Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Not THIS shit again: "Jesus never existed..."

Salon has published a deeply deceptive piece by a psychologist named Valerie Tarico, who claims that a "growing number of scholars" believe Jesus to be a myth. (The article first appeared on Alternet.) Although Tarico has written some good stories in the past, this offering is infuriating. In fact, it is downright fraudulent.

To prove her point, Tarico quotes Bart Ehrman (whom I greatly admire) in such a way as to convey the impression that he is among the "growing number" of mythicists. But he isn't. What Tarico has done here crosses the line separating sloppy research from deliberate misrepresentation.

Ehrman is the author of book called Did Jesus Exist?, which concludes that a real man stands behind the writings we have about Jesus. According to Ehrman, the contention that a "growing number" of scholars believe in the mythicist position is itself a myth. From his introduction:
Every week I receive two or three e-mails asking me whether Jesus existed as a human being. When I started getting these e-mails, some years ago now, I thought the question was rather peculiar and I did not take it seriously. Of course Jesus existed. Everyone knows he existed. Don’t they?

But the questions kept coming, and soon I began to wonder: Why are so many people asking? My wonder only increased when I learned that I myself was being quoted in some circles—misquoted rather—as saying that Jesus never existed. I decided to look into the matter. I discovered, to my surprise, an entire body of literature devoted to the question of whether or not there ever was a real man, Jesus.

I was surprised because I am trained as a scholar of the New Testament and early Christianity, and for thirty years I have written extensively on the historical Jesus, the Gospels, the early Christian movement, and the history of the church’s first three hundred years. Like all New Testament scholars, I have read thousands of books and articles in English and other European languages on Jesus, the New Testament, and early Christianity. But I was almost completely unaware—as are most of my colleagues in the field—of this body of skeptical literature.

I should say at the outset that none of this literature is written by scholars trained in New Testament or early Christian studies teaching at the major, or even the minor, accredited theological seminaries, divinity schools, universities, or colleges of North America or Europe (or anywhere else in the world). Of the thousands of scholars of early Christianity who do teach at such schools, none of them, to my knowledge, has any doubts that Jesus existed.
I'm pretty sure that the "scholars" cited by Tarico are not teachers of early Christianity at any university. And before you raise a tiresomely predictable objection: No, major universities do not have policies of hiring only Chistianity-friendly profs. That's not how it works at places like UCLA and Oxford. Specialists in early Christianity are often agnostics, atheists, unconventionally religious or adherents of non-Christian faiths.

Until recently, I knew of only one historian with a PhD who embraced the "Christ myth" theory: Robert Price. (His book is interesting but unconvincing; his podcasts are annoying.) Now we have a second: Richard Carrier, one of those by-now all-too-familiar zealots for atheism. From one scholar to two scholars: Does that count as a "growing number"?

Tarico shows her true colors when she approvingly cites Peter Joseph's 2007 movie Zeitgeist, even though she grudgingly admits that it contains "known errors." Errors? Is she kidding? The problems with that movie go far beyond a few "errors": Nearly every word in that presentation is total fucking lunacy. Compared to Peter Joseph, Alex Jones is a model of scholarship.

As I wrote in a previous post on Zeitgeist and the mythicist position:
Let's look at an example. This comes from the Joseph's film:
Broadly speaking, the story of Horus is as follows: Horus was born on December 25th of the virgin Isis-Meri. His birth was accompanied by a star in the east, which in turn, three kings followed to locate and adorn the new-born savior. At the age of 12, he was a prodigal child teacher, and at the age of 30 he was baptized by a figure known as Anup and thus began his ministry. Horus had 12 disciples he traveled about with, performing miracles such as healing the sick and walking on water. Horus was known by many gestural names such as The Truth, The Light, God's Anointed Son, The Good Shepherd, The Lamb of God, and many others. After being betrayed by Typhon, Horus was crucified, buried for 3 days, and thus, resurrected..
If you know anything at all about Egyptology, you'll see right away that Joseph pulls nearly all of these facts straight out of...well, out of an orifice which Aleister Crowley jokingly called "the eye of Horus."

Hit Google, hit the library, double check what I'm about to say as thoroughly as you can: You won't prove me wrong. Horus was not born on December 25. His Mom Isis was no virgin; she was married to a guy named Osiris, who may or may not have spent some time trapped in a tree stump (depending on which version of the myth you prefer). Horus was never called the Good Shepherd or the Lamb of God or any of that crap.

