FtBCon3 Transcript - Questioning the Historicity of Jesus

Feb 1st, 2015
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  1. FtBCon3 Transcript - Questioning the Historicity of Jesus
  7. Panelists: Richard Carrier
  8. Facilitator: Jason Thibeault
  12. Jason: Hello everyone and welcome to FreethoughtBlogs Conscience, day 3. Sunday, January 25th, at 11:00 AM Central. So we are now officially into Sunday sermon time. Since we have just determined with finality whether or not atheists can argue about the true version of religion - yes they definitely can argue about the true version of religion. Now Dr. Richard Carrier will be handling the quantum superposition that is Jesus' existence. Does he exist or not? Let's find out. I'll be taking chat room questions in the Pharyngula chat room at "". I'll relay them to Dr. Carrier via the hangout chat. Take it away.
  16. Richard:
  17. Hello everybody. There are tons of questions. When I announced this talk, that I would do this Q&A on the historicity of Jesus, there were a ton of questions on Facebook and on my blog. So I'm gonna go through them in the order I received them. They're all kind of interesting in different ways.
  19. Just to get people oriented, I'm gonna be talking mainly about my book "On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt". This was a peer reviewed academic book published by the University of Sheffield just last year. And it is the first comprehensive defense of the idea that Jesus didn't exist that has gone through peer review, especially at a well-respected biblical studies academic press. So it's a significant development in the field.
  21. That was actually the sequel to my book before that, which is "Proving History". I just realized I keep the book without the dust cover, so I don't have the dust cover. It has a nice dust cover if you get this book. This is by Prometheus Books. And this book was about method. Now some of the contents of that book, in "Proving History", are going to be relevant to my Q&A because they do relate to certain questions that were asked that were covered in that book, but most of the stuff is covered in "On the Historicity of Jesus".
  23. But I came out with another book last year, which is this: "Hitler, Homer, Bible, Christ: The Historical Papers of Richard Carrier 1995-2013". The reason I mention that book is... One of the things people often don't know about how scholarship works - when you publish papers in academic journals, you don't get paid for that, so basically those journals are making money off of our work product for free. And what do we get? We get prestige, and we get reputation, and all of that based on our papers passing peer review and meeting the high academic standards of those journals. But in the contracts that you sign for those things, you are allowed to publish yourself the article. You don't need any further permission from the journal - as long as it's only published in an anthology of your own writings. So... I published an anthology of your own writings. So I put em all in there. Every paper I published in a magazine, all the peer publications, academic journals, everything is reproduced in there, plus a variety of other important research papers, and things online and off. But the significance of that is that the three papers, at least three papers, that are relevant to the historicity of Jesus that I published in academic journals - they are reproduced in "Hitler, Homer, Bible, Christ". So if you want access to those papers, they're all in that one book. Otherwise you'd have to go through inter-library loans with your local public library for each journal article to get a hold of it 'cause the journals themselves don't make their content available to the public for free usually. So I mention that for people who really want to go deeper than the summaries that I have in the book "On the Historicity of Jesus" on those subjects, and some of this'll come up as I do Q&A.
  27. So the questions... first KaleFantasticFenomen [?] wrote this question: Often when I ask Christians about evidence of that - the historicity of Jesus - of evidence that would falsify their belief in the historicity of Jesus, I get the response of Jesus' body still in the tomb. What kind of evidence would falsify their belief: if we found the body in the tomb. That doesn't make a lot of sense 'cause there's no way you could actually prove a body was Jesus 'cause you don't have any baseline DNA to measure it against, whatever. Due to the natural factors of preserving the body and the ability to find anyone - non-aristocrats for lack of a better term - I already find this unreasonable. However, this may be a moot point it they are not even able to present a tomb to begin with. So his question is: what if any non-gospel evidence do we have for the tomb's existence? What of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and William Lane Craig's comments in defense of the Holy Sepulchre?
  29. There is a Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem that claims to be the one true tomb of Jesus. There are actually several tombs that people claim to be the one true tomb of Jesus. That's the most famous one. And William Lane Craig has seriously defended it as the authentic one true tomb. The arguments he makes about it are ridiculous, but they're kind of off-topic. They're so ridiculous that I'd rather deal with more serious questions about the historicity of Jesus. If I have time at the end, I do have his quote on that. We'll see, but I've got a lot of other questions to answer. In short, in "On the Historicity of Jesus", look up tombs of Jesus in the subject index. It's covered there, briefly. Only as much as it deserves, like it's a footnote. It's a long footnote that doesn't require any further commentary. It's a ridiculous claim. We do not have any evidence that confirms any of the tombs of Jesus are actually the tombs of Jesus.
  33. But he had another question: Do you have any recommendations on books on the reliability of oral traditions?
  35. For that, I do have some discussion in some sources cited in "On the Historicity of Jesus" on oral tradition. But frankly, you can look up anything that's not written by biblical fundamentalists, anything written by folklorists, actual experts in oral history, and they'll all confirm the same thing: that oral tradition is extremely unreliable and readily distorted. In fact it's the norm for oral transmission to alter the oral text as the tradit [?] wants to alter it, to serve whatever purpose he wants.
