essay: Evidence for the Exodus
April 5, 2015 8:59 PM   Subscribe

Many are sure that one of Judaism's central events never happened. Evidence, some published in this Mosaic essay for the first time, suggests otherwise. Joshua Berman, Was There an Exodus?

The linked page includes three responses to Berman's essay, as well as a response from Berman to the responses:
posted by paleyellowwithorange (96 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
 
In Parting the Waters, 1988, by Taylor Branch (one of three seminal works), Branch reported King's exposure to this question/debate at his seminary school may have inspired King's focus on activism. I'm going from memory but the gist was that (other than the bible) there was no corroborating archeological/historical evidence from the surrounding cultures to indicate a "mass" migration.
posted by lazycomputerkids at 9:50 PM on April 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


See also, The Bible Unearthed.
posted by Brian B. at 10:05 PM on April 5, 2015


It's an interesting series of articles. One thing I didn't see mentioned - the earliest evidence for alphabetic script (i.e., what eventually became the letters used in Hebrew and Phoenician and ultimately Greek/Latin/English) comes from Egypt and the Sinai desert, and was presumably written by foreign slaves. Here's an article on it by Orly Goldwasser from Hebrew University: How the Alphabet Was Born from Hieroglyphs
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:35 PM on April 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


Most religions have critical historic events as part of their belief system: the Passover and the Exodus in Judaism, the Resurrection in Christianity, the Buddha achieving Nirvana (IIRC), and so on.

I think it's pointless to try to determine if they really happened, because ultimately it doesn't matter. This isn't about facts, it's about belief.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:37 PM on April 5, 2015 [6 favorites]


A recent Radiolab episode covered the acoustics of blowing down the Walls of Jericho with shofar players. On a related note Archeological data is pretty clear that Jericho was not occupied at the proposed dates of the Israelite conquest. Also iirc genetic studies of Israelite and Caanite remains have found more similarities than differences, suggesting that there wasn't a conquest as much as a shift of cultural practices and identities among the inhabitants.
posted by humanfont at 10:42 PM on April 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think it's pointless to try to determine if they really happened, because ultimately it doesn't matter. This isn't about facts, it's about belief.

It depends on whether you're approaching the question as a religious one, in which case you're right, or as a historical/archeological one, in which case of course fact matters. Would you suggest that whether the US Civil War actually happened or not is irrelevant and all that matters is that people believing it happened set the stage for the current red-state/blue-state states-rights/civil-rights situation? Historians and archeologists want to know what actually happened in history/pre-history; it's crazy to say that the entire disciplines don't matter with regard to some events, just because belief in those events matters, too.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 10:58 PM on April 5, 2015 [40 favorites]


No mention of the Hyksos?
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 11:01 PM on April 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


I think it's pointless to try to determine if they really happened, because ultimately it doesn't matter. This isn't about facts, it's about belief.

It wasn't pointless to King, and the fate of a people is poorly compared to the inspirational icons of religious movements. I mean, I like the Simpson's Sweet Seymour Skinner's Baadasssss Song episode as much as possible, but the confluence of subject and topics here is far from pointless to a great many people.

No mention of the Hyksos?

There is in Brian B's post, second from the top.
posted by lazycomputerkids at 11:04 PM on April 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think it's pointless to try to determine if they really happened, because ultimately it doesn't matter. This isn't about facts, it's about belief.

Your disinterest in whether or not allegedly historical events actually happened is hardly universal.
posted by straight at 12:04 AM on April 6, 2015 [10 favorites]


It's fine to scoff at the idea that aliens built the Great Pyramid in Egypt, but it would be madness to claim that it doesn't matter whether or not it was built by aliens.
posted by straight at 12:08 AM on April 6, 2015 [22 favorites]


The Egypt taken out of Israel narrative makes sense when one realizes that prior to the Bronze Age Collapse, Egypt held dominion over lands now regarded as Israel. So we may really have a one-sided narrative of a colonial Egypt's attempt to control a nomadic tribe, until circumstances forced it to withdraw. The nomads of course would consider it divine intervention and a liberation.
posted by happyroach at 12:53 AM on April 6, 2015 [5 favorites]


So we may really have a one-sided narrative of a colonial Egypt's attempt to control a nomadic tribe, until circumstances forced it to withdraw.

