Friday, October 02, 2015

Sam Harris Saves the Atheist World from Sin.

What do you do if you hate theism and want to blame it for most of the world's ills?  But unfortuantely, people who share your own view of God just got done murdering a hundred million innocent people, enslaving a couple billion, and destroying the priceless cultural heritage of China (just for starters)?  You might try Tweeting as Sam Harris just did:


The first paragraph above is, I think, reasonable, and one should put one's best foot forward.  Don't blame religious teachings for what they don't teach, blame them for the effect of what they do teach.  OK, we can agree about that.  Let's start with reason, before we leap head-first into incoherence and plunge into self-justifying delusions. 

Harris begins the second paragraph by redefining atheism, as has become the fad of late.  "Atheism has no doctrines."  Well of course it does, "There is no God."  Of course "it" cannot "demand" anything, because "it" is an abstract idea -- there is no God.  But as Harris says elsewhere, "Ideas have consequences."  There are many consequences to the idea that there is no God, miracles do not occur, we were produced by luck and evolution for no particular purpose.  Of course what those consequences might be can be debated, as might be the consequences of, say, refusing to believe in evolution (another negative belief).  While atheism does not "demand" anything, it "implies" a lot of things, linking doctrine (as it is always linked) to action.  Atheists make this point themselves, over and over again -- what does Harris think to accomplish by trying to deny it? 

We shall see. 

In the third paragraph, the nonsense grows serious. 

First of all, it is irrational to compare Thor and the Creator.  Thor is a being with a red beard, who originated at some time in the past, who must be in one place at one time, and has limited abilities, superceded by other beings stronger than him.  God is the origin of all things, with no beginning or end, Creator of the universe and all things, all-powerful, and knowing my own and Sam Harris' thoughts. 

The "god of Abraham" is not "a god," He is the only God -- the God worshipped around the world by hundreds of different names.  To conflate two such different concepts -- even if you don't admit they correspond to realities -- shows fuzzy thinking.  But the fuzziness has the happy consequences of furthering Harris' argument, and mocking genuine theism, besides.   Harris think fuzzily, because clear thought would ruin his argument, and perhaps his life. 

Secondly, this new conceit that atheism does not mean denial that God exists, is generally belied by those experts in the English language who write our dictionaries.  Notice, for instance, that while Oxford does admit the word can be used that way, that is not its first (therefore primary) definition of "Atheist:" "A person who believes that God does not exist."

Otherwise, everyone who has never heard of God, would be an atheist.  That's just not the way the word is used.  If it were, however, one consequence would be that probably 90% of "atheists" in the modern world  would have acquired their "atheism" from Marxist propaganda and squelching of "religion."  Another would be that every baby in the crib, maybe everyone with advanced dementia, would become an unwitting atheist.  In fact, every tree and every dog that surrounds it, could also be called "atheists." 

Finally, as for Harris' "fresh act of demogoguery," he should own it, because the demogoguery is his own, and no one else's. 

Why does Harris comparing "atheism" to "religion?"  What should be compared is "atheism" to "theism."  Both creeds have consequences, obviously.  Even if atheism were merely "lack of belief in God," despite Oxford and thousands of years of usage, that would not absolve it from causation.  If I lack belief in gravity, that will have consequences, especially if I am a tight-rope artist or an airplane pilot.  If I lack believe in wives, that will also have consequences. 

But defining atheism the way Harris and others do, is meant to have consequences, especially this one: to allow atheists to blame "religion" for evil, while absolving themselves from any blame for evil done by their fellow atheists. 

"We atheists are simply pleaing for human sanity and an end to religious madness!"

Yeah, right.  So every time an atheist is a jerk, having denied the Judge of Jerks His lawful jurisdiction, effect can never be traced to that cause.  When Sam Harris' fellow atheists set up Gulags and crammed believers and other people by the tens of thousands, that didn't count either, because barbed wire does not follow necessarily from mere "lack of belief in one more god."  In fact, whatever an atheist does, can never count against atheism.  Sam Harris has applied his magic wand, and made all atheist guilt go away.  And that, without dying on a cross. 

Of course, that means that atheism can never do any good, either. 

When a gambler admits that breaking even is  his goal, you know he recognizes that he's well in the hole, at present. 

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Arrogant Ehrman, Error-Plagued Ehrman

If skeptical Jesus studies is a Good Cop, Bad Cop routine, then someone like Richard Carrier may appear in the role of Bad Cop, while Bart Ehrman is cast as his opposite number.  Personally, I think Marcus Borg or John Crossan played the part more convincingly.  But one can't deny that Erhman often comes across as soft-spoken and reasonable, or that he has piled up a mount of original books in Jesus scholarship, that have made him something of a star in this field. 

Or, perhaps, puffed up like a balloon.  A balloon that has been huffed and puffed beyond its tensile capacity, and is ready to burst. 

A couple months ago, Ehrman debated the philosopher Tim McGrew on the Unbelievable radio program in London.  Tim heads the Department of Philosophy at Western Michigan University.  (I asked Tim recently if running a department full of philosophers was like herding cats.  He replied along the lines of, "Cats talk about herding philosophers.") 

I am presently writing a book defending the historicity of the gospels.  Since I just roughed in a chapter on an argument for the gospels from what Tim calls "Undesigned Coincidences," yesterday I listened for a second time to the second half of that debate, most of which was on that topic.  What I wanted to hear were some serious criticisms of the Argument from Undesigned Coincidences from Dr. Bart Ehrman. 

I did not hear any. 

That is not, I think, because such criticisms need be impossible, or that the argument, as given to date, need be impregnable.  It is because even though he knew he would be debating this subject, and the debate would be heard by thousands of listeners, Dr. Ehrman was too lazy, or perhaps too preoccupied writing his next best-seller, to bother looking up McGrew's arguments and finding out what they are all about.  So listeners were subjected to a lot of low-level, patronizing scoffing, a lot of hand-waving, and some out-and-out errors, but not much in the way of "peer review" in the sense of informed criticism of a fresh idea. 

So I can't offer you the best of Ehrman's objections.   Here, instead, are the eight worst.  (I will give rein to my satirical itch occasionally in what follows, so quote marks will not always denote an exact quote.  When they do, I'll put them in dark blue.) 

#8.  "Undesigned Coincidences?  That's SO 19th Century."  If we want a calendar, we'll shop at Hallmark.  You're here to provide arguments, Dr. Ehrman. 

#7  People who think like Tim McGrew "just haven't read enough books."  I think this accusation will shock everyone who knows Dr. McGrew. 

