Thursday, July 16, 2015

How Matthew Ferguson Helps Prove the Gospels

I maintain that one of the best reasons to read radical skeptics like Richard Carrier, or even mainstream skeptics like Bart Ehrman, Elaine Pagels or the Jesus Seminar, is for the service they provide in trying, with increasing desperation, to locate some parallel, any parallel, to the life, teachings, and person of Jesus, as manifest in the gospels.  If Jesus were "just a normal Messiah," or pure fiction, as some maintain, finding real parallels ought to be a piece of cake.  So why do they wind up tossing out such ridiculous analogies as Apollonius of Tyana, Honi the Circle Drawer, the Iliad, or even Buddha?

Matthew  Ferguson
Matthew Ferguson
If even the best-educated and most relentless skeptics, scouring the ancient world for parallels to the gospels, can't find anything more like a genuine gospel than, say, the "Gospel of Thomas," the "Life of Hercules," "Golden Ass," "Life of Tobit," or Apollonius, that old standby, then skepticism is in deep trouble.  As Jesus put it, if you only have ten thousand troops, you should think long and hard about fighting an enemy who attacks with twice your number.  Given the actual character of the gospels and the remarkable Person they reveal, skeptics should think about making peace with God.

The unique character of the gospels is the theme of two of my books so far, a chapter in Faith Seeking Understanding, and many posts here. 

But the endless search for the grail continues.

Recently, someone asked my opinion about an on-line article by a young Classics scholar named Matthew Ferguson, which claimed that the gospels are a lot like several kinds ancient fiction.

Ferguson's original point, that the gospels are not "ancient historical writing," does not seem of great importance, since no one I know of claims they are.  The comparison that has persuaded many scholars, rather, is to ancient Greek biography.  (Especially Richard Burridge's influential work arguing that the gospels are essentially Greek biographies.)  What is more interesting to me are the fictional parallels Ferguson claims to find to the gospel.  So I will abbreviate some of his original arguments. See the link in the previous paragraph for the full, long original.  (Also for my initial response, somewhat hasty in tone as well as content, and Ferguson's nastier and hastier response.  I included those in my original post, but they don't really add much, so we'll get to the point more quickly.)  

So what is the plan here?

(1) I'll begin below by responding briefly to Ferguson's personal criticism. (Hope the polemics in this part are not too distracting -- but Ferguson has made some harsh accusations, and I should set the record straight.  Feel free to skip this section, if you like.)

(2) Then I'll show why Ferguson's critique of the gospels fails.  This, with Part III, will constitute the bulk of this post.  I''ll go through each of Ferguson's ten points, and show why none of them is a good reason to dismiss the historicity of the gospels.

(3) I'll linger over The Contest of Homer and Hesiod, showing why this work is light-years away from the gospels in qualities that make for historicity.  (I'll just offer brief analysis of Ferguson's argument that the gospels resemble hagiography, dealing with that in more depth later -- most good things must come to an end, eventually.) 

(4) Finally I'll explain why I think Ferguson's attacks on the gospels actually help to show why they are, in fact, credible, historically.

I.  Response to Ferguson's personal accusations

You're not exactly taking the high road here, Matthew.  Yes, I mistook two on-line critics of Christianity who both call themselves "Celsus."  I then sincerely apologized.  You mentioned some pressing financial need, and I offered to help a bit, in part as apology, in part because the need seemed genuine -- though I was not in good financial straights at the time, myself. 

Rather than showing a little class when someone apologizes and offers help, now you actually turn that offer around and accuse me of "trying to cover up" my error in some way, by offering to contribute to your needs!  

How?  Did I ask you not to mention that error again?  Did I even delete the post in which I made it?  On the contrary, it's still on display above: follow the link.  I do make mistakes from time to time: that was perhaps the most embarrassing in this blog to date, but I'm not trying pretend to be infallible.

To not just refuse an offer of help, but to slap it down then accuse the person offering of trying to shut you up (somehow) is grossly uncharitable, at best, and suggests something a little worrisome about the way you deal with opposition. 

You accuse me of "polemic."  In fact, while my initial response was neither particularly elevated in tone or deep in substance (I was rushing for an airplane), your response was not only deeply polemical and a bit nasty, it displayed a fundamental lack of intellectual openness.  

The point of mentioning the Equipped article, of course, was to point to a detailed criticism of the Apollonius analogy, not to brag, as you pretend.  They asked for an article, and I gave them one.  I see no reason to apologize for that.  But I would apologize for such childish antics as you are now engaging in. 

I was responding, in response to another request, to THIS post of yours.  Of course when asked to do so, I didn't take the time to read all your other posts first.  Neither do I demand that of people who post on my blog.  That's an unreasonable demand.  You made comparisons in that post that were bogus: I respond to them there. 

Throwing your work experience around is no answer to my challenges.  Yes, Lewis was an expert in ancient Greek and Latin literature, far above your or my pay grades, and a great expert in literary genre.  He bathed in Greek and Latin literature like a dolphin bathes in the sea, for almost five decades.  He wrote a long and masterful volume on the history of English Literature, among other important contributions to literary history and analysis.  So if we're going to do Appeals to Authority, as you offer throughout your piece, he is a substantive figure, and your attempts to dismiss his observations are unreasonable. 

And as I will show in this and later essays, Lewis was right when he said "none of them," no ancient novel, no hagiography, is like the Gospel of John, or any canonical gospel, really.  Worse yet may be your comparison of the Contest of Homer and Hesiod, which I will analyze below. 

You seem to think my mentioning Richard Carrier had something to do with the fact that we debated a couple years ago.  On the contrary, I've been refuting his arguments, on-line and in-print, for years.  One of the reasons I was happy he agreed to debate, was because I wanted him to take on-record positions on certain topics, especially claimed parallels to the gospels, which I desired to analyze later on, in more depth.  So it should come as no surprise that I am now doing as I had planned before we debated: from the get-go, I saw that debate as just one step in a longer journey. 

Yes, Carrier did better than I on stage, rhetorically.  It was my first auditoreum debate: I made some rookie mistakes, and time was short.  But he didn't touch my positive claims.  And his claims about parallels to the gospels not only fail, but actually help show why the gospels have been found credible by serious-minded readers from Augustine to Pascal to M. Scott Peck and NT Wright:

Carrier claimed the ancient fictional works he cited share "every characteristic" with the gospels.  This was, and is, absurd, and easily falsified by simply reading the relevant texts with eyes that are half-opened.  I show that some of those works share no more than three or so out of twenty-five historically-relevant characteristics, let alone the full set of 50 that I described in Why the Jesus Seminar can't find Jesus.  Yes, details do matter more than number.  That's why I will show that the details of your arguments about the gospels and ancient history are also mistaken in various ways, even though I have already explained that they are irrelevant.  

