Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Historicity Index and the Fingerprints of Jesus.

Let's now consider why the gospels are historically credible . . . with the assistance of uber skeptic,

Richard Carrier, who denies that Jesus even lived. 

I call this the "Fingerprints of Jesus" argument for the gospels  While simple in outline, it borrows both from conventional historical scholarship, and from literary and psychological insight from the likes of C. S. Lewis in his essay, "Fernseed and Elephants," Pascal, John Calvin, M. Scott Peck, and others.  (One can also assimilate "hostile" testimony from the likes of Ernest Renan, Thomas Jefferson, and the Jesus Seminar in, as well as the work of scholars like N. T. Wright) 

The argument begins with an empirical analysis of qualities that define the four canonical gospels, which I originally offered in Why the Jesus Seminar can't find Jesus I found 50 such traits, which fall into seven categories: setting, literary qualities, character development, moral insight, social qualities, teaching, and theology.  If the gospels were theological fiction, as is sometimes supposed, their authors would likely agree mainly on theological traits.  The other qualities are thus to a large degree independant markers, "undesigned coincidences," as some call them, that demonstrate some other sort of relationship between strata in the gospels of varying provenance.  The most likely explanation, I believe, is that the gospels are the "fingerprints of Jesus," powerful "forensic" evidence that God really has entered history. 

Having determined the traits that the gospels share in common, I then compared them to other ancient works that are often considered close parallels: the "Gospel" of Thomas, Apollonius of Tyana, Hercules, the Iliad -- or that in some respects might be -- Tacitus' Agricola, Journey to the West, and Analects of Confucius.  I found that the closest parallel to the gospels, by far, proved to be Analects.  (Which like the gospels, is an anthology of remembrances by disciples of a great moral teacher after he passed.)  By contrast, those works most often compared to the gospels by skeptics -- Thomas, Iliad, and Apollonius -- fare poorly indeed.  Thomas shared only seven of fifty characteristics with the gospels, and some of those quite weakly.  In The Truth About Jesus and the 'Lost Gospels,' I argued from this fact, and others, that neither Thomas nor any other known Gnostic text should be called a "Gospel."  The only reason to call it a gospel is to confuse the facts, generally in an attempt to diminish the real gospels.   

In general, I found that C. S. Lewis' intuition, in "Fernseed and Elephants," proves correct.  Myths are like gospels in very limited ways -- partially sharing a few traits belonging to the "theological" category.  Biography, especially the most reliable biographies like Agricola and Analects, are like the gospels in more ways -- sharing qualities that evince essential historicity.

Here I would like to focus on this latter set of qualities, traits which demonstrate that a text is historically believable.  I would like to use those traits to analyze four more ancient texts.

During our debate in February, Richard Carrier accused me of "confirmation bias," of cherry-picking texts that conformed to my analysis (summarized above, or see previous post for our actual wording).  He mentioned fictional texts that he thought resemble the gospels more closely than the ones I had analyzed earlier, and accused me of confirmation bias for cherry-picking texts that conform to my analysis . He said these other texts, which he mentioned, shared ALL the characteristics of the gospels! 

This was a bold claim, since he obviously hadn't read my analysis, which for one thing included one of the texts he mentioned -- Apollonius of Tyana

I will not hold Carrier literally to "all" 50 characteristics -- one must make allowance for hyperbole and oral glibness.  But I will compare the four ancient works of fiction he mentioned, on each of 26 gospel characteristics related to historicity. 

I won't give as full an explanation of each trait as in the Jesus Seminar book (I also go into detail on five of them in Faith Seeking Understanding).  But I will explain my reasoning a little in some cases. 

After each trait, I note whether the four fictional books really do share that particular quality.

(I also add numbers, but you can ignore those, if you like.  I tentatively suggest "historicity ratings" for the presence or absense of each trait.  Numbers less than 1 indicate that I think that trait makes a given text less likely to be historical.  For example, if a text does not seriously claim to be an historical account (trait #1), then I mark that text at 0.01, indicating that this quality makes it 100 times less likely to be historical.  Some books claim historicity yet lack it, but very few fail to at least implicitly claim historicity, yet turn out to actually possess it. 

