Pages

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Is Christmas Ahistorical? Jonathan Pearce compares apples and oranges.

A British skeptic and writer who blogs in SIN (Skeptic Ink Network, not the motley crowd of vices, hopefully), made one of those daft comparisons this morning that helps focus and clarify thinking about history:

So let us look at the claims of the (only two) Gospels which actually mention the birth of Jesus. Which is itself a problem, worse than if only two biographies of Abraham Lincoln actually mentioned his assassination!

Jonathan is talking about historical evidence for the Christmas story.  So when he says it is "worse" that only two gospels talk about Jesus' birth, he presumably means, worse for the credibility of those accounts. 

But reading this, a question smacks you in the face, "Are birth accounts and death accounts of famous people really comparable, when it comes to historical believability?" 
Obviously not. 

There has been some (silly) controversy over where Barack Obama was born.  But there is no controversy whatsoever over the fact that he was born somewhere.  Nor is there any doubt that John F. Kennedy was fatally shot in Dallas, Texas. 

The assymetry could hardly be more striking:

(a)  Jesus was not famous when he was born.  He may have had some visitors, but they had to be informed about his value supernaturally.  And then most of them scattered to the hills to tend their sheep again, or went back to Persia (China?) to look for more stars.  So the number of direct witnesses 65-85 years later would have been few to none.  

(b)  Jesus' birth occurred more than 30 years before his death.  Those few who attended the former, and did not scatter, would mostly or all have died by the time the gospels were written.  This need not have been the case with the thousands of people who witnessed his miracles, or the more than 500 who saw him after the first Resurrection Sunday.  If they were young in 33 AD, they could easily have lived and remembered, until 80 or even 100 AD. 

(c) Ancient historians often seemed unsure about the circumstances of birth of even extremely famous people whose lives were well-known. 

(d) From (a) and (b), and to some extent from (c), it follows that the evidence for Jesus' death and resurrection would have been exponentially more secure, historically-speaking, than the evidence for his birth. 

 (e) It may well be, though, that Luke interviewed his mother, and got the goods, and his version of Christmas morning is largely accurate.  If so, lucky us, historically speaking. 

(f) It is also possible that the Holy Spirit inspired Matthew or Luke to record events they lacked direct historical access to -- but that would not help Jonathan's argument, either. 

(g) The gospels were written by Christians within a larger community that would have shared numerous early accounts of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection, often from eyewitnesses who were still living.  (As Richard Bauckham argues in Jesus and the Eyewitnesses.) 

Skeptics often go after the Christmas story -- no doubt in part because of the latent Scrooge impulse that runs like the San Andreas fault just below the surface of Gnuistan.  Partly, too, they do so for the same reason that they say things like, "The gospels are a compilation of late stories that were tacked on after the fact, as Mark 16 and John 8 demonstrate," taking the exception as the rule, rather than recognizing how the contrast between such exceptions and the texts of the gospels as a whole demonstrates the general credibility of most gospel material. 

One can't blame an opponent for attacking what they perceive as weak points in one's defense.  But this tendency does, I think, reflect the overall strength of the gospels as historical narratives, including the key facts of Jesus' teaching, miraculous works, remarkable self-understanding, death, and his resurrection from the dead, by which he conquered death and brings "Joy to the World." 

I love the Christmas story.  The stable, ox and ass, shepherds and wise men, and of course star, make a beautiful scene of wider significance and deep symbolism.  The story of Herod is profound and politically significant.  As an historian, I can't prove that the first Christmas happened exactly as Luke and Matthew said, nor that it didn't.  Many of Jonathan's objections have been dealt with by Christian scholars.  In general, Luke seems exceptionally careful and accurate, so I think it would be foolish to dismiss his story too quickly.  And historian Paul Meier points out that there do seem to have been a few celestial events about the time of Jesus' birth that line up well with that account.

But that Jesus came to earth, and that he brings the world hope, is I think beyond reasonable doubt. 

And that is the essence of what we celebrate at Christmas.   That justifies the candy canes, the stars on the tree, the tree itself that evolved from the Germanic World Tree and the Rood on which the hero Jesus died, the gifts we give one another, and the songs we sing on this day, and over the weeks preceding it. 