If the gospels don't belong to the formal genre of ancient Greek history, as no one I know says that they do, then to what genre do they belong?  Carrier says novels, and I have described numerous gross absurdities in that comparison.  You say hagiography: I will begin to analyze that parallel below, then go into more depth in a later essay.  

You also claimed the Contest of Homer and Hesiod is quite a bit like the gospels.  I appreciate the reference: I'd never read this work.  So I printed it out, and read it on my flight back to Seattle.   I found the alleged parallel rather amusing.  Isn't it time you gave up such hopeless ploys, and came to grips with the utterly unique gospels, as they actually are?  Or do you honestly not see how ridiculous such a comparison is?  I will begin to analyze it, below. 

As for Hector Avalos, he was angry because I shredded his claims in one of Loftus' books on Amazon.  He then changed the subject and attacked a few lines in my New Atheism book with gusto on Loftus' blog, but without so much as breathing a word of the trouncing he received on Amazon -- which shows that he recognized it as such.  And his response was nonsense, as I showed here  --- Avalos merely searched for some micro-detail to focus on, one out 20 of Emile Durkheim's sources, Durkheim being just one of many sources I cited on the widespread prehistoric recognition of God.  (See Win Corduan's recent In the Beginning, God, for a fuller exposition of this theme.) Avalos attacks a feather on a crow, and pretends he has defeated the army that crow was following.  So if I am "intellectually inferior" to Carrier (but read our written debates, and see if you can still say that with a straight face -- nor has he dared reply to my review of his "masterwork" yet, so far as I know), what does that make Avalos? 

But in fact, I don't speak in such dismissive terms of either gentleman -- and yet you accuse ME of polemic.  Both are intelligent, well-read men, just rather fanatical and badly mistaken.   

Then you end with this patronizing flourish:

"I also have a bad history with you, since you have been polemical, snarky, and hasty in dealing with me before.  As such, I am going to put you in ‘time out’ before you are allowed to respond again.  I’ll let you respond in two weeks (on July 20th).  Maybe you can actually take the time to read some of my writings in that interval.  Then again, I doubt that you will even read this comment, given what your track record has been in actually reading my replies to you before…"

I confuse two on-line, hard-core Christ-skeptics both calling themselves "Celsus," what three years ago? -- and apologize profusely for the mistake,even reaching out (in a small way) on a personal level.  Rather than show yourself generous in spirit, you throw that old mistake in my face, speak to me as if I were a child (I am older, better-credentialed, and have a stronger publication history than you, in no way limited to on-line journals, as you seem to think), and act as if trying to manfully defend your comments were just too much bother. 

You can censor my response if you like, as you threaten; I will post it at Christ the Tao.  Add the courage of intellectual conviction to the list of virtues you seem to be opting out on, here.

But you complain that I didn't offer a more detailed critique of your claims above (since I saw them as irrelevant, given that no one claim the gospels belong to the genre of history).  All right, then, let's analyze those (irrelevant) arguments now.  I'll try to render them more relevant by focusing not on what they show about genre, but on what these ten traits might indicate about historicity.  

II.  Ferguson: "Ancient Historical Writing Compared to the Gospels of the NT"


"As someone who studies ancient historical writing in the original Greek and Latin languages, it is clear to me that the Gospels are not historical writing. These texts instead read like ancient prose novels . . . the Gospels all fall short from the criteria that can be used to categorize a piece of historical prose." (note: here, as elsewhere below, emphasis is mine -- DM.)

Three points merit attention here.

First, note the adjective "historical" before the noun "prose."  "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.  

Second, Ferguson seems to assume that the primary prerequisite for textual analysis is language skill, or at least that reading Greek and Latin gives him an advantage in analyzing literary genre.  I do not think that is true.  All these texts have been translated, in some cases many times, by scholars who appear to know what they are doing.  Nothing of great importance seems to hang on the subtle variations in word usage that a linguist can pick up on.  So while I do read some Koine Greek, no doubt not nearly as well as Ferguson, what are most needed here are good reading skills, depth of experience in reading literature and history in many different cultures, some degree of psychological insight, solid critical thinking, and a few methodological skills and insights.  You'll see what I'm talking about as we go along.

The third point I want to mention here is that, in the line to which I have added emphasis above, Ferguson claims that the gospels "read like ancient prose novels."  Having just read almost all extant Greek novels (I got bogged down in the endless and boring Egyptian Tale, and have not yet attended to a few extant snippets), I say that is sheer poppycock.  There is, in fact, no extant Greek novel in the slightest bit like a gospel.  The differences are not only profound, dozens of those differences relate to the historicity of the texts, and show why we should vastly favor the gospels, if we're looking for historical truth, over any Greek novel.

But I've already demonstrated that to a certain extent in my analysis of Richard Carrier's claims about The Golden Ass, etc.  I'll include other extant novels in a fuller analysis in a forthcoming book.

Ferguson then introduces his ten (actually nine) criteria on which, allegedly, gospels diverge from ancient history in a manner demeaning to the gospels:

"So what are these criteria? The ways in which the Gospels diverge from and fall short of the historical writing of their time are perhaps too numerous to exhaustively treat here, but I will discuss TEN relevant areas of distinction that are helpful for understanding how historical writing is different.

1. Discussion of Methodology and Sources

"Ancient historical works at their beginning (or somewhere else within the body of the narrative) are often prefaced with statements from the author about the period they will be investigating, the methodology they will be using, and the types of sources they will be discussing [2]. None of the Gospels, with the exception of a very brief statement at the beginning of Luke, even come close to following this convention . . .

Notice that Ferguson merely says historical works are "often" prefaced with such statements.  Which is consistent with the possibility that they usually are not.  So the point, if it matters, is stated in too weak a form to support any important argument.  It is like saying, "States in the United States often begin with the letter 'M.'  But with the exception Manitoba, no Canadian province does."  So what?  The contrast thus evinced is imaginary, not real.  And even were it real, it would not be significant.  