(By contrast, if an author who himself does not belong to a local culture accurately describes local customs (trait #4), I estimate that that makes it three times more likely that his book is essentially historical, than it would be otherwise.   

(These numbers, while admittedly subjective (feel free to bicker!), seek to judge the historical value of particular qualities, and allow us to make crude quantitative comparisons of the historical credibility of different texts.  This argument is still in it experimental phase: it remains an extended thought experiment, subject to much correction and further refinement.) 

So let's introduce the four texts:

Book of Tobit: The story of a righteous Jewish man living in Ninevah some 700 years before Christ.  (Written perhaps a century or two before Christ.)  Tobit has a son, for whom he seeks a proper wife.  The girl finally chosen suffers an unusual affliction: every time she marries and tries to bed a new man, a demon kills him just before he hops into the sack with her.  She goes through seven husbands this way.  (One assumes she must be quite a knockout!)  Another problem is that Tobit has gone blind after sparrows pooped in his eyes.  These troubles are resolved by good works and divine guidance in the form of an angel.  The tale is not as amusing as it sounds, unfortunately. 

Apuleius, The Golden Ass: The story of an upper-class young Greek man who literally makes an ass of himself, with the inadvertent help of his girlfriend, sexy servant to a practicing witch.  He is then driven by a variety of masters, from thieves to bakers to a Roman soldier, and suffers all kinds of hardships (and slapstick humor), until he meets the goddess Isis, and is restored to humanity.  He becomes her devoted follower, and the story bogs down considerably.  P.G. Walsh credits the tedious piety of the ending to the possible desire of the novel's 2nd Century's author to help the Isis cult compete with Christianity, which was thriving in his hometown.  The novel also contains the first extant rendering of the beautiful myth of Cupid and Psyche. 

Philostratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana: A First Century Greek sage wanders the world, as far as India, teaching, observing strange beasts and customs, and dispensing portentious wisdom on grateful kings.  The author, Philostratus, allegedly wrote this book in part from the diary of one of Apollonius' disciples.  He writes it for his patroness, Julia Domna, in the early 3rd Century.  Again, some scholars believe Apollonius was written in light of Christian competition, and Julia's dislike of the new religion. 

Plutarch, Life of Romulus: This is the semi-fabulous story of the founding of Rome by two twins, Romulus and Remis, who were said by some to be the sons of Mars, but who were reared by a she-wolf and then a shepherd.  Plutarch is referencing earlier accounts, but his earliest sources seem to get no closer than within 300 years of the hero.  The boys' early lives, their rise to prominence from wandering pastoral warfare not unlike that of David before he became king, Romulus' murder of his brother, the rape of the Sabines, and his late pretensions, when power goes to his head, are described with some objectivity.  Plutarch does not blindly believe all his sources, nor praise Romulus without restraint. 

Historicity Index (Note: if you find this mass of data too dense, again, you can ignore the numbers.  You might also prefer to scan for the gist of it, or focus on the most interesting traits, then skip to the conclusions at the end!) 

1. Does the text claim seriously to be an historical account?
A. Yes. 1.0

B. No.  0.01

Book of Tobit: Yes.  1.0. 

Golden Ass:  No. 0.01

Apollonius of Tyana: Yes. 1.0.

Life of Romulus: Usually yes, though Plutarch disavows the historicity of some of his stories. (0.5)
2. How close is it in time to the events it purports to record?

A. Contemporary  1.0
B. Within the probable lifetimes of eyewitnesses, and there are signs of dependence on even earlier accounts.  0.95
C. Within the probable lifetimes of eyewitnesses, but no signs of dependence on even earlier accounts.  0.85
D. Shortly after first generation has died, with no clear sources.   0.50
E. 100 years later, no sources.  0.3
F. 200 years later, no sources.  0.03

Book of Tobit: No, F -. 0.01

Golden Ass:  Unclear -- probably A. 1.0.