#6  To support his objection to the idea that the gospels might be telling history as it actually happened, and that the "undesigned coincidences" McGrew cites are evidence of that, Erhman throws out David Copperfield, by Charles Dickens, and Moby Dick, by Herman Melville.  Why?  Are the Christian gospels supposed to belong to the category of 19th Century novels?  Or even of ancient Greek novels?  We know Ehrman doesn't believe that, from what he has said supporting the historicity of Jesus in his book on Christ mythicism.  (And in fact, the gospels don't look anything like Greek novels, as I begin to show here.) 

Or is Ehrman claiming he has found Undesigned Coincidences between Moby Dick and David Copperfield?   He doesn't claim that, either.  In fact, he doesn't offer any real explanation for why he mentioned these two books, except that, in common with the gospels, "They are telling stories."  Yes, Bart, but stories fall roughly into two categories: true, and false.  And the issue before us, which should not be begged, is into which of these categories the gospels fall.  Naming books at random does nothing to answer that question, or rebut McGrew's arguments.  Given no explanation for why Ehrman brought these two books up, one is tempted to speculate.  Are these random literary citations thrown out, perhaps, to distract from the fact that Dr. Ehrman came to the debate unprepared to discuss the announced topic? 

#5  Why, McGrew asks, did Pilate try to acquit Jesus just after Jesus claimed to be king?  He argues that pieces from various gospels fit together to make better sense of all the sources.  They reflect, he believes, a real series of events, fitting together like a puzzle. 

Again, in Matthew 14 we have the story of the death of John the Baptist.  Hearing in an apparently garbled fashion about Jesus' ministry, Herod Antipas asks his servants, "What's going on?  I thought I had killed John?  Has he risen from the dead?"  How does Matthew know what Herod is telling his servants?  McGrew points out that Luke 8 gives a list of women including Joanna, wife of Herod's steward, who were supporting Jesus and his band.  So off-hand, we learn that Jesus' following seems to have had sources that could have reported the story from John. 

In response to this coincidence, Erhman talks about how all the Gospel stories circulated for a long time, so it's no wonder that they agree on various details.  And what about John's account of the conversation between Pilate and Jesus?  According to John, no one else was in the room! 

"That's a problem we have with a lot of the gospels.  Just to pick an example of the same thing, in the Gospel of John, Jesus is put on trial before Pontius Pilate.  Nobody else is in the room . . . The Jewish authorities don't want to go into the Praetorium because they don't want to be defiled, and they stay outside.  Pilate is inside . . . So he has these extensive conversations with Jesus, but there's nobody is in the room, except for him and Jesus.  So people have asked, how does John know what Pilate said? . . .  People who ask that question about John just haven't read enough books.  People who write books say things all the time they have no way of knowing."

First (as mentioned above) Ehrman brings up Dickens and Melville as purported parallels.  Then he seems to think better of that, and mentions a  respected Greek historian:

"We know from ancient historians themselves, including Thucydides, that when historians wrote an account of what people said they usually made it up. admit that they just made up conversations."

Why do they always have to name Thucydides to make this point?  Did any other historian say that?  If so, why is none ever named? 

McGrew's response bites harder, however: "It doesn't actually say that." 

No,  John does not, in fact, say that no one else was in the room.  Ehrman seems to have just imagined that he said that.  For all we know from the text, a hundred people were with Pilate and Jesus.

So blatant a textual error is embarrassing, from the Bible Answer Man of liberal scholarship.   

#4  Trying to explain why Pilate wants to let Jesus free in the Gospel of John, Ehrman argues that early Christian literature shows a trajectory of increasing anti-Semitism.  He then describes a progression from Mark to Matthew to Luke to John, (never mind that many scholars think Luke came before Matthew.), then to the "Gospel of Peter," the "Middle of the Second Century," and on to late in the Second Century.  "And that can explain the changes in the gospels." 

McGrew points out that "we wandered off into the Second Century, there," and asks to stick to the 1st Century.  He argues that such trajectories are "largely the function of cherry-picking."  McGrew shows that at least one of the trajectories Ehrman argues for could just as easily be argued the other way. 

Indeed.  One cannot explain John by citing 2nd Century literature.  I suspect Ehrman added the "Gospel" of Peter and later literature simply because he didn't have enough data points to support his claim that John can be explained by an increasingly anti-Semitic trajectory.  But one cannot explain something written in 90 AD by something written in 170 AD. 

At another point in the debate, Ehrman rightly points out that Philip is "actually pretty prominent" in the Gospel of John.  (By my quick count, only Peter is named more often, though the "disciple Jesus loved" is referred to a bit more, and Thomas and Judas Iscariot no doubt play more prominent roles.)  But then he has to pad that coup by pointing, again, to very late texts like the "Gospel" of Philip, again as if one could explain 1st Century texts by 2nd or 3rd Century texts. 

The idea that the future can explain the past, seems a common conceit among liberal New Testament scholars: I described how John Crossan fell into this trap  in my 2005 book, Why the Jesus Seminar can't find Jesus.  "Crossan's discussion of sources often looks like time travel, as well as simple bad logic."  (33)  His nemesis Richard Carrier commits the same error, as I plan to show in the upcoming. 

So that leaves us with three prior data points, and the order of the second two not so clear as Ehrman seems to assume. 

#3  McGrew complains that "conjecture on a trifling investment of fact"often gives "certain branches of New Testament scholarship a bad name." 

Ehrman: "I wasn't aware that New Testament literary critics had a bad name.  So I'd be interested in knowing who said that." 

McGrew then quotes two eminent Classics scholars, EM Blaiklock and John Rist, who say just that, in detail. 

At this point, I suppose it would be too much to expect Ehrman to say, "Thanks for asking my question!  I was wondering who you were talking about, and now I know."  But it would at least be nice if he remembered he had asked the question. 

Nope!  Rather, he responds as if McGrew's citations were irrelevant to any issue he had raised:

"It's possible to quote various people who are opposed to anything.  That doesn't mean there's generally a bad name associated with it.  There are mythicists who will say that historians have a bad name.  Well, you have to consider the source . . . And the people that Tim is quoting, they have a right to their opinion.  The question isn't whether someone has that opinion or not.  The question is whether it's justified." 

Actually, Bart, the question you asked was whether or not anyone really offered that opinion, and who they were.  Did you forget your own question?  And why start yammering about fringe scholarship?  McGrew didn't name any fringe scholars, he named two highly eminent classicists. 

