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 Post subject: Re: Craig Evans v Richard Carrier Did Jesus Exist SUPERB
PostPosted: Fri Jan 12, 2018 10:44 am 
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I appreciate your passion, Mr. Stakhanovite, and I suspect that in your mind you're being overly generous in limiting the punishment to horsewhipping, but don't you think reading Neusner is punishment enough for Sanders and the Sandersistas? After 900 books—or is it 1900?—some of which are admirably intelligible, the arguments start to become so circular that the accumulated pain of so many dizzying drip-drops on the mind becomes nauseatingly unbearable: it's like watching reruns of NASCAR during a violent storm at sea, and with a stomach full of burritos.

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 Post subject: Re: Craig Evans v Richard Carrier Did Jesus Exist SUPERB
PostPosted: Fri Jan 12, 2018 10:58 am 
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MrStakhanovite wrote:
Analytics wrote:
Sean Carroll is just as high on Bayesian analysis as Carrier is. Do your criticisms of Carrier for thinking Bayesian analysis is widely applicable also apply to Carroll?


I'd need more information, does he see Bayes as being normative for science or does he mean it is descriptive of science? Is he talking about a form of objective Bayes or is he assuming the Personalist view? Is he talking about Bayes being used for the purpose of confirmation or does he mean using Bayes as a way to pick between competing theories?

My guess is that he doesn't really stake out a position on any of that and if that book is for a general audience I wouldn't expect him to. When someone decides to use Bayes for a complicated non-stochastic problem, by necessity they begin to take on a lot of conceptual baggage. Because Bayes can take on so many different forms, objections to it are going to be dependent on how Bayes is articulated in any given situation.


As I understand him, he says that Bayesian analysis is both normative and descriptive--it is how science should be done and how it is in fact done. For your reference, here is the quote from above.

Sean Carroll wrote:
Bayes’s Theorem can be thought of as a quantitative version of the method of inference we previously called “abduction.” (Abduction places emphasis on finding the “best explanation,” rather than just fitting the data, but methodologically the ideas are quite similar.) It’s the basis of all science and other forms of empirical reasoning. It suggests a universal scheme for thinking about our degrees of belief: start with some prior credences, then update them when new information comes in, based on the likelihood of that information being compatible with each original possibility....

It feels natural to assign numerical credences in certain cases, like poker hands or flips of a coin, where we can simply count all the possibilities. We’re also familiar with using probability-talk when referring to future events: “There is less than a 1 percent chance that the oncoming asteroid will impact the Earth and cause a mass extinction.”

The Bayesian approach is much more general than this, however. It reminds us that we assign prior credences, and update them appropriately, to every factual proposition that may or may not be true about the world. Does God exist? Can our inner conscious experiences be explained in purely physical terms? Are there objective standards of right and wrong? All of the possible answers to such questions are propositions for which each of us has a prior credence (whether we admit it or not), and which we update when relevant new information comes in (whether we do so correctly or not).

Bayes’s Theorem allows us to be quantitative about our degrees of belief, but it also helps us keep in mind how belief works at all.


That should be enough to give you a feel for where he is coming from. If you can get ahold of his book, it would be worthwhile to read the two chapters on this.

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 Post subject: Re: Craig Evans v Richard Carrier Did Jesus Exist SUPERB
PostPosted: Fri Jan 12, 2018 11:04 am 
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Symmachus wrote:
I appreciate your passion, Mr. Stakhanovite, and I suspect that in your mind you're being overly generous in limiting the punishment to horsewhipping, but don't you think reading Neusner is punishment enough for Sanders and the Sandersistas? After 900 books—or is it 1900?—some of which are admirably intelligible, the arguments start to become so circular that the accumulated pain of so many dizzying drip-drops on the mind becomes nauseatingly unbearable: it's like watching reruns of NASCAR during a violent storm at sea, and with a stomach full of burritos.


Yes, it's EXACTLY like that, lol.