Jonathan is a reasonably cheerful skeptic, and wishes his readers a "Merry Christmas Everyone" before saying "it didn't happen, though." 

Merry Christmas back at you.  And many happy returns.

In large part because it really did happen. 

And humanity has never been the same since.

31 comments:

Jonathan MS Pearce said...

David

Of course, the whole post runs up a cumulative case against the historicity of the accounts, which is played out in my book.

The fact is, your defence, for want of a better word, is merely a series of coulds and maybes, which already cedes a lower than 50% probability.

We know almost nothing about the provenance of the Gospel accounts. Three of them fail to include the most incredible claims of Jesus' birth: a baby-killing KING of the country chasing the family into Egypt, the family coming out of Egypt to fulfill a prophecy which makes him Messianic, important gentiles coming from abroad to worship the Messiah and then never being heard from again, a celestial site in the skies which is greater than any other in observed cosmological history and so on.

Now you can claim 'well it could be this' but if this was the evidence presented to you for an equally outrageous claim from another religion, you would rightly dismiss it.

Take Raymond Brown, for example. An eminent scholar concluding the same as me. I even have it on good faith that William Lane Craig thinks the accounts historically unreliable, only believing them as a result of his Christian faith.

You have to deal with probabilities here. Is the evidence provided better explained by a hypothesis that the accounts are historically reliable or by the theory that they are not? I think the answer is painfully obvious.

And to suggest that there are cosmological answers is woeful. They have all been easily refuted, the most recent being Frank Tipler's hypernova nonsense.

The language you have used in this post clearly overstates your confidence. You cannot, in frank terms, be confident of the historicity of the accounts. I have just done a radio debate with Randal Rauser on this very issue, and he even refuses to debate all the claims that are verifiable, only falling back on 1) virgin birth 2) Bethlehem birth 3) Mary and Joseph as parents!!!

No, you have to do better than this.

Merry Christmas, though.

David B Marshall said...

Jonathan: The armies of Gondor made their stand at Minas Tirith, temporarily abandoning Osgiliath. Having defeated Sauron's troops there, they easily regained Osgiliath.

If miracles happen, especially if the resurrection happened (which speaking of Tolkien, he called the "eucatastrophe" of human history, the birth narratives are just a mopping-up exercise.

If you didn't notice, I included Craig's position above.

I'd be happy to trade you books on the gospels, if you were closer, and postage weren't so pricy. I summarized my own argument for the historicity of the gospels again in a book Randal also contributed to, that just came out, called Faith Seeking Understanding.

Crude said...

And to suggest that there are cosmological answers is woeful. They have all been easily refuted, the most recent being Frank Tipler's hypernova nonsense.

Uh.

Frank Tipler's Omega Point speculation is not a "cosmological argument", nor have various cosmological arguments been refuted, much less "easily refuted".

David's reply here seems entirely adequate, and the 'it's lower than 50%' is a claim pulled out of thin air. In the end, you're going to have to do more to respond to Marshall's points if you want to advance your case - because leaving it as it stands and merely insisting that you're right leaves you blown out of the water.

Derek said...

"So let us look at the claims of the (only two) Gospels which actually mention the birth of Jesus. Which is itself a problem, worse than if only two biographies of Abraham Lincoln actually mentioned his assassination!"

Stupid. Comparing ancient biographies to modern ones. Just stupid.

From his post:

"Believe that, despite archaeological evidence,Nazarethexisted as a proper settlement at the time of Jesus’ birth."

Jason Engwer at Triablogue has done lots of posting noting scholarly trends in analyzing the birth narratives. His material addresses most, if not all, of these "problems."

http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2012/11/christmas-apologetics.html

JP Holding answers recent, amateurish assaults on Nazareth:

http://www.tektonics.org/jesusexist/nazex.html

Merry Christmas David and Crude!

Loren said...

To me, the accounts of Jesus Christ's birth are fairy tales, and I see no reason to yell that they are the only true fairy tales out of similar ones, to yell that until one loses one's voice.

