Thursday, January 15, 2009

Good blog posts

Let's see, PZ Myers destroys a creationist attempt to hijack new research,

Richard Carrier gives us a superlong post about the Jesus project he's involved in, and John Loftus responds.

Enjoy all those good posts!!


SirMoogie said...

John Loftus' response doesn't impress me all that much. While it's fair to go with scholarly consensus, I'm hesitant to do so when the scholars in question haven't settled on the meaning for a historical Jesus, or a consistent methodology for evaluating historical figures. There seems to be a spectrum of what it means to say a historical Jesus existed. John settles on a failed apocryphal prophet interpretation, some settle on some guy, who wasn't named Jesus, who might have been a teacher of sorts.

There also seems to be some double standards being employed when it comes to Biblical historicity. For example, the criterion of embarrassment is only used in Biblical scholarship. Its use is not found in historical methodology, yet it seems to be essential to supporting some scholar's notions of the historical Jesus. I'm not an expert in these things, but if the methodologies used for establishing Jesus' existence, whatever that might mean, are as shoddy as the criterion of embarrassment, I'm not going to take seriously the consensus of Biblical scholars.

For the moment, I'm biased towards mysticism, but I'm agnostic to the question's answer. I'm interested in the results of good scholarship that employs scientific methodology and evidence (e.g., that of archaeology and anthropology) from either side of the debate. Do you have any recommendations from historical Jesus side?

AIGBusted said...

Hey SirMoogie,

The criterion of embarassment actually isn't just used for biblical studies. It's just the commonsense rule that if someone writes down something that would be embarassing to them, then it is probably true.

However, in the case of the gospels we must remember that if there is a reason someone would make up the "embarassing" event in question, then the criterion of embarassment fails.

Let me give you an example: Christian Apologists often point to the story of Peter betraying Jesus as fulfilling the criteria of embarassment. After all, why would anyone make up the fact that the a great church leader was so unfaithful?

But in the gospel of Mark, we see that while Simon Peter denies jesus, Simon of Cyrene actually takes up Jesus' cross. Is it a coincidence that we have two Simons, one denying Jesus while the other takes up his cross and follows him? I don't think so. I think that this was meant to symbolize how all of us have a fleshly side and a spiritual side, and how one is wicked while the other is pure.

So to sum up, since there is a very good reason Peter's betrayal might be made up, the criterion of embarassment fails in this case. There are other examples, but I feel most of them fail as much as this one does.

Anyway, to answer your question about the historicity of Jesus, I don't see many good arguments coming from their side. I really don't. "I made a guest post on "Debunking Christianity" a while back that discusses some of the arguments for and against a historical Jesus (including some arguments for that I find somewhat persuasive):

SirMoogie said...


"The criterion of embarassment actually isn't just used for biblical studies. It's just the commonsense rule that if someone writes down something that would be embarassing to them, then it is probably true."

Call me skeptical. Do you have a historical methods book, or high impact historical journal articles that have established the existence of a historical figure using this method? The "common sense" rule, whatever that might mean, seems only applicable to texts with verified figures and authorship, neither of which we have in the gospels. If we can't verify the authors of the book in question, or their intent, how can we even determine if the writing is embarrassing to the author?

AIGBusted said...


I'm no expert in hostory, but I have talked about the criterion of embarassment with Richard Carrier (PhD in Ancient History, and a Jesus Mythicist-Obviously not sympathetic to Christianity) and he agrees that it is a legitamate tool for determining historicity. Or at least, it can help you decide whether something is more or less likely to be historically accurate.

But you did bring up a good point: The authors of the gospels are unknown to us. All we can do is try to glean their purpose from their writings. So how, for instance, do we know that some of the embarassing events reported would have run against the interest of the authors? The answer is that we really cannot know, we simply have to look at how the author felt about, for example, Jesus, and then determine whether an event in question matches the general impression the author is trying to give.

This alone does away with a lot of the examples of embarassment in the new testament. For instance, some argue that no one would make up the empty tomb story in which the women are the ones who discover it (Christian apologists usually point to the fact that women weren't reguarded very highly in that time and culture). But how does this matchup to the way Jesus is portrayed in general? Jesus is usually only understood by the downtrodden and weak. The disciples never really "get" Jesus, his family thinks he is crazy, but he is a hero and a teacher to adulterers, sinners, the poor and the humble. So who better to discover Jesus' empty tomb than women, who are considered weak and not as honorable as men? We now have a very good reason that the gospel writer might choose to make up such a story? Bart Ehrman gives a good explanation of this line of reasoning in his book "Peter, Paul and Mary Magdalene".

Anyway, I agree with you that the examples of embarassment do not hold up upon close examination, although I am open to the possibility that some elements of the gospel could be shown historical (or roughly historical) through the criterion of embarassment. I just haven't seen any "embarrassing story" that holds up.

AIGBusted said...


Just by coincidence I came across something that Richard Carrier wrote about historical methods and Jesus. Anyway, in a conversation I had with him he indicated that he believed the criterion of embarrassment was valid. But it appears that his position has changed. Just "read page 13 of this document."

Looks like you may have been right after all.

Michael Kandefer said...

Thanks AiG that looks like an interesting read. Just to clarify my position, mine is not that the criterion of embarrassment can't be useful, it just doesn't seem useful when alternative explanations of the data include the possibility that the individual in question is mythical, allegorical, or allegedly spiritual. In such circumstances it can make sense for an author trying to convey such themes to rely on making fallible characters to teach some spiritual/moral lesson.

The criterion might be useful in situations where one knows the authorship, and their intent. For example, if reading a biography of an individual, and they report that some embarrassing event happened to them. Then the "common sense" rule might apply. However, I think it is next to useless, if not completely useless, for establishing the existence of some historical figure.

SirMoogie said...

In case you didn't know the above is my post. I apparently have two blog accounts. =D