That's raised in the second response.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 1:25 AM on April 6, 2015


The Egypt taken out of Israel narrative makes sense when one realizes that prior to the Bronze Age Collapse, Egypt held dominion over lands now regarded as Israel.

I feel like there may have been some event that inspired the Exodus story. The bronze age collapse saw the Habiru repulsed by Egypt flee into and settle in the Levant, and yeah, there is some mention of Asiatic slaves used for construction projects. And, yeah, even then the massive, ancient (even then) kingdom of Egypt would have some influence on the local culture by virtue of being right next-door and often controlling key cities. And then there are the Hyksos.

I can see a lot of known events that could have influenced the Exodus story. Most of the OT didn't really get nailed down until after the Babylonian exile though, yes? Sure it came from previous sources. So all the "details that later scribes wouldn't include" is sort of a moot point, right? I don't know. I tend to believe there was some event that lead to the Exile story, so maybe it does have a historical basis. But I also tend to think the OT version is a garbled version of some population migration that got elevated to mean something it wasn't originally.
posted by Avelwood at 1:38 AM on April 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


It's fine to scoff at the idea that aliens built the Great Pyramid in Egypt, but it would be madness to claim that it doesn't matter whether or not it was built by aliens.

Yeah, but you try telling that to your senator! It doesn't matter how many densely crabbed letters I send, they just won't allocate the funds I need to build my tele-invertron and travel back in time to get proof!
posted by No-sword at 3:29 AM on April 6, 2015 [5 favorites]


One of the big issues here, obviously, is that the authors arguing for an Exodus are relying on the apologists' defense that the Egyptians didn't record a significant slave revolt because it would have looked like bad PR. That can't be taken seriously. And given that modern scholarship has the Pentateuch coming together centuries after the Egyptians had ruled in Canaan, it's not surprising that some accurate elements from that period survived in tradition.

But nobody deals with the total lack of archaeological evidence for an invasion and conquest in anything like the period required. Even if you were able to create a case for a much smaller bunch of Semitic ex-slaves migrating from Egypt back to Canaan, they still wouldn't be the Israel of biblical imagination.
posted by graymouser at 3:49 AM on April 6, 2015 [8 favorites]


just as slave-holders in the New World never identified their black slaves by their specific provenance in Africa.

I know this is a small point, but slaveholders in the New World did differentiate the origin of their slaves. Slave auctions often mentioned specifically where the slaves had been taken from, and certain ethnic groups were sought out by farmers raising certain crops.
posted by Thing at 4:22 AM on April 6, 2015 [9 favorites]


These are really interesting essays, but I feel like they need links to supporting research for their claims if someone like me (who is new to the discussion) is to evaluate each position. From reading all the links, I think the textual similarities between the Kadesh poem and the Exodus story are clear but the reasons for that similarity are speculative, apart from the Exodus story having developed during the Rameses II period.
posted by harriet vane at 4:40 AM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


Harriet Vane, speaking as a non-academic who is very interested in this sort of thing: yes, these arguments are tremendously speculative. There is very little external confirmation for most things in the Bible, even for things we're pretty sure about. It's a Big Deal when an external source confirms something, because there are hardly any surviving Biblical-era documents or inscriptions. Things are different in Egypt (lots of inscriptions, also drier) and in Babylonia (where they used clay instead of papyrus/parchment) but there's literally a handful of relevant Israelite/Judahite/Moabite texts outside the Bible. So it's very much a guessing game, fitting theories of how developed the Israelite kingdom (e.g) was into the archeological record.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:11 AM on April 6, 2015 [4 favorites]


Although I don't really have a dog in the race as far as proving that things in the Bible did or didn't happen, I do wonder how long it'll take before Holocaust denialists start appropriating the Exodus-didn't-happen arguments as further "evidence" of Hebrew perfidiousness, if they haven't already.
posted by Strange Interlude at 5:54 AM on April 6, 2015


It's fine to scoff at the idea that aliens built the Great Pyramid in Egypt, but it would be madness to claim that it doesn't matter whether or not it was built by aliens.

