what you mean by necessary. Christianity has to have come from somewhere and having it's origins in a real person is a highly parsimonious explanation.
If that's who Jesus really was then 95% of the gospels are fiction, and if there never was a Jesus then 100% of the gospels are fiction. That 5% hardly seems worth finagling over.
Well I wouldn't like to put a figure on it, even loosely. Certainly I would not encourage amateurs and laymen to uncritically view the Gospels as reliable history, far from it. Historians though, textual critics and other scholars of antiquity approach their sources with far greater caution and detailed analysis than laymen. "What you call "finagling over the 5%" is what such people do!
I also think that the question of whether one of the most influential individuals of all time existed or not is a bigger deal than just part of that "5%".
Concerning evidence, no one is questioning the existence of the gospels or the NT, but the exact same gospel passages have been interpreted as saying a variety of different things, and you described them as "dodgy evidence."
My problem with this is that lots of evidence from antiquity is "dodgy". It's patchy, fragmentary, only known form much later manuscripts and littered with bias and superstition. Historians are used to this and largely take it in their stride. Laymen tend to be shocked when you say something like "there are no contemporaneous sources", but in reality, that's far from unusual.
Agreeing on what they're evidence of seems challenging.​
Yes, extremely challenging. That's why textual critics get paid those big, big bucks! Seriously though, it's a very challenging field, requiring a greater familiarity with the texts than a lowly internet malcontent such as myself will ever possess. As I said above, a lot of this is above my pay grade.
You argue that the gospel writers would not have introduced fictions like the census if they were just making Jesus up, but Paul's epistles were written long before Luke
Well Paul doesn't mention the Nativity. I would agree that if Jesus was wholly concocted, then it must have been before any of the Gospels were written, if that's what you're getting at. I also think that if it was all concocted, then it must have been before Paul's Epistles as well. His various claims don't make sense unless there was some sort of pre-existing Christian movement.
Separate Christian communities would have had a long time to develop and evolve and create and abandon ideas that later required reconciliation.
I think that's pretty good description of what I'm suggesting. I'm further suggesting that the Nativity story is an example of this. They had a theological problem and came up with a solution. Luke and Matthew (whoever they were) give differing version of the story, but I don't think either of them invented it. They both might have got it from Q or Luke from Matthew, or somewhere else, but to me this seems like a good example of exactly the kind of evolution of ideas that you describe.
Sorry, didn't mean for it to come across that way. I only meant that the Jesus that I believe did not exist is the one from the gospels.
Okay, cool. I still think it's a funny way of putting it. I mean, we don't hear anyone asking "Was there a George Washington who chopped down the cherry tree?". That would be weird phrasing. Semantics I guess.
I don't have any particularly strong opinion about the possibility that Jesus is based upon a real person who didn't live the life described in the gospels. Maybe, maybe not. Why does it matter?
It doesn't. I don't think any question about distant history really matters much. Did king Arthur exist? Or Robin Hood? Probably not. Does it matter? Not in the least. Where was Alexander the Great buried? It would be nice to know, but not knowing won't keep me up at night. It's interesting though and I find this topic interesting. To be fair, it clearly matters a great deal to Christians, but it doesn't matter to me in the same way. The existence or non-existence of Jesus was never a foundation of my atheism in the first place.
I wasn't aware of the Jesus Mythicists.
The idea started in the Nineteenth Century but gradually fell out of favour. It has had a renaissance of sorts in the internet age, but there are almost no professionals who take it seriously today.
Mutate and Survive

On two occasions I have been asked, – "Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?" ... I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question. - Charles Babbage

This message is a reply to:
 Message 229 by Percy, posted 02-13-2024 5:22 PM Percy has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 275 by Percy, posted 02-14-2024 1:12 PM Granny Magda has replied

  
Granny Magda
Member (Idle past 124 days)
Posts: 2462
From: UK
Joined: 11-12-2007


(2)
Message 264 of 563 (915511)
02-14-2024 12:34 PM
Reply to: Message 228 by Theodoric
02-13-2024 5:20 PM