The gospels were written far closer to the time in which their subject lived, than "many" historical works.  Furthermore, the Christian faith was persecuted and officially prescribed.  Works on much older historical figures like Alexander the Great required long explanations about sources, and it was safe to give them.  Richard Bauckham argues that the writers of the gospels also refer to their sources, though more cautiously, as is understandable under the circumstances.  So even if the gospels do not offer a methodological preface like that "some" ancient historical works offer, that is no reason to doubt their historicity. 

2. Internally Addressed and Analyzed Contradictions among Traditions

"Suetonius acknowledges that there is a contradiction, but as a historical author he instead engages in a rigorous analysis of the various forms of evidence, ranging from the works of previous historians, to inscriptions, to personal letters, to public records, in order to get to the bottom of the discrepancy. He discusses his sources and methods to give context to the conclusions that he has reached.

"Notice that this problem is addressed consciously within a narrative, rather than between narratives by two authors who give their own versions of events without any discussion of sources or method . . . The ways in which historical sources treat contradictions between traditions is very different from that of the Gospels, and we can see clear methodology in the former category and religiously motivated forms of narration in the latter."

Actually, the authors of the gospels do not tell us how they judged between sources.  We know that in fact, they did not accept everything from Mark without adjusting it.  And if, as they probably knew (and as Bauckham argues) Mark was based on the accounts of Peter, of course such a source would naturally be given priority.  Given, again, that the evangelists were "often" closer to the time when their subject lived than historians were, and wrote when many of the first eyewitnesses were still around and in potential danger, again, their failure to explicitly detail sources is neither surprising nor need it act as an impediment.

What is the phrase, "religiously motivated forms of narrative" supposed to mean?  Are we supposed to assume, for reasons unstated, that people who believe in God are less reliable than people who write to justify their choices (say, Josephus), their political stances, or just to entertain readers?  Or even that there is a "form" of narrative peculiar to "religious" writers?  (Whatever they may be?)

Like Number One this is, in short, an empty complaint.  Given that the gospels were early, and show many signs of historicity (as I have shown here and elsewhere before), a failure to name sources or offer detailed explanation of methodology is no barrier to historicity, if the gospels appear historical, as I and others argue. 

3. Authorial Presence in the Narrative

"Notice in the two examples above that both Dionysius and Suetonius have active roles in the narrative as historians who are interjecting to discuss their sources and relation to events. We learn details of how Dionysius traveled to Rome and learned Latin, and how Suetonius was acquainted with Augustus’ own letters. The Gospel authors are silent about their identities and give context about their relation neither to their sources nor to the events they contain. The Gospel narratives instead just read like novels, told from a camera-like perspective, that omnisciently follow around the characters with minimal methodological analysis . . . "

Here's this claim that the gospels resemble novels, again.  Now Ferguson doubles down with added emphasis: the gospels read "just like" novels. Bare this in mind when I analyze Carrier's more specific attempts at locating a parallel. 

Ironically, "active roles in the narrative" is in fact a good description of many ancient Greek novels.  They often begin by telling how the author came by the information he is relating.  The author was visiting Sidon on a layover, stopped to admire a painting, and a young man relates his painful story.  Seeing a beautiful picture on Lesbos, the author "searched out" an interpreter, who told him what happened.  Golden Ass also begins by explaining how the author met the young man who experienced the adventures related, and the two engaged in conversation.

So what Ferguson describes as a historical convention, is also a convention for ancient novels -- even though he claims that the gospels are like novels, because they lack that convention! 

Again, saying too much about themselves would have been neither a necessary nor perhaps wise move for early Christian gospel writers to make.  As Bauckham shows, authorship was probably understood, and is largely implicit.  But the evangelists did not need to follow the conventions of a genre different from their own, to be historically accurate.  As I have argued, a closer parallel to the gospels is the Analects of Confucius, which also consists of sayings and deeds of a great teacher, collected by disciples shortly after his death.  Who actually wrote and compiled the Analects?  No one knows.  Yet that book is considered a fairly accurate account of Confucius' life and teachings, especially the earlier chapters.  The differences between Analects and gospels, as I show in detail in Why the Jesus Seminar can't find Jesus, almost all tell for the gospels, against the Analects, even though that work is accepted as a largely true account of Confucius' life and teachings.

So this characteristic, again, tells us nothing at all about historical accuracy.  

4. Education Level of the Audience

"In order to fully evaluate and appreciate historical writing, one had to be educated, literate, trained in oratory, and skilled at critical thinking.  Authors writing to such an audience had to demonstrate their research ability, credentials, and methodology.  As scholar Pheme Perkins (Oxford Annotated Bible, pg. 1743) explains, “Greco-Roman biographies were addressed to a social and literary elite, which may explain why the Gospels, addressed to a much broader audience, do not match them very closely.”

"The Gospels, in contrast, are written for a far less educated and critical audience.  Far from the refined prose of Greek historical writing, the Gospels are written in the rudimentary Koine dialect.  For anyone who reads ancient Greek, the quality between a historian like Thucydides versus the authors of the Gospels is on par with comparing Shakespeare to Sesame Street (okay, maybe not that extreme, but you get the point).  Historical writing was simply far more complex and analytical, whereas the Gospels read as basic stories that were taught to encourage the faith of people who probably already believed and trusted in Christianity."

Tacitus' Agrippa was one of the works I compared to the gospels in Why the Jesus Seminar can't find Jesus.   I frankly find the sheer blindness the comments that the paragraph immediately above displays, astounding.

No one who compares, say, Tacitus to Shakespeare, and the gospels to Sesame Street, even facetiously, should speak in the same breath about being "skilled at critical thinking" or about the "literary elite."  Frankly,  anything such a commentator subsequently says should be dismissed, until he puts Sesame Street, and such childish and inane "witticisms" aside for a good long while.

By contrast, the National Review more credibly said that even Shakespeare was "shallow stuff" compared to Jesus.  At a minimum, it is arrogant and silly to suppose that the words which so inspired Augustine, Pascal, Tolstoy, Dickens, Chesterton, Lewis and Lin Yutang, are kindergarten stuff for a still somewhat beginning student of the Classics.

The gospels are written for both the elite (if they are humble) and for six-year old black girls from the Deep South who are just learning to read, like Rudy Bridges.  (From whom the Pulitzer-Prize winning Harvard psychologist Robert Coles learned so much, later calling his own career a "Return to the Sermon on the Mount.")  That is, I think, one of the most amazing qualities of their transcendent genius.  But as Jesus himself pointed out, those professing to be wise, often prove themselves fools.