Sweet merciful Ra, where did Peter Joseph come up with the notion that Horus was crucified? No ancient Egyptian ever wrote down a story like that. I don't know of any ancient myth that has Horus trotting across H2O or teaching at the age of twelve or gathering twelve disciples.

Bottom line: Nearly every word that Peter Joseph has written is pure crap. His entire movie operates on this same low level. The guy is a toon.
Tarico's own "five reasons" for favoring the myth position are, of course, the kind of puerile stuff one would expect from someone who was able to sit through Zeitgeist without banging her head against the desk.
No first century secular evidence whatsoever exists to support the actuality of Yeshua ben Yosef.
If modern record-keeping is what you require, then how can you prove the existence of any other peasant from Galilee? Hell, how can you prove the existence of (say) Messalina? Where's her birth certificate, her death certificate, the court records...?
The earliest New Testament writers seem ignorant of the details of Jesus’ life, which become more crystalized in later texts. Paul seems unaware of any virgin birth, for example. No wise men, no star in the east, no miracles.
In his book, Ehrman shows that we actually get a lot of information about Jesus from Paul and the Gospel of Mark.

Tarico's reference to the nativity stories is both inane and deceptive. Few responsible scholars take those sections of the Gospels at face value, and no responsible scholar believes that the question of historicity rests on the nativity narratives.

I've yet to encounter a historian who doubts that Apollonius of Tyana was a real man, even though the most important text about his life includes a yarn in which he battles a vampire. Scientologists will tell you fanciful tales about L. Ron Hubbard, but those exercises in fiction cannot be used to argue that L. Ron Hubbard did not exist.
Even the New Testament stories don’t claim to be first-hand accounts.
Actually, John makes that claim (John 21:24). I personally don't accept the claim at face value, but the claim does exist within the text. (Before you say it: Yes, I know all about the arguments over the final chapter. Let's get one thing straight, kids: I'm probably older than you are, and I've been following this stuff since around the time Richard Carrier was born. For a layman, I know my way around this terrain fairly well.)

Does Tarico have any idea how many other historical figures are now known to us through non-firsthand accounts? Once again, let's use Messalina as an example. (Why her? Because she's so much fun.) I'm going on memory here, so correct me if I'm wrong, but I think our main sources on her are Seutonius and Tacitus, both of whom wrote long after her death. In fact, I'm confident that the Gospel of Mark is closer to the time of Jesus than Tacitus is to the time of Messalina.
The gospels, our only accounts of a historical Jesus, contradict each other.
Just noticed that, Valerie? Good for you, kid. Of course, lots of other people saw the same thing -- centuries before you were born. I guess every generation is shocked, shocked to learn of those contradictions, and every generation pretends that they were the first to spot them.

Of course, if you get deep into the studies of any other pre-modern figure, you'll run into contradictory source material. Even if you concentrate on more recent times, you are likely to find contradictory accounts of controversial personages -- and even of some personages who aren't very controversial. Hell, if I were to attempt a thorough reconstruction of the life of Valerie Tarico (or Bart Ehrman, or nearly anyone else), I'd probably run into contradictory information.
Modern scholars who claim to have uncovered the real historical Jesus depict wildly different persons.
Scholars have also dished up wildly differing Hitlers. (You should take a look at Ron Rosenbaum's book Explaining Hitler. Yow!) What does this prove? Simply this: People disagree. They are particularly prone to disagree when discussing contentious, "hot button" issues and historical personalities. If you are a New Testament specialist, and if you presume that academic advancement depends on your ability to come up with an original interpretation of familiar evidence, you are almost forced to offer up a Jesus unlike all previous Jesi.

So much for Tarico's five "proofs."

Allow me to close by repeating a few points made on an earlier occasion:
So why do these young, arrogant ninnies want to believe that Jesus was a completely mythical personage? Because -- to put it bluntly -- they've got a bug up their asses about Christianity, and because these smirky twerps like to think that they're smarter than other people. For most of these kids, fundamentalist Protestant Christianity is the only variant they know, and I can certainly understand why they've learned to dislike it. For them, the "myth" theory fulfills a psychological need. It's their way of exacting revenge.
Psychologist, analyze thyself.
The Zeitgiest film trys to recapitulate the arguments form another film, The God Who Wasn't There, but gets all the facts rather hilariously wrong. The latter film's scholarship is much less questionable. It argues not so much against the existance of a human/historical Jesus but that the "Christ" archetype was largely composed of pre-existing notions(cf Sir JG Frazier "Attis, Adonis, Osiris").
I saw that movie, and may even have it somewhere on one of my hard drives. Still very questionable. So was Frazier.