  37. The exceptions require massive institutions. To give an example of that is the transmission of the Mishnah or what's called the oral Torah, it's supposedly the oral teachings of Moses. Obviously it's not. But really, it's just the law code for the Jewish Sanhedrin at the time. And it was transmitted orally fairly reliably, as far as we can tell. There are historians who question its reliability in terms of transmission. But what they had was a massive institution of schools everywhere that were specifically devoted to drilling students in the oral Torah en masse from the age 7 up, and these laws were continually constantly used in courts of law all the time. So this was an extensive social institution for preserving the oral law. There's no evidence of anything like that in Christianity. In fact the evidence we have is against it. If you look at the gospels, they all are different texts, so clearly there was no faithful Mishnah-like memorization and transmission of the gospel. People just changed the gospel however they wanted. Beyond that, there's no evidence of Christians devoting resources to setting up schools to drill young kids for years and years and years to memorize the text. There's no evidence of that.
  39. But as far as all the documentation of scholars and things, there's good stuff in "On the Historicity of Jesus" where when I talk about oral transmission. I think I have that in the subject index...
  41. But one of the most interesting ones for me is Vansina who does the "Vanishing Hitchhiker". One of his points that he makes that I find valuable is that oral transmission and folklore transmission tends to get more specific in its detail over time. In other words, when you see a story that has a lot of oddly specific and historically accurate details, like the names of streets and things like that. For him, he says that's a red flag for false story, because those things accumulate over time. There's actually a tendency for oral histories to start adding historical color to make it seem more detailed and historical. And that's in "The Study of Folklore". So I do cite Vansina in my book.
  43. But there's another one... Theodore Weeden. This is one of the most interesting examples of studies of oral transmission reliability. Theodore Weeden wrote an article for the "Journal of the Study of the Historical Jesus" (vol 7 Jan 2009), in which he talks about "Kenneth Bailey's theory of oral tradition: A Theory Contested By Its Evidence" That's the title of the article. It's a really fascinating example of a Christian trying to insist that oral history is reliable using a particular case study of a recent example of supposed reliability of transmission. Weeden goes in and completely does a historical study of this and finds that he was completely wrong, and in fact the evidence shows rapid and constant changes to the story, invention and stuff. So Bailey's supposed case study that proves the reliability of oral tradition actually refutes the reliability of oral tradition, but in the process shows exactly the reasons and kinds of ways oral tradition rapidly alters, and changes, and quickly gets off the rails of reality. I found that one of the most informative studies. It's not a book. It's an article, and it's kinda hard to get a hold of, but that's the one I would recommend starting with. In turn, it will also cite a lot of the literature in oral transmission.
  47. Okay so there's that. Someone asked... I'm looking at the question transmitted from the chat room. Often I've heard historicists say that the idea of Jesus Christ the prophet is consistent with what was going on in history during that place and time. I understand that, and that makes a lot of sense to me. However, isn't the fact that our Jesus was mythologized a red flag here?
  49. Well historical people were mythologized, so the fact that someone is mythologized is not evidence that they didn't exist. It's consistent with their existing or not existing, depending. So that's not the issue. And yes, of course, there are aspects of Jesus that are consistent with a variety of different kinds of figures. In fact, that's kind of the problem: he's consistent with too many different kinds of figures in different parts of the gospels. It seems like someone threw everything and the kitchen sink at it to try and create this character based on a variety of different models of sorts of persons, in literature and in reality. And that could be indicative of people layering on: even if he's historical, they want him to have been a certain type of person, so they layer these models and tropes onto his story; or if he's non-existent, they could've created out of whole cloth - one of the first things to do that is to borrow models that're familiar to you.
  51. So again that's not usable evidence either way. It doesn't verify historicity or mythicism. That's one reason why I don't buy those kinds of arguments for mythicism. Well it's consistent the kinds of people who were running around at the time, but you could say the same thing about Odysseus, for example. He's consistent with the kind of person that might be running around back then, for example. Or Romulus, a mythical person, didn't exist. The stories and biographies that were written about him, they tried very hard to make him seem familiar in the ways that people expected heroes of the time to be and in other historical aspects and structures. So we can't do a lot with that. So let's move on to the next...
  55. Jody Mack [?] asks: We all know that in all the writings from the time of Jesus, there is not one single mention of him, but just how many writings are we talking about? How many do we have, and what are the most significant omissions where he really would have been expected to have been mentioned, if the gospel stories were true.