I am not mad and I don't believe it much matters whether or not aliens built the pyramids. It obviously matters a lot to a very very few people but do most people care?
posted by bukvich at 6:22 AM on April 6, 2015


Thanks Joe, I wasn't sure if it was all me or not. But I'd still like references for this sort of thing in the final link:

"Unfortunately, Hendel’s academic studies in this vein reveal no Scriptural support for the claim that the ancestors of Israel had resided in Canaan all along—as contrasted with the hundreds of references to a sojourn in Egypt."

I can't tell anything about Hendel's studies or the hundreds of references to a sojourn. But maybe this is more of a critique of the website not creating links or asking for supporting detail, than of the authors who are presumably familiar enough with the subject that they already know what's being referred to. Most experts forget what it's like to be new tot heir pet topic :)
posted by harriet vane at 6:28 AM on April 6, 2015


I am not mad and I don't believe it much matters whether or not aliens built the pyramids.

The "aliens built the pyramids" notion is a recent iteration of an long-term ongoing narrative stating that "Those brown people couldn't possibly have done this". So if for nothing else, the fact that it's used to justify racism and imperialists means it's important to combat.
posted by happyroach at 6:34 AM on April 6, 2015 [5 favorites]


I do wonder how long it'll take before Holocaust denialists start appropriating the Exodus-didn't-happen arguments as further "evidence" of Hebrew perfidiousness, if they haven't already.

Well, it's a very common topic all over the place on Reddit, where people get pretty gleefully smug about those 'lying' Jews.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 6:56 AM on April 6, 2015


I think it's pointless to try to determine if they really happened, because ultimately it doesn't matter. This isn't about facts, it's about belief.

Judaism in particular has a tradition of (mostly) rejecting blind faith for reason-based faith that goes back at least as far as Maimonides.
"Maimonides wrote: "There is a group of human beings who consider it a grievous thing that causes should be given for any law; what would please them most is that the intellect would not find a meaning for the commandments and prohibitions." (Guide 3:31) He was displeased with those who thought that the Torah's teachings should be accepted blindly and unthinkingly. This tendency of mind leads inexorably to a superficial view of religion, even to superstition. A mind that is trained to accept information without analyzing and questioning it, is a mind that can be controlled by demagogues and shamans."

History and historical context is very important to Judaism. The Torah is a series of stories that tell the history of the Jewish people and their maturing relationship with G-d. This history provides a foundation for the present and future. Also, our understanding and interpretation of belief, obligation and rituals has evolved over time. We rely on ancient and modern texts as teaching tools through narratives and object lessons. And we're not supposed to remain so rigid in our thinking that we reject new ideas or revelations. At least, that's the theory, anyway.

From a practical perspective, that understanding of history has become a way of governing modern Jews. The Beit Din, or Jewish court system, relies on historical precedents and interpretations to the application of Jewish laws.

The Bible is the world's best-selling and most widely distributed book. If evidence existed that the exodus story was a fiction: say, nationalistic propaganda that spurred Jews to win an ancient war, that would probably matter to a great many people.
posted by zarq at 7:20 AM on April 6, 2015 [11 favorites]




I am not mad and I don't believe it much matters whether or not aliens built the pyramids.

Honestly, this sounds like the definition of having gone mad.
posted by Dalby at 7:28 AM on April 6, 2015 [7 favorites]


I'm not saying there's enough evidence of aliens to make the question worth discussing, I'm saying if it were true, it would be a big enormous deal, interesting and relevant to a bunch of our modern-day concerns.

Even moreso I can't understand anyone who would say finding out we live in a world where deities have raised the dead or given miraculous victories to slave rebellions would be no big deal, not much different from a world where these are just inspirational fables.
posted by straight at 7:30 AM on April 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


This isn't about facts, it's about belief.

It's about believing if those events are facts or not.

NOVA just aired an episode that looks at the archaeological evidence of parts of the Old Testament,

Worth watching for the graphical renderings, but it mainly defends the possibility that it happened and leaves out most of the theory about why it didn't happen.
posted by Brian B. at 7:36 AM on April 6, 2015



Although I don't really have a dog in the race as far as proving that things in the Bible did or didn't happen, I do wonder how long it'll take before Holocaust denialists start appropriating the Exodus-didn't-happen arguments as further "evidence" of Hebrew perfidiousness, if they haven't already.