Apollonius of Tyana:  E, but with dubious sources - 0.4. 

Life of Romulus:  G. 800 years, with sources 300 after the "fact" -- 0.003. 

3. Is the subject defied ethnically in a realistic and distinctive way?
A. No ethnic distinctiveness.  1.0
B. Subject fits culture of both author and subject, but is distinct from larger culture in which text was written.  1.5
C. Subject fits the culture of the land in which the story takes place, but that is distinct from the culture of both the author and the general culture. 4.0
D. The subject is distinct as in (C), and is also in radical dialogue with his own culture, affirming its deepest truths, knowingly challenging its common assumptions, reinterpreting them in a radical new way that yet grows naturally out of that culture.  20.0

Book of Tobit: No, A.  1.0.

Golden Ass:  No, A.

Apollonius of Tyana:  No, A.

Life of Romulus: No, A.

4. Does the author portray natural sites accurately?
A. No, he commits gross and repeated errors. 0.2
B. He gets obvious, well-known sites right, errs on minor details. 1.0
C. He accurately describes even little-known sites and customs. 3.0
D. He almost always ignores geography.  0.8

Book of Tobit: No, D. 

Golden Ass:  Probably yes, B or C. 2.0. (?)

Apollonius of Tyana: No, 0.3.

Life of Romulus: Yes, B or C.  2.0. (?)

5. Does the author portray urban sites accurately?
A. No, he commits gross and repeated errors. 0.2
B. He gets obvious, well-known sites right, errs on minor details. 1.0
C. He accurately describes even little-known sites and customs. 3.0
D. He almost always ignores geography.  0.8
E. He gets urban sites correct that have changed since the time of the event, and are no longer extant. 
Book of Tobit: No, D, except for occcasional mentions of major cities like Jerusalem or Ninevah. 

Golden Ass: Probably yes, B or C.  (2.0?)

Apollonius of Tyana: No, maybe 0.3. 

Life of Romulus:  Yes, B or C.  (2.0?)
Stylistic and Literary Qualities

6. (7) Does the author tell stories? 
A. Yes. 1.0
B. No. 0.3
Reasoning: Stories are the part of a biographical or historical account that a writer is most likely to remember accurately, as opposed to sayings or raw facts about location or events.  I give story-tellers no extra credit, therefore (many stories are made up), but take away credit from accounts that do not include stories, as less likely to be reliable. 

Book of Tobit: Yes.  1.0. 

Golden Ass: Yes. 

Apollonius of Tyana: Yes. 

Life of Romulus: Yes.

7. (8) Does the voice of the subject stand out stylistically from the voices of other chroniclers? 

A. No. 1.0
B. Yes. 4.0

Reasoning: Biographers and historians who are recounting the life of a real person whose personality they remember accurately are more likely to recall the distinctiveness of his expression, and preserve it in their accounts.  This is especially true if that person is deemed important enough to merit a biography in the first place.  Other characters are less likely to be preserved with fidelity, unless they are “characters” in their own right, in which case those characters are still more likely to stand out from one another.  Of course good fiction writers can also imbue their characters with personality, so this is not an absolute proof of authenticity.  But one does not expect skillful fictional characterization from religious fanatics or liars. 

Book of Tobit: No, everyone talks pretty much the same, with lots of quotes from the Psalms, etc, by Tobit.   1.0. 

Golden Ass: No, or slightly, 1.3. 

Apollonius of Tyana: No, 1.0. 

Life of Romulus: No, 1.0

8. (9) Does the narrator offer concrete non-essential details in his stories?
A. Yes. 1.0
B. No. 0.2

Book of Tobit: Not really.  Everything feeds the story. 0.3.

Golden Ass: Yes.  1.0. 

Apollonius of Tyana: No. 0.2.   