  57. That last part is key: if the gospel stories were true. There are two aspects to this. One is if the gospels are true as written, then there would've been tons more written about Jesus than we have. But most secular scholars, most experts, all mainstream experts who are not fundamentalists agree that the gospels are making stuff up - over-exaggerating the fame and accomplishments of Jesus. And their view is that the real Jesus, the historical Jesus, was a much humbler lesser known guy. Now if you adopt that premise, as most mainstream scholars do, then it's more explicable why no one else would notice him. So the omissions become weaker as evidence, in fact almost useless - because the fact that no one else mentioned him could just be the fact that he was far more obscure and unknown than the gospels claim. That's already accepted by the mainstream consensus as a possibility, so we can't do much with that... which is why in my book "On the Historicity of Jesus"... I answer this question in detail in chapter 8 of that book. I go through all of the books we knew about or that exist that he would've been mentioned in, given certain assumptions. But I also conclude that the evidence of those omissions does not weigh either for or against historicity. Because we can explain those omissions with a humbler version of historicity, so the strongest case for historicity would do that - and therefore it's immune to this argument that no one else noticed Jesus.
  59. But it's important to note that there's actually four different kinds of things to answer this question with.
  61. There's what we have: actual texts that've survived to today.
  63. There's texts we know existed: for example, Pliny the Elder wrote a history of Rome that covered the year of the fire of Nero in 64 AD where supposedly Christians were persecuted. And Pliny the Elder was there. He was in Rome in 64, so his coverage of that fire would certainly have had discussion of Christians and so forth, and their beliefs, and everything. But the thing is, no one knew about this, so all the people who read the writings of Pliny the Elder never mention this. Not even Christians were aware of mention of Christ or Christianity in Pliny the Elder's text, and consequently his book wasn't preserved because medieval Christians weren't interested in it. There wasn't anything in it apparently. That's an example of a text that we know existed that would have been preserved or would have been quoted by either Christians or their critics had it mentioned Jesus, so the fact that no one seemed aware of any mention of Jesus in Pliny the Elder's history of that time in Rome... That in and of itself is evidence that he didn't mention Jesus. We have no evidence that he did. That's another category of texts.
  65. Then there's the category of things we know would have existed, but we don't have specific references to them. We know there were a lot more writings about the history of Judea than just the few names of authors who wrote about it. More people wrote about it, but we don't have their names or their texts. But again, if they mentioned Jesus, Christians would've preserved those texts, or the critics of Christianity would've quoted them, or the Christians would've quoted them. The texts would've gotten used in reference. But they didn't. Even when we have someone like Origen in the 3rd century trying to find historical references to Jesus, he fails to find any except what he thinks are passages... It's not even clear that he finds any in Josephus either. He cites Josephus but only for John the Baptist. And he claims Josephus references the brother of Jesus. But when he claims that, he actually paraphrases a passage in a completely different author, not Josephus. In fact the text he's referring to there cannot have been in Josephus, so he was clearly confused. He wasn't actually referencing a passage in Josephus. So when we rule that out, Origen found no references to Jesus, even in Josephus. And that's one of the key things, 'cause everybody tries to cite Josephus. Well Josephus references Christianity, but there's all kinds of problems with that reference. It's almost certainly entirely interpolated. Josephus never really references Jesus. And I talk about the reasons why we - many scholars, not just me - conclude that in chapter 8 of "On the Historicity of Jesus".
  67. But in addition to that, there are things that didn't exist but would have had Jesus been so incredibly famous. Had Jesus been that famous, Jews would've been writing about him, right? They would've written whole books about him. For example in the Book of Acts, Paul says he was carrying letters outlining the accusations against the Christians as he went from town to town to try and persecute them. No, that's probably made up. That's probably just a made up story, but even if it were true, that means there was Jewish writing about Jesus. Why would the Jews not preserve that? Why would the Christians not preserve any rebuttals to it? There seems to be no evidence of there ever having been any Jewish authors writing about Jesus at the time. Now again, you can explain all of this by saying that he was so obscure nobody cared. So if you have that minimal historicity idea, this isn't a problem. But anyway if you want the full list, I go through all these categories, and a full list of names and authors, in chapter 8 of "On the Historicity of Jesus".
  71. Okay next question... Daniel Layne [?]: How would you talk to Christians about how Paul only wrote about Jesus as a vision and not an actual physical human being? How would you talk to agnostic history scholars about this? I mean, what key points should be made, and what evidence should be cited, which specific passage, etc.? I find this one of the most interesting aspects of your work regarding Jesus, but I have a hard time talking to other people about it.
  73. Now there's two different groups being mentioned here: Christians (who have their own biases) and agnostic history scholars (who are actually mostly already on board with the idea of revelation being a key source of Christian beliefs; they vary as to whether Paul ever references historical tradition of witnesses to Jesus rather than *only* referencing revelations of Jesus). So there's more variation in belief among secular scholars about this, whereas Christians of course can't have that, right? They *have* to have references to the historical Jesus in the letters of Paul, otherwise their entire religion is screwed if it's gonna be based on a historical Jesus. So the way you approach those are different, obviously.