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 Post subject: Re: Craig Evans v Richard Carrier Did Jesus Exist SUPERB
PostPosted: Fri Jan 12, 2018 2:30 pm 
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Analytics wrote:
Symmachus wrote:
I appreciate your passion, Mr. Stakhanovite, and I suspect that in your mind you're being overly generous in limiting the punishment to horsewhipping, but don't you think reading Neusner is punishment enough for Sanders and the Sandersistas? After 900 books—or is it 1900?—some of which are admirably intelligible, the arguments start to become so circular that the accumulated pain of so many dizzying drip-drops on the mind becomes nauseatingly unbearable: it's like watching reruns of NASCAR during a violent storm at sea, and with a stomach full of burritos.


Yes, it's EXACTLY like that, lol.


Well, I would never, ever exaggerate. At all. Not in a million years.

For those interested in what the hell we're joking about, I think the most relevant book of Neusner's to the topic at hand is probably Judaism: The Evidence of the Mishnah, a book which in part initiated the occasionally acrimonious (for scholars) debate with E. P. Sanders which lasted until 2016. Basically, Sanders had argued with Paul and Palestinian Judaism and in later works that not only was there such a thing as Judaism (rather than just Jewish people) but that many of its adherents were attempting to address certain questions that are actually central to Paul: peoplehood, covenant, law, and so on. Before Sanders (with some predecessors), there had been a centuries-old assumption that the Judaism of first century Palestine was a legalistic and formalistic religion, and that it was this legalism, inherited by the nascent Christian community in Palestine, that Paul was responding to and attacking. Thus, the central question in Paul was thought to be the conflict between faith (=good, Christian, later Protestant) and works (=bad, Jewish, later Catholic). Sanders's arguments about first-century Palestinian Judaism fumigated the topic by purging it of centuries of the Christian vs. Jewish and Catholic vs. Protestant polemics that had framed the question, even if unconsciously. That meant, though, that scholars had to rethink what questions Paul was actually dealing with. In Sanders's view, it was those I mentioned above. In short, Sanders was part of broader scholarly movement that was reintegrating Christianity into its Judaic setting.

Neusner, on the other hand, rejected the idea that there was a single Judaic setting. He emphasized its variet, and he was very fond of the phrase "Judaisms" to capture that idea (personally, I think it is a rhetorical trick rather than a substantive point, since, as Sanders pointed out, the plural implies the singular of which the many are variations; of course there was variety, but that doesn't mean we can't search for and examine what the various strands had in common). Neusner could be pretty dickish in his disagreement; his scholarly shoulder was marked by many chips, and his tussle with Sanders was by no means the most heated (he had a pretty vicious spat with one of his former teachers). My sense is that Neusner had a lot of anxiety about maintaining the distinctiveness of Rabbinic Judaism, which was really his field anyway, and sensed that Sanders's use of the Rabbinic evidence whittled away at that distinctiveness. It also complicated his other intellectual project: to excavate the various layers of Rabbinic tradition. Sanders, in short, didn't handle the Rabbinic evidence in a way that respected what Neusner was trying to argue about the history of the Talmuds and other Rabbinic texts (and perhaps that's an occasionally fair criticism in some works of Sanders, like Judaism: Practice and Belief). In my opinion and in many others' more eminent than your humble poster, Neusner's larger project made him prone to exaggeration (for example, his claim that the Mishnah was basically a work of philosophy). It all boils down to how much or how little, how well or how poorly we can use the later Rabbinic evidence for the first century in Palestine. Where Neusner was a minimalist, Sanders was a moderate, but to Neusner that was functionally the same as being a maximalist. Until a competent Bayesian analysis is done (nudge nudge, wink wink), where one falls will remain a question of temperament. I prefer Sanders because he is more comfortable with uncertainty and able to weigh the relative importance of evidence without being dogmatic about it. Neusner's maxim, as a historian, is too reductive: "What we can't show, we don't know." That didn't stop him from making an illustrious career out of unprovable claims, largely because the maxim is more clever than it is true.