Life of Romulus: Yes, often of mythical significance to later Roman community. (Probably should be rated towards a "no," since these kinds of details to not much support historicity.  Let's say, 0.6.)   

9. (10) Do the subject’s “audiences” react to his typical actions as people would likely react to such actions?
A. Yes. 1.0
B. No. 0.1-0.3

Book of Tobit: Mostly.  Though Tobit's wife seems to give up on her son's life rather quickly, and Tobit assumes his wife stole the goat kid too quickly.  0.7.

Golden Ass:   No, 0.3. 

Apollonius of Tyana: No, 0.1.

Life of Romulus: No, 0.2. 

10. (11) Does the subject frequently offer surprising, non-platitudinous teachings?
A. Never. 0.5
B. Occasionally 2.0
C. Almost always 10-20

Reasoning: Platitudes, as Chesterton recognized, are the norm, not the exception, in almost all sorts of writing, ancient and modern.  Even Plato is guilty of them, from time to time.  One would expect a lot of platitudes from small-time, anonymous cult followers of an obscure religion who are inventing the stories of their master for a wider audience – witness the Book of Mormon. Even Apollonius of Tyana can be a ponderous bore, for his platitudes. 
Genuinely original teachings that never fall to mere platitude, could in theory be invented by a novel or fiction writer.  But especially if there is more than one source, such teachings strongly tend to indicate a real historical figure. 

Book of Tobit:  No.  0.5.

Golden Ass:  Not much, 1.0.

Apollonius of Tyana: Very platitudinous, often silly, but in a way that could possibly be historical, for a clownish guru -- 1.5.

Life of Romulus:  Not much, 1.0 

11. (12) The subject taught in parables.
A. No. 1.0
B. Occasionally, of little literary merit. 1.2
C. Often, of great literary merit. 3.0
D. Often, of unique literary merit distinct from the narrator’s own voice. 3.0-10

Book of Tobit: No. 

Golden Ass:  No.  The myth of Psyche and Eros is not a lesson, not a parable, not from the subject, but from an "old hag."  (The most brilliant thing in the book, perhaps -- see C. S. Lewis' version in Till We Have Faces.)  1.0. 

Apollonius of Tyana:  No, 1.0.

Life of Romulus:  No, 1.0.

12. (15) The subject is criticized by those around him.
A. Never. 0.8. 
B. Sometimes, mildly. 1.0
C. Harshly, but is defended by a sympathetic narrator. 2.0
D. Harshly, but with little defense by the narrator, even if he is sympathetic. 4.0

Book of Tobit: No, everyone seems to agree he's noble and pious. 0.8.

Golden Ass:  Sort of (C), but in this case is not relevant to historicity, because the story is about an ass, not about a transcendent teacher.  1.0.

Apollonius of Tyana:  No, 1.0

Life of Romulus: Sometimes, especially late in the king's life.  1.5

13. (16) The subject’s sermons meet with anger and violent opposition.
A. No. 1.0
B. Yes. 2.0
Reasoning: Hagiographical and ahistorical accounts often made crowds respond with rapt amazement at the words of gurus.  Apollonius of Tyana, again, is a good example, also many Gnostic texts about “Jesus.” 

Book of Tobit: No. 1.0.

Golden Ass: Yes, but again, this is to be expected more from a comedy about an ass than a realistic story.   So this quality actually decreases historical believability, in this case. Why are so many people angry at a donkey? Or (ugh) want to make love to one?  0.01

Apollonius of Tyana: No, 1.0.

Life of Romulus: No sermons, 1.0.

Character Development

14. (19) The personalities of the subject’s followers are developed in a consistent and recognizable way.
A. No. 0.5
B. Yes. 1.0

C. No, no followers.  1.0. 

Book of Tobit: No such followers.  1.0.

Golden Ass: No followers, 1.0. 

Apollonius of Tyana: Not at all, 0.5. 

Life of Romulus: Not really, 0.7.

