Author Topic: Religious Mythicism  (Read 2819 times)

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Offline Skybison

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Re: Religious Mythicism
« Reply #45 on: June 05, 2016, 11:35:11 pm »
You're welcome  :)

At this point I've used up all my arguments, so I'll leave you with another great piece from the same guy.  http://www.strangenotions.com/why-history-isnt-scientific/

Most people in the modern atheism get there by way of science, and they looooove science, and I mean physically.  But history, especially ancient history, is a very different field and research is conducted very differently and certainty is much harder to establish.  So a line of evidence or lack of it can be very convincing to the scientifically inclined but not really mean much to a historian.

Offline davedan

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Re: Religious Mythicism
« Reply #46 on: June 05, 2016, 11:40:43 pm »
There's a hell of an argument in the comments too. Somebody who is apparently agnostic about the existence of Jesus had a major crack at the author, although I thought this comment was interesting:

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I personally don't know if Jesus existed or not, as I cannot say if Ned Ludd existed or not. But I do know traditions from the past can preserve information about non-existent people. A famous example is Ebion, the reputed founder of the Ebionite Christian heretical group. He is first mentioned by Tertullian and his story grows through the church fathers. The name Ebionite comes from a Hebrew word meaning "poor", so poor people were Ebyonim. This is the source for the name of the group and the founder is invented by mistake assuming that the group name is derived from its founder. How does one know if Jesus did not enter tradition based on a mistake or false assumption or desire, as Ebion did?

He goes on but it is mainly vitriol at the author.

Offline Ironchew

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Re: Religious Mythicism
« Reply #47 on: June 06, 2016, 01:53:58 am »
You're welcome  :)

At this point I've used up all my arguments, so I'll leave you with another great piece from the same guy.  http://www.strangenotions.com/why-history-isnt-scientific/

Most people in the modern atheism get there by way of science, and they looooove science, and I mean physically.  But history, especially ancient history, is a very different field and research is conducted very differently and certainty is much harder to establish.  So a line of evidence or lack of it can be very convincing to the scientifically inclined but not really mean much to a historian.

I read that, and I've got to say it sounds like the author has a dog in this fight. His notions of "certainty" and "proof" in the sciences are flawed; at least on the pedantic level he's approaching the layman's knowledge of history with. If he doesn't get his science strawman right, why should I trust him on history?

Plenty of sciences deal largely with looking into the past. Forensics, astronomy, and paleontology come to mind; paleontologists arguably deal with a far more piecemeal, rearranged, and destroyed record of events than written history. The scientific method helps even when you aren't literally repeating past events in the lab.
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Offline davedan

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Re: Religious Mythicism
« Reply #48 on: June 06, 2016, 03:31:24 am »
I have to say I remain agnostic on the historicity of Jesus but am very interested in it. I don't think the references in the Pauline Epistles are particularly strong for his existence. Paul says all his knowledge comes from revelation. He clearly states this knowledge is better than actual physical knowledge. This brings me to the Council of Jerusalem which is interesting (Gore Vidal wrote a very funny book about it and jesus 'Live from Golgotha'). If this actually took place I find it fascinating that people who actually knew the historical jesus were prepared to sit down with Paul and reach an agreement with him about the new religion. Rather than simply denouncing him as a false prophet. Whereas if there was no earthly jesus and they were all 'brothers of the lord' through revelation it is much more difficult to denounce his teachings by saying it was contrary to something Jesus actually said.

You'd probably like this quote from the Comments Ironchew:

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The topic, as stated in the title, involves a historical examination of the evidence for Jesus. O'Neill, who is as confused about his topic as he was several years ago, has spent more than half of his effort writing not about the historicity of Jesus but about Jesus mythicism and similar notions.

After a potted tour of these ancilliary topics, O'Neill tries to get onto topic. He examines the different approaches to the story of John the Baptist. While acknowledging that the writers have their own ideas about Jesus, he concludes somehow that the differences indicate "that the baptism of Jesus by John was a historical event and known to be such and so could not be left out of the story." This non sequitur seems to be one that O'Neill likes, as he has repeated it often through the years. The logic seems to be that if three writers working the same material in different locations can't get a story straight, it must somehow be true. I hope that makes sense to you. I'm used to hearing urban legends that have so many different variations and spawning more with every iteration.

The next so-called historical indicator in O'Neill's litany involves Bethlehem and Nazareth. Despite two gospels telling us that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, O'Neill wants to believe that he must have been born in Nazareth, as the name Bethlehem is derived from Micah 5:2 taken as a prophecy for the messiah, and Nazareth was so insignificant. Beside assuming that Jesus is historical here to have come form some place, he assumes he can second guess the development of Christian traditions. There is no historical examination here. It is rather a text analysis unrelated to any historical evidence whatsoever.