I only mention all this background because I think it is related to the topic at hand. It hasn't gotten a lot of play in our discussion here, but mythicism basically hinges on how Jewish earliest Christianity was. That is already the central tension in the New Testament: the relationship of the Christian communities with the Judaism around them and before them. Already in the 2nd century with people like Marcion, there was an attempt to decouple Christianity from Judaism, and Marcion's Lord is about as close as you get to a mythicist Jesus in the ancient world without going full Gnostic. The results of the "Jewification" of Jesus might seem obvious now (hence Johannes's comment about Vermes discovering that Jesus was a Jew), but it has been resisted by Christians and Jews for many centuries, which is one reason why the Dead Sea Scrolls were controversial for so long: both believing Christians and believing Jews were nervous about what connections they might imply between their two faith traditions, which depended (it was thought by some) on their very distinctiveness for their existence in the first place (one reason, I think, why Neusner often rebuked Sanders's view of first-century Judaism: it implied that there was little distinction between early Christianity and Judaism).

I see mythicism as a variation of that because it basically de-Judaizes Jesus, and has to in order to make any sense. One of the reasons I keep mentioning Sanders (apart from the fact that he is a first-rate scholar) is that I can't see 1) how a religion centered on a mythic Jesus could arise in the Judaic environment his work has reconstructed and 2) how the gospel writers, only one of whom knew very much about Judaism, could fake that environment in order to make a human Jesus, let alone why they would do so.

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 Post subject: Re: Craig Evans v Richard Carrier Did Jesus Exist SUPERB
PostPosted: Fri Jan 12, 2018 3:41 pm 
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Jesus! This thread is amazing.

I feel like I opened a door that I thought had a closet behind it, only to walk into a concert hall.

Please keep playing gentlemen.

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 Post subject: Re: Craig Evans v Richard Carrier Did Jesus Exist SUPERB
PostPosted: Fri Jan 12, 2018 8:46 pm 
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Symmachus, I thought that was a very helpful explanation, thankyou.

I have heard some people bridging the distance between mythic Jesus and first century Judaism by proposing everybody in those days were wanting a dying rising god. Like the morning follows the night they were popping up everywhere. Very dubious to my ears. I noticed Johannes bruskly dismissed that idea. I do not know if it invites more consideration.


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 Post subject: Re: Craig Evans v Richard Carrier Did Jesus Exist SUPERB
PostPosted: Fri Jan 12, 2018 9:54 pm 
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i have been following this discussion with great fascination, the education presented here is tremendous, thank you Symmachus, Kishkumen, Johannes, Analytics and others.

Although I am theoretically disposed to put value on Bayesian analysis in general due to my mathematical and statistical background, I find myself siding with the historians in this case, that the Bayesian analysis executed by Carrier does not add much to the discussion.

I've always looked at mathematical expression as simply another language, a way to say things as logically and coherently as possible, and typically a little more efficiently than using words, but in the real world of course it isn't always that simple. Consider just this one excerpt from an extremely thorough post by Symmachus:
Quote:
It all boils down to how much or how little, how well or how poorly we can use the later Rabbinic evidence for the first century in Palestine. Where Neusner was a minimalist, Sanders was a moderate, but to Neusner that was functionally the same as being a maximalist. Until a competent Bayesian analysis is done (nudge nudge, wink wink), where one falls will remain a question of temperament. I prefer Sanders because he is more comfortable with uncertainty and able to weigh the relative importance of evidence without being dogmatic about it...I only mention all this background because I think it is related to the topic at hand. It hasn't gotten a lot of play in our discussion here, but mythicism basically hinges on how Jewish earliest Christianity was.

in my opinion, this statement by Symmachus captures a great deal of what would go into a thorough Bayesian analysis, and expresses how historians are already using that kind of analysis as efficiently and thoroughly as possible.
Sean Carroll wrote:
Bayes’s Theorem can be thought of as a quantitative version of the method of inference we previously called “abduction.” (Abduction places emphasis on finding the “best explanation,” rather than just fitting the data, but methodologically the ideas are quite similar.)
From what I have read here, the historical experts are already doing this, and doing it with far greater depth and expertise than Carrier is bringing to the table.

as another example:
Symmachus wrote:
The point I have been trying to make over and over (and apparently without success) is that any hypothesis about Jesus has to fit what we do know (coheres, to use Stak's term) before we start weighing its probability against any other hypothesis—and that second hypothesis should also cohere with what we do know. Both must fit what we know.The problem with mythicist Jesus is that it does not cohere with what we do know. It therefore does not deserve consideration.