Conflating fringe scholars who have no academic position or, in most cases, credentials, with a former Regius Professor of Classics at the University of Aberdeen, acclaimed for his contributions to the field, or a Chair of Classics at Auckland University, helps explicate McGrew's point about why many folks have doubts about the sort of biblical scholarship Ehrman represents. 

Next time, if Ehrman doesn't wish to know something, he would do better not to claim to be interested in hearing about it. 

#2 Ehrman argues, "You should not use one author to explain what another is trying to say."  But that's not what McGrew was doing.  He was using one author to help explain what happened. 

And that is how history usually works.  Herodotus takes accounts of conflicts from three or five conflicting Greek or Persian parties who offer different versions of the same event.  He assumes that where those stories intersect, they are probably right about what happened, while where they disagree, one has to chose which version is more credible.  Steve Ambrose interviewed numerous participants among the 101st Airborne in D-Day for his book Band of Brothers, weaving their stories together to make a coherent whole.  He notes:

"The veterans had frequently contradicted each other on small points, and very occasionally on big ones . . . I felt it was my task to make my best judgment on what was true, what had been misremembed, what had been exagerated by the old soldiers telling their war stories, what acts of heroism had been played down by a man too modest to brag on himself."

But then he got more feedback later for the final version of Band of Brothers

Of course you should use one source to explain events described by another.  Our question is not psychological -- "What was this author thinking?" it is historical -- "What really happened?"

#1 After they have exhausted Ehrman's thin responses to Undesigned Coincidences, Justin Brierley asks him what he thinks of miracles.  (Again, what follows is a paraphrase)

Ehrman: "As historians, we cannot affirm miracles, even if we believe in them in private." 

McGrew (rhetorically, asked the same question by Brierley):  "Why not?"  

Ehrman: "Would you believe any miracle stories?  Or just ones about Jesus?"

McGrew: "What, you mean like from Livy?" 

Ehrman: "No."

McGrew: "The evidence has to be equally good." 

Ehrman: "Oh, what I've got is good -- better than those Jesus stories you think are so impressive in the gospels."

Bart Ehrman then plays the usual card -- trotting out a totally bogus Jesus analogy, that only sounds convincing because he knows no one has read it, and because he twists and pulls and reshapes the evidence to meet his need.  The link is to my rebuttal of that analogy, which I believe is as complete as a rebuttal of so lame a literary or historical analogy needs to be. 

So thanks, Bart.  I've analyzed that phony "Jesus analogy," and plan to include it in the upcoming book -- along with several other failed attempts to find a parallel Jesus, somewhere in the world.  Let me give Dr. Ehrman credit for innovatingly proffering the first faux-Jesus narrative from Medieval Poland to this already storied genre.  It's a bit like Ye Olde Curiosity Shop on the Seattle waterfront, this sort of liberal New Testament scholarship -- artifacts of skeletons, mummies, and other arcane and disfigured objects, mostly dead and embalmed, from around the world, along with fresh trinkets for sale -- in Bart Ehrman's case, books.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Did Jesus Really Liberate Chinese women? Response to Patrick and Loren.

Two frequent visitors, Patrick and Loren, expressed questions and doubts yesterday about my on-going series claiming that Jesus and the movement he inspired have liberated "billions" of women around the world.  I appreciate the challenges, which will allow us to look more closely at a few interesting details.  So here's my response.  

I. Patrick: "What do you mean by 'liberation'?  I didn't see any definition listed so it is difficult to tell what is or isn't a good example of women being liberated outside of the examples you presented.  When you discuss a woman who is liberated what would her status be in that society with family and the society around her once she is liberated?"

Most of the examples I give are obvious enough that I don't think they need much defense: being taught to read, retaining the bones in your feet so you can walk like a human being, and being taken off your husband's funeral pyre so you aren't burned to death with him, are liberating in obvious enough ways that little more need be said.   I think most westerners now share the view that women should be recognized as equally important to men, that they should be free from exploitation and abuse, and free to develop and reach their full intellectual, social, physical, and spiritual potentials.   If you need a rough definition of liberation, I guess attaining the state described in that last sentence will do the trick. 

"What was life like for women before Christianity came into the countries in question? You discuss foot-binding, for example, but is that it? Did they also achieve liberation in other areas of life, also?"

Yes, and I indicate that as well.  As I mention, for instance, almost all the women from one part of Fujian Province as late as the mid-20th Century who had received higher education, had done so from mission schools.  Christianity also has led the fight against concubinage and the double standard, including in China. 

"Exactly what did Christians do to help achieve this liberation? Your premise, at least in the title is that Jesus helped women achieve this liberation. How, specifically, did Jesus do this? Are women there now truly liberated? Part 3 discusses the status of women around the world and you point out that women in Europe enjoy an overall better status than those in non-christian third world countries. The right to vote was one of several events that helped women achieve their liberation in European and American society."

But I show that women ALREADY enjoyed a far higher status in Europe by the Middle Ages, than in competing civilizations.  I also show that the liberation began already in the Roman Empire.  I quote historians on how Christianity improved the status of women in Medieval Europe. And I show that Jesus' teachings lead to that naturally.   Again, you need to read more carefully or thoroughly. 

"You also talk in vague numbers - billions of women throughout history, billions of women now - but you haven't supplied any specific numbers.  China has 1.3 billion people according to the CIA World Fact book of which about half (or 500 million) are women."

Almost 1.4 billion, and half is 700 million.  And none have their feet smashed now.  And almost all are given an education. 

700 million is how many are alive today.  But the liberation began in earnest in the 19th Century.  You have to include prior generations (to some extent) as well.  So in Part IV of this series, which is the most relevant, I estimate that Jesus' influenced has brought increased freedom to 1.5 billion women in China alone. 

"Where do you get your figures from? What sources did you use to determine that billions of women (how many billions) have been liberated from having their feet smashed? According to Wikipedia, which cites their sources, gives a different account, namely: The Manchu Kangxi Emperor tried to ban foot binding in 1664 but failed."

Did you know that the Kang Xi emperor (one of China's greatest rulers ever, perhaps the greatest) was educated, in large part, by Jesuit missionaries? 

"In the later part of the 19th century, Chinese reformers challenged the practice but it was not until the early 20th century that foot binding began to die out as a result of anti-foot binding campaigns.  Foot-binding resulted in lifelong disabilities for most of its subjects, and a few elderly Chinese women still survive today with disabilities related to their bound feet.  Not Jesus or even Christian missionaries are being given credit here."

Of course not.  That's because both Western and Chinese historians, and especially the governments that sponsor official history, and therefore Wikipedia, systematically lie about history, and cover up the role of Christianity in reform. 

