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Did Jesus Exist - Bart Ehrman's new book 
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Post Re: Did Jesus Exist - Bart Ehrman's new book
ant wrote:

Suggest the nice easy tone to GEO as well. Unless the ideal environment around here is an echo chamber, which I would not want to be a part of, I am going to more than likely take a different stance than what the customary one here is. I have no problem with that. Sure, I might not get any "Thanks" for my posts, but I don't care about that.


I don't mean to come across as combative. Actually I think you and I agree on the main thrust of this thread—that Jesus was an actual historical person. We do differ on some things, but they're mostly minor points. I do appreciate your perspective and I wish I hadn't been so negative about Ehrman early on. That was unfair and presumptive of me since I haven't read any of his scholarly work.


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Post Re: Did Jesus Exist - Bart Ehrman's new book
ant wrote:
Quote:
Strawmen? I was merely responding to your comment about atheists choosing not to have a "deeper understanding" of early religious belief.


Yes, strawmen.
You are wanting to talk about a "god" and not the historical jesus as examined by historians.

And your sarcastic loch ness monster statement.
i don't know what its mating rituals are. Go do some research and start a post about it. This discussion is about the historical Jesus.


Again, I was commenting on the atheist perspective, at least this atheist's perspective, of certain religious beliefs. Being outside these belief systems, it really makes no sense for me to address the validity of the intricacies of specific beliefs. I used the example of post-mortem baptism and transubstantiation, both of which seem absurd to me, but which our part of those Christian sect's religious doctrines. It would be disingenuous of me to address such peculiar (to me) religious beliefs or pretend to discuss them rationally. And since I also don't believe in the Loch Ness monster or Yeti, it would be very much like me addressing those believers' imagined biological data regarding creatures that very likely don't even exist. It's a fair analogy. You likely don't believe in the Loch Ness monster either. You can probably imagine how it feels sitting down with a true Loch Ness believer who insists on seriously discussing its mating habits. That's why this atheist chooses not to have a "deeper understanding" of early religious beliefs other than from a purely anthropological perspective.

Now, granted, I probably completely misunderstood your statement. If true, you could clarify what you meant by it. Or just let it go, that would be fine too.


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Post Re: Did Jesus Exist - Bart Ehrman's new book
geo wrote:
ant wrote:

Suggest the nice easy tone to GEO as well. Unless the ideal environment around here is an echo chamber, which I would not want to be a part of, I am going to more than likely take a different stance than what the customary one here is. I have no problem with that. Sure, I might not get any "Thanks" for my posts, but I don't care about that.


I don't mean to come across as combative. Actually I think you and I agree on the main thrust of this thread—that Jesus was an actual historical person. We do differ on some things, but they're mostly minor points. I do appreciate your perspective and I wish I hadn't been so negative about Ehrman early on. That was unfair and presumptive of me since I haven't read any of his scholarly work.


I choose not to be spoon fed conclusions drawn by mythicists. I'd like to think my position here is grounded in healthy skepticism. Reconstructing historical events from antiquity is highly complex and is much more involved than simply paralelling stories and arriving at convenient conclusions.

There is a common presumption among non believers who think that if a person defends any religious position then they must be against critical thought. That's bunk.

I think it's possible that some aspects of mythicism have elements of truth. It may have partial explanatory power, and that's it.

Am I a Christian for taking this position?
Call me a Christian Agnostic.

You obviously are very intellegent. I am sorry if I got a bit snippy.


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“For it is owing to their wonder that men both now begin to and at first began to philosophize; they wondered originally at the obvious difficulties, then advanced little by little and stated difficulties about the greater matters, e.g. about the phenomena of the moon and those of the sun and of the stars, and about the genesis of the universe. And a man who is puzzled and wonders thinks himself ignorant” (Metaphysics, 350 BC)


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Sun Apr 15, 2012 3:54 pm
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Post Re: Did Jesus Exist - Bart Ehrman's new book
Robert has brought up many compelling points, but I still question the overall mythicist position. It does seem almost like a counter culture sort of movement, kind of deconstructionist in its own way. It still makes more sense to me that Jesus was an actual historical person, although I'm just an armchair historian and my opinion isn't worth much.