  75. Now first of all, I would recommend a new book out by a defender of historicity. Although he's sympathetic to mythicism, he thinks he can defend his particular version of the historical Jesus. It's by Stevan Davies. It's called "Spirit Possession and the Origins of Christianity". That's probably one of the best books, just came out recently, arguing extensively for this revelatory basis of the religion. Y'know it's a scholarly academic press book, so if you wanna cite to anyone - either Christians or agnostic historical scholars - about this idea, refer them to Davies, 'cause Davies collects a lot of the evidence. That's a bid read. It's an extensive book. I only summarize this, plus cite a lot of the other scholarship in "On the Historicity of Jesus". I have a few sections in chapters 4 and 5 that're specifically about the revelatory basis of the religion, then I list the passages that show this. Also I have bibliographies of the scholarship on it as well.
  77. One of the key passages is Romans 16:25-26, which just outright says the religion is based on a revelation. It curiously says the kerygma, the teaching of Jesus comes from revelation and the scriptures. There's no reference to it coming from oral lore. There's no reference to it coming from Jesus teaching it in person. There's no reference to it coming from eyewitnesses who sat at his feet. No, the only sources Paul mentions are revelation and scripture. That's one of the central passages to look at. The curious omission is what you're looking at there. But another thing to do is to compare Galatians 1 where Paul swears up and down that he did not learn about Jesus from other people. He only only learned it from a revelation of Jesus. And the context of that passage makes clear that not only does Paul believe that that's the only reliable way to learn about Jesus, but the Galatians do too to the extent that Paul has to go out of his way to to try and deny an accusation that he cribbed these notes from other people and that he didn't get it all from revelation. Which means that even the Galatians did not trust oral lore. They did not trust human tradition. They only trusted revelation, so they would only trust an apostle who actually spoke to Jesus in a revelatory way. That's the only form of speaking to Jesus Paul references there.
  79. Now curiously, he uses the exact same phrases and vocabulary there to describe his revelation of Jesus as he does to describe where he got the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15, and this is one of the things that you'll see apologists often say - although even secular scholars sometimes try to argue this, but it's usually Christian apologists. It's the paradidomi argument. He uses this particular verb, paradidomi, which means "to transmit or receive". Reception in this case. That was a word often used to refer to rabbis passing on oral tradition. Now of course, this is a common fallacy. Just because you would describe oral transmission with this word doesn't mean this word always means oral transmission. Case in point: In Galatians 1, Paul uses the exact same word to refer to revelation. So the fact that the word could be used to mean both means that you cannot make that argument. Affirming the consequent, I believe. You can look that up on Google to see if that's correct. It's the same fallacy going on. You can't argue from the fact that paradidomi was used to the conclusion that Paul's referring to oral tradition. No, he uses the exact same vocabulary and exact same phrasing in Galatians 1 to talk about revelation. Almost certainly, he's always talking about the same thing. So that's an example of the kind of thing you get into. For more on that, you just have to go to the book to get more passages, and discussion, evidence, and also scholarship on this as well.
  83. Someone's asking for the title of the article on oral tradition.
  85. It's Theodore Weeden. Also look up "Vanishing Hitchhiker". It's just a book called "The Vanishing Hitchhiker" which on oral lore and the forms of folklore. The gospels, if they're orally transmitted, because there are deviations and variations in the texts, they seem a lot more like urban legends in the way they get transmitted. That is an important model to look at. The article by Weeden is
  86. "Kenneth Bailey's theory of oral tradition: A Theory Contested By Its Evidence". That's in the "Journal of the Study of the Historical Jesus" (vol 7 Jan 2009).
  90. All right... Daniel Layne [?]: Which is the least explainable and/or most ridiculous contradiction between the gospels, or if you could make only one contradiction known to all Christians, which would it be? Or is it better to talk about a lot of them to show how many there are?
  92. Both strategies are fine. I'm not going to go into detail on this because I want to get to other questions about historicity rather than counter-apologetics. I'm mostly interested in interacting with liberal scholars and mainstream scholars, not fundamentalists. I don't really care what fundamentalists think, because what they think is gonna be irrational and divorced from reality anyway. I'm more interested in people who are willing to listen to facts and evidence, and are not blinded by dogmatic need to believe certain things. So most of my goal with "On the Historicity of Jesus" is to present this case to secular scholars, agnostics, and all those liberal Christian scholars, scholars who are not trapped in a hall of mirrors of dogma. Contradictions are irrelevant to them because they already agree with those contradictions in the bible; they don't have a problem with that.
  94. My answer to that though would be the first, the best contradiction: dating the birth of Jesus. I have an extensive article on that dealing with all the apologetic attempts to get out of it in "Hitler, Homer, Bible, Christ". That's all in there.
  97. Okay. Anthony Magnavosko [?]: Could you elaborate on the Council of Trent and its influence on the Book of John in the New Testament?
  99. I'm not gonna talk about councils because that's late. It comes so late that it's not relevant to the origins of Christianity anymore. The only comment I'll make on this is that the Book of John was almost certainly already being assembled into a cannon that was being used by at least one major church or conglomeration of churches already by the end of the second century. Long before the Council of Trent.
