Hi David. You seem to have had a lot of interaction with Matthew Ferguson. I seem to find him more substantial than most internet atheists (at least better than some Patheos writers like Mehta and GiD), but it looks like you've identified some patterns that expose his lack of understanding. I was wondering if you wouldn't mind helping me, in an example like the one I've attached, what are some problems that you find? Thanks.
True enough, Ferguson and I have had "a lot of interaction," unfortunately not always amicable! But Nick is also right in describing Matthew's posts as generally "substantial." Last I heard, Matthew was a doctoral candidate in the Classics, and he has read widely (if not always well, I have argued), in primary and in secondary literature.
I devote a chapter of my new book, Jesus is No Myth: The Fingerprints of God on the Gospels, to one of Ferguson's on-line arguments, an analogy he draws between an ancient work called the Contest of Hesiod and Homer, and the canonical gospels. Despite the sparks that have flowed between us, I find the epic search for parallel gospels on which he journeys in that article, interesting and useful. If you find your neighbor digging up your pumpkin patch looking for his car keys, at the very least that shows the keys have gone missing, or he wouldn't go to such trouble! And the fact that skeptical scholars keep looking for Jesus doubles in books like Life of Apollonius of Tyana, the "Gospel" of Thomas, and Contest of Hesiod and Homer, also helps demonstrate that genuine analogies to the historical Jesus are rare as double-horned unicorns, or they wouldn't keep looking for "Jesus" in all such bizarre places.
But Ferguson's on-line articles do show reading and some originality, and critics can be useful for their helpful challenges as well as salutary errors.
So let's analyze the essay Nick cites, which compares the evidence for Alexander the Great to that for Jesus of Nazareth. While the title makes it sound like a neutral exercise in historiography, in itself is worth considering, in fact Ferguson's goal here is (as usual) to debunk arguments for the Christian faith.
This is a long article, so I shall quote and summarize when helpful, offering critical response along the way (twenty points altogether), and inserting ". . . " where I have cut.
"When Do Contemporary or Early Sources Matter in Ancient History,"
by Matthew Ferguson
(19) I have no great problem with this list as a description of the "consensus" among New Testament scholars. It appears, at first glance, similar to one EP Sanders proposed. But as implied above, a "consensus" among scholars needs to include atheists, agnostics, and Jews, as well perhaps as Hindus and Buddhists. By definition, such a "scholarly consensus" could not include any essential Christian beliefs about Jesus, such as the reality of his miracles. Non-Christians would exercise veto power on any specifically Christian affirmation about Jesus, or there would be no consensus. And if you get rid of Jesus' miracles, you also have to get rid of most of Jesus' sayings, which would be harder to remember than, say, seeing Jesus raise a dead girl. (Though the Jesus Seminar couldn't help recognize that Jesus' sayings are, in fact, highly memorable and cohere with who he is and how he acted, and thus affirm that many of them are probably historical - despite a dozen hostile and wrong presuppositions which they affirm.)