Thanks for your posts, Ant. I do really appreciate your being here. It's given us atheists something to do. 8)


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Post Re: Did Jesus Exist - Bart Ehrman's new book
ant wrote:
Suggest the nice easy tone to GEO as well. Unless the ideal environment around here is an echo chamber, which I would not want to be a part of, I am going to more than likely take a different stance than what the customary one here is. I have no problem with that. Sure, I might not get any "Thanks" for my posts, but I don't care about that.

I was just surprised that you said I was willfully avoiding a point you made. I'm sure it wasn't that on my part. In the above that you imply that I expect a party line from you, which is also surprising given my expressed appreciation for your independent stances and my thanks for your posts.

Quote:
What is the essential difference between history and science? I thought I mentioned one;

Natural science engages in repeatable experiments to determine the probabilities of future events re-occurring.
Historians examine past events that can not be repeated. Historians can only conclude what probably happened in the past. They are unable to prove what happened in the past

I do appear to have missed this. It's still an interesting topic, with no simple answer, in my view. I know it's true about the non-repeatability of history; historians often point out that they can't run controlled experiments. I wonder about the nature of proof in natural science, though. It doesn't seem that what comes out of natural science is always or even usually certain proof, especially when large systems such as climate and the biology of the body are concerned. Yes we have those accepted natural facts that have come from proofs, but it seems that there is a parallel to these in the facts of history. Unless we let ourselves get hung up on epistemology and the word "proof," we know that Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth. Our ability to know with certainty what happened decreases as "what happened" grows in complexity, when sources aren't abundant, are contradictory, etc.

Quote:
I digress a bit, but what are the limits of science's explanatory power?

My stab at that would be that science only happens bit by bit, piece by piece, and within each bit there is (or needs to be) a strict definition of what is being explained by the work. So limits are not a problem, really, and there theoretically isn't a limit to what can be explained. In practice, we have ideas about what science has and hasn't been able to explain, where "explain" needs to cover more than the physical nature of the world, since we are psychological beings.


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Post Re: Did Jesus Exist - Bart Ehrman's new book
DWill,

First of all let me start off by saying that I was just expressing some frustration
I thought it odd that you missed my answer to that question because you normally do not miss anything thrown in your general direction. You also pose excellent questions and contribute keen insight. Having said that, I apologize if my tone was short.

Regarding your comment about science perhaps falling short of certain proof as it relates to large systems like biology; that tickled my single brain cell that I cherish so much.
I was recently reading a bit of Carl Hempel's Covering Law Model. He considers the notion of partial explanations and their relation to evolutionary biology. Much of it is based on naratives that predict biological outcomes, since evolutionary biology is such a highly complex process, the theory of evolution actually must be recognized as having limited explanatory power - it actually explains relatively little. It can only offer vague, probabilistic predictions and or explanations. The same can be said similarly about history and psychology.

I think this goes to the essence of science ultimately not being able to deal with the tough "Why" questions that a toddler asks. I think those people that place all their faith ( no pun intended) in science are asking too much of science. Hence, "scientism" follows.
Should science seek to explain everything? Should we expect that it does?
Is it the only realm of knowledge to look to for answers?
Who determines which WHY questions are good and which are bad?


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“For it is owing to their wonder that men both now begin to and at first began to philosophize; they wondered originally at the obvious difficulties, then advanced little by little and stated difficulties about the greater matters, e.g. about the phenomena of the moon and those of the sun and of the stars, and about the genesis of the universe. And a man who is puzzled and wonders thinks himself ignorant” (Metaphysics, 350 BC)


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Post Re: Did Jesus Exist - Bart Ehrman's new book
I suppose it might be new thread time, since we're not on the HJ question anymore. but to follow up on your post, I don't know if you've read Sam Harris' last book, The Moral Landscape. In that, he proposes that science and values are not separate and that science should be used to determine values. He uses science both broadly, in the sense of reasoned inquiry, and more narrowly, in the sense of neuroscientific research, for example. He repeatedly says that although there are many aspects of the world that we don't understand, there isn't a reason to doubt that science can find the answers. The way to understand the world chosen by religion can never come to resolution; it can only lead to more division and violence.

Among the problems he doesn't confront is the problem of partial explanations and the fragmentary nature of scientific discovery. Getting the kind of scientific agreement that would then solidify into values is hard to come by. Science frequently raises more confusion in the minds of the public than it gives answers, and this process is inevitable and even necessary. So I don't see science as particularly useful in helping us with values. What if we could prove scientifically that a fetus has no sense of pain or distress? Those opposed to abortion wouldn't believe it, and that discovery alone wouldn't remove all objections anyway.