To me, this reads as an excellent Bayesian analysis, wherein Symmachus, if I understand him correctly, is arguing that it is meaningless to put forward, as one of two possibilities, an hypothesis that has effectively a close to zero a priori probability when there are hypotheses in place already that have a well-accepted and significant a priori probability.

As an intellectual exercise, sure, the math is interesting in an abstract sort of way, but I can't fault a historian who doesn't find value in comparing the likelihoods of two hypotheses where one of them has, in their best estimation and on their best understanding of the current data, virtually a zero likelihood of being correct.
Symmachus wrote:
But whatever a Bayesian approach might reveal, it shouldn't force us to rethink whether we really know Greek or not.
Indubitably.


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 Post subject: Re: Craig Evans v Richard Carrier Did Jesus Exist SUPERB
PostPosted: Fri Jan 12, 2018 9:56 pm 
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Analytics wrote:
A Bayesian Analysis of Eggs

I remember purchasing eggs last week, and I don't think anybody in the household has used them all yet. I'm 90% confident we have eggs. But being a fanatical Bayesian, I take the following approach to verify:

There are two hypothetical universes that are exactly equivalent in every way except one: in one universe, there are in fact eggs in the fridge. In the other, there are no eggs.

I open the door and see eggs. In a universe where there actually are eggs, seeing them happens 95% of the time (5% of the time the eggs are really there, but I’m absent-minded and the fridge can be a mess so I miss them). In a universe without eggs, I see them 0.1% of the time (once, my little brother used all the eggs but for some mind-boggling reason, put the carton back in the fridge filled with empty shells. Thus, it is possible to see something that isn’t really there).

Consequently, I plug these numbers into Bayes’s formula, and conclude that I am 99.999% certain that I do in fact have eggs.

Clearly you are living in a far more rational universe than I. Seeing an egg carton in my refrigerator would get no better than 50-50 odds that I actually have eggs.


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 Post subject: Re: Craig Evans v Richard Carrier Did Jesus Exist SUPERB
PostPosted: Fri Jan 12, 2018 10:02 pm 
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Lemmie
From what I have read here, the historical experts are already doing this, [meaning doing Bayes Theorem analysis]


But if they are doing this properly, then why so many cotton pickin various and contradictory kinds of Jesus do they find? Jesus surely cannot be all those descriptions historians come up with, since so many of their descriptions of him are contradictory. The criteria simply don't work as so many have now concluded, so it appears that who Jesus was will forever remain out of our hands. I am assuming a historical Jesus here just as the various contradictory Jesus scholars do for the multivariegated Jesus's they claim is the real one. I have never seen any Jesus scholar seriously use Bayes Theorem for their Jesus. Other than Carrier.

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 Post subject: Re: Craig Evans v Richard Carrier Did Jesus Exist SUPERB
PostPosted: Fri Jan 12, 2018 10:10 pm 
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Philo Sofee wrote:
Quote:
Lemmie
From what I have read here, the historical experts are already doing this, [meaning doing Bayes Theorem analysis]


But if they are doing this properly, then why so many cotton pickin various and contradictory kinds of Jesus do they find? Jesus surely cannot be all those descriptions historians come up with, since so many of their descriptions of him are contradictory. The criteria simply don't work as so many have now concluded, so it appears that who Jesus was will forever remain out of our hands. I am assuming a historical Jesus here just as the various contradictory Jesus scholars do for the multivariegated Jesus's they claim is the real one. I have never seen any Jesus scholar seriously use Bayes Theorem for their Jesus.

No, your bracketed insert is not what I meant. i was referring to the quote right above that statement. Let me correct it for you:
Lemmie wrote:
From what I have read here, the historical experts are already doing this, "...[placing] emphasis on finding the “best explanation,” rather than just fitting the data..."


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 Post subject: Re: Craig Evans v Richard Carrier Did Jesus Exist SUPERB
PostPosted: Fri Jan 12, 2018 10:29 pm 
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But if they are doing this properly, then why so many cotton pickin various and contradictory kinds of Jesus do they find?


Don't confuse biased observation with an underdetermined system. Correcting bias doesn't magically make facts appear.