15. (20) People exit the story without making improbable reappearances just to tidy up the plot or give curtain calls to popular characters. 
A. Yes. 1.0
B. No. 0.1-0.9
Reasoning: Life is like that. Until Facebook, people walk out of your life and you never see them again.  But novels and other forms of fiction (like The Golden Ass, Emile, Dickens, etc) tend to reintroduce important characters because they are important, or so readers will know what happened to them.  A story becomes less probable, the more these coincidences occur, and the less likely they are demographically. 

Book of Tobit: No, the plot is pretty snug with its characters, with no loose ends. 0.8

Golden Ass: No, 0.7. (Not TOO bad.)

Apollonius of Tyana: Yes, 1.0. 

Life of Romulus: Yes, 1.0. 

16. (21) The story is about ordinary people, not royalty or divine superheroes.
A. Yes. 1.0
B. No. 0.5
Reasoning :Royalty had disproportionate power in the ancient world as today, but are often presented as more important, and far more clever or powerful in ancient fiction than they could have been – Iliad, Epic of Gilgamesh, Odyssey. 

Book of Tobit: Yes. 1.0.

Golden Ass:  Shaky, 0.7. 

Apollonius of Tyana: No, 0.5.  Apollonius spends most of his time with royalty or brahmins. 

Life of Romulus: No, 0.6.

17. (22) Historically familiar political figures play roles consistent with their known personalities and authority.
A. No, they are present but act inconsistently with their known character. 0.6
B. No, they are absent. 1.0
C. Yes. 3.0

Book of Tobit: No such characters appear.  (B, 1.0)

Golden Ass: No, B, 1.0. 

Apollonius of Tyana:  Yes, occasionally, C, 3.0. 

Life of Romulus: No, one has little more to go on with the other characters in the story as with Romulus. This doesn't help establish historicity much, if at all.  1.0. 

Moral Views
18. (25) The subject praises sometimes, often unlikely people who are generally scorned, but never flatters.
A. No. 1.0
B. Yes. 1.5

Book of Tobit: No, 1.0.   

Golden Ass: No, 1.0.

Apollonius of Tyana: No, 1.0.

Life of Romulus: No, 1.0 

19. (27) The subject reads the powerful the riot act, especially for their obduracy and injustice.
A. No. 1.0
B. Yes. 1.3

Book of Tobit: No, 1.0.   

Golden Ass: No, 1.0.

Apollonius of Tyana: No, 1.0.

Life of Romulus: No, 1.0

20. (28) The subject speaks respectfully to the weak, but without patronizing them, and making strong demands on them.
A. No. 1.0
B. Yes. 2-10
Reasoning: This is a highly unusual quality in the ancient world.  One might conceive of someone inventing it, but given more than one source, the more likely explanation would be that they are all describing a single remarkable individual.

Book of Tobit: No, 1.0. 

Golden Ass: No, 1.0.

Apollonius of Tyana: No, 1.0.

Life of Romulus: No, 1.0. 

21. (29) The teachings of the subject were shocking in is own culture, and remain equally so today. 
A. No.1.0
B. Yes. 5-10

Book of Tobit: No, 1.0. 

Golden Ass: No, 1.0. 

Apollonius of Tyana: No, 1.0. 

Life of Romulus: No, 1.0 

Social Qualities

22. (32) The subject tended to notice individuals rather than classes of people. 
A. No. 1.0
B. Yes. 3.0
Reasoning: Again, this is a remarkable quality in an important public figure, which is seldom invented for ancient fictional characters, and greatly adds to the realism of those few texts that display it of such a person: Analects, Plato’s Dialogues, the Gospels. 

Book of Tobit: Tobit does aid the oppressed, bury the dead, but does not real seem to notice them as individuals.  1.0

Golden Ass: Yes, but since he was a donkey, everyone was a potential threat or help, so this is not so relevant as with a teacher.  1.5. 

Apollonius of Tyana: No, 1.0. 

