October 15, 2014

Jesus mythicism raises its uninformed head again, along with other religious ignorance

As do many other bits of ignorance, at a recent guest post at philosopher Massimo Pigliucci's webzine.

The post, which was about a philosophic take on "An official guide for demon hunters," had a number of readers, including yours truly, eventually comment on matters of defining what a religion is, as well as specific comments about variants of specific religions.

Steven Johnson and Mario Roy were both egregious in the latter area.

Roy, among various things, claimed repeatedly that the Essenes were not part of mainstream Judaism 2,000 years ago at the turn of the eras. Johnson later claimed that I was basing my refutation of Roy on Josephus, when I'd never even mentioned him.

I quote Wikipedia:
Many separate but related religious groups of that era shared similar  mystic,  eschatological,  messianic, and ascetic beliefs. These groups are collectively referred to by various scholars as the "Essenes." Josephus records that Essenes existed in large numbers, and thousands lived throughout Roman Judaea.
Tis true that Josephus may have overstated their numbers. Or, he may not have. Per Wiki, let's remember that the Roman historian Pliny the Elder mentioned them before Josephus did. 

Johnson then defended Morton Smith's "Jesus the Magician." He claimed that possible forgery by Smith of the so-called Secret Gospel of Mark was irrelevant to scholarship, or lack, or points of view, in "Magician." He also claimed that people accusing Smith of forgery had an anti-gay bias.

The reality is here — whether it was more serious academic fraud to poke at the eye of an anti-gay Christianity of the 1950s, or more a prank, is hard to tell. But it was one or the other, as some sort of forgery.

Because comments on essays there close after five days, I didn't have the chance to make final responses on this, Coel's totally non-shocking defense of Jesus mythicism or other things.

I have my own blog to do that now, though.

StevenJohnson Yes, per Aravis, if you can’t see how “goes to character” is an issue, or potential issue, with Smith, you’re seemingly either accidentally or willfully blind as a bat on issues of academic fraud and more.

Second, I never mentioned Josephus by name, so how can you even know what I think about him? If you’re referring to my replies to Mario, I was referring to modern scholarship about Judaism at the turn of the eras.

Your definition of “skepticism” is also wrong.

Coel and others: Mythicism has its roots in late Victorian Britain, where it became fashionable to also question the historicity of Gautama (likely as historical as Jesus) and Zoroaster (likely not historical). It originally had much thinner academic backing than its relative thinness of today. A good overview of some basic issues is on RationalWiki.

That said, in Christian mythicism, there is both a “narrow” and a “broad” version. The narrow version being that Jesus never existed AND that the character in the Christian NT is not based on one, or more than one, actually  existing versions. A “broader” mythicism agrees with the first half of the above sentence, but not the second half. For example, at about the same time as the “narrow” mythicism was proposed, a broader version said that Jesus was based upon another Jesus, theoretically among the Pharisees crucified by Alexander Jannaeus a century before the dating of the life of Jesus in the Christian gospels.

Indeed, the Talmud has this version. Whether it’s something out of whole cloth, or reflects some tradition, now lost, is unknown. That said, per Rational Wiki, Christian father Irenaeus had Jesus dying under Claudius, interesting for the man who knew of the four “canonical” gospels.

At the end of the link above are several explanations of how Jesus mythicism got started. I find none of them convincing, and this is only the less whacky ones. (The more whacky ones include “Acharya” and her claims that Jesus came from a mishmash of Levantine astrological myths, and Joseph Atwill — even more whacky, if possible, and it is possible — reviving the old nonsense that the Romans, of all people, invented the Jesus myth.

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