  101. And if you want the case for that, it's David Trobisch's book "The First Edition of the New Testament" where he assembles the evidence that the four gospels were already circulating as *a* canon. Not *the* canon. There were multiple canons. In fact, the first canon was Marcion's canon, which is a heretical canon. It did not survive as the sect of Christianity that prevailed. A completely different sect prevailed, and their canon is now the canon that survives.
  103. But even that canon already existed in the second century. Now it hadn't been officially stamped by a council or anything. It was just what they were using at the time. If you look at the earliest bibles, like Codex Sinaiticus or Codex Alexandrinus, they were putting different books in the bible than are in the bible today. Even the gospels read slightly differently than they do today. There were differences and so on, but you can see the general idea of the modern canon is there already. It's just they hadn't made an official pronouncement yet. So we know the Book of John existed and was written before the end of the second century. Scholars differ on when it could've been written.
  107. Okay. Todd McCarty: Is it fair to say we only have evidence for the belief of Jesus?
  109. I hear this kind of question a lot. It depends on what you mean by "have evidence for" because you can say, for example... Let's take the infancy gospels of Jesus: the Gospel of Thomas. It's obviously false, completely made up. It's the most ridiculous gospel you'll ever read. It's really fun because it portrays the baby Jesus as this horrible Omen child that goes around killing people, and maiming them, and stuff. And yet this is a reverent text. It was just to prove how awesome Jesus was. People dare not question him or else this is what you're gonna get. Now technically that's evidence for a historical Jesus in the sense that it claims to be referring to a historical Jesus, it "attests" to a historical Jesus. So whether you count that as evidence depends on what you mean by evidence. If you make a good case that it's completely bogus, does it no longer count as evidence for the historicity of Jesus. I think you can make that argument, but you have to explain that's what you're doing: you're excluding it as evidence. So when you do *that*, when you follow that rule where you exclude from evidence everything that you cannot establish as being causally connected to a historical Jesus - or what I would say is it doesn't raise the historicity of Jesus at all - I would say almost exclusively we do not have any evidence for anything other than the belief in Jesus. The exceptions I'm willing to possibly make, even though personally I don't think they apply as exceptions.
  111. There are four passages (two about the parents of Jesus, two about the brothers of Jesus) in the Epistles of Paul that are really the only evidence there is to cite for the historicity of Jesus, but they do not raise the probability of the historicity enough, in my opinion, to guarantee that he existed. If you wanna see how I come to that conclusion and what I mean by that, I discuss that in chapter 11 in "On the Historicity of Jesus". If those passages didn't exist, then we would have nothing, if you follow that rule where we're gonna exclude evidence that is not causally connected to a historical Jesus. So the answer to your question "Is it fair to say we only have evidence for the belief of Jesus?" I would say yes except for those passages in Paul where you can have an argument.
  115. So James Saleam [?] next: I notice that in your refutation of the reliability of the Testimonium Taciteum (that's a reference to Jesus in the annals of Tacitus), you made several references and appeals to an insurrectionist named Chrestus...
  117. Now he's referring to my paper which was published "Vigiliae Christianae" a peer-reviewed academic journal on this where I brought into English the arguments of a French scholar Rougie [?] and then expanded on them because he made a really good case that Tacitus *never* referenced Christ. That it was one sentence that was interpolated, and that the passage in question was originally about "Chrestians", which means Jewish followers of a particular insurrectionist who has no connection to Jesus or Christianity but was just a particular rebel group that was active in Rome. And that *they* were the target of Nero's persecution concerning the fire and the burning of Rome, not Christians. And that was a later legend. There's a good case to be made for this. Rougie [?] laid it out and I transferred his stuff into English (explanations, paraphrasing) and expand on it and show that yeah the case is even stronger than he thought. And that surprised me 'cause I thought this was a passage that was one that could stand up, but... no, I don't think it does.
  119. This is what he says: I'm aware that Suetonius mentions him, but what is our current knowledge about this Chrestus figure and the cult that followed him?
  121. Virtually nothing. In fact, Suetonius is the only passage in all extant literature that names him. Now we have an allusion to the same event in Dio Cassius, but he doesn't mention Chrestus or go into any further detail. So we know virtually nothing. That's it. Now, one of the points I make in my article at "Vigiliae Christianae" is *if* the Tacitus passage is about the Chrestians - and I think it is - then that actually in another passage that gives us information about the Chrestus movement.
  125. Okay so we've got another question from the chat room... Can you talk about the difference between disciples and apostles, and whether there is overlap in them, and whether there is evidence of their existence?