Lord Raglan had analyzed numerous biographies of legendary heroes, finding an interesting "average" biography, and Alan Dundes had found that Jesus Christ had fit that average very well.

King Herod vs. JC is like Pharaoh vs. Moses, King Kamsa vs. Krishna, King Amulius vs. Romulus, King Laius vs. Oedipus, King Acrisius vs. Perseus, Pelias vs. Jason, Tantalus vs. Pelops, Hera vs. Hercules, Hera vs. Dionysus, Hera vs. Apollo, Kronos vs. Zeus, the Roman Senate vs. Augustus Caesar, and Lord Voldemort vs. Harry Potter. The Buddha's father did not try to kill him, but instead tried to keep him from becoming a great religious leader.

Why hasn't this happened in modern times? Like fundies plotting against the baby Charles Darwin, plantation owners againt the baby Abe Lincoln, Jews against the baby Adolf Hitler, psychiatrists against the baby L. Ron Hubbard, or oil-company executives against the baby Muammar Khadafy.

Lord Raglan had not gotten into prophecy fulfillment, but JC was far from alone, having such distinguished company as Krishna, the Buddha, Zeus, Oedipus, Perseus, Romulus, King Arthur, Alexander the Great, Augustus Caesar, Anakin Skywalker, and Harry Potter.

David B Marshall said...

You've completely missed the point of the OP -- as completely missed it as one could miss it with the most deliberate intent. (Did you read it?) See also my response to Jonathan.

Even on its own (irrelevant) terms, this one is the Reductio Ab Absurdam of such arguments:

"The Buddha's father did not try to kill him, but instead tried to keep him from becoming a great religious leader."

Yes. And Jesus' father did not try to kill him, a known tyrant did, to keep him from becoming what Buddha's father wanted his son to be -- a political leader. But both stories DO have in common, the fact that both countries had political leaders at the time of the great man's birth! What a coincidence!

We know Santa Claus is a fantasy, because birth narratives state that he was born into a country that had political rulers, too. Oh, wait! There are no birth narratives for Santa Claus. But it all fits into some sort of pattern, somehow.

Loren said...

That's splitting hairs. The specific family relation does not matter. Let's see who on the list:

King Herod vs. Jesus Christ -- unrelated
Pharaoh vs. Moses -- unrelated
King Kamsa vs. Krishna -- mother's brother
King Amulius vs. Romulus -- mother's father's brother
King Laius vs. Oedipus -- father
King Acrisius vs. Perseus -- mother's father
Pelias vs. Jason -- father's half-brother
Tantalus vs. Pelops -- father
Hera vs. Hercules -- father's wife
Hera vs. Dionysus -- father's wife
Hera vs. Apollo -- father's wife
Kronos vs. Zeus -- father
The Roman Senate vs. Augustus Caesar -- unrelated
Lord Voldemort vs. Harry Potter -- unrelated

David B Marshall said...

Is there a point in here, somewhere? You were the one to bring up the father-son relationship; I'm straining to find some coherent point in your seemingly random list of stories.

David B Marshall said...

I suggest you re-read (read?) the OP, and start over again, from the top.

Derek said...

Sigh. Raglan? Really?

http://www.tektonics.org/copycat/raglan.html

David Marshall said...

Thanks, Derek. That's a good little article. I'm glad to see he begins with the concept of praeparatio evangelica.

I hesitate, though, to answer objections to arguments skeptics only imagine I have made. Maybe that's vanity on my part. I guess Loren didn't want to explain what his argument was, anyway.


Jonathan MS Pearce said...

Crude

You need to get more up to date. Tipler released a paper claiming the star to have been a Type 2a supernova or similar. Lots of apologists use it. It is bunk.

Name me one stellar theory that holds. One.

Bearing in mind this:

Stars rotate (well, the earth does). Thus the star would have to overcome this so the magi didn't go in circles.

The magi followed the star, but manage to lose it for a day so they can get sidetracked to Jerusalem to allow Herod to enter the story - a clear mechanism.