I think there's a few problems with this.
Roughly 80 years after the alleged events Tacitus allegedly wrote a (now) famous passage about "Christ"
Well yes, history is usually written after it happens. That's how time works. It would be nice if it had been written closer to the events, but it wasn't. That doesn't make it worthless and I don't think that a gap of 80 years is particularly exceptional for an ancient source.
Tacitus uses the term "procurator", used in his later times, but not correct for the actual period, when "prefect" was used.
So for starters, you haven't provided a source for this. Also, I did a bit of digging and found the term to be in use before Tacitus' time and after. Notably Suetonius uses it and he was writing at about the same time. Also, is this supposed to be a problem just for this passage? Because Tacitus uses the word "procurator" multiple times in Annals, in English translation at least. Is this supposed to be a substantial enough objection to throw out the whole of Tacitus? Given that he is one of our most valuable sources on 1st Century Rome I think that's a bit of an overreaction.
Tacitus names the person as "Christ", when Roman records could not possibly have used this name (it would have been "Jesus, son of Joseph" or similar.)
These aren't "records". The Annals aren't part of some official record or something, they are histories, so I don't really know what you mean by that. Tacitus most certainly used official records as sources, but that doesn't mean that he had to follow their naming conventions. I also just don't buy this generally. If early Christians commonly referred to Jesus as "Christ" or "Christus" or "Chrestus", then I see no reason why Tacitus would not have done the same. Tacitus may not even have known the given name of this "Christ". It is clear from the context that he is using "Christ" to show the derivation of the term "Christian", which makes sense. You cite no backing for this claim. Overall, I am sceptical.
Tacitus accepts the recent advent of Christianity, which was against Roman practice (to only allow ancient and accepted cults and religions.)
What do you mean he accepts it? He's not accepting anything, just reporting events. Far from being accepting, it is clear from the passage that Tacitus despises Christians and Christianity;
quote:
Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judæa, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind.
Tacitus, Annals 15:44, bolding mine
That doesn't come across as accepting to me. That comes across as extremely hostile. He clearly regards Christians as dangerous wackaloons, which... yeah that checks out. Clearly this is a man who knows Christianity well!
No-one refers to this passage for a millenium, even early Christians who actively sought such passages.
This is the worst argument you bring. The reason no-one cited Tacitus is because no-one had access to Tacitus. We're damn lucky we have as much of Tacitus as we do. He wrote around thirty books of which we have about half. Annals 11-16 survived through a single manuscript. We think of Tacitus as a big deal, but that's presentism; he was not well known in the latter part of the first millennium. The Wikipedia article on Tacitean Studies reads;
quote:
His popularity waned with time: his unfavorable portrayals of the early emperors could not have earned him favor with Rome's increasingly autocratic rulers, and his obvious contempt for Judaism and Christianity (both troublesome foreign cults in the eyes of a 1st-century Roman aristocrat) made him unpopular among the early Church Fathers.[5] The 3rd-century writer Tertullian, for example, blames him (incorrectly—see history of anti-Semitism) for originating the story that the Jews worshipped a donkey's head in the Holy of Holies and calls him "ille mendaciorum loquacissimus", 'the most loquacious of liars'.
Doesn't sound like a source that Christians would be queuing up to read and cite. The article continues;
quote:
By the 5th century only a few authors seem aware of him
and;
quote:
After Jordanes, Tacitus disappeared from literature for the better part of two centuries, and only four certain references appear until 1360.
and;
quote:
It was not until Giovanni Boccaccio brought the manuscript of the Annals 11-16 and the Histories out of Monte Cassino to Florence, in the 1360s or 1370s, that Tacitus began to regain some of his old literary importance.
So the reason Christians didn't quote Tacitus is simply because they didn't have it. You cannot make an argument from silence in such circumstances, it's nonsensical.
Thus, even if the Tacitus passage is not a later interpolation,
If you can name a single non-mythicist scholar who regards this passage as an interpolation, I would be very surprised.
details which Tacitus gathered from Christian stories circulating in his time
But there are no "Christian stories" in there. There's nothing beyond Christ being executed. There's no resurrection, no miracles, nothing that would suggest a Christian input. Not that Tacitus would have taken such stories seriously, but he might have enjoyed mocking them. They're not there though. Indeed, he makes no attempt to describe the beliefs or practices of Christians beyond dismissive scorn. I don't think these accounts came to Tacitus directly from Christians.
In general, I'm not convinced by anything here that the Tacitus passage is fraudulent or particularly problematic. I can see how it's extremely inconvenient for mythicists though.
Mutate and Survive