Started two thousand years ago.

Philo of Alexandria wrote a response specifically about that.
posted by ocschwar at 8:49 AM on April 6, 2015


I know it's not the intent, but just consider for a moment how it feels as a Jew to be metaphorically called aliens. It's horribly antisemitic and a direct echo of the reasons given to kill us throughout history. I understand your intent, but this is a very bad way to illustrate your argument.
posted by stoneweaver at 9:08 AM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


There is very little external confirmation for most things in the Bible, even for things we're pretty sure about.

Even of Jesus, the last I looked. I'm not a historian, yet history has always fascinated me. And the older I get, the more it fascinates. I liken it to looking down from a mountain at a vast plain. The closer things are, the easier they are to make out. But the further they are, the closer to the horizon, the more everything gets compacted together until it's all just one dense impenetrable blur ... or not there at all.

Which reminds me of something Malcolm Muggeridge said when asked why, if he wanted to reach all of humanity, would Jesus have come to earth in such a backward time? Why not do it in the 20th Century, in a time of mass communication etc? "Because,"said Mr. Muggeridge, "That's exactly how God would do it. Plant the seed in some remote historical backwater, let it grow for centuries, inexorably penetrate all manner of myth, custom, etc, so there never really is PROOF, just a powerful story which you either believe or you don't. Thus faith."

Or words to that effect.
posted by philip-random at 9:31 AM on April 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


I have absolutely nothing to add to this discussion except to link to Yale's Christine Hayes' Intro to the Old Testament course on Youtube - if you want a good introduction, you could do worse than 'taking' this course, complete with readings.
posted by eclectist at 9:45 AM on April 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


Even of Jesus, the last I looked.

The academic consensus is still pretty strongly in favor of the existence of a Jesus, if you're interested in a statement of the current state of scholarship, Did Jesus Exist? by Bart Ehrman is pretty much it. There are some interesting skeptical hypotheses but Ehrman demonstrates that scholars can't realistically say there was no Jesus. Whereas, when you read The Bible Unearthed, it pretty much says that the things detailed in the early parts of the Hebrew Bible aren't likely to have happened. So Berman is really challenging the current status quo, although not as dramatically as the Jesus myth proponents.

Ancient history is full of unreliable sources and archaeology that gives us a rough idea of how little we know.
posted by graymouser at 10:10 AM on April 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


I dunno if there was an Exodus, but there was definitely an Ultima III.

And that great reggae song. EX O DUS!
posted by ostranenie at 10:14 AM on April 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


I had been under the impression that most scholars, Jewish and gentile alike, were in agreement that the Exodus was more myth than history, same as there is general consensus that Moses did not write the Pentatauch.

Apparently there is more argument than I'd been aware of.
posted by sotonohito at 10:22 AM on April 6, 2015


the authors arguing for an Exodus are relying on the apologists' defense that the Egyptians didn't record a significant slave revolt because it would have looked like bad PR. That can't be taken seriously.

Ok, as a layman, I am not seeing the absurdity. We are talking about the same Egyptians that decided to scour a city to erase evidence of a crazy monotheistic king?

...and in the US we know how much effort put in to hiding southern slave revolts.
posted by pan at 11:42 AM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


We are talking about the same Egyptians that decided to scour a city to erase evidence of a crazy monotheistic king?

Yet we know about Akhenaten. We know his name, and we know about his coincidentally more famous son. The point being, we might not see the revolt but, if there was a massive departure, we should see some effect either before or after - the traces of an event. You can't have something as devastating as the Exodus was in the Bible and not leave any trace.
posted by graymouser at 12:08 PM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


Previously. (Self-mefi-link.)
posted by dmd at 2:16 PM on April 6, 2015


just consider for a moment how it feels as a Jew to be metaphorically called aliens

Crap. I suck at analogies. My intent was to compare stories of of God's miraculous intervention in history to something like aliens having been involved in our history as both being hard to believe but pretty darn significant if true. I didn't notice that the way I phrased it could be be read as if I were comparing the theory that Jewish slaves helped build the pyramids to theories that it was done by aliens. Sorry.
posted by straight at 2:58 PM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


"That's exactly how God would do it. Plant the seed in some remote historical backwater, let it grow for centuries, inexorably penetrate all manner of myth, custom, etc, so there never really is PROOF, just a powerful story which you either believe or you don't. Thus faith."