Any such comparison as this, argues the immaturity of the commentator, not of the evangelists. Ferguson makes it clear, here, he doesn't have the faintest notion of what he's dealing with. 

5. Hagiography versus Biography

"Rather than read as the unmitigated praise of a saint who can do no wrong, ancient historical works and historical biographies were far more critical of their subjects, whom they analyzed less one-dimensionally and more as complete persons. Even for a popular and well-liked emperor like Augustus, his biographer Suetonius in his Life of Augustus still did not hold back from describing Augustus’ acts of adultery (69) and lavish behavior (70). Good historians are concerned with telling the past as it really is rather than just heaping praise upon individuals as propaganda."

"The Gospels, in contrast, are not historical biographies but hagiographies written in unquestioning praise of their messianic subject. . .

What is really startling, as M. Scott Peck noted, along with Lewis, is how utterly the gospels fail to resemble hagiographic literature -- even though some forms of hagiography in fact contained quite a bit of history (there is even "critical hagiography").  

To begin with, in fact, the gospels are full of realistic criticism of Jesus.  That criticism comes not from the authors of the gospels, but from Jesus' critics, true.  But if you think there's a good parallel in genuine hagiography or novels, let Ferguson or anyone else please do point to such a parallel: I'd love to analyze it in depth.  As I wrote in Why the Jesus Seminar can't find Jesus:

"Strong verbal attacks on Jesus are reported, sometimes without defense.  All four gospels contain nit-picking, suspicion, entrapment, barbed comments, and angry denunciations, directed by respectable citizens at Jesus.  He is accused of being a commoner, a sinner, a 'Samaritan and a demon,' of breaking Jewish law, the Sabbath in particular, not paying taxes, lack of education, blasphemy, insanity, and black magic."  (106)

This falsifies Ferguson's claim that the gospels "are not historical biographies but hagiographies written in unquestioning praise of their messianic subject."   In fact, the praise of Jesus is "questioned" from within the gospels in a wide variety of realistic and credible ways.

Then we open the hagiographies, and the absurdity of this comparison grows.

Scan a few of them.  Read Acts of Peter's account of Peter and the Talking Dog, or the flying contest over Rome, or Acts of John's account of how John ordered the bedbugs to march out of his room ("I say unto you, Oh bugs, behave yourselves one and all, and leave your abode for this night" then "Since ye have well behaved yourselves in hearkening to my rebuke, come unto your place"), then marched them back in the next morning.

There are miracles in the gospels, but little such silliness.  (The zombie saints being the sole apparent example, which is no doubt why Ferguson, like other skeptics, cites them so often.) 

To give another example, in hagiographies as in some Greek novels, the hero sometimes refuses to be taken down from the cross, or regards dying on the cross as nothing worth objecting to, compared to his love for his girlfriend, or for God.  Jesus, by contrast, sweats drops of blood, and prays that the Father remove the cup, but still dies.

I will analyze hagiographic literature in more detail later on, and show just how far short it falls in such a comparison.

It should also be noted that Christian hagiography was written after the New Testament was produced, and often cites the gospels and other verses in the NT.  Of course there was some influence, so one would expect some parallels.  So if you're trying to explain the gospels, or categorize them, it confuses matters to cite texts that appear after the gospels, and were deeply influenced by them.  It would be like saying, "Abraham Lincoln was a lot like William Shakespeare.  In fact, he often says the same words as Shakespeare, and mentions some of the same characters!  Doesn't that prove resemblance?"  No, it proves influence. 

Ferguson assumes from the fact that Jesus is never depicted in the gospels as committing great sins, as are the subjects of ancient biographies of people like Alexander the Great, that the gospels are hagiographies.

Another possibility is that Jesus was a better person than Alexander.  Maybe Jesus really didn't get drunk and kill friends, or have affairs.  But neither does he really much resemble the heroes of any extant hagiography, even those that copy from his life.  He is described not as the kind of too-cool-to-fret, super-spiritual hero one gets in Gnostic "gospels," who barely even touches the Earth.  He sweats, he cries in anguish and frustration, he seems to lose his temper, he hungers and gets thirsty, he tells his mother off, he gets angry with disciples.  Again, I'm open to seeing a really good parallel in "hagiography" if Ferguson can provide one (haven't found anything like such a parallel yet).  But I don't think he will, because I don't think any such parallel exists.     

6. Signposts about Authorial Speculation

"Even when they dutifully followed the sources available, ancient historians frequently did not know the exact words spoken by individuals in famous speeches or the exact order in which things had taken place in past events. In order to provide elegant rhetorical prose, however, creative liberties had to be taken on the part of the author to retell these dialogues as they plausibly could have taken place. This does not entail direct lying on the part of the author, since the speeches were written to represent plausible versions of the original and historians would often signal that the words were approximate. The historian Thucydides, for examples, prefaces in his History of the Peloponnesian War (1.22):
“That particular persons have spoken when they were about to enter into the war or when they were in it were hard for me to remember exactly, whether they were speeches which I have heard myself or have received at the second hand. But as any man seemed to me that knew what was nearest to the sum of the truth of all that had been uttered to speak most agreeably to the matter still in hand, so I have made it spoken here. But of the acts themselves done in the war, I thought not fit to write all that I heard from all authors nor such as I myself did but think to be true, but only those whereat I was myself present and those of which with all diligence I had made particular inquiry. And yet even of those things it was hard to know the certainty, because such as were present at every action spake not all after the same manner, but as they were affected to the parts or as they could remember.”
"We have no such honesty and signposts in the Gospels. The Gospels are not even written in the same Aramaic that Jesus spoke. The authors of Matthew and Luke may have had the diligence to copy certain saying from an earlier Q source, if it even existed, which is contested among scholars [4], but even then they do not signal that they are obtaining this material from a source nor do they specify how this source would be trustworthy. John is the least reliable of the Gospels, in which Jesus gives whole speeches in a prose style that is very different from the short, formulaic sayings and parables of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels. In short, the author of John probably made up a lot of Jesus’ sayings and yet did not signpost his speculation in the same way that a historian like Thucydides did."

Here is that weasel-word "often, "again.  Ferguson cites Thucydides' famous, and oft-cited, admission that he was guessing when it came to the speeches he cites.  But he does not cite any other ancient historians on this.  I have not read all the ancient historians, but don't recall such comments from others I have read.  Why are they not rebuked, then, along with the authors of the gospels? 