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 Post subject: Re: Craig Evans v Richard Carrier Did Jesus Exist SUPERB
PostPosted: Fri Jan 12, 2018 11:21 pm 
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Gadianton wrote:
Quote:
But if they are doing this properly, then why so many cotton pickin various and contradictory kinds of Jesus do they find?


Don't confuse biased observation with an underdetermined system. Correcting bias doesn't magically make facts appear.


But it ups the probability, the entire point.

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 Post subject: Re: Craig Evans v Richard Carrier Did Jesus Exist SUPERB
PostPosted: Fri Jan 12, 2018 11:26 pm 
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Quote:
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From what I have read here, the historical experts are already doing this, "...[placing] emphasis on finding the “best explanation,” rather than just fitting the data..."


Thank you. That clarifies. Now then, the problem is the circularity of some of their best explanations, as well as the problematic criteria which have not led us into a conclusive and inclusive whole, but has splintered the kinds of Jesus into dozens of different kinds of people. The criteria don't work, and there is no head way being made, and we still don't have a clue about the nature of the man, let alone what he did, etc. Schweitzer's conclusion over a hundred years ago is today's conclusion - Jesus is continually being made into the image the researching scholar wants him to be, not finding out what he really was. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Dale Allison is the foremost prestigious voice in these concerns.

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 Post subject: Re: Craig Evans v Richard Carrier Did Jesus Exist SUPERB
PostPosted: Sat Jan 13, 2018 10:25 am 
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Fence Sitter wrote:
So I looked though his book on Amazon. There are quite a few. Is there one in particular you recommend? Not your favorite perhaps but one that would be accessible to a lay person like me?



Morley wrote:
Yeah, me too. Any so-called primers would be appreciated. I hadn't realized what a deep hole I'm in regarding this subject.



Unless you want to get into Proto-Rabbinic and early Rabbinic material, you can probably pass by Neusner. If the idea of studying the Mishnah appeals to you, then I could suggest some titles. My like of Neusner has more to do with me being a wanna-be Talmudist than anything related to historical Jesus studies.


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 Post subject: Re: Craig Evans v Richard Carrier Did Jesus Exist SUPERB
PostPosted: Sat Jan 13, 2018 10:28 am 
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Symmachus wrote:
Neusner, on the other hand, rejected the idea that there was a single Judaic setting. He emphasized its variet, and he was very fond of the phrase "Judaisms" to capture that idea (personally, I think it is a rhetorical trick rather than a substantive point, since, as Sanders pointed out, the plural implies the singular of which the many are variations; of course there was variety, but that doesn't mean we can't search for and examine what the various strands had in common). Neusner could be pretty dickish in his disagreement; his scholarly shoulder was marked by many chips, and his tussle with Sanders was by no means the most heated (he had a pretty vicious spat with one of his former teachers).


Just to drive home the point that Symmachus is making about how Neusner writes sometimes:

Image

and

Image


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PostPosted: Sat Jan 13, 2018 10:38 am 
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Analytics wrote:
As I understand him, he says that Bayesian analysis is both normative and descriptive--it is how science should be done and how it is in fact done.


If that is the case then I think mounting a defense is going to be a very steep uphill climb. To give a quick example, Bayes conceived with a strict conditionalization is going to generate odd problems, especially in 20th century science:

Image


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 Post subject: Re: Craig Evans v Richard Carrier Did Jesus Exist SUPERB
PostPosted: Sat Jan 13, 2018 12:15 pm 
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Philo Sofee wrote:
Gadianton wrote:
Don't confuse biased observation with an underdetermined system. Correcting bias doesn't magically make facts appear.
But it ups the probability, the entire point.
My troglodyte mind finds itself trying to calculate the odds that this thread devolves into an argument about whether 'Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter' decreases the probability of a historical Lincoln.


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PostPosted: Sat Jan 13, 2018 12:39 pm 
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Philo Sofee wrote:

Thank you. That clarifies. Now then, the problem is the circularity of some of their best explanations, as well as the problematic criteria which have not led us into a conclusive and inclusive whole, but has splintered the kinds of Jesus into dozens of different kinds of people. The criteria don't work, and there is no head way being made, and we still don't have a clue about the nature of the man, let alone what he did, etc. Schweitzer's conclusion over a hundred years ago is today's conclusion - Jesus is continually being made into the image the researching scholar wants him to be, not finding out what he really was. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Dale Allison is the foremost prestigious voice in these concerns.