I think evolution does explain a great deal, compared to the explanation for the development of life we had before it came along. But the terms and limits of the explanation are contained in the all the research that buttressed the theory. For me your term scientism applies whenever anyone goes beyond the mandate of natural selection to claim wider application or significance. That is unscientific in itself.


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Mon Apr 16, 2012 7:15 am
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Post Re: Did Jesus Exist - Bart Ehrman's new book
ant wrote:
I think this goes to the essence of science ultimately not being able to deal with the tough "Why" questions that a toddler asks. I think those people that place all their faith ( no pun intended) in science are asking too much of science. Hence, "scientism" follows.
Should science seek to explain everything? Should we expect that it does?
Is it the only realm of knowledge to look to for answers?
Who determines which WHY questions are good and which are bad?


I'm always baffled by this comment: "well science doesn't answer everything." This seems to be a canard by believers to show that there's room for religion in the world. But I've never heard anyone ever say that science explains everything or seeks to explain everything.

Science sheds light on the world. More importantly the truths it yields are objective truths about the nature of the world and our place in it (although this very idea that we have a place in the cosmos reeks of arrogance and hubris). The lesson of evolution is that we don't have a special or exalted place in the cosmos. This is perhaps the most elegant and profound truth yet revealed by science.

It's preposterous to believe that science could ever explain everything. For one thing, we are very limited beings with limited sensory capability and limited imaginations. It's preposterous to think that we could know everything. But what other avenues besides science can we, as limited beings, use to pursue knowledge?


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Post Re: Did Jesus Exist - Bart Ehrman's new book
Quote:
I'm always baffled by this comment: "well science doesn't answer everything." This seems to be a canard by believers to show that there's room for religion in the world. But I've never heard anyone ever say that science explains everything or seeks to explain everything.



I too am baffled whenever a comment is made that science is omnipotent as a great majority of atheists claim that it is. Also, these "New Atheists" seem to think that science does away with the need for religion.
If you have never heard anyone ever say that science explains everything or seeks to explain everything, I'd suggest you listen to some of Peter Atkins' debates or discussions. He flat out asserts that science is omnipotent.

Also, from personal experience, you won't believe how many snarls, hisses, and the like I hear at science talks I attend. It is a reflection of the general attitude of "skeptics" - "we have the answers to everything, or will at some point in time" It's a real attitude that exists.


Quote:
Science sheds light on the world. More importantly the truths it yields are objective truths about the nature of the world and our place in it (although this very idea that we have a place in the cosmos reeks of arrogance and hubris).


Yes, I acknowledge without reservation science's explanatory power. Whether or not truths can be defined as objective truths is debatable. It is difficult to achieve objective truth from subjective experience.

Quote:
It's preposterous to believe that science could ever explain everything. For one thing, we are very limited beings with limited sensory capability and limited imaginations. It's preposterous to think that we could know everything


Agreed

Quote:
But what other avenues besides science can we, as limited beings, use to pursue knowledge?


To think that science is the only avenue to obtain knowledge is to engage in "scientism."

This may be a bit related: What is your opinion of the below quote from Einstein:

Quote:
"The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant.

We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift."


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“For it is owing to their wonder that men both now begin to and at first began to philosophize; they wondered originally at the obvious difficulties, then advanced little by little and stated difficulties about the greater matters, e.g. about the phenomena of the moon and those of the sun and of the stars, and about the genesis of the universe. And a man who is puzzled and wonders thinks himself ignorant” (Metaphysics, 350 BC)


Last edited by ant on Mon Apr 16, 2012 1:58 pm, edited 2 times in total.



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Post Re: Did Jesus Exist - Bart Ehrman's new book
Quote:
I suppose it might be new thread time, since we're not on the HJ question anymore. but to follow up on your post, I don't know if you've read Sam Harris' last book, The Moral Landscape. In that, he proposes that science and values are not separate and that science should be used to determine values. He uses science both broadly, in the sense of reasoned inquiry, and more narrowly, in the sense of neuroscientific research, for example. He repeatedly says that although there are many aspects of the world that we don't understand, there isn't a reason to doubt that science can find the answers. The way to understand the world chosen by religion can never come to resolution; it can only lead to more division and violence.


I am interested in Sam Harris' book. I've heard him speak before.

Sam generalizes too much about religion. Also, he does not recognize that the division and violence he holds religion responsible for is committed by extremists. He is stereotyping religion. That is not practicing true critical analysis.