The Shanghai historian Gu Weiming describes the actual history of this movement, in his long history of Christianity in China, as do other historians.  Even the Atlantic recognizes:

"So many Western women, especially the wives of Christian missionaries, became strong advocates against the practice, producing pamphlets and even opening shelters in support of afflicted women.  Around the same time, Chinese intellectuals who had studied abroad in Europe and in North America returned to China and stated their support for abolishment."

It wasn't really just the wives, however.   You might want to learn who Timothy Richard, the star of a book published in Taiwan called Five Foreigners Who Have Influenced China, was.  He played a crucial role in that, as in other, campaigns.  Or since you cite Wikipedia, start here:

Here is how that article describes the beginnings of the movement:

"More Christians came to China and began to oppose foot binding, because they thought it was discriminatory against females. In 1875, 60-70 Christian women in Xiamen attended a meeting presided by a missionary John McGovern formed the Natural Foot (tianzu, literally Heavenly Foot) Society, and it was championed by the Woman's Christian Temperance Movement founded in 1883 and advocated by missionaries including Timothy Richard, who thought that Christianity could promote equality between the sexes. The writings of Richard would influence Chinese reformers Kang Youwei and Liang Qichao who then challenged the practice of footbinding."

It would, anyway, be an offense against Occam's Razor to assume that a custom deeply ingrained in Chinese culture for a thousand years, died out for no particular reason, JUST after western missionaries began preaching against that custom, and setting up societies to combat it.   Both Chinese and Western officialdom have a stake in covering up the role Christian missionaries played in world-wide reform, and they play it to the hilt, as I have shown in the latter case on this site in the past.   (In November I plan to finally finish an expose of the historical lies that Chinese history text books engage in, as well.) 

But yes, the work of well-informed historians supports my arguments about the positive impact of Christianity in China, in general and in great detail. 

II. Loren: What is that great Borg-like entity, *THE* family? What in it justifies a status not much different from slavery for the female sex?

What is the family?  Wow!  I'm sorry if you don't know.  But none of the female members of families I know in any way resemble slaves, so you're going to need to explain your thoughts a little more clearly to make sense to me. 

Plato wrote his Republic some time around 360 BCE, over 350 years before Jesus Christ was born. In Book V, he states:

Are dogs divided into hes and shes, or do they both share equally in hunting and in keeping watch and in the other duties of dogs? or do we entrust to the males the entire and exclusive care of the flocks, while we leave the females at home, under the idea that the bearing and suckling their puppies is labour enough for them?

Wikipedia's summary of Plato on the sexes: The Republic states that women in Plato's ideal state should work alongside men, receive equal education and share equally in all aspects of the state. The sole exception involved women working in capacities which required less physical strength.

That seems very feminist to me.

Yes, I've read the Republic, don't need Wikipedia's help.  Very impressive.  Yet for hundreds of years after Plato, women in Athens were barely allowed out of the house.  So a lot of good that did. 

And if Plato's vision had won out, and his commune with shared wives had been created, I doubt that would have liberated women at a very deep level, either -- experience in American communes of the 19th Century and 1960s was not always very promising. 

Christianity existed for centuries before an organized feminist movement got started, so it's clear that there isn't much of a correlation. There should have been an organized feminist movement at least as far back as Emperor Constantine.

Read my series.  Liberation began with Jesus, then the disciples in Acts, and throughout the Roman Empire. 

As to Jesus Christ himself, judging from the Gospels, the most that one can say for him was that he was not grossly misogynist. But he wasn't very feminist, either.

I didn't say he was "feminist" -- an anachronism.  I said he liberated women.  See above for my definition: read the series for a great deal of evidence. 

Whether you choose to call Jesus a feminist or not, depends on your definition of that term.  I say he has liberated billions of women in profound ways, and have provided the evidence, beginning with his interaction with individual women whom he aided and freed in diverse ways.  Does a person who has been freed from a lynch mob, healed, or given new dignity and purpose, care if you call the person who gave her all that a "feminist" or not?  Heck, Bill Clinton is a "feminist," and you see how he treats women. 

As to literate-society preindustrial economies making it difficult for women, that is entirely possible. I note that because there is a strong correlation between organized feminism and how industrialized a society is. Organized feminism first emerged in industrialized nations like the late 19th cy. US and the UK. So one should look for a possible connection between feminism and industrialism.

Nope.  The correlation, while not perfect, is between impact of the Gospel on the public sphere, and that holds true from the 1st Century on.  Saudi Arabia has fully modernized, but a female Saudi friend told me she would only be willing to go back there in a body bag. 

Timely Slogans for Every Candidate

(Note: lower-tier candidates, please call direct for volume discounts)

Hillary Clinton:

"Because Charm, Truthfullness, Kindness, and Concrete Positive Achievements aren't Everything."

"Make me President, and I promise I'll obey the Law."

"You can Never have enough Spare Body Parts!"

"Frankenstein was the Real Feminist: Stop the War on Women!"

"Yeah, right.  So you tell me what were you doing on the night of September 11, 2012!"

"Yes I am human!  See!  This is a smile!"

Donald Trump: 

"The Brokest Country Ever, a Real Estate Heir who went Bankrupt Three Times: What Could Go Wrong?"

"Elect a President who will be as rude to America's enemies, as he is to Female Reporters and Ex-Wives."

"Isn't it time EVERYONE hate America?"

"Because America needs more Vulgarity!"

"Facts?  Yeah, well you're ugly!"

"Don't Vote for those Inauthentic Phonys!  Elect the Real Deal!"

Berry Sanders: 

"Because Taxes are Still way too Low!"

"Why Shouldn't We Follow Europe Down the Drain?"

"Twenty Trillion in Debt?  Let's try throwing money at the problem!"

"We Need Our Grandkids' Money More Than They Will!" 

"Obama was a reactionary!"

"Where has Socialism ever not worked?"

Joe Biden:

Creepy Biden © Michael Ramirez,Investors Business Daily,joe biden,creepy,hands,touch,joe-biden

"Because you know I'll get a paycheck from you, anyway."

"Stand up, America, and take a bow!  Don't be shy!  What are you doing in that Wheelchair after Eight Years of Obama-Biden, anyway?"

"My Party Went to Philadelphia and all they got was this Lousy Political Hack!" 

"Because we ran out of Democrats!"

Ben Carson: 

"Why Don't We Elect Some Nice Guy at Random and See What Happens!"

Jeb Bush:

"No, Seriously, This Really is 2016!"