Look, the whole argument presented in TGWWT is silly. (But also familiar, if you've been following the literature. I think Joseph Campbell went into this, for example.) That movie isn't as ridiculous as Zeitgeist, but it still offers an absurd view of non-Jewish Middle Eastern mythology.

Why would the early Christian arguments offer reworked versions of non-Jewish myths? The earliest Christians were Jews. (If we can't agree on THAT, there's no reason to talk about anything.) Jews knew all about the mythologies of surrounding peoples, and they detested them.

And as Christianity spread throughout the gentile world, why would it remain tied to the Jewish tradition and the Jewish scriptures -- if (as TGWWT argues) it was really just a repackaged version of pagan myths? The Jewish connection was one of the things that made Christianity hard to sell, in the days after the fall of Jerusalem.

The argument makes no sense. The word "parallelomania" has been used to describe a strained over-emphasis on minor similarities. One could use the same method to argue that Napoleon was a myth: Nappy was exiled to an island; John of Patmos was exiled to an island. Napoleon was a general who transformed a republic into an empire; Julius Caesar was a general who transformed a republic into an empire. Obviously, whoever concocted those yarns about Napoleon was simply cribbing from earlier sources...!
I wouldn't trust a psychologist to write about the human mind, charlatans that they are, let alone about the history of Jesus.
Josephus wasn't secular, but he had secular respect.


Ben: Josephus kinda switched sides, didn't he?

Actually, the Romans were of two minds when it came to Jews. The Jews possessed a very old culture and a very old set of writings. The Romans deeply respected all things ancient. But, obviously, the rebellion pissed them off. That's when they started to spread that really weird rumor that the Jews secretly worshiped a donkey. (The story originated earlier than that, of course. See:http://commonpaine.blogspot.com/2012/09/donkey-god.html)
Josephus didn't think Jesus was the messiah, so that gives him some credibility on the history.

As to donkeys....


I wouldn't normally be inclined to comment on topics such as this, but because this morning, amazingly, I came to Cannonfire directly from reading about a book by Eric Zuesse, "CHRIST'S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity ", thought I'd ask you if you know of the book or have read it, and your thoughts, Joseph.

Apparently Mr Zuesse's theory is that St. Paul did a kind of coup d'état and passed on to the world a version of Christianity far from that Jesus had presented (presumably Paul's was the RC version?)
Now don't go all Bill O'Reilly on us....
Reality creation PR at Salon?

Meanwhile in the Ukraine, the split in the 1990s in Ukrainian Orthodoxy (leading to denominations with respective patriarchs in Russia's old capital Kiev and its current one, Moscow) was very helpful to the whipping up of antagonism between Ukrainian speakers and Russian speakers.
Come off it, lastlemming. Would Bill O'Reilly draw from Ehrman?
Twilight, I have not read that particular book, but that basic theory has been around for ages. I am continually amazed when I see people react to old stuff as if it were shocking new stuff.
Joseph ~ We can't all know everything!
I was not reacting "as if" anything, I was merely inquiring from someone who seemed likely to have read the book. :-/
Dang, but it seems I can't comment anywhere these days without being put down in some way.
Twilight, I am sorry. I didn't mean to seem as though I were coming down hard on you. You know me...always way too ornery for my own good.

Actually, what I was thinking was that maybe we can turn this to our financial benefit. There seems to be a long-term memory issue when it comes to Theories of Jesus. It's as if the whole field is living in a version of the movie "Momento." The reading public can be relied upon to forget all about the shocking new Theory of Jesus that came out in a bestseller twenty years ago.

So I'm thinking of rewriting "The Passover Plot," a book that was extremely popular/infamous in the early 1970s. Nobody remembers it now. It'll all seem new again! I figure a book like that could make a nice little pile of money...

Not to worry, Joseph - I'm way too sensitive for my own good anyway.

The net is full of ornery these days, and it's not surprising considering what's going on all over the world.

With your artistic talents you might consider doing a graphic novel of "Passover Plot", or something similar - along the lines of Robert Crumb's "Book of Genesis".

New generations. Even with the net at their finger tips - there's so much stuff to know from the past, it'll all seem new to the young ones. (As it does to me, an old one, coming to the US 10 years ago and trying forever to play catch up).