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“So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me, for all is vanity and a striving after wind!” (Ecclesiastes 2:17)


“For it is owing to their wonder that men both now begin to and at first began to philosophize; they wondered originally at the obvious difficulties, then advanced little by little and stated difficulties about the greater matters, e.g. about the phenomena of the moon and those of the sun and of the stars, and about the genesis of the universe. And a man who is puzzled and wonders thinks himself ignorant” (Metaphysics, 350 BC)


Mon Apr 16, 2012 2:11 pm
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Post Re: Did Jesus Exist - Bart Ehrman's new book
ant wrote:
the theory of evolution actually must be recognized as having limited explanatory power - it actually explains relatively little. It can only offer vague, probabilistic predictions and or explanations. The same can be said similarly about history and psychology.


I'm finding this discussion very interesting. It is great that Dr Ehrman has been able to prompt such dialogue. There are many rabbit holes that we could jump down as we explore the existence of Jesus, in history, psychology and evolution.

Here on this evolutionary point, I suspect that ant has again allowed a rhetorical flourish to mislead him into exaggeration for effect. To say evolution "explains relatively little" is wrong.

An example that I find most fascinating is Stephen Oppenheimer's work on the evolution of the human genome, which he studies as a method to reconstruct the journey of humanity out of Africa and the peopling of the world, explained on the Bradshaw Foundation website. Evolution provides the theoretical framework that enables science to investigate the evidence of human genetics and rule out answers that conflict with the law of descent by modification. The binary logic of genetic evolution is a powerful explanatory evidentiary tool to understand our world. It explains a lot.

The theoretical framework of the law of evolution is immensely powerful to understand cultural evolution as well, although this is more disputed, especially on what we might call memetic metaphysics. The law of evolution is cumulative adaptation, that successful living entities build on existing precedents. There are random changes, but only those changes that are most adaptive to emerging contexts flourish, so evolution is selective and directional.

In the realm of cultural evolution, ideas that people find inspiring and useful tend to prosper, while ideas that people find useless suffer neglect and wither. The example of Jesus Christ, the idea of the Anointed Savior, is a central main meme in human culture. Voltaire said that if God did not exist it would be necessary to invent him, and it appears we can say the same about Jesus Christ, that if there had been no messianic hero in Israel then there was abundant motive and opportunity to weave a fictional tale to say there had been such a man. The idea had such powerful resonance that people wanted to believe it, and each stage of the evolution of the mytheme built upon the successful precedents of earlier thought, discarding the parts they found useless and elaborating those they found inspiring.

On this fertile soil of desire for belief in a unifying savior, Saint Mark conducted his psychological operations warfare against the Roman Empire by writing his gospel. Seeing that military methods were futile, Mark sought to subvert the moral legitimacy of Rome by destroying its divine mandate, using the fictional story of Jesus to build popular opposition to the right of the empire to rule.

The assertion that Jesus was real is of a piece with the assertion that he was born of a virgin, a misunderstanding that is aimed at defending the indefensible by living in a world of convenient fantasy. The reality of Jesus is intimately bound up with the legitimacy of western civilization, because Jesus was captured by the empire to bestow divine pleasure on the state.

Mark's effort to subvert Roman identity was partly successful, leading to the collapse of paganism, but also partly unsuccessful, in that Rome successfully assimilated the Christian moral attack, recognising its own psychological guilt for imperial murder by making the cross the symbol of redemption and conscience. This imperial guilt was then deflected onto the Jews, who were stigmatised as Christ killers so that western civilization could claim an unrepentant clear conscience about its destructive and oppressive behavior.

Jesus and John made the point that you cannot be forgiven if you do not understand your sin and feel sorry about it. While people fail to understand the sinful nature and history of the construction of the Christ myth, they live under condemnation. As Jesus put it, the truth will set you free.


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Post Re: Did Jesus Exist - Bart Ehrman's new book
Continuing the theme of the moral condemnation of fantasy, Earl Doherty's magisterial study Jesus Neither God Nor Man provides a detailed analysis of the letters of Saint Paul to argue that Paul saw Jesus Christ as spiritual rather than as historical.