You could say all the same about Alexander the Great—we really don't know much about his motivations either, what he thought about what he was doing or in general, or just what sort of person he was, and all the sources for him are much later than those for Jesus, while his long-term influence was arguably greater than Jesus's or comparable—but I think you exaggerate a little. We do know a lot about Jesus compared to any other non-elite person in the Roman empire in first century; "what he really was" was a fairly insignificant, subliterate Jewish peasant who led a small religious revival in northern Palestine that came into conflict with the governing authorities, both Roman and Judean, farther south around the time of a harvest festival during the reign of Tiberius. The Romans killed him, and the response to that was an early form of Christianity. The finer points of distinction—apocalyptic prophet, miracle worker, social reformer, son of god, etc.—do not, in my opinion, have that much relevance except for religious people who are trying to find a model for their behaviors and ideas, or trying to justify their behaviors and ideas. History is no help there, and they'll believe whatever is more religiously appealing anyway. There might be some scholarly frustration, but nobody throws their hands up in despair as if we are in the face of some ineffable mystery when it comes to Alexander the Great. I don't see why you need to do that when it comes to Jesus either.

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PostPosted: Sat Jan 13, 2018 12:43 pm 
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huckelberry wrote:
Symmachus, I thought that was a very helpful explanation, thankyou.

I have heard some people bridging the distance between mythic Jesus and first century Judaism by proposing everybody in those days were wanting a dying rising god. Like the morning follows the night they were popping up everywhere. Very dubious to my ears. I noticed Johannes bruskly dismissed that idea. I do not know if it invites more consideration.


I'm not sure that everybody in Judea wanted a "rising/dying" god, but it's interesting that neither the synoptic gospels nor the letters of Paul portray Jesus as a dying god who was risen from the dead (a Jewish messiah/apocalyptic figure like risen from the dead, yes, but not a god; that's what all that Elijah business is in the transfiguration in Luke and Matthew). That's unthinkable in a fiercely monotheistic environment; the nature of god was less controversial a question in first century Judea than who you ate dinner with, so it doesn't really bridge the gap for me, although it does explain how the Jesus movement was transformed by the religious cultures of the ancient Mediterranean: the more it took on some of those features, the less Jewish it became.

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PostPosted: Sat Jan 13, 2018 5:50 pm 
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Quote:
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You could say all the same about Alexander the Great—we really don't know much about his motivations either, what he thought about what he was doing or in general, or just what sort of person he was, and all the sources for him are much later than those for Jesus, while his long-term influence was arguably greater than Jesus's or comparable—but I think you exaggerate a little. We do know a lot about Jesus compared to any other non-elite person in the Roman empire in first century; "what he really was" was a fairly insignificant, subliterate Jewish peasant who led a small religious revival in northern Palestine that came into conflict with the governing authorities, both Roman and Judean, farther south around the time of a harvest festival during the reign of Tiberius. The Romans killed him, and the response to that was an early form of Christianity. The finer points of distinction—apocalyptic prophet, miracle worker, social reformer, son of god, etc.—do not, in my opinion, have that much relevance except for religious people who are trying to find a model for their behaviors and ideas, or trying to justify their behaviors and ideas. History is no help there, and they'll believe whatever is more religiously appealing anyway. There might be some scholarly frustration, but nobody throws their hands up in despair as if we are in the face of some ineffable mystery when it comes to Alexander the Great. I don't see why you need to do that when it comes to Jesus either.


Heh, thou almost persuadest me to believe in a real Jesus........

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 Post subject: Re: Craig Evans v Richard Carrier Did Jesus Exist SUPERB
PostPosted: Sat Jan 13, 2018 6:19 pm 
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Philo Sofee wrote:

Heh, thou almost persuadest me to believe in a real Jesus........


I hope only to persuade you and others of the explanatory power of the ancient historian's methodologies and techniques. I don't "believe in" Jesus anymore than I do in Alexander the Great or Abraham Lincoln; I simply find that the historical records, properly interpreted, strongly suggest that all of these were real people and not the mythic inventions of imagined communities.

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