Carly Fiorina:

"Come on, Guys.  You KNOW you've always wanted a Strong Woman to Boss You Around."

"So NOW why would anyone vote for Hillary?"

Lindsay Graham:

"My good friend John McCain came in second, didn't he?  That's not bad, in such a Big Country!"

Bobby Jindal:

"Let's Count Votes from ALL the World's Democracies, This Time!"

Marco Rubio:

"Don't Blame Me Just Because I'm a Freshman Senator, Too!" 

"Hey, it worked for the Democrats!" 

"You know you want Florida!"

John Kasich:

"You WANT my State!  You NEED my State!" 

Chris Christie:

"Not Nearly as Rude as Donald, Plus I Ran a State!"

"Obama Ate Broccali!  Time for a Change!"

Scott Walker:


Saturday, September 19, 2015

"Jesus is the Answer" -- even on the SAT.

You may remember the old slogan, "Jesus is the answer."  Maybe it comes from a song by Larry Norman.  The usual response was, "to what question?"  But perhaps that misses the point.  Maybe one thing that makes Jesus uniquely the answer, is the plurality of questions to which his life, teachings and works provide the best answer.  

I was thinking about this the other day when I was teaching my students how to take the written part of the SAT test.  I ask them to develop a number of stories, especially true stories and histories, that they can draw on to support their answers to the SAT prompt.   Normally, I good SAT essay is 400 words or more, providing a clear intro, two or so supporting paragraphs, and a conclusion, in 25 minutes -- pretty hard for Chinese young people to write, so they need help in preparation.  So I told them I'd limit myself to just two or three supporting examples -- "Jesus, contemporary Chinese or American society" -- and try to write full essays in half the time.   And they could choose the question for me to answer at the last moment.  

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Sowing Obama, reaping Trump?

The astute historian Victor Davis Hanson has just explained the abject failure of Barack Obama's foreign policy, AND the bizarre popularity of Daddy-made billionaire "As President, I'll be a total, unpredictable, intellectually-incoherent jerk, playboy and clown like I have been for years and I won't ever apologize for it or for calling classy female reporters who ask me hard questions (boo hoo) 'bimbo'" Donald Trump.

Read it and understand human nature.  Then, for God's sake (and the world's), pull yourself together, America, and pick a decent president, this time. 

Friday, August 14, 2015

How Jesus Passes the Outsider Test: Chapter Two

Note: This is the chapter in which I make the argument that skeptics have so far mainly reacted against, mainly by misrepresenting it.  Of course that does not make it the most important argument in the book -- it isn't, I save the best for last.  But I still think it works, taken on its own terms, and not misrepresented. -- DM

Chapter Two: “Go Into All the World”

My first positive argument is that Christianity has attracted more believers from more ethnic and cultural groups than any other religion.  So if the OTF shows anything, it shows that all things being equal, the Christian faith is more likely to be true.  But can this simplest and most direct form of the OTF really demonstrate anything beyond blind luck or vulgar popularity?  In fact, I think that while hardly decisive, the global test Christianity has undergone over the past two millennia does indeed lend the Christian faith extra credibility.   

How Jesus Passes the Outsider Test: Chapter One

Chapter One: “The Outsider Test for Faith”

The Outsider Test, as we have seen, has become a popular, widely-employed argument against Christianity.  But John Loftus attempts in particular detail to develop this argument, and his name is most closely associated with it.  Let us therefore begin by critiquing his version of the OTF. 

How Jesus Passes the Outsider Test: The Inside Story (Intro)

My latest book, How Jesus Passes the Outsider Test: The Inside Story, may be the best I've written yet.  It has been compared by thoughtful reviewers to "Mere Christianity" and "Orthodoxy," which as a life-long fan of C. S. Lewis and G. K. Chesterton, is praise I treasure highly.  I believe the book has the potential to change how people look at the world, so that they recognize God's fingerprints upon history.  I don't believe you'll look at the story of the human, or the great spectrum of civilizations, the same, after you've read The Inside Story.

So far, most readers seem to have agreed.  All reviews by scholars have been extremely enthusiastic.  For instance, Dr. Ivan Satyavrata, an accomplished Indian theologian who has researched the relation between Christianity and Indian thought, wrote:

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

"When I was up in Canada"

OK, you Larry Norman fans, here's one for you.
"The rock that doesn't roll" -- Vancouver Island

"In another land" -- Cariboo Mountains, central British Columbia.

"When you are lonely, you're the only one to blame"

"Why should the devil have all the good music?"   

"The sun began to rain" -- John and not-his-bike at an overlook in Jasper.

"Well, I went into the forest and I cut down all the trees . . . " A lake in Jasper. 

"Lead me on, lead me on, lead me on, Lead me on where you're going. You know my body's tired by my heart's inspired My hunger's growing."

Monday, August 03, 2015

Reply to Matthew Ferguson I: On Scholarship and Genre

Matthew Ferguson has now responded to my critique of his analysis of how the gospels relate to ancient literature, in a two-part rebuttal of some 50 printed pages. 

The first part, and fortunately somewhat the shorter, contains his criticism of me.  I don't plan to say much about that.  Ferguson repeatedly says or implies that I'm trying to hide or cover up my faults and errors: let those who are afraid that I am up to such mischief, read Ferguson's critique for themselves, if they like.  I don't really mind.  To tell the truth, I am indeed quite flawed.  Yes, I can be "acerbic," and my intended wit does indeed sometimes flows to rudeness, especially when I'm tired.  On the other hand, I think Ferguson was the first case in which (two years ago) I criticized someone who happened to share a pseudonym and a set of interests with my intended target, in lieu of the target himself, and also the first case in which I mistakenly described someone as a Christ-mythicist who actually was not.  Those are serious blunders.  As for describing Ferguson as "blind as a bat" in relation to the qualities of the gospels, I'm afraid I still think so, so can't apologize for that -- but that is not a "falsehood about identity," it is a perception (accurate or not) about awareness.  (I also think some more advanced and eminent scholars are just as blind, after all.)

Anyway, given two admittedly flagrant errors, Ferguson may be forgiven for thinking me sloppier than I probably am (on major issues, never mind typos).  Fair enough.  I have other flaws Ferguson doesn't know about.  So even if his critique is often off the mark in other respects (as I think it is), let readers conclude, "Marshall is not always so charming as he ought to be," and they'll be more right than wrong.   