Jesus spoke the greatest words ever spoken.  He had disciples, who would have heard those words more than once, and been duty-bound to remember their master's teachings.  The gospels were written shortly after the events they record, arguably from accounts by people who were themselves present (Peter, John).  All these factors are far more impressive than Thucydides being up-front about making up some of his speeches, because it means the evangelists didn't much have to.

In this case, Ferguson does not even show that the alleged characteristic really does characterize historical works.  And even if it were a genuine difference, it would do nothing to impugn the first accounts of Jesus' life and teachings.  The Analects of Confucius is again a good analogy.  No one accuses Confucius' disciples of dishonesty, for trying to remember his words the best they could -- and Jesus' words were generally far more memorable.

7. Independence versus Interdependence

"One thing that amazes me as a Classicist is just how interdependent the Gospels are upon each other. Matthew borrows from much as 80% of Mark’s material, and Luke borrows from 65% of the material of the earliest gospel. While John does not follow the ipsissima verba of the Synoptics, the author is still aware of the same basic skeleton and is probably familiar with the earlier gospels (as shown by scholar Louis Ruprecht in This Tragic Gospel). In fact, I do not know of any other texts from antiquity that are more interdependent than the canonical Gospels. This is very bad for historical reliability, since independent attestation can be very helpful for verifying historical claims, and yet the Gospels all fail this criterion miserably.

"The same is not true for ancient historical works. Consider just the four most extensive sources that we have for the life of the emperor Tiberius . . .

"For the life of Tiberius we have a wide array of independent sources corroborating each other, whereas for Jesus we have sources that are all copying and redacting one another, not providing independent information or research, but repeating and adding to growing legends."

Yet another poor argument.  Mark is the shortest gospel, so even if you borrow most of it, that does not mean there is not a great deal of independent material in your own.  As there clearly is.  (Indeed, when skeptics aren't complaining about agreements, they complain about disagreements between the gospels.  Damned if you do, damned if you don't.)

What we really get, with the gospels, is agreement on pretty much all the main points, both teachings and events, and differences on details.  That's also the pattern one finds among true, but imperfect, eyewitness testimony, as skeptical prosecutor Vincent Burgliosi points out in his account of the Manson murders he prosecuted, Helter Skelter.

8. Miracles at the Fringe versus the Core of the Narrative

Ferguson goes on to admit that ancient historians also include tales of the supernatural, which he conflates with "unbelievable stories" (begging the question over whether materialism is in fact true or not, and also obscuring the vitally different character of gospel miracles, as I show Carrier does also):

"Simply because ancient historical authors conducted more rigorous research does not entail that they were skeptical of the supernatural. Unbelievable stories still crop up in the writings of Greek and Latin historians, ranging from Herodotus (8.36-41) claiming that, when the Persians attacked Delphi, its armaments came alive of their own accord and defended the temple (just like in the seventh Harry Potter movie!), to Josephus (BJ 6.5.3) claiming that a cow gave birth to a lamb as an impending sign of Jerusalem’s destruction, to Suetonius claiming (Gal. 1.1) that a single lightning bolt had, before Nero’s death, struck the Temple of the Caesars and simultaneously decapitated all of the emperors’ statues, even dashing the scepter from the hand of Augustus’ statue (that is one heck of a lightning bolt!). Of course, I do not believe such stories and their placement in these narratives does make me less trustful of their authors. But fortunately, for ancient historical authors, these ridiculous tall tales are usually at the fringe rather than the core of the narrative."

By contrast, the gospels:

". . . narrate unbelievable claim after unbelievable claim about a guy who can feed whole crowds with one tuna sandwich, cause dead saints to rise from their graves, himself resurrect from the dead, and then fly into space in broad daylight. These unbelievable tall tales make up the bulk of the narrative. As philosopher Stephen Law points out, following the principle of contamination, the frequency of these unbelievable stories cast doubt on even the mundane details in the narrative. It is not as if their genre is relatively historical, but merely peppered with a few miracles here and there. Rather, the Gospels are entirely fantastical and legendary. The Gospels are so contaminated by unbelievable claims that they should be treated as untrustworthy until there is good reason for believing specific details.

"Another thing that should be noted is that, while ancient historians occasionally report miracles, they often use specific grammatical constructions that distance themselves from affirming the stories and make clear that they are only reporting the claims . . . "

Steven Law, we have welcomed here before, to try to defend his arguments.  

Ferguson is simply begging the question about whether God acts in the world, then using prejudicial language to make the miracles in the gospels seem ridiculous. 

The ancient historians probably did not experience real miracles.  Not everyone does.  But the gospels are an account of God's consummating actions in human history, fulfilling promises He gave not only to the Jews, but I believe to other peoples as well. 

Obviously, the gospel stories are not "unbelievable," since many of us do, in fact, believe them.  What can be done, cannot be undoable: the very doing of it, proves it possible.  Yet I do not believe the "Harry Potter" portions of Herodotus, precisely because they do not sound nearly as credible as the miracles of Jesus.  Nor do they belong to an over-arching story of God's work in the world, and make sense in that larger context, as Jesus' acts of mercy and kindness do.

I believe in miracles in part, because those in the gospels really are not so ridiculous, but in general are sober and related in a highly realistic fashion.  I also believe because those kinds of miracles -- real miracles, distinct from Harry Potter -- seem to still happen.

9. Important Characters and Events Do Not Disappear from the Narrative

" . . . in the Gospels earth-shaking events take place that then receive no followup and strangely disappear once they have played their symbolic role in the narrative. Take the Gospel of Matthew, for example. Jesus’ death (27:52-53) causes an earthquake that opens the tombs of saints, from which dead people resurrect and then appear throughout Jerusalem. This is an extraordinary event, indeed, and yet there is no followup in the Gospels or Acts of how the city was affected by this. Then, Pontius Pilate is so worried that Jesus’ tomb will be found empty, lest people believe a miracle had occurred (as if all of the saints’ resurrections weren’t convincing enough), that he has guards stationed at the tomb. When the guards are foiled, however, and Jesus’ body is found missing, the Jewish authorities claim (28:11-15) that the disciples stole the body.

"Grave robbery was a capital offense in ancient Judea, and yet, there is no followup prosecution of the disciples for this charge, even when they are brought to court on other issues. Furthermore, what happened to Joseph of Arimathea? His tomb was the one that was supposed to remain occupied, and yet, when it is found empty, he is not even questioned on the matter. Pilate had gone to great lengths to ensure that Jesus’ body did not go missing, and yet, when Jesus is claimed to have risen, he does not even undergo an investigation into the circumstances.