On two occasions I have been asked, – "Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?" ... I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question. - Charles Babbage

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 Message 228 by Theodoric, posted 02-13-2024 5:20 PM Theodoric has not replied

  
Granny Magda
Member (Idle past 124 days)
Posts: 2462
From: UK
Joined: 11-12-2007


(1)
Message 266 of 563 (915513)
02-14-2024 12:43 PM
Reply to: Message 262 by Taq
02-14-2024 12:16 PM


Hi Taq,
I think that's a sensible approach.
I think there is rhetorical value in granting the existence of a historical Jesus whether you believe it or not, at least in conversation with Christians. If you suggest that Jesus was wholly fictional they're going to get defensive. They're going to tell you, correctly, that most scholars regard mythicism as bunk, they're going to think you're an idiot and they're going to stop listening. It is perhaps more productive to grant the existence of Jesus and focus on critiquing the more outlandish elements of the story.
Mutate and Survive

On two occasions I have been asked, – "Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?" ... I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question. - Charles Babbage

This message is a reply to:
 Message 262 by Taq, posted 02-14-2024 12:16 PM Taq has not replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 269 by Phat, posted 02-14-2024 12:47 PM Granny Magda has replied

  
Granny Magda
Member (Idle past 124 days)
Posts: 2462
From: UK
Joined: 11-12-2007


Message 276 of 563 (915525)
02-14-2024 1:46 PM
Reply to: Message 275 by Percy
02-14-2024 1:12 PM


We seem to be broadly on the same page.
We agree that the Jesus of the gospels never existed, but Christianity's outsize influence is due to people's belief that that Jesus did exist, not to any belief that he was an obscure mystic.
I agree, Christianity is based pretty much entirely on the mythic Jesus. Any real Jesus is practically a ghost. Sadly Christians are the last people who want to hear about him.
Concerning Biblical scholarship, even the most powerful microscope cannot create evidence that doesn't exist. That's why Biblical scholars have no consensus,
I think it is completely fair to say that there is consensus on the historicity of Jesus amongst scholars.
So you believe Paul made up stories about a resurrection but not about a religious movement.
No. If I were the betting type I would probably bet on Peter being the first person to become convinced of Jesus' resurrection, and if not him then James or someone else form Jesus' inner circle.
In the same way, some hypothesize that there was an actual Jesus, just not the one of the gospels. Does it matter? Not in the least. But if the Jesus of the gospels existed then that would be a very big deal. *That* would matter.
Again, that's not how I would put it, but... semantics.
Mutate and Survive

On two occasions I have been asked, – "Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?" ... I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question. - Charles Babbage

This message is a reply to:
 Message 275 by Percy, posted 02-14-2024 1:12 PM Percy has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 283 by Percy, posted 02-14-2024 3:50 PM Granny Magda has replied

  
Granny Magda
Member (Idle past 124 days)
Posts: 2462
From: UK
Joined: 11-12-2007


Message 278 of 563 (915527)
02-14-2024 1:58 PM
Reply to: Message 269 by Phat
02-14-2024 12:47 PM