As for Ferguson's own cheap shots, he doesn't seem to recognize them as such.  That's fine, too.  What interests me is the historicity of the gospels, and alleged parallels to them.  I have no desire to hide any good analogy Ferguson, Richard Carrier, or Bart Erhman, can offer between the Gospels and any ancient text -- indeed, far from covering such alleged parallels up, I have been searching out such purported parallels and trying to bring them to light.  Read both sides, by all means!  Still less do I wish readers to think poorly of Mr. Ferguson. 

Ferguson has read some interesting materials, as have better-known and more experienced skeptics.  And his theories are generally more reasonable than those of Carrier, for instance, and a lot better than the muck that someone like Raphael Lataster (or that other Celsus, with whom I conflated Ferguson) produces.  No doubt his arguments will continue to improve: as iron sharpens iron: in a perfect world, my critique might help expedite that process.

And I think that's enough response to Part I of Ferguson's critique, the personal criticism.  On to the important stuff.  (As far as I can go today -- I'm leaving for Canada again this afternoon, and probably won't be able to touch on all the important issues before we take off.)

I. Who is Qualified to do Historical Jesus Studies? 

One of the most important initial matters on which Ferguson takes issue with me, is the question of whether I, or some of the thinkers whom I cite, are even competent to contribute to the "search for the historical Jesus."  Our views on who can or ought to contribute to the Jesus debate, and indeed on how scholarship ought to be done, seem to diverge quite sharply.

On a personal level, Ferguson makes it clear that he thinks I'm out of my depth, or meddling in matters I know too little of.  I am an "apologist," after all -- this is the term he uses, again and again, to describe me.  Ferguson describes his own academic credentials, but does not (so far as I have read thus far) say anything about mine.  He also describes me as a "troll," which according to one on-line dictionary, means:

"A person who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community . . . with the deliberate intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion."

Ferguson adds that I admit to not reading Latin, and that my Greek is probably not nearly as good as his own. He argues:

"The question of the Gospels' genre, and where they fit into their literary context, pertains specifically to literary developments that had been occurring in the 5th century BCE -- 2nd century CE Mediterranean world, particularly in literature written in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin (all languages that I have expertise in)."

In addition, Ferguson accuses me of "dropping Richard Burridge's name," which is "one of the keywords that many apologists know when they try to argue about the Gospels' genre."  

Let me answer these first three charges, before addressing broader issues of authority. 

* First, on the "troll" charge.  No doubt my critique of his argument did upset Ferguson, and perhaps some of his readers.  But there was nothing off-topic about my  challenging his arguments, or in flipping them to demonstrate the credibility of the gospels.  And my goal is not to provoke an emotional reaction, but to better understand the nature of the gospels and their relation to ancient literature -- which Ferguson says is also his own goal.  So this description of me is simply false. I am dead serious in my interest in this subject: one would think the fact that I published a book on it ten years ago, and am writing another now, would be sufficient evidence of that.

* As for the value of learning language, I believe I also pegged that right.  I have been studying languages for forty years, and comparing texts in different languages for some thirty-five.  One can pick up many nuances only by learning the original language, and one might say that some poetry, or poetic speech (Shakespeare or Li Bai), simply can't be translated, or that a great deal of the wonder of the original is lost in translation.  But to determine genre or historicity, a good translation will usually do.  So far as I have read his long rebuttal, I haven't noticed any points at which Ferguson claims that language alone betrays any errors on my part.  So even judging by his own argument, it appears that my original comments were correct. One does not need to be fluent in Latin, say, to recognize the genre of Confessions or Cicero's On the Nature of the Gods, so long as these works have been translated with any competence. 

In fact, I don't think facility in three ancient languages has helped Mr. Ferguson recognize what stands out most about the gospels and is most important.  I think my analysis demonstrates that.  But as I said, I would like to avoid (from here on, at least) implying disrespect. We all make mistakes.  We all have biases and blind spots.  And I have offered similar criticism of other scholars who are more advanced and highly credentialed than Mr. Ferguson. So he need not take my criticism quite so very personally. 

* Ferguson is willing to dismiss authorities I cite, anyway, so why complain when I dismiss far less eminent and accomplished authorities?

Section Five in the second part of Ferguson's rebuttal does just that:  

"Marshall's bogus authorities in trying to dismiss the novel and hagiography comparison."

Ferguson writes in that section:

"One of the big emphases of Marshall's response is to claim that the comparison of the Gospels to the ancient novel is absurd.  As Marshall claims: 

"'You also describe the gospels as 'novels.'  This is complete and utter nonsense . . . Anyone who reads the gospels and thinks it's one of those is, frankly, as blind as a bat."  

"When citing authorities against this comparison, however, Marshall appeals to a number of outdated and irrelevant persons.  In order to argue that the Gospels are historical in genre, Marshall appeals to Augustine (yes, Augustine), Blaise Pascal, English literature scholar C. S. Lewis, and psychiatrist M. Scott Peck, all of whom are almost fully irrelevant to modern Classical and NT scholarship.  Among actual New Testament scholars he lists NT Wright and Richard Bauckham (both minorities in the field), in addition to name dropping Richard Burridge."

There are several misconceptions, here.

* As I explained clearly in that earlier post, my main interest lies not in "genre," but in historicity.  And I do not "argue that the Gospels are historical in genre."  Rather I argue (Ferguson quotes my argument) that they are historical in character.  I mean they tell what really happened, by and large, but I say directly that I don't think they belong to any genre that can be described as "history."  Rather, they are best described as biography.

Ferguson knows this, and we will touch on our disagreements about ancient biography later.  So "historical in genre" is confusing or a red herring: my argument is that they are historical in substance.

* Also, I do not "name drop" Richard Burridge.  (This is the second time Ferguson uses this term.)  Name-dropping means, according to the Oxford Dictionary:

"The practice of casually mentioning the names of famous people one knows or claims to know in order to impress others."

But I do not desire that much to impress Mr. Ferguson: what I care about is the historical truth, or error, of the gospels.  Nor do I ever claim to know Dr. Burridge.  Furthermore, I regard the genre of the gospels, the issue on which I cite Burridge, as secondary to their truth.  

So "name-dropping" is false on every level.  

What Ferguson no doubt means is that I haven't really read Burridge, and am just throwing his name around because other people like me ("apologists") do likewise.  But if that is the case, then why is there a four-star review of his book under my name, written eleven years ago, posted as the lead-off review on Amazon, with 24 of 27 "helpful" votes?  Ferguson often complains about my not reading his entire on-line oevre before commenting: wouldn't it have been wise for him to do a little google-search, before making this false charge?  

But more on Burridge's arguments below, and what they imply for the gospels.  