The star then goes a different direction to Bethlehem (from Jerusalem) to SETTLE OVER A HOUSE!!!!!!

Name me one star in the history of cosmology that has been able to pinpoint a house in a town. These are billions of light years away.

These are just some of the basic issues. The whole concept is fundamentally flawed. Add this together with the fact that, in the most astronomically literate time, and given contemporary records, not one other human being on the planet seems to have noticed this, or done anything about it. Even Herod was unable to follow it.

anyone who would believe such poor theories has to be someone who REALLY WANTS to believe. Really. To the point of ditching rationality.

On Tipler, my blog contributor:
http://secularoutpost.infidels.org/2012/12/the-loftus-torley-exchange.html

Check out Adair's own site for other various refutations of the star theses.

Jonathan MS Pearce said...

Matthew clearly midrashically retells Moses and the Pharaoh, as well as Balaam and Daniel (magi).

Jonathan MS Pearce said...

Stupid. Comparing ancient biographies to modern ones. Just stupid.

Funny this. If you were reading in context, this was an analogy that apologist Randal Rauser brought up in my debate with him. I was using this back on him. He, as an apologist, was using historical biographies of Lincoln to analogise certain points.

From his post:

Jason Engwer at Triablogue has done lots of posting noting scholarly trends in analyzing the birth narratives. His material addresses most, if not all, of these "problems."

this is quoted from my book, and I give an agnostic approach to the thesis. i am not swayed particularly either way. The theist still must overcome any objections, and if that is easy, so be it. But this is a cumulative case. As I have said elsewhere, what was more interesting was the Catholic church's admission, on finding a house from the 'Jesus era', that this was the first evidence ever found for contemporary Nazareth. They then failed to publish their findings, and concreted over the house and built the Mary Center, so that no one could ever verify their claims. Now THAT'S interesting.

So basically, you concentrate on the myth of Nazareth thesis, which I already conceded agnosticism on. And the other points?

Incidentally, Derek, I have written a post just for you!

http://skepticink.com/tippling/2012/12/28/how-do-you-solve-a-problem-like-herod/

Jonathan MS Pearce said...

David

I don't understand your point RE Tolkien. It looks like you are missing the end of your sentence (if.. if..., then nothing)

David Marshall said...

I was being a little elliptical, admittedly.

I mean that if miracles happen, and if Jesus did miracles and rose from the dead, the birth narratives are no big deal, either way. They would also make it more probable that God revealed "what really happened" to Luke, or that otherwise unexpected events (angels singing in the sky) could actually happen. So I prefer to fight the battle where the battle is actually determined.

As for your point about following the star, that seems a pretty wooden reading, to me.

If you're going to respond to something on this post, why not name names, and link, as I did? That's kind of the norm, unless you really have it in for the person you're citing, which I don't have any reason to think you do.

Jonathan MS Pearce said...

If you're going to respond to something on this post, why not name names, and link, as I did? That's kind of the norm, unless you really have it in for the person you're citing,

What do you mean, David? I'm not with you there...

What do you mean by wooden? Every single naturalistic explanation for the star has been debunked. And so they should - a naturalistic reading is not only impossible and silly, but totally unnecessary. In a story that is rammed with miracles, why try to shoehorn in a naturalistic explanation???? There is no woodeness here - it simply CANNOT work naturalistically. What natural astronomical phenomenon can guide at least 3 people from separate destinations hundreds of miles at least, over a long period of time, to Jerusalem and then sideways to Bethlehem and can then, from billions of light years away, indicate a single house? And no one else sees (reports) this star in a very astronomically literate period (we have contemporary records from the east).

And this reading is wooden? Come on David? I am actually being truer to the story in thinking it is clearly a miracle!!!

David B Marshall said...

Jonathan: It's no big deal, but I noticed you responded to Derek without naming him or your source (this blog).

You assume Matthew meant the star was actually moving. Have you never heard expressions like, "The sun was rising over the hill?" I just don't think you're given Matthew enough room to be idiomatic.

Where do you find the separate origins of the wise men in the text? That's not just wooden, that's reading things in.