Re: Motive, Means & Opportunity
Hi Phat,
Perhaps a good question to rhetorically ask is"Why Is This Argument Important In The Grand Scheme Of Things?"
I didn't say it was. As I said to Percy, it's not emotionally or philosophically important to me. It is important to Christians though; no Christ, no Christianity, obviously.
I think that whether or not Jesus existed is a valid question, I think that it is in principle an important question for Christianity to address. It's just that the answer is "Yes, he probably existed" which is probably a relief for Christians, but not the knockout punch that others were perhaps hoping for.
I can see why some atheists find mythicism appealing. It promises to sweep Christianity away in one fell swoop. I just don't think it fulfills that promise. I think it's a bad argument against Christianity and I don't see why anyone would bother with bad arguments against Christianity when we have so many good arguments against Christianity.
Mutate and Survive

On two occasions I have been asked, – "Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?" ... I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question. - Charles Babbage

This message is a reply to:
 Message 269 by Phat, posted 02-14-2024 12:47 PM Phat has seen this message but not replied

  
Granny Magda
Member (Idle past 124 days)
Posts: 2462
From: UK
Joined: 11-12-2007


Message 291 of 563 (915543)
02-14-2024 4:59 PM
Reply to: Message 283 by Percy
02-14-2024 3:50 PM


I agree there's a scholarly consensus on his historicity, but I believe that's only because most Bible scholars are believers.
Yes, that is the case.
Bart Ehrman, an agnostic, accepts the historicity of Jesus, but he's not the only non-believing Biblical scholar. I wonder what the consensus among them is.
The same. A historical Jesus, just a rather more modest one than many of their Christian colleagues. The same amongst Jewish scholars. I find that telling. These people have no skin in the game after all.
But the comment from me was longer than what you quoted and wasn't about historicity. It was about the range of scholarly opinion that extends from the Jesus of miracles all the way to no Jesus at all.
To reiterate, the number of professional scholars who take mythicism seriously can be counted on one hand - if you take a very generous definition of "scholar".
There is agreement on nothing but the baptism and the crucifixion, which is pretty slim pickings to hang a historicity hat on, and even those seem historically questionable to me.
Both of those are good examples of problematic elements though, the Criterion of Embarrassment applies. John the Baptist anointing the actual Messiah makes little sense. That makes me more inclined to believe it might have happened. And the crucifixion is especially problematic for early Christians (especially those who still considered themselves Jews). Crucifixion was a shameful death. The Romans intended it as the ultimate humiliation, not just death, but a horrifying and shameful death. Jews of the time would also have seen being nailed up as a shameful death, an outsider's death. This was not what anyone had expected from a Messiah. This would have ben a hard sell and I don't see why anyone would come up with it except out of great need. I think that immediately after his death, Jesus' followers found themselves in a similar position to the Millerites after the Great Disappointment and like the Millerites, they immediately set about explaining to each other how they had never really been wrong after all. They found ways of getting around all of the contradictory evidence that was piling up and believed what they wanted to believe; that Jesus was the Messiah and that everything was going to according to plan actually. To me, that sounds like human nature.
I think religious believers make poor judges of the historical foundations of their religion. I'm sure there's a strong consensus among Mormon scholars of the historical foundations of Mormonism, such as the golden plates, the seer stone and so forth.
Oh absolutely. Religiously inspired bias is clearly at play here. There's more at play than mere bias though, as the existence of non-Christian scholars who dismiss mythicism attests. This is what make people like Ehrman so valuable.
In my view if you subtract the Christ of faith from the Jesus of history there is little meaningful left.
Sure. If you could get a clear look at the real Jesus I suspect he would seem rather an unremarkable figure in most ways. A well intentioned kook, ranting about an apocalypse that still hasn't come two millennia later.
Allow me to restate. So you believe Paul was unreliable about a resurrection but reliable about a religious movement.
Yes. Is that so hard to believe? He was unreliable about events he witnessed only in a "vision". He was reliable about actual events from his own life. He was unreliable about supernatural things that never really happened and reliable about real actual events involving no fanciful elements. That seems sound to me.
Mutate and Survive