Life of Romulus: Occasionally, 2.0.  Romulus did aid the oppressed, though that's not quite the same as noticing individuals as Jesus did, as opposed to establishing his character, as David also did when roaming the countryside. 

23. (34) The subject is blind to conventional social boundaries: caste, class, gender or age.
A. No. 1.0
B. Yes. 2.0

Book of Tobit: No, 1.0. 

Golden Ass: No, 1.0. 

Apollonius of Tyana: No, 1.0. 

Life of Romulus: No, 1.0. 

24. (36) He consistently treats women with dignity, compassion, and respect, though often in bracing or challenging ways.
A. No. 1/0
B. Yes. 5-10 

Reasoning: This is far more likely to describe a real person, perhaps a divinely inspired person, than the subject of several different ancient works of legend, ecclesiastical propaganda, or imagination.  Women most often were sexualized in ancient fiction (not just!), or played conventional or outlandish roles.  In The Golden Ass, the most prominent women are witches and / or seductresses. 

Book of Tobit: Not really, 1.2. 

Golden Ass: No, 1.0. 

Apollonius of Tyana: No, 1.0. 

Life of Romulus: No, 1.0. 

25. (41) The subject makes use of poetry and hyperbole in his teaching.
A. No. 1.0
B. Yes. 1.2

Book of Tobit: No, 1.0. 

Golden Ass: No, 1.0. 

Apollonius of Tyana: Yes, 1.2. 

Life of Romulus: No, 1.0. 


26. (42) The teacher is presented with great variety, intimacy, grace, and subtlety as the fulfillment of a wide variety of threads of ancient truth within his culture. 
A. No. 1.0
B. Yes. ? 
Reasoning: This item is so unusual – the correct word is unique – that it is hard to say whether it should be considered of no relevance to historicity, some sort of objection, or as an absolute proof of historicity. It is almost certainly relevant, and certainly by itself renders the claim that there are any complete parallels to the gospels in the ancient world (as Carrier claimed) untrue, but I am not sure what number to assign it. 

Book of Tobit: Not a chance, 1.0. 

Golden Ass:  No, 1.0. 

Apollonius of Tyana: No, 1.0. 

Life of Romulus: No, 1.0. 

27. (46) The miracles worked by the subject are all or nearly all realistic, purposeful, constructive, respectful, and pious, in the sense of pointing people to God. 
A. No miracles: 1.0
B. Yes. 5.0

C. Miracles are worked (trait # 45), but they do not share these characteristics: 0.1-1.0.

Book of Tobit: Miracles here may exhibit three of five characteristics.  They are not at all realistic in background details (or in the miracles themselves, for that matter), and they do not respect the integrity of nature.  A fish in the Euphrates jumps out from the water and tries to eat the hero's son, who then uses its internal organs to ward off an evil spirit, and cure his blind father, under the guidanec of an angel.  This is, however, purposeful, constructive, and somewhat pious.  They are kind of on the borderline between magic and miracle.   2.0. 
Golden Ass: C, 0.1.   

Apollonius of Tyana: C, 0.2. 

Life of Romulus: C, 0.1. 

In summary, Book of Tobit shares three of 26 historically-relevant characteristics with the gospels to a fairly strong degree, two to a lesser degree.  Golden Ass shares three somewhat strongly, six to a lesser degree.  Life of Apollonius of Tyana shares four and two, and Life of Romulus, four and four.

So even the "strongest" of these four texts completely lacks eighteen of the historically-relevant qualities that the gospels enjoy, and only possesses four in a very strong or relevant sense.

In fact, if you buy the math (and multiply probabilities), the gospels are, on these qualities, multiple orders of magnitude more credible, historically, even than Apollonius of Tyana, the only one of these four texts that seems to contain a core of truth, and might be classified as biography.  (As Richard Burridge does in his famous monograph, arguing that the gospels should be classified as Greek biography.)

So Dr. Carrier is deeply mistaken.  He has not only not found any ancient text that shares "all" the characteristics of the gospels.  The texts he has found, share hardly any of their qualities.  In particular, they share hardly any qualities that help mark the gospels as highly credible historical texts.

