Sam gets “blunt”
Here’s the Rev. Sam’s main response to my previous post (from his comment):
Amazing. Now where to begin?
First, a distinction between believing that Jesus was a historical figure and believing, eg, in the resurrection or other miracles. The latter is, obviously, much more open to debate and that _isn’t_ what I’m asserting here.
My assertion is that nobody sane doubts that Jesus was an historical figure, ie that there was an itinerant Jewish teacher called Jesus who lived and was crucified in Palestine 2000 years ago. To deny this is good prima facie evidence that non-rational factors are at play in forming a judgement, the same sorts of non-rational factors that Stephen criticises as being parallel to believing in fairies. Denying that Jesus was an historical figure, is, I contend, an equally egregious intellectual error.
So, that’s the assertion, and bringing in red herrings like Bert flying around the room is just muddying the water – effective rhetoric but nothing more substantial. Biblical criticism has historically spent a lot of time discriminating between the (supposed) “legendary” bits (= ‘flying around the room’, miracles generally) and a more robust historical core. Dismissing _all_ of the historical evidence on the basis of a philosophical disagreement about what is humanly possible plays to prejudices nothing more.
Why am I so blunt on this? Well, a bit of autobiography first – I have studied this subject at undergrad and postgrad level – indeed you could say I have a professional interest in it – and I suspect that’s something not widely shared amongst this readership. But is this just special pleading from biased sources? (Stephen: “I know lot’s of Biblical scholars think there’s good evidence for Jesus’ historicity. Trouble is, they tend to be true believers! That’s I’m not too impressed by arguments from authority in this context.”) No, for the simple reason that the formative tutor for me in NT studies was himself an atheist who was quite prepared to see the miracle stories as largely made up. He isn’t an exception, there are lots of Biblical scholars and scholars in related disciplines (Ancient Near Eastern history) who share the consensus that Jesus was an historical figure. I repeat – point to someone with expertise in the subject matter who disagrees!
But in a more mind-boggling comment Stephen goes on to say “I wouldn’t, and don’t, rely on Biblical scholarship either way here” – so how and why is your position fundamentally distinct from that of a Creationist vis-a-vis evolution? Creationists display no regard for the consensus of opinion within the relevantly qualified community, you’re displaying no regard for the consensus of opinion in this relevantly qualified community (an opinion, I repeat, shared across Christian, agnostic, atheist etc).
Now that is why I believe that to assert “I just don’t know whether the historical figure Jesus existed” is at best disingenuous. It is not the product of a dispassionate search for the truth, and it is not, I believe, a viewpoint that any reasonably informed and neutral observer would ever hold. I repeat – it simply shows, as with creationist argumentation, that common standards of rationality and respect for truth have been left behind.
STEPHEN RESPONDS TO SAM:
“My assertion is that nobody sane doubts that Jesus was an historical figure, ie that there was an itinerant Jewish teacher called Jesus who lived and was crucified in Palestine 2000 years ago.”
Well I am doubting it. I don’t deny there was such a person. I am just not sure there was. I doubt. I guess I must be insane.
Sam challenges me:
“I repeat – point to someone with expertise in the subject matter who disagrees!”
OK, here’s an example:
“Even if there was a historical Jesus lying back of the gospel Christ, he can never be recovered. If there ever was a historical Jesus, there isn’t one any more. All attempts to recover him turn out to be just modern remythologizings of Jesus. Every “historical Jesus” is a Christ of faith, of somebody’s faith. So the “historical Jesus” of modern scholarship is no less a fiction.”
“It is important to recognize the obvious: The gospel story of Jesus is itself apparently mythic from first to last.”
-Robert M. Price, professor of biblical criticism at the Center for Inquiry Institute (Deconstructing Jesus, p. 260)
I guess Professor Price is “insane” too. Indeed, he doesn’t just doubt, he denies!
Now I am sure you will say “But Price is a biased atheist!” Well yes, he is an atheist, and perhaps he is biased. I am certainly not taking his word for anything. I am sure you will add, “OK, you’ve got one naysayer, but most Biblical scholars don’t doubt there was an historical Jesus”. And that is true. But I don’t really trust them either, I am afraid. Here are two reasons why:
1. First off, many – I guess a big majority – of Christian Biblical scholars think that there is also evidence in the Bible for the divinity of Jesus. Perhaps not conclusive evidence, but enough to give some support to that claim. Trouble is, other Biblical scholars, Muslims, look at the same texts and say –“No, the evidence is not there.” Instead, they look at the Koran and other documents and conclude there’s pretty good evidence Mohummad is God’s prophet. Christian textual scholars look at those same documents and say, “No there isn’t.” Clearly, then, many of these “expert” scriptural scholars, when religious, are very partisan indeed. That should immediately give us pause for thought.
2. Personal experience. I have read books by University-based Biblical scholars that demonstrate an extraordinary level of gullibility. I have also talked to University-based religious folk who have told me, with a straight face, that Josephus provides good evidence for the historicity of Jesus. This leads me to think that much that goes by the name of “biblical scholarship” ain’t exactly rigorous.
You are telling me I must be nuts, or at least significantly biased, if I don’t take Christian Biblical scholars’ word for it that there was a historical Jesus.
Hmm. Are you nuts, or significantly biased, for not taking the vast majority of Koranic scholars’ word for it that Mohummad was God’s prophet?
It may be that there is good evidence for the historicity of Jesus. You, being much more expert than I, may be in possession of that evidence. But I have not seen that evidence myself, yet. And I have, it seems to me, pretty good reason not to take the word of either you or “Biblical scholars” generally. So I remain, for the time being, undecided. Does that makes me “insane”?
Don’t think so. Indeed, I have raised what seem to me to be very good general grounds for doubting not just whether Jesus was God and did miracles, but whether he existed at all.
I note that your response to my Bert analogy (of which I am rather proud, actually – I think it’s strong) is simply to call it “rhetoric” and “playing to prejudices”. But you don’t actually have any response to it, do you, other than a simple appeal to authority: “But most Biblical scholars say…”? If you do, say what it is…
I don’t dismiss historical evidence. Quite the opposite. I want to see it. If you’ve got it, wheel it out!
What I dismiss are arguments from authority in this context.
P.S. The fact that some of the small minority of atheists who are Biblical scholars believe there was an historical Jesus doesn’t cut much ice with me, I’m afraid, given the dominant Christian culture in which they were educated.