On two occasions I have been asked, – "Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?" ... I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question. - Charles Babbage

This message is a reply to:
 Message 283 by Percy, posted 02-14-2024 3:50 PM Percy has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 294 by Percy, posted 02-14-2024 6:33 PM Granny Magda has replied

  
Granny Magda
Member (Idle past 124 days)
Posts: 2462
From: UK
Joined: 11-12-2007


Message 338 of 563 (915655)
02-16-2024 9:54 AM
Reply to: Message 294 by Percy
02-14-2024 6:33 PM


No skin as believers, but plenty of skin as the main focus of their life's work.
That sounds dangerously close to creationist conspiracy theories about scientists being unable to speak candidly about evolution. The idea that there non-Christian scholars are trapped in some sort of cognitive bias is far fetched. They are arguably the ones who we might reasonably expect to be more biased toward mythicism and yet they're not.
That's what I was focusing away from. I wasn't just considering one of the extremes but rather the incredibly broad range of opinion between the two extremes. Most importantly, while there is a significant consensus around the Christ of faith at one extreme, there is also a significant consensus around the Jesus of history that's not all that far from other extreme. That's a chasm of a difference of opinion.
I think that a fair characterisation. I don't know what you expect from such a culturally loaded field of study. Inevitably the existence of Christian faith and any resulting bias are going to affect the scholarship. That's just how it is. It's also worth mentioning that not all Christian scholars are insistent upon every supernatural aspect of the mythic Christ. Moderate Christians do exist and it's my understanding that a number of ostensibly Christian scholars hold beliefs about the accuracy of the Gospels that would make someone like Ken Ham denounce them as fake Christians.
Also I will point out again that insofar as there are two extremes at play, the extreme anti-Christian position - mythicsim - falls outside of academia. The extreme within academia is a mundane historical Jesus.
I see the baptism as almost self-evidently made up. When no one knew who Jesus was an association with John the Baptist was helpful to Christian evangelists. As the Jesus myth grew and Jesus became greater than John the Baptist it was too late to abandon the story and so it was revised to have Jesus reassure John that he should baptize him.
That's what I would call "lampshading".
I don't think the scenario you outline is innately implausible. The thing that's truly implausible is the idea of Jesus the Messiah needing to be baptised by a lesser figure like John. This oddity falls away however if we picture the scenario where a mundane Jesus gets baptised. Of course he would want to be baptised by John the Baptist. John was already a well known figure and, as you say, having John's imprimatur would have helped Jesus' evangelism. They were operating in the same area. We have independent evidence of John's historicity. It hangs together.
A very similar Christian argument is made about the resurrection where it must be true because otherwise Jesus's followers would have been despondent instead of triumphant after his death.
I don't think that argument is following the same logic. It's not a criterion of embarrassment.
I see the crucifixion as a means of glorifying Jesus. The resurrection story came first, and then to make the story even more amazing they gradually added, first theologically and then physically, the elaboration that even though Jesus died in the most shameful way he was resurrected nonetheless.
I think you are underplaying the extent to which crucifixion was an embarrassment. Take a look at this Roman Graffito;
The caption reads "Alexamenos worships his god". It's from Rome, dating form the 1st to 3rd Centuries, probably the early 3rd. This is the kind of mockery that early proto-Christians were inviting. It would have been viewed no more charitably by most Jews. I don't see why they would invite such scorn without reason.
A model built around a historical Jesus actually being crucified however explains this rather well. In the face of the catastrophic failure of their beliefs, Jesus' followers had to come up with a workaround and the resurrection was their solution. I'm not suggesting they concocted it cynically; I think that someone had an experience which they took for a vision or revelation of a risen Christ. This caught on, allowing the veneration of Jesus to continue beyond his death and become the veneration of Christ.
This is a higly parsimonious explanation for the crucifixion, the resurrection, the presence of many of the objectionable elements and perhaps most importantly, the reason why Christianity exists at all. There was no pre-existing tradition of a resurrected Messiah, let alone a suffering martyr. The crucifixion of a real Jesus explains the origin of both of these novel ideas. I don't think that putting it the other way around as you do leaves any explanatory power. Certainly it is especially glaring that a full mythicist hypothesis leaves us with absolutely no idea where Christianity came from in the first place. This is a major failing, a failure to address the null hypothesis. Mythicists typically make little attempt to address this question. If not a real Jesus, where does any of this come form? We are left to wonder.
Take it to its logical conclusion. Mormon scholars believe the story of the golden plates just as deeply and sincerely as they do the crucifixion, yet they're wrong about the former and right about the latter. Biblical scholars believe the story of the virgin birth just as deeply and sincerely as they do the crucifixion, yet they're wrong about the former and right about the latter.