  127. I would say first: Paul never refers to disciples. He only calls people apostles and assumes that they have the same authority he does, from the same method. He says seeing Jesus through revelation is what makes you an apostle. So when we see him call other people apostles... as far as we can tell that's the only thing he understands an apostle to be: someone who has a revelation of Jesus. And even 1 Corinthians 15 which lays out the gospel, it only mentions people seeing Jesus after he's dead. It never mentions people seeing Jesus before he's dead. For example, meeting him in life, or following him around, or being hand-picked by him in life. It's not a part of the gospel. The first time people see him according to Paul is after his death. In other words, through revelation. So, that's problematic. Some of these apostles that we have named by Paul, like Kefas (which is Aramaic for "rock", which is what Peter is, kinda the same word but translated). Peter James, and John are the apostles that Paul mentions and says they're the pillars of the movement. Now these are the three main disciples in the later gospels. So it looks like these apostles were borrowed as characters for the history in the same way Pilate and Caiaphas were borrowed from history to be put into the story. So it looks like the authors are doing the same thing: taking the apostles, turning them into disciples, and basing a story on that. That's my view on that. And of course that gets into the whole debate as to whether that's the correct interpretation or not.
  131. Oh here's a good one from the chat room: When Paul refers to the scriptures, is he referring to the Old Testament, or scriptures that are lost to us, or both?
  133. Not only both, but there's a third thing. He's often citing scriptures that we have that read differently in his version. And we know this not just from Paul, we know this from other Christian authors like 1 Clement. 1 Clement cites scriptures that we don't have. He says "As the scriptures say..." and he reads a whole paragraph - we have no idea what scripture he's citing. Or we have examples of citations, either in Paul or in 1 Clement, of scripture that reads differently than our scriptures read. And we have later Christian apologists, like Irenaeus and others and Justin Martyr, who actually say that their scriptures said certain things - no surviving manuscripts say those things they claim the scriptures say. So they're working from different versions of the texts that we have. And they're working from books that are not in our bible. For example, we know they were using Enoch as a scripture. We know they were using the Wisdom of Solomon, which did not become part of the canon, although it does survive - at least some version of it survives. And various other books that they were citing as scripture that no longer survive today. They didn't have a canon. Even the idea of a Jewish canon only came about a hundred years after Christianity originated. What people considered scriptures was a more arbitrary sectarian based decision as to which books you would consider inspired or not. So yeah, that's a problem. And I discuss this problem, and the scholarship, and the evidence for it in "On the Historicity of Jesus" chapter 4, I think.
  137. Okay, James Saleam [?] had another question: One more if I may. I notice that many people cite the Sanhedrin alongside the Talmud as evidence for a historical Jesus. The Talmudic reference is obviously a propagandistic one and is unreliable. I was wondering if you could give us some background on the Sanhedrin references and how they fail to establish historicity. I already know, but would love to hear a detailed account from you.
  139. This is interesting because those aren't different things. Those are the exact same thing. Sanhedrin is the name of the book of the Talmud that has these references in it. So it isn't that there's reference in the Talmud *and* the Sanhedrin source. No, the reference in the Talmid *is* the Sanhedrin source. It's called Sanhedrin because it's a book about commentary on the part of the Mishnah that's about the procedures for running the Sanhedrin. Sanhedrin didn't write it - well I guess *a* Sanhedrin wrote it centuries later... The reason it's called that is not because Sanhedrin is the source. It's called that because it's the book about the procedures for running a Sanhedrin in the Mishnah. And the Talmud is a commentary on the Mishnah. It just expands on the Mishnah with stories and stuff.
  141. And one of the stories in the Babylonian Talmud... It's not in the Jerusalem Talmud, which has no clear references to Christianity in it at all - oddly - but it is fragmentary, and we don't have it complete, so maybe it did reference Jesus and we don't know. But the Babylonian Talmud - which is the most complete Talmud that we have - that's a Talmud that was composed outside the Roman Empire, so it's a Talmud made in a distant land, let's say. And that's in the book of Sanhedrin. I give the passage citations in chapter 8 of "On the Historicity of Jesus" and I quote and discuss them. The significance of it is: that version of Christianity (consistently throughout, the only version of Christianity that source knows about) is a version of Christianity that's preaching that Jesus was executed a hundred years before Pontius Pilate, not by the Romans but by followers of Alexander Jannaeus, a king of Judea at the time. So they place Jesus at a different time in history. They have him executed by stoning not crucifixion. And he's executed in Joppa not in Jerusalem. So they have a completely different story. And this is the only version of Christianity Jews outside the Roman Empire knew. That's actually really hard to explain. Why would there be a sect of Christians teaching a completely different historical Jesus outside the empire than in? How could that have happened if it originated from an actual historical Jesus because how would you suddenly change the tradition? It doesn't make a lot of sense.
  143. So I actually find this as evidence for the non-existence of Jesus. It means the Christians inside the empire and outside the empire were free to invent their own historical Jesus and put him in whatever historical time they wanted. And I talk about this in chapter 8 of "On the Historicity of Jesus". And we have corroboration on this from Epiphanius who mentions this Christian sect. It's a Torah-observant sect that was derived from the original sect of Christianity where they were still Jews, essentially. They weren't gentiles. And you had to become a Jew to join them. And they were preaching the same thing, that Jesus died under Alexander Jannaeus, and Epiphanius attests this. He have independent corroboration of it. There's some people who've tried to question the textual reading of Epiphanius they're just engaging in specious apologetics. When you look at the text as written in context, it's clear what Epiphanius is talking about. He's talking about the same sect that the Jews are talking about in the Talmudic book, Sanhedrin.