* More substantially, by dismissing my citations of Augustine, Lewis, and Peck, Ferguson seems to betray a vision of how scholarship works very different from the vision that I long ago came to embrace.   

In my last year of High School, I ran between Russian and journalism classes, which were down the hall from one another, because they both seemed so interesting.  My professors during my BA and MA years at the University of Washington further encouraged me to see different fields of study as informing one another -- indeed, I often tell my own students that this concept is implicit in the term "university."  For my BA, I created my own research classes under the guidance of professors in Russian, Anthropology, and the head of the History Department, to create a major that drew from all three subjects.  My MA was guided primarily by one historian and by the head the Anthropology Department, though I also took courses in Classical Chinese, Art History, and Religious Studies which, again, informed the research I did for my MA papers.  The same was true of my PhD, and such was the vision of holistic scholarship in which different fields inform one another, that most of my fellow scholars seemed to embrace.  

No field of study is an island.  Disparate areas of research can often inform one another profoundly, even when they seem, at first glance, to be separated by oceans.  

This is also commonly recognized in New Testament studies.  Liberal scholars like John Crossan and James Crossley, as well as conservatives like Rodney Stark, are often rightly lauded for helpfully bringing the perspective of other fields of study to bear on early Christianity. (Which means, of course, that deep fluency in a given language is not always crucial to making contributions to a field.) 

So why did I cite M. Scott Peck?  

Peck is a Harvard-trained psychologist, with decades of experience in observing human beings.  I thus noted:

"What is really startling, as M. Scott Peck noted, along with Lewis, is how utterly the gospels fail to resemble hagiographic literature."

Peck approached the Jesus of the Gospels as a psychologist, out of a well of deep experience and scholarship, and wrote with great intellectual force, in my opinion.  He believed that in all his years of studying men and women who make the human mind their subject, Jesus was the "smartest man who ever lived."  Of course no hagiographer could invent the Jesus who appears in the gospels, and none ever did.  Peck's observations, informed by a richly understood field of psychology, and decades of clinical experience, furnish a legitimate way in which one discipline can inform another.  

Augustine would also appear on many informed lists of "the smartest people who ever lived."  He was read more widely in ancient Latin literature, probably, than anyone can be today.  And he knew the process of creating literature from the inside, as author of so brilliant a narrative as Confessions, of so sweeping and widely-informed an argument as City of God.  

Yet Ferguson tosses Augustine's perception aside with contempt.  Seriously?  Augustine?  Yes, seriously: we need to hear from geniuses who produce great literature, and whose genius transcends the mere art of words, especially those who drank in knowledge of the ancients with their mother's milk.  Blaise Pascal was also psychologically astute, and of a deeply logical turn of mind.  The acute insights of all three men, the latter two among the world's great minds, their keen and informed insight focused on literature which they knew inside and out, are not to be tossed lightly away, merely because none of them happened to take any Classics courses at the University of California, Irvine.  (Augustine admitted that Greek gave him trouble.)

What about C. S. Lewis?  

Ferguson persists in identifying Lewis as merely an "English literature scholar."  But as I pointed out, Lewis was extremely well-read in ancient Greek and Latin literature.  He even conducted a correspondence with  Dom Giovanni Calabria in Latin.  (Could Mr. Ferguson do that?)

Why would anyone want to deny so great a literary genius as C. S. Lewis a seat at this table?  Author of a magisterial volume in the Oxford History of English Literature, insightful critic of Milton and Shakespeare, who goaded J. R. R. Tolkien into publishing what many regard as the 20th Century's greatest work of fiction, Lewis breathed ancient Greek for some fifty years, himself creating brilliant works in a variety of genres.  So when Lewis writes:

"I have been reading poems, romances, vision-literature, legends, myths all my life.  I know what they are like.   I know that not one of them is like this."

It is wise to pay heed.  

* But even more importantly, my argument for the historicity of the gospels is not mainly an Argument from Authority.  Frankly, I think the analysis I offer in Why the Jesus Seminar can't find Jesus, and to a truncated and preliminary degree in the post Ferguson responds to, goes beyond any of these writers.  That is not, of course, because I consider myself an equal genius, but because I support their true insights with more thorough analysis.  That is how scholarship makes progress -- dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants.  What I attempt to do, and I think succeed in doing, is to show that Lewis' concisely expressed analysis of the gospels in relation to ancient literature, is on the money, across dozens of crucial criteria that he did not stop to systematically analyze.  

That such thinkers are giants, and that their insight is highly relevant to NT studies, ought to be obvious.

What about the specialists we cite?  Let's look again at Richard Burridge.

II. What's Wrong with Burridge's Argument? 

What Ferguson fails to notice is that I treat Richard Burridge not as a name to "drop," but as a fellow scholar with whom I partially agree, partially disagree, and whose arguments (like Ferguson's own) do not entirely address the issues that concern me.  Thus, Ferguson cites several other scholars who disagree with Burridge, or who tweak his thesis in various ways.  He fails to recognize that I have long disagreed with Burridge on some of the very same points!  Here is part of my review, eleven years ago:

"I think Burridge proves his case, that the canonical Gospels do belong to the category of ancient bioi, or biography . . . But what does that mean to call the Gospels "biography?" Among the examples of bioi he considers are Tacitus' Agricola, a sober account of a Roman general written by his son in law a few years after his death, and Apollonius of Tyana, a tall tale loosely based on a New Age guru that talks about various breeds of dragon in India, and was written more than a hundred years after the alleged life it portrays.  So the simple fact that a work belongs to the category of bioi, does not prove that it is true.

"Burridge notes however that Apollonius is rather on the fringe of the genre.  In some ways, the Gospels are closer to Agricola.   Having closely compared these two texts with the Gospels on my own, I came to the conclusion that in terms of historical reliability, the Gospels are closer to Agricola, and hardly resemble Apollonius of Tyana at all.  In fact, in some ways the Gospels seem more historical than Agricola.

"But Burridge does not discuss the historicity of the books he reviews directly.  Instead, he conducts a somewhat plodding, but careful, convincing, and I think useful argument that helps one better understand literary genre, ancient literature, the Gospels, and how they all fit together."

I also critiqued Burridge ten years ago, in Why the Jesus Seminar can't find Jesus:

"Burridge showed that the gospels are bioiWhat he did not do was explain what genre has to do with historicity.  The water is muddied by the fact that of the works Burridge discussed, most were fairly sober, but at least one might be described as 'science fiction.'"