I would like now to explore one of Paul's comments against this framework, from his Letter to the Romans, Chapter 8 Verse 1.
Saint Paul wrote:
Romans 8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. (KJV)


To be 'in Christ Jesus' is to walk after the spirit, not the flesh. What this means, in my reading, is that salvation is only from understanding the word of truth, not from any of the attitudes that can be called 'walking after the flesh', including participation in a physical line of descent. This teaching from Paul presents a direct condemnation of the church doctrine of apostolic succession.

Paul is thought to have written in about 50 AD, while the Gospels came a generation later, around the time of the Jewish War with Rome. Interpreting the evolution of Christian belief, it appears that Paul presented a spiritual story of Christ, existing only in proclamation. However, this message proved hard to understand, and hard to use to motivate institutional growth of the church. So Mark developed the historical hints in Paul into a fullblown fictional account of a historical Jesus. The high vision of the spirit had to be augmented by a story of the flesh, because that was what people could understand.

Therefore, it appears that the Gospels, in so far as they 'walk after the flesh', by asserting that the story of Jesus of Nazareth is historical, stand condemned by this teaching from Paul.

There is much in the Gospels, for example John's Prologue, that presents a nuanced account of how this simple myth of the flesh relates to the divine word which gives salvation. But nuance is rarely understood. When people have a strong emotional drive to believe, they will ignore nuance that qualifies their agenda.

The 'psychological operations' of Paul's spiritual warfare against the powers of the present darkness (Ephesians 6:12) began as a contrast between the fleshly materialist vision of empire and the spiritual idealist vision of holiness. But the psyops had to compromise with the enemy, because Paul's pure vision lacked social and political traction without a historical fable that set the cross of Christ in Jerusalem. The Gnostic authors hoped they could maintain the distinction between their elite spiritual secret of salvation and the public fleshly simplification presented in the Gospels, but they largely failed, because the public message proved overwhelmingly popular.


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Last edited by Robert Tulip on Mon Apr 16, 2012 7:09 pm, edited 1 time in total.



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Post Re: Did Jesus Exist - Bart Ehrman's new book
Quote:
Evolution provides the theoretical framework that enables science to investigate the evidence of human genetics and rule out answers that conflict with the law of descent by modification.


It is impossible for a human being to construct a theoretical framework without introducing preconceived notions, particularly when there is little to zero understanding of a phenomena to be studied. This is not to say that said framework does not offer a degree of explanatory power. Rather, it is expected that a framework will ultimately produce only partial explanations.


Evolutionary biology predicts that a species of a particular description will appear in a given circumstance. It can explain the existence of that particular species. But evolutionary biology does not make much use of empirically testable laws because it can't, quite frankly. Laws involve highly complex interactions with other laws.

1) Scientific explanations involve laws.

2) Biology does not make frequent use of empirically testable laws

Conclusion: Biology is an incomplete science.

Biology mostly explains in a historical manner. It falls short of explaining in a law governed manner. Because of the complexities involved and the laws that govern them (most of which are not capable of being replicated), biology relies heavily on narrative explanations. A narrative is different than a theory. Chew on that one a while.

Note: I am not attempting to create a case for Adam and Eve.

Quote:
Saint Mark conducted his psychological operations warfare against the Roman Empire by writing his gospel. Seeing that military methods were futile, Mark sought to subvert the moral legitimacy of Rome by destroying its divine mandate, using the fictional story of Jesus to build popular opposition to the right of the empire to rule
.

Cite the evidence for the above narrative, please. What manuscripts, archeological discoveries, etc, etc, add substance to that claim? It sounds too much like a mythical narrative.

Your poetic style about the Christ myth is backed with little to no evidence, Robert.


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“For it is owing to their wonder that men both now begin to and at first began to philosophize; they wondered originally at the obvious difficulties, then advanced little by little and stated difficulties about the greater matters, e.g. about the phenomena of the moon and those of the sun and of the stars, and about the genesis of the universe. And a man who is puzzled and wonders thinks himself ignorant” (Metaphysics, 350 BC)


Mon Apr 16, 2012 10:36 pm
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Post Re: Did Jesus Exist - Bart Ehrman's new book
Quote:
Saint Paul to argue that Paul saw Jesus Christ as spiritual rather than as historical.


In its totality, Doherty's assertion that Christ was crucified in a spiritual realm rather than on earth is quirky, IMO.

My understanding of Doherty's reasons for this is "the ancients' view of the universe."