Doesn't it make more sense that they're all wrong about everything, instead of picking and choosing which things they're right or wrong about?
No, absolutely not. In the real world most people are right about some things and wrong about others, that's almost universal. It is certainly the case with historical sources from antiquity. I don't think there's any substantial source from that far back that doesn't contain some mixture of truth, honest error, bias, outright lies, plausible and implausible.
The same might be said of scholars themselves, but you are being extremely uncharitable in equating the deeply held and oft inflexible faith positions of fundamentalists at one end of the spectrum with the vastly more tentative academic positions held by scholars operating as professional historians or textual critics. I think you're being a little uncharitable toward the more moderate Christian scholars too. There are Christian scholars who are candid about not being able to make an evidence based case for the resurrection.
Is that so hard to believe?

You tell me.
If you insist; it's not hard to believe. In fact it is completely normal for people to be right about some things and wrong about others. The same is true of historical documents, to the point where we might even start to become suspicious if a source were too perfect.
But the crucifixion was not an event from Paul's life. He was not a witness.
We were talking about the resurrection, or at least I was. Paul claims to be a witness to the resurrected Jesus, but only in a vision. That leaves him a poor quality witness to that event, as his account is wholly supernatural in nature. It seems to have convinced him (a superstitious man from the 1st Century) but I obviously don't find it convincing.
His accounts of mundane natters are obviously more plausible.
But more critically, you're deciding whether an event actually happened by whether it was natural or supernatural. I agree the supernatural claims are false, but that still leaves you with no evidence for deciding which natural events actually occurred.
Well yes. I think that's both obvious and inescapable.
Once the supernatural elements have been cast aside we are left with a mixture of less-plausible and more-plausible material. There are ways of sifting through that. Ahistorical elements for instance cast doubt. A higher degree of concordance between independent sources is more convincing. There are arguments from embarrassment. There are linguistic arguments - some passages from the NT seem to make more sense in Aramaic. Honestly, I'm not really qualified to lay out every tool historians and critics have at their disposal, but they are all aware of the problem you raise and they have their ways of addressing it. Just the same as every other historian in every other area of study. That is the job. That's what they do. they call this "Tuesday".
Mutate and Survive

On two occasions I have been asked, – "Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?" ... I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question. - Charles Babbage

This message is a reply to:
 Message 294 by Percy, posted 02-14-2024 6:33 PM Percy has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 365 by Percy, posted 02-17-2024 9:17 AM Granny Magda has replied

  
Granny Magda
Member (Idle past 124 days)
Posts: 2462
From: UK
Joined: 11-12-2007


Message 339 of 563 (915656)
02-16-2024 9:58 AM
Reply to: Message 297 by Theodoric
02-14-2024 9:41 PM


There are respected scholars that do not believe in a historical Jesus.
Name them.
Mutate and Survive

On two occasions I have been asked, – "Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?" ... I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question. - Charles Babbage

This message is a reply to:
 Message 297 by Theodoric, posted 02-14-2024 9:41 PM Theodoric has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 341 by Tangle, posted 02-16-2024 10:13 AM Granny Magda has replied
 Message 346 by Theodoric, posted 02-16-2024 11:54 AM Granny Magda has replied

  
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