This final argument is especially ironic.  In reality, it is in fiction that characters (the ones Ferguson names here are in fact not so important) almost never disappear, not in real life.  Characters seldom disappear in a Dickens novel, or even in ancient Greek novels.  You run into London lowlifes in Paris during climactic scenes, or treacherous Greek maids get their comeuppance by appearing suddenly, then dying just as suddenly, in Egypt, before the revengeful eyes of their former victims. 

But this sort of coincidence never happens in the gospels, and it is one (minor) reason I find them credible.

Who knows if Joseph of Arimathea was questioned?  It is not an important point in the narrative, and there is no reason it should have been pursued.  The rising saints in Matthew 27 are tangential to the story, and probably even to Matthew's thinking -- he has no doubt heard such a rumor -- but so central to the thought of skeptics, that Ferguson can't resist mentioning that little incident in two consecutive points.  This is how the mind of a person who is pursuing polemical, not historical, interests works.  

Ferguson then concludes:

" . . . Actual historical writing is not so abrupt, and reasonable consequences occur after events that are important to the sequence of the narrative."

But the gospels are obviously not novels at all.  That is Richard Carrier's whopper of a mistake, which I have detailed on this site before.  (And plan to detail even more in print before too long.) And Lewis was right, and Ferguson wrong: neither are they hagiographies. 

Sure, they are also different from ancient historical works: written for a broader audience, by people generally closer to the facts, who chose (probably wisely) to remain at least formally anonymous.  (Though readers probably knew who most were.)  But no one claims they belonged to the genre of history, anyway.  Of course they "must be placed in a different literary genre:" that genre is biography.  But Luke's second volume was a work of history, and darn good history, too, with more than 80 facts that he mentions already confirmed.

Ferguson's tenth "point" is not a point of comparison at all, really, just the statement that he doubts a lot in the ancient historians, too.  So he only has nine points by which to dismiss the gospels, and none of them is very persuasive.  And he has not even considered the great historical advantages that the gospels enjoy, such as those NT Wright discusses, or the dozens I discuss in Why the Jesus Seminar can't find Jesus

10. Even Good Historical Texts Should Not Always Be Trusted

"A final point, which is not so much a criterion of distinction, but rather a reason why even the lack of these difference would still not save the Gospels, is that not even the real historical works we have from antiquity should be taken at face value. Their authors still have their biases, they still speculate over past events, they had limited evidence afforded to them, and they still report a number of unbelievable claims . . .

"I certainly do not trust miracle claims, simply because a historical text records them. Many ancient historians report miracles that are far better attested and independently corroborated than those in the Gospels. The historians Tacitus (Ann. 6.20), Suetonius (Gal. 4), and Cassius Dio (64.1) all independently corroborate that the emperor Tiberius used his knowledge of astrology to predict the future emperor Galba’s reign. These same historians likewise independently corroborate that Vespasian could miraculously cure the blind and crippled (Tacitus Ann. 4.81; Suetonius Vesp. 7.2; Dio 65.8). As I explained above, Tacitus, Suetonius, and Dio are not simply copying each other, whereas the Gospels are heavily dependent upon each other for information. This does not entail that the Pagan miracles are true, but it does show that they were not invented by the historians and most likely derive from an earlier common source (I think that most of these stories go back to roughly contemporary claims about miracles when Galba and Vespasian became emperors, which I elaborate on further in my paper “The Propaganda of Accession of the Roman Emperor Galba”). In contrast, since the Gospels copy from each other, many of their miracles can very easily have no earlier source, and when one earlier gospel author invented a miracle, a later gospel could merely pass it along in telephone."

This is not, as Ferguson admits, a point of comparison between ancient history and the gospels, it is merely Ferguson's statement of personal incredulity at the supernatural in general, and some of what they report, in particular.

Skeptics of the Carrier sort often like to appeal to such stories precisely because they sound ridiculous.  They then make an implicit argument something like this (I make it explicit, to show how bad it is): (a) These stories are ridiculous.  (b) What makes them ridiculous is the supernatural element.  (c) Really they are a lot like the gospel miracle stories.  (d) Therefore the gospel stories are ridiculous, too.

If all that were true, nothing would be gained by citing those stories.  One could merely cite the ridiculous gospel stories, and their absurdity would be equally evident.  And on the rare occasion when the gospels relate what does indeed seem quite weird -- in particular, the story late in Matthew of the saints rising from the dead and wandering around Jerusalem -- one doesn't need to engage in such tricks to make the point.  What this really shows, then, is that the supernatural tales in Herodotus, etc, do not look at all like the sober and realistic reports that predominate in the gospels -- which is true.

As for Galba and Vespasian, C. S. Lewis noted that the latter parallel was current most of a hundred years ago.  Apparently skeptics are hard up for ancient miracle stories, as for serious fictional parallels to the gospels, that they keep repeating these few.  Lewis notes that if Vespasian (a decent ruler, as Roman emperors went) was allowed to heal someone by God's grace, then we'll have to live with that.  But nothing came of it, it solves no problems.  An isolated miracle like that is vastly less credible, a priori, than the miracles of Jesus, both because of Jesus' character, and because the life of Jesus is part of a larger salvation story, that we can see has transformed the world.

Nor were the two cures nearly as credible purely as historical accounts.  Bill Pratt explains:

A newly appointed emperor in a city taking sides in an imperial political contest needs a miracle as a stamp of divine approval.  Two men willingly come forward to provide the “miracle” needed.  They have nothing to lose and everything to gain.  Even the ancient Roman historian who reports this miracle doesn’t believe it, his account dripping with sarcasm and irony.  Are we to seriously believe that Vespasian’s “miracles” rival the resurrection of Jesus?  No truly objective person could possibly think so. 

The two men were only partly lame and blind, and had every incentive to pretend cures, as the crowd had to pretend to believe the emperor's powers.  Tacitus himself did not believe the story he was passing on, as David Hume credulously assumed.  As Tim McGrew points out:

At every point, the case of Vespasian differs critically from that of the resurrection. Indeed, from a Bayesian point of view, the wonder would be if, under the circumstances, some story of a miraculous demonstration in favor of Vespasian were not forthcoming. Given our background knowledge, the Bayes factor for the testimony is so close to 1 as to give us virtually no epistemic traction: the report was almost as strongly to be expected if the two men had been parties to the deceit as if they had genuinely been healed. It is absurd to suggest that the evidence for these miracles bears comparison with the evidence for the resurrection. 