Then He's a jerk and can go piss up a rope for all I care.
posted by DreamerFi at 3:35 PM on April 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


Dude didn't you know that Yahweh is really just Loki in disguise.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 3:39 PM on April 6, 2015


The entire existential nature of the State of Israel is bound up in the Bible. You cannot believe how politicised Holy Land archaeology is - as in, you can stroke your goy chin, as I did, and say "Yes, I can see how that might be", but you won't really experience it until you go to Jerusalem and go on a state-appointed tour of the archaeology (of which there is Nothing But: seriously, that entire area hasn't even got a geology, just stratified archaeology), and even then once you've experienced it you still won't believe it.

What actually happened? What a daft question.
posted by Devonian at 6:04 PM on April 6, 2015 [4 favorites]


I have never, and maybe I'm underexposed about this, but I have never, never heard that "aliens built the pyramids because brown people were too stupid to do it on their own" or whatever the hell kind of racism you want to pin on that.

What I *have* heard is that

- the pyramids were an extremely difficult technical challenge to design and build, and the people that built them MET that challenge.
- that modern people have, for a very long time, considered ancient people to be primitive, that recent archaeological developments have disproved this, and now regard ancient people to have been very well skilled, talented builders and engineers.

- That even with a modern skill set, a pyramid is one bitch-kitty of a building to construct out of stone.

I think a lot of people misconstrue "ancient" to mean "stupid". These were not, by a long shot, stupid people, or simple peasants tasked with dragging a rock up a slope. They were very talented stonemasons with long years of experience behind them, building to a standard that has allowed these buildings to continue standing to modern times.

I don't think it has much to do with skin color, or race. It has a lot more to do to with not believing that just because someone lived 2,000 or 4,000 years ago, they lacked technology as we know it, and it must have been impossible for those Bronze Age morons to build a hut, let alone a pyramid.

The reality is that the people of 2500 years ago may have lacked OUR idea of technology, but they certainly had technology of their own, they were not stupid, but were very very good at applying what they knew to the task at hand.

Further, you can't apply modern definitions of racism to a culture that didn't understand that color was an issue as it exists in our society today. If you were a slave, it was because you were either born into it as an inherited condition, or because you had skills that your owners didn't have. Consider the times, and the setting: EVERYONE was "brown". Your caste didn't depend on your color, it depended on when and where you were born, and what you knew (and didn't know). The concept of "Caucasian White" didn't exist in that place and in that time.
So: if you want to apply the modern definition of racism to ancient people, I suppose you can, but the reality is that slaves were slaves no matter what their skin color. And a great many of them were very talented people, very technologically advanced people, for their time period, and slavery as we understand it todaydidn't really exist.
posted by disclaimer at 8:07 PM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


Seconding @greymouser -- Ehrman's book Did Jesus Exist? (suggested subtitle: 'Yes. We Settled This Ages Ago') is a superb overview of how scholars go about answering questions about New Testament historicity in the (near-)absence of non-Biblical corroborating evidence. One thing he said that struck me: dismissing scriptures as historical documents because of their 'propaganda' value/purpose is the equally essentialist negative image of 'history happened this way because scripture said so' -- and in any case, as Ehrman points out, scholars have sensible criteria for evaluating things like textual evidence (so that informed assessments can be made about, say, which of Jesus's sayings were likely later additions to the corpus, and which probably do come from Jesus -- a fascinating question!).

'Which parts of the Torah/Bible really happened?' is an interesting, complicated open question, and pop articles (even by serious scholars) can only scratch its surface.
posted by waxbanks at 8:18 PM on April 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


> dismissing scriptures as historical documents because of their 'propaganda' value/purpose

No, I think the reason for dismissing Christian scriptures is that they contain numerous passages that seem to someone outside the religion to be extremely implausible - the classic "seven day cosmology", Adam and Eve, Jesus' miracles and returning from the dead, and that sort of thing.