You discount and dismiss these Jesus-myth individuals with rhetoric, mostly by questioning their credentials and their questionable-to-you research of the past. You acknowledge that the pages of history are unreliable. What evidence do you substantiate to support the Jesus-reality, other than the bible and hearsay?
Anon, I did direct your attention to Ehrman's book. It's not the only source, but it's probably your best first stop.

There's this marvelous thing called a library that you may want to check into...

By the way, you seem to be one of those dolts who think that the only alternative to the myth theory is biblical literalism. One or the other. Is that really how you see it? Seriously? You don't see ANY other possibilities?

I'm curious. What's it like, being an idiot?
Well yes, no one is arguing that Jesus is PURELY mythical, in that there is certainly a person or persons to whom the sayings traditionally ascribed to Jesus that actually existed rater than the whole thing be a novel or smething. This does not mean that the ALL KINDS of non-Jewish influnces, tropes and themes did not creep into Christianity in its first 300 years. Just the history of the Early Chaurch attempting to to distinguish itself from the larger Gnostic communitee should demonstrate that. Xmas is on the 25th of December because it was Mithras birthday and had gotten subsumed into the larger Saturnalia in the Roman Empire. Said Empire was noted as WILDLY syncretistic it its religious sensabilities so that the Christianity that entered the Empire was not nearly the same as that made official by Constantine. To clarify, its not the historical Jesus that's so much being debated as the subsequent Christ. On the one hand you have this Jewish reformer and on the other you've got another Ancient Near Eastern Dying God.
Ehrman's research is bible-dependent.

"Most modern scholars reject the tradition which ascribes it [Gospel of Mark] to Mark the Evangelist, the companion of Peter, and regard it as the work of an unknown author working with various sources including collections of miracle stories, controversy stories, parables, and a passion narrative." (Burkett, 2002, pg 156)

The Book of Genesis is known to not meet scientific scrutiny, too.

Sorry that you have to resort to name calling. Enjoy your dogma.
And just what dogma would that be? I've been writing this blog for ten years. People know how I think by now. What dogma have I subscribed to?

You seem to be one of those idiots (yes, I feel comfortable using that term, and no, you may not use such terms to refer to me -- at least not HERE) who thinks that everyone who does not embrace this mythicist idiocy must be a Christian and/or a Biblical literalist.

In other words, 100% of the professors teaching the New Testament in our universities are fundamentalist Christians, in your view. Jeez. Have you ever TAKEN a university-level course in religion?

You clearly have not read Ehrman's book.

"The Book of Genesis is known to not meet scientific scrutiny, too."


This is hilarious. You say a thing like that as if you really believe that you are blowing my mind by telling me some wild, freaky shit I've never heard before.

Let me guess. You're like, what...19? 20? And this is all new to you? Maybe you grew up in a fundamentalist household, then a few years ago you were converted to the Gospel According to Richard Dawkins, and now you think you're just EVER so clever?

C'mon, lay it on me. I'd love to learn more about just which painfully predictable literary stereotype you're living out.


"Well yes, no one is arguing that Jesus is PURELY mythical."

Sorry. You lose the game. That is PRECISELY what the mythicists have argued since the days of Bruno Bauer.

And it's all horseshit. I'll repeat a point I made in an earlier post: We may not have the records we would like for the ancient world, but we certainly have good records for the past two centuries. Lots of religions have popped up during those two centuries. And if we examine those religions, what lesson comes through loud and clear? RELIGIONS HAVE FOUNDERS.

Joseph Smith was not a myth. He may have TOLD myths, but he himself was real. Same with L. Ron Hubbard, Sun Myung Moon, Madame Blavatsky, Aleister Crowley, Anton LaVey, Walid Farad and Elijah Muhammed, Sai Baba, Nicholas Roerich, George King, Guy Ballard, Mary Baker Eddy, Gerald Gardner/Alex Saunders, and...

Oh hell. I could probably continue this list for quite a while. But the point should be clear enough by now: Religions have founders. They don't just make themselves. They don't just evolve out of nothing.

Looking back at the history of new religious movements in recent times, I can't think of a single exception to the "religions have founders" rule. Can you?

I see no reason to believe that things were much different in the first century, especially when you note how rapidly Christianity took off. (Granted, due to the paucity of written records, the founder may be lost to history. We don't know who the first Mithraist was, but logic tells us that there must have been one.)
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