In Bart Ehrman's magisterial work, " Did Jesus Exist?" Ehrman state's the following:

Quote:
According to Doherty, authors who were influenced by Plato's way of thinking and by the mythology of the ancient Near East believed that there was a heavenly realm that had its counterpart here on earth. Genuine reality existed not here in this world, bit in that other realm. This view of things was especially true, Doherty avers, in the MYSTERY CULTS (emphasis mine), which Doherty claims provided "the predominant form of popular religion in this period."


First of all, most religious pagans were not devotees of mystery cults. Is there a shred of evidence available to back the claim that they were, Robert?

In the first edition of his book, Doherty claims that in the higher realm is where the key divine events of the mysteries transpire (e.g. Attis os castrated, Osiris is dismembered, Mithras slays a bull). In his second edition, Doherty admits that in fact it is not known if that is true and that there is no reflections of such things by any of the cult devotees, since there exists not a single writing from any of the members of the "ancient mystery cults."
Do you know of any such writings that indicate this, Robert? Please reference here for all to examine. Why did Doherty waffle so badly on this point?

Also, Doherty does not allow 1 Thessalonians as evidence that the Jews (Judeans) were the ones responsible for Christ's death. Once again, it is a matter of convenience for mythicists - when something doesn't fit, simply trash it as being planted by a plotting hand, or condemn it all together. This is what Ehrman refers to as "textual studies of convenience: if a passage contradicts your views, simply claim that it was not actually written by the author."

1 Corinthians 2: 6 - 8 indicates that the "rulers of this age" were the ones who "crucified the Lord of glory." But Doherty believes these rulers are really demonic rulers and not men.


Question: How does Doherty claim to have uncovered the view of the world as held by the ancients of this period?
Ancient views held by the ancients were highly complex. How many "views" are held by the people of our time?
Who has uncovered a particular view of our time and identified it as "THE" view of our time?

Platonism was one of the ancient philosophies at that time. Stoicsim was another. Epicureanism was yet another. What is the evidence that these mystery cults were influenced by just one of these views?

Doherty indicated that we actually do not know what the followers of mystery cults thought. Yet, at the same time, he asserts they thought like the later Platonist Plutarch. Is this correct? If so, why can he have it both ways here?

Also, to assert that members of these cults, who more than likely would have been common people, would have shared the views of highly sophisticated, elite philosophers, is a stretch.


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Mon Apr 16, 2012 11:37 pm
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Post Re: Did Jesus Exist - Bart Ehrman's new book
ant wrote:
How does Doherty claim to have uncovered the view of the world as held by the ancients of this period?

Doherty provided the following specific rebuttal of this sloppy error by Ehrman. So much for 'magisterial'. More like dishonest or incompetent.

http://vridar.wordpress.com/2012/03/29/ ... /#comments

Earl Doherty wrote:
I hope that all of you are following the postings on Vridar by Neil Godfrey relating to Bart Ehrman’s presentation of statements and arguments in my book Jesus: Neither God Nor Man. . . . What Neil has focused on in this posting (“Bart Ehrman’s false or careless assertions and quotations concerning Earl Doherty“), the first of several he plans on the same problem in Did Jesus Exist [I now notice he has just posted a second instalment], is Ehrman’s handling of my discussion of the ancients’ views of the universe and how one in particular influenced early Christian cosmology and their placement of their Christ Jesus’ sacrifice in the heavenly world. Here, as quoted on Vridar, is what Ehrman says:

Ehrman continues to repeat and underscore this aspersion — that Doherty is so simplistic as to speak of a single view of the world among ancients:
BE wrote:
To begin with, how can he claim to have uncovered “the” view of the world held by “the” ancients, a view that involved an upper world where the true reality resides and this lower world, which is a mere reflection of it? How, in fact, can we talk about “the” view of the world in antiquity? Ancient views of the world were extremely complex and varied…


Neil points out that this is a direct misrepresentation of what I say in my book. Ehrman is discussing my page 97, which actually says (the square-bracket insertions are mine just made): "To understand that setting, we need to look at the ancients’ views [VIEWS, plural] of the universe and the various [i.e., MULTIPLE] concepts of myth among both Jews and pagans, including the features of the Hellenistic salvation cults known as “mysteries.”"

But Ehrman has not simply ‘misread’ one word, the surrounding context, and in many other places in my book, contains further material like this: "From the documentary record both Jewish and pagan (and there is more to survey), it is clear that much variation existed in the concept of the layered heavens and what went on in them, just as there were many variations in the nature of the savior and how he conferred salvation."