And need "star" (asteros) refer to precisely what we in 2012 call by the English word "star?" I know in Chinese, the word was more flexible. No doubt any bright object in the sky would have been signified that way.

I've already explained why the historical accuracy of Matthew's story is not a huge deal to me. But apparently what you mean by being "true to the story" may indeed be part of what I mean by being "wooden" in reading it.

Jonathan MS Pearce said...

Jonathan: It's no big deal, but I noticed you responded to Derek without naming him or your source (this blog).

Sure, but then I only posted that here, so thought it would be obvious - did you think I had posted it on mine, too? I was literally talking to Derek.

The star not moving? How does that lead people on? That would be fixed on the horizon, or above. Go out tonight. Look at such a star. Moving would not make it closer. Moving hundreds of miles over weeks would not lead you anywhere by that star.

No naturalistic bright object in the sky could do what Matthew asks of it.

Aaron Adair said...

Yeah, the Star is said to move and hang over a particular house. That is how it has been interpreted for centuries and no one said otherwise until miracles became uncouth. See my paper on the subject:

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-9744.2011.01237.x/abstract

It's free to access, but that will change soon.

David Marshall said...

Aaron: Miracles aren't "uncouth." The most popular Christian intellectual of the 20th Century wrote a whole book on them, and seemed to see a few happen, too. So also say hundreds of people I have personally met.

The issues here are historical evidence for a particular celestial event 2000 years ago, what a particular writer meant, and how to reasonably and charitably interpret a few words in the preface to his gospel. How that story was interpretted later, is irrelevant -- whatever your paper may say about that, or whether you intend to go on letting people read it or not. None of that is the issue here.

Jonathan: Astrology was an accepted "science" in those days. Even Kepler moonlighted as an astrologer. Given that celestial events were interpretted as having meaning, of course a star can lead people without moving. And of course stars do appear to move, both because of the earth's rotation, and because one is traveling over complex geography that offers new vistas and angles as one moves.

It is fairly easy to understand verse 9 that way, when you consider that Bethlehem was only about 3 miles from Jerusalem. Or, of course, Matthew may have mispoken in some detail, or garbled the whole story. I know you wrote a book on this subject, and I can't blame you for hoping it will sell well and influence what people think. But I'm still striving to understand why you focus so much resource on a particular interpretation of Matthew 1:9.

Aaron Adair said...

You decided not to read my paper and see that all (!) modern scholars agree on the interpretation along with all (!) the ancient testimonies, yet claim your interpretation based on nothing (you also get the Greek for star wrong) is supposed to be taken seriously? Also, you misread me. The paper explains how in the early 19th century apologists tried to make all the miracles in the Bible naturalistic. They were effectively deists.

It's also interesting you mention Kepler. Even he said the Star was miraculous. Again, you will see that in my paper.

David Marshall said...

Aaron: I read the verse in Greek, checked my Greek thesaurus, and transcribed the form I found there. Here's the verse:

οἱ δὲ ἀκούσαντες το βασιλέως ἐπορεύθησαν, καὶ ἰδοὺ ὁ ἀστὴρ ὃν εˆδον ἐν τn ἀνατολn προηγεν
αὐτοὺς ἕως ἐλθὼν ἐστάθη ἐπάνω οv ^ν τὸ παιδίον.

ΟΚ, αστηρ not αστηροs.

I appreciate your contributing your perspective, and am looking at your article. But you have to understand that this is my blog, and the topic here, and what I am therefore inclined to defend, is determined by the lead post. The history of interpretation of Matthew 2:9 is not at all the subject of this thread.

You pop in here, and you're very welcome, and post on a subject that is not exactly the one under discussion. Since you seem to fail to so much as refer to the actual topic of this thread, yes that does disabuse me of any strong obligation to read texts in support of a point of marginal relevance.

How 19th Century apologists interpretted the verse, or even Kepler, is of even less relevance. But it appears, from skimmming your article, that what you say about it above rather simplifies your own conclusions. You admit Origen did look for a naturalistic explanation. You admit Kepler read the general celestial phenomena as a combination of natural and supernatural.