Tacitus reports that Tiberius was in the habit of taking purported astrologers to the top of a building.  If he found their claims incredible, he had them thrown off into the sea.  But at one point, he told Galba (who was already consul in his mid-30s!) that "You, too, Galba, will some day have a taste of empire."  And he was emperor, decades later, for seven months.

Big deal.  Barack Obama thought he'd become president, when he still had almost no power at all.  Even if Tiberius did guess right about a young political superstar (and how many times did he guess wrong?), there is no need whatsoever to appeal to the supernatural to explain that (mildly lucky) guess.


"Ancient historical texts are some of my favorite works from antiquity for their sophisticated writing style, elaborate research, and intellectual rigor in investigating past events. I cannot say the same for the Gospels, although I do think they provide interesting symbolism and allegories as novels, and are also complex works of religious scripture. After analyzing the Gospels under the historiographical criteria that I discuss above, however, they must be placed in a different literary genre from the actual historical works of antiquity."

So for the third time, Ferguson compares the gospels to ancient novels.  Again, that is a comparison I have debunked briefly, and plan to debunk at greater length in the future.  But really all most people need to do is read the things, to recognize the absurdity. 

IV.  The Contest of Hesiod and Homer

Ferguson also compares the gospels in this article to an obscure ancient writing called The Contest of Hesiod and Homer.  He writes another article elsewhere that makes this comparison more explicit and detailed.  While he does not claim that the parallel is exact, he does claims the gospel are very much like that piece of fiction in many ways.

Great to see a fresh challenge!  The "restless fertility of bewilderment," as C. S. Lewis put it, as skeptics search for parallels to the historical gospels, bares fruit, once again!  Yet once more we get to see to what desperate measures the need to fill this gaping hole in the materialistic universe, drives denizens of that universe.

This post is long, and we don't need to look at all Ferguson's details, again.  It's much the same story as above.  Given two works, and the desire, and one can find numerous similarities and differences.  We have already seen that Ferguson is pretty good at finding historically--irrelevant points of comparison.  Thus the gospels and The Contest all use simpler language than that of Thucydides, they were influenced by earlier writings (as what book was not?, not even Rene Descartes escapes that charge!), and so forth, none of which is relevant to the historicity of the gospels.   

But what about characteristics that are relevant to whether the gospels report the truth or not?  Ferguson does mention one, and he thinks it favors The Contest of Hesiod and Homer over the gospels:

" . . . discussing contradictions among source material is a key feature of historical prose. In this way, the Certamen is actually being more historically responsible than the Gospels."

Well, I suppose.  It's pretty weak tea.  The "source material" here is already ancient, and the author makes it clear that he doesn't really believe that material -- as he ought not.  One would think those two facts MIGHT be relevant to historicity, too, and of much greater importance?  But Ferguson doesn't so much as mention it.  Which reminds us why good scholars should not just cherry-pick like this to make a pre-decided case, but should describe the characteristics of a set of literature first, and only then see what else resembles it.

That's what I did, in Why the Jesus Seminar can't find Jesus.  So now let's compare the gospels on 26 historically-relevant characteristics that I found were typical of the gospels.  I'll be brief.  In most cases, why a given trait supports the historicity of a text that contains it, is I think obvious. In others cases, I will explain that link more fully in my upcoming book.  

I. Setting 

(1) The gospels claim to be historical.  The Contest does not.  "Some say (Homer) was earlier than Hesiod, others that he was young and akin to him . . . According to one account they flourished at the same time and even had a contest of skill at Chalcis in Euboea."

Is that what Ferguson means by "discussing contradictions among source materials?"  Saying, "There's all kinds of stories out there, and here's one of them?"  The author does not even seem to think the story he is telling is true!  Good Lord -- and Ferguson lacks the intellectual honesty to point this out to his readers.

A story for which the author does not even claim historical accuracy, is exponentially less likely to be true, than a story for which historicity is claimed. 

(2)  The gospels were written within the plausible life-span of Jesus' first followers.  The Contest was written perhaps 400 years later. 

Again, this is not a minor difference.  How honest can a "scholar" be to compare the historicity of two sets of documents, and "forget" to mention that one was written within a generation of the passing of its subject, while the other was written SIX generations later?

These two facts make utter nonsense of Ferguson's comparison.  But let's go on.

(3) The gospels are ethnically distinctive and realistic.  This, too, is untrue of The Contest.  It is written entirely from within the perspective of Greek culture.  That does not undermine its claim to historicity (if it had one), but the ethnic realism of the gospels, though they are written in Greek, does support their historicity in a way that does not apply to The Contest.

(4) The gospels realistically describe the rural geography of their setting.  The author of The Contest seems to know his way around, though he gives fewer details.

(5) The gospels also realistically describe urban geographyThe Contest says little about this.

II. Stylistic and Literary Characteristics  

(6) Both the gospels and The Contest are stories.  I argue that stories are somewhat more likely to be remembered, than sayings or speeches.

(7) In the gospels, the voice of the subject is distinct from other characters.  Except where the two poets are being directly quoted, this does not seem true of The Contest.  Hesiod asks what is best in life.   "Homer" replies, "For men on earth tis better never to be born at all or being born, to pass through the gates of Hades with all speed."  The playwright Aeschylus says this sort of thing all the time -- it does not sound particularly like Homer to me.  So the tone of the speakers in The Contest provides little or no evidence of historicity, is seems.  

(8)  The gospels often offer concrete, realistic, non-essential details.  The Contest does not.

(9) Reactions to Jesus are credible, given events.  This is not so true of The Contest.  For instance, the Argives are so thrilled that Homer praised their skill in war in a few brief lines ("Argives with linen jerkins, very goads of war"), that they give him "costly gifts" and set up a statue to him.  This sort of reaction is a typical novelistic detail -- Jesus never gets statues.  Also, Hesiod's body is brought to land by dolphins, another novelistic motif. 

(10) Jesus offers surprising, non-platitudinous teachings.  Homer, on the other hand, says, "By scorning to get unclean gain and if the good were honored, but justice fell upon the unjust."  What did he ask of the gods?  "That he may be always at peace with himself continually."  What is best of all?  "A sound mind in a manly body, as I believe."  What is happiness?  "Death after a life of least pain and greatest pleasure."