Neil and some commenters on his posting point out that Ehrman’s language (see above) also implies that this particular “view” of the universe (the Platonic one) I present is somehow my own laughable invention, whereas any undergraduate student of ancient thinking knows full well that this was a widespread (and even pre-Plato) type of cosmology about the nature of the universe. Unfortunately, much of Ehrman’s readership will not even be undergrads.

In the same posting Neil quotes this blatant non-sequitur on Ehrman’s part:
BE wrote:
This view of things was especially true, Doherty avers, in the mystery cults, which Doherty claims provided “the predominant form of popular religion in this period.” (This latter claim, by the way, is simply not true. Most religious pagans were not devotees of mystery cults.)

Something that is a “predominant form” is not necessarily indulged in by the majority. Ehrman’s criticism here is based on this fallacy. I have not said that a majority of pagans were initiates into the cults. Besides, the presence of the word “popular” gives a different cast to things. If I say that the predominant form of popular music over the last half-century has been “rock and roll” that does not say that a majority of the population of all ages and ethnic groups around the world have been enthusiastic about rock and roll. Ehrman exhibits serious logical deficiencies here.

On the “view”/”views” matter, Neil suggests that Ehrman may have been “more careless than dishonest,” while one commenter puts it “we must first assume carelessness and not malice”. (Dishonorable or incompetent, take your pick.) But I think this is bending over backwards unjustifiably. It is admittedly hard to believe that Ehrman could have deliberately misrepresented my words, consciously falsifying my arguments in order to put me in the worst possible light. But what is the alternative “carelessness” due to? What else but a blatant prejudice against all things mythicist, a deliberate closing of the mind to anything that could possibly confer a positive light on the mythicist argument (shades of Dr. McGrath), a conscious attitude toward mythicism as a satanic expression of anti-religion held by people whose sole agenda is the destruction of Christianity? In other words, “malice” against myself and mythicism, and what I and other mythicists are perceived to constitute. (I don’t yet know if the language of his Huffington Post article is fully reproduced in the book, but that wouldn’t matter; those sentiments were offered in a promotion of the book and clearly illustrate the author’s mindset.) That malice has led Ehrman (and others both today and in the past) into a culture of misrepresentation and closed-minded condemnation, a litany of fallacious argument, a practice of misleading—even deceptive—presentation of both mythicism and the case for historicism, especially to lay readers who are at the mercy of their own trust in the reliability of ‘professional’ scholars with their proper credentials.

If we cannot trust a scholar to address and deal with the arguments of opposing viewpoints honestly and reliably, how can we trust them to be presenting and dealing honestly and reliably with the arguments in support of their own theories? And in fact, Ehrman has already been called out extensively on many of the book’s statements in defence of historicism, some of them blatantly insupportable.

Several months ago, when we were discussing the anticipation of Ehrman’s book on this forum, I said to Don that I would hardly be adopting toward Ehrman the same tone and style I often adopted toward some of those here who treat mythicism as a doormat. I would show, I said, respect toward a respected scholar who might be expected to handle the subject matter and its proponents with some degree of honesty and thoughtfulness. How naïve that was!

Robert Price has reacted to Ehrman’s book by calling it a “rag” and other derogatory labels. I won’t use that kind of language. Actually, it’s far worse. Bart Ehrman’s Did Jesus Exist is a massive failure of integrity, both professional and personal. This was a long-awaited book. First, from the time of its announcement over a year ago, for it was to constitute the work of a respected mainstream scholar who would devote an entire book to addressing mythicism and an attempt to effectively rebut it. But also long-awaited for several decades, for no one over that time had offered a full-length book to justify the widespread claim that historicism was a no-brainer and that mythicism had long been annihilated. To judge by quotes and comments (even by some not necessarily mythicism supporters), this book is a huge disappointment. One might even say a betrayal.

P.S. If my own reading of the book disproves or compromises this extremely negative evaluation, I will be the first to revise my estimation of it. I said in my first posting in this thread that I would be reacting to what others (on both sides) say about it, rather than to a reading of the book itself. Right now I am forced to mask my vision in the new cataract-free eye, since it contributes only a disturbing blur at monitor-screen distance, and I am having to rest frequently. But I found it impossible to remain silent on the sidelines until I am able to get a corrective reading lens and tackle the book itself. If anyone wishes to dispute my comments or evaluation of Ehrman on the basis of others’ quotes and criticisms, please feel free.

. . . . . .

Earl Doherty


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