But none of that is really relevant to my main points.

David Marshall said...

It's an impressive paper, with lots of citations. But you have a marked fondness for liberal and anti-Christian scholars (Price? Spong? Funk?, etc, etc). This makes your summary of "what modern scholars believe" less convincing than a broader set of citations would, I think.

Aaron Adair said...

Your reply us rather odd. The topic is the historicity of the nativity story, which includes the Star, and you want to say a naturalistic version of the Star is possible. Saying what I brought up, which you and Jon are arguing in the comments before I included my onion, is strange to say the least. I'm showing that your position has no standing as a plausible interpretation given the ancient testimonies and modern concensus.

You also misread what I provided. I did NOT say Origin looked to naturalistic versions of the Star, but denied it. He said the Star came down like the dove at Jesus's Baptism. And I provided a large swath of scholars in agreement against a naturalistic Star, including Allison, Brown, France, Dunn, Davies, Powell, and more. I cited scholars across the spectrum. And later I showed the only a few apologists argue for the position, and it hasn't been argued in the journals by professionals for a half-century.

Nonetheless, the point is that the wide concensus of readers for 2000 years is that Matthew describes a supernatural Star. That makes it disingenuous to say "it's possible" without argument.

David B Marshall said...

No, the topic is the historicity of "Christmas." I explain what that means in the OP -- it does NOT mean how Bishop Spong interprets Matthew 2:9. It does not even mean how I interpret Matthew 2:9.

I am following the flow of Jonathan's response, which also mostly just avoids the actual points in the OP; but I don't want to allow that flow to be normative.

Your article does not seem to prove, in any case, that a -- I don't want to say "naturalistic," which is a questionable way to put it -- an astronomically verifiable interpretation of the star, or some part of the experience of the wise men, is implausible. In fact, you point out there are many such possibilities.

A "large swath of scholars?" Here is your paragraph on the subject:

"Little suggests a consensus is likely to emerge in the near future among the scientists that explore this issue, while biblical scholars either ignore this area of inquiry or do not accept the results while make passing and dismissive remarks about Star scholarship (cf. Brown [1977] 1993, 610–13; Beare 1981, 75, 80; Davies and Allison 1988–1997, 1:246–7; Luz 1989, 132; Allison 1993; Funk 1998, 508; Freed 2001, 92; Dunn 2003, 343–4; Holtmann 2005, 13,153; Nolland 2005, 109–16; Borg and Crossan 2007, 182; France 2007, 68–69, 74; Ehrman 2009, 32). As one scholar puts it, “The leading of this star is so obvious that it requires no scholarly interpretation. It points out the exact house where Jesus has been born. As a sign, it appears to function as a divine portent so blatant that any fool could follow it” (Powell 2000, 11). Another says, “If the apologists are right [about the Star], the Bible is wrong” (Price and Lowder 2005, 13). More notably, “No recognized New Testament scholar, Catholic or Protestant, would today seriously defend the historicity of these narratives” (Spong 1992, 44–45).

Of the three quotations you give, I recognize the authors of two of them -- Lowder and Price, both atheists I believe, and Price rather fringy, and Spong, a cofounder of the Jesus Seminar, and a vitriolic critic of orthodox Christianity.

Of the others I have read, Davies, Allison, Funk, Borg, Crossan, and Ehrman (along with the three already mentioned) are very much on the liberal side of things. Brown, France, and Dunn might be characterized as moderate. So my comment seems to stand, unless the five I don't recognize are all staunch conservatives -- and that would only tip the scale part of the way.

Aaron Adair said...

It amazes me that you find excuse to think that the consensus of scholars is not against a naturalistic reading of Matt 2, yet you provide no argument to its plausibility. You also seem odd in calling RT France moderate; he thinks the nativity stories are historically reliable, including things like the Slaughter and the birth in Bethlehem. But if you want another conservative, Bill Craig finds the naturalistic Star untenable:
http://www.reasonablefaith.org/the-challenge-of-history-an-interview-with-william-lane-craig

Read towards the end for the Star and Magi.