This is remarkable!  Remember, Richard Carrier is a credentialed historian of ancient Greco-Roman history, particularly the history of science, in which he has a doctorate from Columbia University.  He also has a strong, long-term interest in the Christian gospels: he has been studying these texts for decades.  How could he get them so wrong? 

These are not minor issues. Just one of those characteristics is the fact that Romulus was written 800 years after the fact, from "sources" that were probably no closer than 300 years to the actual life of the man whose life is being told. That one characteristic alone makes it rather absurd to compare the historicity of Romulus to that of the gospels.

Nor do I mean to pick on Carrier especially.  True, he totally fails to see the gospels for what they really are.  He might be compared in that respect to the Pharisees who booted the formerly blind man Jesus had healed out of the temple in John 9: "They profess to see, and are themselves blind."

But Carrier is hardly alone.  My original analysis was done in relation to the more eminent New Testament scholars of the Jesus Seminar.  They made the same mistake.  They searched high and low for comparisons to the gospels -- and found Thomas, which may be even less like the gospels than these four works, and carries practically no trace of historicity, let alone any whiff of First Century Palestine.   And some of them cite Apollonius of Tyana in this connection, as well.  Dennis Macdonald, also an eminent scholar, cites the Iliad and the Odyssey.

And so the blind lead the blind.

I argue that reading the gospels is like meeting someone you recognize in a place you weren't expecting her.  You don't stop and analyze how it is you recognize that person -- but you do.  And there are objective reasons for doing so, rational reasons that can be analyzed, as I have sought to do.  But even if you don't stop and analyze, having recognized your loved one, you cannot and should not be argued out of it.  (See my chapter, "The Fingerprints of Jesus," in Faith Seeking Understanding.)  Or as Jesus said:

"My sheep hear my voice."

Yes, they do.  And often hear better than legions of scholars who know the languages well, who have studied ancient history, but fail to perceive the actual quality of the text before their very eyes, and the person one meets in it.

No wonder Carrier thinks there is nothing special about Jesus -- he has not yet perceived the actual character of Jesus!  Maybe some day he will, and the scales will fall from his eyes, like they did of Robert Coles as a cocky young psychiatrist from Harvard on the streets of New Orleans.

Of course these numbers are subjective.  But I think they point in the right direction.  The gospels are not merely a little more credible, historically.  They are many orders of magnitude more credible.  And this is not chuzpah or conjecture or braggadocio, but simply attending to the actual character of the books everyone is talking about, and tracing fingerprints from the hands that changed the world.   


Keith Rozumalski said...

Thanks for the interesting post, David. By the way, were you at the Plantinga lecture at UPC this past Friday? I was there; it was great to see him in person.

Unknown said...

Yes, I was -- upstairs, with my two sons. I told them, "You can tell people 30 years from now that you've seen Alvin Plantinga speak."

Anonymous said...

No, this will not do. There are 2 problems:
a) your argument is ambiguous. There are actually 3 arguments you seem to be making: an argument for "triangulation", an argument from "facial recognition", and an argument that the Gospels conform to your 26 "historical" criteria.
It would help if you separated these three and concentrated on being more precise for each specific argument.

b) You do not justify any of your criteria of argumentation as being something that would favor a historical figure (which you claim your pared down 26 (from 50) criteria are: historical). For instance, you give a criteria of "tells parables". Why the heck is that historical? Isn't that just hand picked to favor an account like any of the Gospels? Why not just add criteria 27
"Must be crucified for our sins: Yes (20: historical) No (.00001: not historical)"
You can't conflate "attributes of the Gospel" with "things that make a narrative more likely to be historical". But that seems to be what you are doing. If you aren't doing that my apologies, but could you please explain why not? You are a smart guy, but this is *very* lazy. This is not well thought out. If you have some big idea that you are not articulating well, I hope this might goad you into articulating it better, because what you have written is not compelling at all. Only the first section of what you wrote addresses anything historically compelling at all.