Needless to say, it is rather unbelievable that so great a poet would be reduced to such bathic responses.  More relevantly, since anyone can write such muck, anyone may have -- there is no evidence of Homer's fingerprints here.

(11)  Jesus taught in distinctive parables.  Neither Homer nor Hesiod do, here, at least nothing original to this work, though there are a few good lines. 
(12) While Jesus is presented as noble, he is subject to harsh yet realistic criticism.  Nothing like this appears in The Contest. 

(13) Jesus makes use of poetic language, including hyperbole, but not formal poetry.  Homer and Hesiod don't say much, outside of their poems and a few rather empty philosophical banalities.  This makes perfect sense coming from a second-rate novelist: Jesus does not. 

III.  Character Development 

(14) In the gospels, you get to know a few disciples well, who act in fairly consistent manners.  (The same is true of Confucius' disciples in the Analects.)  This is not relevant to The Contest, since neither man is shown as having disciples. 

(15) People exit from the story in the gospels without any unrealistic reappearances.  There are not enough important characters, aside from the two heroes, to much apply this criteria in The Contest.  Also the heroes are traveling and don't return anywhere. 

(16)  Historically-familiar political figures appear on stage occasionally, and act consistently with their known personalities.  Two sons of Midas sponsor Homer, and two historical kings named Midas do appear to have lived --not, however, at the right times, or not with the right children.  King Paneides, who is said to have judged the contest, is hard to track down, outside of this story.

(17) The gospels are about ordinary people, not royalty or superheroes.  This trait is not very relevant to The Contest, since both protagonists have by this time been famous for centuries. But one theory offered is that Homer is the grandson of Odysseus, and Hesiod descended from the god Apollo.  No one else is very important, aside from a few kings, and Zeus who sinks Hesiod's boat.  (More rather dubious details left out by our young scholar.) 

IV. Social Gospel: 

(18) Jesus praises people on the margins, but never flatters them.  Neither Hesiod nor Homer so much as notice much anyone besides themselves.  .

(19) Jesus reads the powerful the riot act for their obduracy and injustice.  Nothing like that in The Contest.

(20) Jesus' teachings were Earth-shaking then, and remain Earth-shaking now.  Not so, perhaps surprisingly, the fresh teaching, or even most of the cited poetry of the two great ancient poets.  

(21) The central figure of the gospels notices individuals, not just classes.  Again, this trait is absent from The Contest.

(22) Jesus was blind to social boundaries of caste, class, gender, and age.  Lacking much interest in others, this characteristic is not relevant to The Contest. 

(23)  The rabbi whom the evangelists describe treats women with great respect and compassion, but also challenges them to greater things.  There is no way the evangelists all independently decided to invent such a striking and unusual man.  No such quality can be found in The Context. 

V. Theology

(24) The miracles of Jesus are realistic, purposeful, constructive, respectful of the nature of things, and pious in the sense of pointing people to God.  This characteristic does not at all apply to The Contest. 

(25) Jesus fulfills ancient Hebrew traditions by a dialogue with that tradition that exhibits variety, subtlety, tying Jesus to that tradition by many threads of ancient truth.  Nothing like this occurs in The Contest. 

(26) Four gospels confirm one another on numerous points.  The Contest stands on one weak, wobbly leg.  Well actually the historicity of its contest does not stand at all, as (1) and (2) are quite sufficient to demonstrate.   Other characteristics of the text just drive that point home with finality, while the gospels demonstrate their essential trustworthy from dozens of different ways.

Again, I don't expect the reasoning behind each of these points to be equally clear, at this point. I plan to explain that reasoning at greater length, later on.  But enough of these should be clear enough, as to make complete and utter nonsense of Ferguson's claim that The Contest of Hesiod and Homer can be seriously compared to the gospels, for its historical reliability.  What the comparison really proves, is how desperate the critics have become. 

IV.  Why Ferguson's attacks help. 

Matthew Ferguson does not seem to me a very mature scholar.  His response to my criticism was emotional and childish, without any sign of genuine intellectual curiosity.  Partly that was no doubt my fault: I was a bit brash in my initial response to his argument.  Still, Ferguson is studying ancient literature, and does have possess some scholarly training, as he emphasizes.  So his help in trying to locate a genuine parallel to the gospels in ancient fiction is also welcome.  He proposes "novels" and "hagiography," along with the Challenge of Hesiod and Homer. 

I have read all the ancient Greek novels, and plan to include them in my upcoming analysis of the historicity of the gospels.    

I have also now begun reading ancient hagiography, which Matthew also recommends.  I am finding this a rich (often in the sense of "comic") literature, and I am enjoying what I have read so far.   

I think Christians can be properly grateful for such challenges.  May they continue, and increase in number and, if possible, in common sense.  Because I believe that truth makes its character all the clearer, when it is put to the test.   


Matthew Wade Ferguson said...

David, it doesn't even look like many Christians and apologists were very interested in this polemic of yours. I've taken the time to respond to you anyways:

I also note that, when you revised your original post, you took down where you quoted your original comment to me (where you insulted me right off the bat), and also my response where I corrected you about my credentials.

The full story (including a screenshot of the original comment) can now be viewed in the link above.

The full story can now be viewed in the link above.

David B Marshall said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David B Marshall said...

Matthew: That's fine. You seem to be extremely sensitive to criticism from others (often conflating lively expressions of disagreement with personal attacks), while seemingly insensitive to insults of your own (such as accusing me of trying to cover up my error, by offering to help you financially when you expressed a need! And you don't think "I'm going to put you in time out" is insulting?) That's not an unusual malady, but it does render the conversation a little tedious at times.

My interest is in the gospels, however: in their historicity, and in attempts to find parallels to them. That is where I plan to focus my attention in response. As I said, I think you do Christians, and the truth, a favor by assiduously seeking such parallels, in an attempt to place the gospels in a framework friendly to your skeptical assumptions. Given your sensitivity, and yes, my culpability in making a couple serious errors about you, I will try to critique your argument not only in what I perceive as an irenic tone, but in what you, whose arguments are on the grill, may recognize as such as well. But I still think you are badly mistaken, regardless of what McGrath or like-minded scholars may say, and if you take my saying so as rudeness, as you often seem to in these responses (not that there was no genuine rudeness, on both sides), that cannot be helped.

As for how many people are interested, well, three hundred page reads so far, a bit below average. But I post here what's interesting to me, and the parallels you attempt to the gospels greatly interest me, and that is where I will focus my attention.