  147. Let's see. We got another question. Someone asked in the chat room: Oral traditions where we know the original events, like in the European Middle Ages, Theoderic the Great, how good are they for evaluating oral transmission?
  149. I didn't check that. Medieval history in context is very different from Early Roman Empire. The context, the standards of literature, the available source texts. Everything was different, so I didn't find that terribly useful. So I didn't go into it in depth. Now maybe someone could show that it's relevant and useful and do something with that. For me, I was more interested in oral transmission studies anthropologically, in terms of models we know from multiple cultures from multiple times in history. What are the commonalities: that's useful, but getting very specific about the Middle Ages - especially since so much bullshit was written in the Middle Ages - it would be perhaps unfair to defenders of historicity to use the Middle Ages as a model for the reliability of oral transmission. But I'll leave that as is.
  153. Okay, Brandon Bammel: Can you go into detail about the different sects that we know about? What do scholars have to say about those competing sects, including those who present challenges to historicity?
  155. There are too many sects to talk about. Almost everything we know about them is written by their enemies. And I think it's inaccurate in many ways 'cause they're being polemical, or they don't understand what their opponents are talking about.
  157. To give you an example, Irenaeus talks about sects of Christians that believed Jesus was born and lived and died in outer space, but in the exact same context, he just assumes they're talking about the gospel Jesus who lived on earth, so there's a contradiction in his description of what their beliefs were. It seems clear to me that he doesn't understand what their teachings are. I think he's just assuming overlaying his version of Christianity onto theirs and interpreting preachings in light of what he just assumes is true - you get a lot of that in that.
  159. There are examples of that where we have hints of sects of Christianity that did not believe in a historical Jesus in the traditional sense. Their historical Jesus only ever lived in outer space. We have hints in evidence. I talk about all of those in "On the Historicity of Jesus". There's examples in Ignatius, the Ascension of Isaiah, 2 Peter, but they're just hints. The actual writings of those sects were not preserved, so we don't get to see what they actually said or taught.
  163. Joe Simon Palmer: What impact have the Dead Sea Scrolls had on the historicity of Jesus?
  165. Uh, in background. They've opened a lot of doors in terms of interpreting how Christianity could've originated by seing how diverse Judaism really was. The Dead Sea Scrolls taught us that a lot of our assumptions about how Judaism worked and what possible or conceivable for Jews at the time were false. In fact, there was a lot more diversity and a lot more going on than we thought.
  167. One of the examples is the pesher literature. The pesharim are examples of literature where these Jews of this sect - or possibly multiple sects, there are people who challenge the idea that Qumran was a single sect - were looking at the pesher literature. They were looking at the bible, or the scriptures. And looking for secret hidden coded messages in the scriptures, and doing like a Bible Code reading - where they would find secretly intended connections between all the books and passages, and reconstruct the *secret* bible that was hidden in the written bible that foretold things about future events, and cosmic events, and God's will, and all of this stuff.
  169. So this shows that Jews were already doing what we see Christians later doing to pull the gospel of Jesus out of the bible, interpreting it. It used to be assumed that Christians were doing that after the fact. That Jesus was a historical guy; he got killed; and so they went to the scriptures to try and explain his death, to try to make sense of it. But all of the examples of Christians doing that look exactly like Jewish pesher literature where the Jews were doing it before Christianity even existed as a thing.
  171. So this opens up the possibility that that's actually what they have always been doing. That in fact the whole story of Jesus, the whole gospel of Jesus came out of scripture through a pesher-like reading. In fact that seems to be what Paul says in Romans 16:25-26. It seems quite clear that he's talking about secret hidden messages in scripture that were being revealed to them, as the source of the teachings of Jesus. He mentions no other source for the teachings of Jesus. So once you see that, it becomes much more plausible to have a non-historical Jesus and an origin of Christianity based on that. That's just one example. I don't have a lot of time to go into more examples. I talk about others and the Dead Sea Scrolls and their influence on the competing theories a little bit here and there throughout "On the Historicity of Jesus".
  173. There's many others, for example, the Beatitudes of Jesus were thought to be a fascinating original composition but, in fact, we have beatitudes that were very similar to them from the Dead Sea Scrolls. So it was actually a form of Jewish literature that predates Jesus. So Jesus was not being very original in composing those, if Jesus existed. But then that means if there was already beatitude literature being written that looked very similar to what Jesus is said to have preached, we no longer need a historical Jesus to explain the origin of the Beatitudes. They could've been lifted from preexisting beatitude literature... just in the same way we see other later gospels were lifting their material from other sources. I talk about all that in "On the Historicity of Jesus".