David B Marshall said...

Actually, I do justify many of my criteria briefly, here. But this is a blog, not a book. I explain that I discuss these criteria in more detail in Why the Jesus Seminar Can't Find Jesus. (Then five of them in a chapter of Faith Seeking Understanding.)

I don't conflate "attributes of the gospels" with "things that make a narrative more historical." As explained above, I chose 26 historical qualities out of 50 total -- the others don't do that, so I didn't include them.

The claim that Jesus was crucified for our sins was not obviously historically relevant, so I did not include it.

So I think you need to read more carefully. This is a summary, not a full argument -- the full argument does require more depth. But one can take my argument here, at a minimum, as disproving Carrier's claim that any fictional work he names shares "all the characteristics" of the gospels. That is clearly a thousand miles from the truth.

As for historicity, take those qualities you can concede as historical, and suspend judgement on the rest, until you've had a chance to read the full argument. That's the most rational thing to do.

Anonymous said...

Further: Your "triangulation" argument does not go through, because the gospel authors could all have come from 1 mythical source. Ie. they "triangulate" to a false source.

Your "facial recognition" argument does not go through because you have not seen the original in the first place. That would only be a good case if you had known a real person and then, say, seen his letters in order to discern his personality/word usage. But that cannot be in play here since you did not know the original Jesus.

Again, if I've misconstrued what you mean, let this goad you into being more specific, since otherwise I've no idea what you mean.

Look, I mean no harm. To be honest, I'm a conservative atheist, I'm rooting for you. But this is just lazy. You aren't going to convince anyone with this. If you've got a really compelling idea underneath, you are not doing it justice and need to articulate it more clearly.

David B Marshall said...

R: Facial recognition is a metaphor. I also use the analogies of "fingerprints" and "DNA." They should not be taken literally.

One can get to know people through literature. JRR Tolkien said that if he found a single sentence in the desert written by his friend CS Lewis, he would recognize that sentence. Lewis himself, knowing literary genres as well as anyone, used the same logic to compare the gospels to Plato's Socrates and Boswell's Dr. Johnson.

Far from being "lazy," I have analyzed this insight in great detail, here and in those two books, drawing both on primary texts, and secondary scholarship. I show that Lewis' passing insight reflects a great depth of unforced detail in the gospel tradition that supports his claim. Do you think this analysis was the work of a moment? Try to show me a blog post that involves as much empirical sifting of evidence as this one does. I don't EXPLAIN everything here, nor do I need to. But the analysis reflects realities about these texts, which are not going to go away.

As for triangulation, scholars generally agree there are a variety of gospel sources, and that they date back very early within the Christian tradition.

Charbel said...

Hi Dr. Marshall,

What about the claims that Philostratus based his account on a written notebook (or memoir) of Damis, who would be a disciple of Apollonius? Wouldn't that bolster the miracle claims found in the book?

My opinion is that these "memoirs", whatever they are, are problematic for many reasons.

But I wanted to get your opinion on the matter. Do you think Philostratus really used a written source by Damis? Or maybe that it was a forgery that Philostratus naively used?


David B Marshall said...

Charbel: Good question. There are historical problems with Damis -- for instance, he seems to be from a town that didn't exist at the time. But he was a rhetorical necessity. Apollonius didn't seem to talk with his servants much. But much of the book worked better as dialogue. Also, Greek novelists sometimes began their stories (Daphnis and Chloe, for instance) with an account of how they got them. Damis also served that purpose.

If Damis really existed, then it is hard to understand how Philostratus managed to get most his supposed facts so completely wrong. He would be the one, presumably, reporting on the pepper-farming apes and the various species of dragon in India. Also the Brahmin city with the cloaking device. Those are not so much "miracles," as tall traveler tales.

As for who invented Damis, I would lean towards Philostratus himself. He was a competent enough novelist to do that. But of course I have no evidence either way.