The inexorable litany moves to the crucified messiah notion, which for O'Neill is strange because it doesn't fit Jewish notions of the messiah. That certainly is true, but it is also certainly true that several religions cropped up at the same time that featured just as strange ideas. As Christianity emerged from this context, strangeness of ideas is not a functional criterion on which to bas historicity. Paul, according to Acts, is from Tarsus in Cilicia, a land where the religion of Mithras was popular according to Plutarch's Life of Pompey, at least a century before the time of Paul. Mithras, the Romans learned, saved the world by slaying a bull in a cave. How that weird event worked, I have no idea, but arguments from strangeness don't help us understand history. We are still waiting for O'Neill to examine anything historical.

At this point he tries to use classical texts that were maintained by Christians, hoping that they will add to the history he has already established. The first comes from Josephus with a famous section in the Antiquities of the Jews known as the Testimonium Flavianum or TF (18.63-64). This passage is between two calamities that befell the Jews. In fact the second calamity starts with "About this time another [=a second] calamity three the Jews into an uproar."(18.65) The first was related in 18.55-62 involving Pontius Pilate brutalizing the Jews. Wedged in between is the TF of Christian interest, separating the second calamity from the first. O'Neill admits that at least some of the TF is fake. He then attempts to show that the rest of it must be true through dubious textual analysis, which I have debated with him in the past. Obviously there is no history to be done in simple text massaging.

A further passage from Josephus relates to a man killed by the high priest of the time, Ananus. The text describes this man as "the brother of Jesus, who was called Messiah, whose name was James". Apparently the only reason this James is mentioned is to show that Ananus acted outside his authority, yet the text has a little Christian nugget to describe this James, citing the gospel of Matthew, 1:16 which talks of "Jesus called Christ". The structure of the text placing "the brother of Jesus called Christ" shows that the writer is more interested in Jesus than in either James or Ananus. The Greek text also features awkward language not appropriate for the language of the time of Josephus. The English now reflects the word order of the text, but one would have expected an order reflected in strange English, thus: "the of Jesus the called Christ brother, whose name was James". This is the only other place in the works of Josephus that uses the word "christ", despite the fact that the writer reworked the Old Testament which used the notion over forty times. Josephus avoided the term, yet his text uses it twice for Jesus. You can imagine the apologetic response, which involves assuming the conclusion that O'Neill is aiming for.

O'Neill follows his attempt at using Josephus with more off-topic comments on mythicism. A person whop is interested in history is supposed to be making a substantive case for history.

The last stop in this via crucis is poor old Tacitus, whose text, at least the relevant portion, survives in an 11th century manuscript copied at the monatery of Monte Cassino. It features the Testimonium Taciteum (TT), cited by O'Neill. It was a text that was unknown to early christian writers who searched for witnesses to Jesus in antiquity. It features some similarities to the work of a Christian writer Sulpicius Severus (circa 400 CE), who apologists claim copied from Tacitus, though there is no evidence that the similarities stemmed from the TT. The reverse cannot be discounted and fits the behavior of Christian writers who invented letters between Paul and Seneca, wrote fanciful "apocryphal" gospels, fake letters of Julian, even a fake donation of Constantine to the church. The art of the fake is quite familiar in the arsenal of early Christian writers.

But looking at the TT one finds some very strange aspects. It is always presented out of context so one cannot see how it fits its text. The full passage deals with the great fire of Rome and Nero's relation to it. It attempts to show that Nero was responsible without saying so. Immediately before the TT, Tacitus writes, "But all human efforts, all the lavish gifts of the emperor, and the propitiations of the gods, did not banish the sinister belief that the conflagration was the result of an order"—from Nero by implication. All human efforts failed to banish the belief, yet the TT tells us that Nero then tried to blame the Christians, despite all human efforts failing. It makes much better sense to see the TT as another Christian insertion in a Christian preserved text than to accuse Tacitus of such incoherent writing.

There are several other problems with the TT, though the worst is that it interferes with the developing attack by Tacitus on Nero for being responsible for the fire, which was reached with the beautifully subtle "the sinister belief that the conflagration was the result of an order". This is now followed with a martyrdom of Christians which grabs the impetus from condemning Nero and gives it to the deaths of the naughty Christians who were so poorly treated that they earned the sympathy of the people.

O'Neill is not a historian of the period. He is a naive reader who shows no depth of interaction with his sources. A historian sets out to uncover history, not to attempt to negate non-histories. There are no contemporary works to help us uncover a historical Jesus. This doesn't mean that there was no historical Jesus, but that the history cannot be more than asserted. And history is not based on assertion. The historicity of Jesus is clouded by the fact that we have no evidence from the beginning, no eye witnesses, no contemporaries. It is further clouded by the process of selective Christian preservation of the writers of the ancient past. That process we can observe is one of invention and manipulation when it comes to Christian matters. It is hopeful to assume that it is not the case when analyzing the literary texts O'Neill has chosen.

There is no history in this "Atheist Historian Examines the Evidence for Jesus". One wonders why O'Neill, a professed atheist, bothered. It surely doesn't matter to him whether Jesus existed or not.

I am also interested in other mythic/historical religious figures.