So I have been well aware of the diversity within the genre that Burridge identified as "Greek biography" for a very long time.  Nothing the authorities Ferguson cites say, comes as a surprise to me, on this topic.  My point, and the point with which I vehemently disagree with Ferguson, is when he argues that the Gospels resemble the less-reliable and more dubious biographies, along with ancient hagiographies and other semi-fictional accounts, more than the better biographies.  In fact, I argue that internal characteristics mark the Gospels as in many ways more credible than even relatively sober ancient biographies. 
But despite the warning in my last post, and the fact that he addresses this issue at length, in my view Ferguson confuses historicity and genre even more seriously in his recent post. 

III. Do the Gospels belong to the same Genre as the Contest of Hesiod and Homer?  

As I said in my first post, I think Ferguson conflates the questions of genre with historicity.  I tried to put this in a polite way, by means of a good deal of circumlocution: 

"Historical" can mean two things: (1) belonging to a specific genre, the genre of historical narratives, or (2) historically accurate, baring truthful content about the past.  The danger in Ferguson's wording here seems to be equivocation, confusing these two meanings of the term.  He does not overtly commit this error, but it seems to lie latent throughout his argument, and must be deliberately avoided."

* The odd thing in Ferguson's rather offended response is that he seems to argue that (a) no, he does not commit equivocation (actually I did not accuse him of doing so); (b) but I do; (c) it should be clear that he was really talking about historicity, because after writing about several ancient works that belong to the historical genre, he then brought in a few biographies; (d) however, I am confused to conflate his pure genre criticism when it comes to The Contest of Hesiod and Homer, with arguments about historicity! 

Readers may read the posts I originally responded to, and Ferguson's rebuttal to my arguments, and judge for themselves whether Ferguson is talking mainly about genre, or about historicity, or now one, now the other, mixing the two together and conflating them. 

* But again, historicity is what matters to me most, and I suspect to most people: genre is of secondary importance.  It is clear from his posts that Ferguson does think his comparisons bear on the historicity of the gospels, and that that matters to him, too.

* Consider, for example, Ferguson's arguments that the Gospels share many characteristics of the same genre with The Contest of Hesiod and Homer.  

What does the word "genre" mean?  Funk and Wagnall define the word, in part, as follows: 

"A particular sort, kind, or category, especially a category of art or literature characterized by a certain form, style, or subject matter."  

Now observe how Ferguson compares the Gospels to the Contest: 

"If the Gospels are not like the historical biographies of Plutarch and Suetonius, is there a better parallel within the genre of Greco-Roman biography for what they are like?  In my essay 'The Certamen of Homer and Hesiod and the Gospels: Some Comparanda,' I compare the Gospels to the more popular and legendary form, using the example of the Certamen of Homer and Hesiod, which is a kind of dual biography about the epic poets Homer and Hesiod."  

Notice the word "legendary" here, which I have underlined.  It is clear that Ferguson means to mark the gospels as less reliable than some other set of biographies.  (While I argue that the Gospels show much stronger marks of credibility.)  

Now observe how Ferguson actually does compare the Gospels to The Contest (Let's add some numbers to make it easier to keep tract of the alleged points of comparison): 

" . . .their main similarity is based around their language, structure, and storytelling conventions.   These are the kinds of considerations relevant to the genre of a narrative, not necessarily its content.

"The similarities in genre . . . include the fact that (1) the Certamen was an 'open text,' which was redacted through multiple stages of composition . . . (2) they largely circulated anonymously . . .(3)  the language and structure of these 'open texts' are likewise far more simple and fluid.  (4) They include far less analytical elements and (5) are written to a more general audience.  (6) The main emphasis of the text is likewise on stage-setting and scripting, (7) with the biographical elements more at the periphery of the narrative . . . (8) The Certamen scripts Homer and Hesiod to deliver certain lines of poetry, not unlike how the Gospels script Jesus to deliver parables and sermons .  . "

Some of these assertions are, I think, simply mistaken.  Clearly, the "biographical" element in the Gospels takes center stage.  The Gospels are focused on the final days of Jesus, which is not at all true of The Contest.  It is absurd to claim the narrative of Jesus life lies at the "periphery" of the Gospels.  

It is also a little bizarre to say two works are alike, because a poet in one delivers lines of poetry (from works well-known from other sources), while in the other, a teacher teaches (from sermons known originally from nowhere else!).  That a biographer records what is famous about his subject is hardly what one can call a "coincidence:" that is the essence of the biographer's art.  (Thus, shockingly, accounts of Socrates' life "script" him doing public philosophy!   Just so biography of Alexander the Great "scripts" him fighting battles!)   

But the funny thing is, many of the characteristics that the two bodies of work allegedly share, have little to do with the core meaning of the word "genre:"  ". . . characterized by a certain form, style, or subject matter."  (1) How a work was (allegedly) redacted -- a story NT scholars debate, anyway -- does not bear directly on the form, style, or subject matter of a work.  (2) Neither does whether it was written anonymously or with the name of the author on its first page.  The name of a book's author has nothing to do with its genre.  (3) Simplicity of language bears on style, perhaps, but is not usually important in defining genre.  For instance, some ancient novels are complex and sophisticated in language, others crude and rather gauche.  That doesn't prevent them from all being recognized as novels.  (5) Audience is also not generally part of the definition of genre, certainly not according to Funk and Wagnall.  (6) and (7), as we have seen, are simply mistaken.  (8) Poetry does not belong to the same genre as sermons or parables.  

In other words, not a single one of these alleged parallels is both clearly true and clearly bears on genre -- even if that were what we cared about.    

Ferguson has not clearly started with a coherent definition of "genre," with a set number of traits, then compared these works on each characteristic objectively.   Rather, his argument seems to involve the subjective, loose, rather uncritical picking of cherries from a tree of undetermined shape and fecundity.  What these works share in common seems trivial, and not particularly important in marking genre, still less historicity.

In fact, as I showed in my previous post, there is no reason to believe anything like the events in "The Contest" ever occurred at all.   I doubt Mr. Ferguson disagrees.  By contrast, there are dozens of reasons to think that the gospels are largely historical accounts, and attempts to find parallels to them only throw their uniqueness and historical credibility into deeper relief.  

Again, my purpose is not to deride Matthew Ferguson.  C. S. Lewis wrote more than 70 years ago, about how secular "Jesus theories" succeed one another with the "restless fertility of bewilderment."  The novel hypotheses posited by the likes of the Jesus Seminar, Bart Ehrman, Richard Carrier, and Matthew Ferguson, are evidence that that bewilderment, recognized or not, has yet to abate.