  177. Someone else asks: How do you define a historical Jesus hypothesis?
  179. That's actually chapter 2 of "On the Historicity of Jesus". It's all about how we should define the historicity hypothesis. I define it as minimally as possible such that if you remove even one detail, you would have to agree Jesus didn't exist. That sets a very low bar. It's the lowest possible bar for defending the historicity of Jesus. You could have the most minimal nobody obscure Jesus and still have historicity. That's all you have to defend. I test non-historicity against the most defensible easiest-to-defend historicity hypothesis. I explain in detail exactly how to define that hypothesis in there.
  183. How much must a historical figure resemble the gospel Jesus to count?
  185. Very little. I allow just the barest minimum things to count.
  189. If Paul believed that Jesus was crucified in the celestial realm, why is he never slightly explicit about that fact? I know he mentions the third heaven, although not directly relating to Jesus. But apart from that, it would seem that he is just as silent on the multiple layers of heaven and the heavenly crucifixion as he is on placing Jesus on real history. Is this concept just so central to his worldview that it doesn't bear mentioning?
  191. The problem there is not that he doesn't mention that but that he doesn't mention either way which location he's talking about, ever. He never says where Jesus is crucified. So it's not useful for defending either mythicism or historicity: the mere fact that he doesn't mention it. So to defend the idea that he means a heavenly thing requires exegesis. It requires an analysis of evidence, which is what I do in the book. Now one reason why I believe that's possibly the case is that I think any letter in which he did mention it was destroyed. We know Paul wrote letters 'cause he refers to them, that we don't have. So the Christians did choose which letters to preserve and did choose *not* to preserve. That already tells us that the evidence has been doctored.
  193. Another problem is the letters that we have are clearly stitched together pieces of other letters. For example, 1 Corinthians 15, between chapter 8 and chapter 9, is missing something. It looks like someone took two sort of related topics and smashed them together, but there's a section when chapter 9 starts, Paul is responding to an argument that he's never described. The whole part of whatever letter that was originally where he described the situation and argument he was responding to was not preserved. There are many other examples of this in all the letters. Mainstream scholarship has gone through and shown that a lot of the letters look like stitches together of multiple letters. They weren't all written as is. And those stitches are missing pieces. Christians chose which pieces to preserve and stitch together.
  195. There's tons of stuff that Paul wrote that we don't have, not even in quotation, not even in references to them, so it's entirely possible he *did* specifically talk about Jesus being crucified in the celestial realm, we just don't get to hear about that fact, only the stuff that could be interpreted the way the later medieval Christians wanted to interpret the text were preserved.
  199. Okay, almost out of time. We've got ten minutes left, or less than really. It's a shame 'cause there were a lot of questions in both my blog and Facebook, but they were all really good questions, and I wish I could get to them all. The ones on my blog I might get to on my blog. So the ones that went on blog comments, eventually that will happen. It won't happen soon, but I will get to them there. The ones in Facebook I might not continue.
  203. Now someone asked about the pesharim.
  205. I talked about that a little bit.
  209. Someone asked: Has Bayes' Theorem ever been applied to other historical questions?
  211. Really only in archaeology. I talk about in "Proving History" how the way historians argue for conclusions is already Bayesian and they just don't know it. And I use an example of William II: arguments about whether he was assassinated by Henry or not. McCullough criticized. He said Bayes' Theorem couldn't do this. I show in fact that it could, and that arguments for a conclusion in that - and McCullough's conclusion in particular - are already Bayesian. In fact, he's already using Bayesian reasoning. He doesn't even realize it. And I show how it structures that.
  213. There is one other philosopher who's argued that same point: that all good historical argument is already Bayesian, and historians just don't know it. That was Aviezer Tucker who wrote a book on the philosophy of history where he makes the exact same point. And I discovered this *after* I wrote my book. I did not even know about it. It was very gratifying to discover that someone else had discovered the same point I had and independently confirmed and corroborated it. We have a Darwin and a Wallace on that one.
  215. I think the main barrier to getting that recognized in the history community is historians, like most humanities majors, have a deathly fear of math. They don't want to learn math concepts. They struggle desperately to deny the need to do so, even though their thinking is already mathematically definable and explicable... and can only be understood in terms of its validity or not if they understand the mathematical reasoning that they're already engaging in. They just don't recognize that it's mathematical. I talk about that in "Proving History" a lot: that not recognizing it and how in fact it falls out.
  219. Richard: All right, we're almost out of time here. So what've we got, a minute?
  221. Jason: Well, we wanted to give people time to jump to the next panel. There are two already currently running and two immediately after this stops.
  223. Richard: There were a bunch of other questions. I couldn't get to them. Sorry. Maybe I'll get to them in the future. The ones on Facebook I didn't get to I *might* cover on my blog.
  225. Jason: There are a few more pending in the IRC chat room if you wanna jump in "".
  227. Richard: I won't be able to see them in the past though.
  229. Jason: They'll repeat. I'll repeat them.
  231. Richard: Oh okay. Gotcha. All right. Very good, I'll do that.
  233. Jason: Thank you very much for your talk.
  235. Richard: Thank you all for listening everybody.
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