In the New Testament specifically, there's also the issue that there are significant inconsistencies between the different books purporting to describe the same events, which naturally raises suspicion, particularly when coupled with repeated claims of infallibility.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:30 PM on April 6, 2015


Seconding @greymouser -- Ehrman's book Did Jesus Exist? (suggested subtitle: 'Yes. We Settled This Ages Ago')

The question has never been settled, the doubters are just getting started, and they are winning the debate.
posted by Brian B. at 9:23 PM on April 6, 2015


Searching for the Wine from the Last Supper

Note: published two days before Pesach.
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:31 PM on April 6, 2015


In the New Testament specifically, there's also the issue that there are significant inconsistencies between the different books purporting to describe the same events, which naturally raises suspicion, particularly when coupled with repeated claims of infallibility.

Academic scholars of biblical history who publish critical readings don't make claims of infallibility. The differences are exploited to speculate about time, place, audience and supposed "authors". Frontline's (now aging) From Jesus to Christ: The First Christians is a four-hour examination of the phenomenon of Christianity and analysis of the texts that sustain it.
posted by lazycomputerkids at 9:38 PM on April 6, 2015


In the New Testament specifically, there's also the issue that there are significant inconsistencies between the different books purporting to describe the same events [...].

What that says to me is that there are multiple stories about someone called Jesus; they don't all originate in the same source. That's better evidence for his existence than a single source would be: it implies that more than one person found it worth composing or recording stories about him. It doesn't say much for the veracity of the stories themselves, but historians have rules of thumb for selecting elements that are more likely to be accurate, and an uncontroversial synopsis would be something like:

"Someone called Jesus was born in Judaea around the turn of the first millennium. He was a follower of John the Baptist and later attracted many followers of his own. His eschatological teachings led to his execution, but remained the focus of his followers' belief. What we now call Christianity can be traced back to those followers and those who joined them subsequently."
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:53 PM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


Joe, I'm wondering if you think historians should apply the same logic to Greek mythological figures? Or Babylonian? or well take your pick of mythological pantheons.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 10:01 PM on April 6, 2015


My intent was to compare stories of of God's miraculous intervention in history to something like aliens having been involved in our history as both being hard to believe but pretty darn significant if true.

I have to admit that proof of God WOULD be a massively significant event, especially if we could meet him. I mean, aside from the crimes against humanity trial, there would be about a billion civil suits...
posted by happyroach at 10:11 PM on April 6, 2015


Although I don't really have a dog in the race as far as proving that things in the Bible did or didn't happen, I do wonder how long it'll take before Holocaust denialists start appropriating the Exodus-didn't-happen arguments as further "evidence" of Hebrew perfidiousness, if they haven't already.

I'm sure this wasn't the intent, but it feels like it creates a kind of hostile commenting environment to bring any old thing about Jewish history around to what heretofore-unmentioned Holocaust denialists may or may not propose.
posted by threeants at 10:38 PM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


Like I guess if you're the first person in a thread to write a side-comment containing the phrase "Hebrew perfidiousness" maybe think twice?
posted by threeants at 10:41 PM on April 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


I mean, aside from the crimes against humanity trial, there would be about a billion civil suits...

assumes the universe revolves around humanity
posted by philip-random at 10:52 PM on April 6, 2015


Joe, I'm wondering if you think historians should apply the same logic to Greek mythological figures? Or Babylonian? or well take your pick of mythological pantheons.

Both Greek and Babylonian mythology are rather older and started in pre-literate societies, so the quality of evidence is rather less. Also, I don't believe that Jesus was a deity. But yeah, I'm prepared to believe that particular human figures (e.g., Agamemnon, maybe even Gilgamesh) from Greek and Babylonian mythology actually existed.
posted by Joe in Australia at 11:06 PM on April 6, 2015


But yeah, I'm prepared to believe that particular human figures (e.g., Agamemnon, maybe even Gilgamesh) from Greek and Babylonian mythology actually existed.