I also show that all pre-moderns read the story as miraculous. Is St. Augustine not conservative enough for you?

And again, this is all to the point that you have provided no argument to substantiate your claim about how the text could be construed. And as my article shows, the only people that have proposed naturalistic versions of the Star in recent years are not Bible scholars; they can't even read Greek nor do they publish in biblical studies journals. And they wildly disagree with each other. Do you really want to cast your lot with those that simply don't know the subject against 2000 years of scholarship?

David B Marshall said...

I think you're amazing yourself, there. I didn't say that. The claim about where consensus lies is yours, as is fitting, since you did the research on that. My only point is not that you are wrong, but that a more even representation of the scholarship would make your argument stronger. Do you really wish to claim that quoting Price and Spong is the ideal way to convince those who believe in a astronomically-verifiable event?

Craig certainly is conservative, and I'll give you France, whom you actually did cite (but not quote).

Neither the term "conservative" nor "liberal" fits St. Augustine, in my opinion. He tended to think outside the box, including our boxes.

You seem to be arguing under some odd pretenses. I have tried several times in this thread, beginning in the OP, to make it clear that I am not arguing for ANY particular interpretation of Matthew 2:9. To tell you the truth, I find this kind of argument by anyone strangely myopic.

I just wrote the rough draft of my own first biography. Imagine if, 2000 years hence, hundreds of scholars chose to debate my account of an earthquake I relate in that biography, that took place in 1949, 63 years ago. Suppose they focused on one particular verb and an adjective I used, that made it sound as if a certain building was a certain shape, but was later shown by archeology to be a rather different shape. Suppose they used that as grounds to reject my entire account as ahistorical.

I think this might make me even more curious about the shape of the scholars's minds, than about the shape of the building.

What happened in the sky some 2017 years ago is interesting for obvious reasons. I do think astronomers may have something to say about that. Paul Maier, professor of Ancient History at Western Michigan University, seems to think their views worth considering, too, and spends a whole chapter on the subject in his In the Fullness of Time. I really don't care if you can find a few conservative scholars, and a whole bunch of liberal scholars, who dismiss the idea out of hand. Consensus means something when the historical facts are accessible: here they are obviously not, as I pointed out some time ago, in several different ways, none of which seem to have gotten through to you.

Aaron Adair said...

You seem to continue to think that the wording in the Star story is rather ambiguous, but again you cite no evidence for this. And if it were so, you would think that it would be argued by other scholars that know the material and get that published in peer-reviewed journals. But that doesn't happen, but you dismiss centuries of people saying the same as me. And out of hand while claiming all the scholars I cite dismiss the astronomical Star out of hand, though you haven't read them or even know them.

And what is Maier's argument for a different reading? The standard reading makes the story sound ridiculous. Does he show the words mean something else? Does he publish this in the journals? Does he also apply this reasoning to the Resurrection or Virgin Birth? No, he rests on assertion he cannot substantiate amongst his peers. But if the reading he is against is do ridiculous, why was it the one preferred by Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Kepler (astronomer), Brahe (astronomer), and Bill Craig?

The problem Maier has is that a naturalistic version of the Star is easier to defend than a miraculous one. But the language of the Evangelist doesn't allow for such a reading that stands to scrutiny. As for the historical facts, we have the facts of what Matthew said and what exists in the skies, but we can see nothing natural fits the description, minus a UFO. What facts could we have that would change this?

Loren said...

David Marshall, do you think that one has to know Arabic to reject the Koran?

As to the the "star" of Bethlehem, I will concede that one must use the premodern meaning of "star", which was any small-looking seemingly-glowing celestial object. But for all we know, that "star" could have been an extraterrestrial spaceship with floodlights. Don't laugh. If you've ever seen a distant airplane at night, you'd call it a "star" by the premodern definition.

David B Marshall said...

I only know a few words of Arabic, and I reject the Koran as a divine oracle. So the answer to that question is "no."

Yes, the "star of Bethlehem" could have been all sorts of things. I really don't know what it was, or where Matthew got his story. There seem to be some interesting possibilities, though.