I guess my response would be that being prepared to believe something is a little different from having a strong historical basis for believing something. The historicity of Jesus or the Passover are problematic for so many reasons that we don't really need to go over them here except to cite the most glaring; which is there are no primary sources corroborating that these people and/or events were actualized historical entities. In many cases, such as the exodus, there aren't even any contemporary secondary or tertiary sources which attest to the event. It seems to me that trying to talk about the exodus as a historical event is like trying to talk about creationism as viable alternative to the modern synthesis of evolutionary theory.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 11:57 PM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


There are no primary sources for a whole lot of things that we take for granted. Things aren't magically true (or false) just because they're known from a secondary document. Lots of things are known only from secondary-or-later sources. Most of our knowledge of ancient Old World history comes from the accounts of ancient historians.

In the case of the founder of Christianity, we have Josephus writing about the execution of St James and mentioning in a very matter-of-fact way that James was "the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ". James died when Josephus was in his mid-twenties, it's not at all impossible that they met.

Tacitus, writing about the Great Fire of Rome, says that Nero blamed it on "a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace." He then goes on about how their religion was started by a guy named "Chrestus" from Judaea. Tacitus was seven when the fire broke out; he probably remembered the gossip of the time. The fire occurred in 62 CE, well within the lifetime of people who would have remembered Jesus. Suetonius (who was somewhat younger) has a similar account.

Neither of these proves that Jesus existed, of course, but they do show that within a few decades of his crucifixion people took his existence for granted, and even identified his relatives. Compare this to a probably-fictional character like Robin Hood: there's no consistent sense of time or place or connection to documented events. Every reference to Robin Hood is about Robin Hood. In contrast, the stories about Jesus are tied to a single locality and a specific set of events (i.e., Herod's persecution of John the Baptist and the political situation in Judaea and Galilee) and people use Jesus as a reference to explain fairly recent events.
posted by Joe in Australia at 12:47 AM on April 7, 2015 [4 favorites]


Of course historical claims matter, even (especially) if they are religiously coloured.

Because there are about two (maybe three, I dunno) billion humans on this planet who are committed to the belief that the universe was created by a God who not only sustains it on an ongoing basis but who has occasionally intervened directly in human affairs, and that the sites of said intervention should be particularly commemorated. Also, said humans disagree on the particulars of these divine interventions, which understandably leads to conflict over said real estate.

Case in point: Jerusalem. A not-particularly-interesting bit of semi-arid upland which is, well, a reasonably defensible position that is sort-of-nearby some regionally strategic trade routes.

Also, it is the site where, according to various traditions:

1) The body of Adam, the progenitor of the human race, is buried

2) A particular semi-nomadic Bronze Age chieftain once marked his submission to God by his obedience even when God commanded him to sacrifice his only son, thus prioritizing God's will over his own desire for offspring

3) A man who rose from obscurity to found a centralizing dynasty for a particular set of tribes established his capital and identified the location where a central temple to God was to be built

4) A man who was also the sole incarnation of God allowed himself to be killed and then came back to life, thus mysteriously conquering all forces of evil and death

5) The greatest prophet ascended into Heaven

You don't have to accept any of these claims in order to believe that they matter in a very practical geopolitical sense.
posted by tivalasvegas at 2:19 AM on April 7, 2015


"I have to admit that proof of God WOULD be a massively significant event, especially if we could meet him. I mean, aside from the crimes against humanity trial, there would be about a billion civil suits..."

Asked and answered, case dismissed for lack of standing.
posted by tivalasvegas at 2:58 AM on April 7, 2015


Brian B., the mythicists aren't "winning"; Carrier and Price have simply been two scholars to put skeptical hypotheses forward. Price's idea of Paul as mythical actually undermines most of the mythical-Jesus arguments, since they rely upon Pauline priority to establish most of their case (silence on gospel details in Paul, etc).
posted by graymouser at 3:41 AM on April 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


Neither of these proves that Jesus existed, of course, but they do show that within a few decades of his crucifixion

This is the most common fallacy used in supporting his existence, that there was a short gap between his followers' memory and his death. However, it conveniently assumes his existence to make the point (a misplaced concreteness). The fact is that a cultish demand existed at some point to write a no-show messiah into history, and Josephus was selected by Eusebius as one of those authors where that attempt occurred, perhaps because he once made a reference to James.
posted by Brian B. at 7:03 AM on April 7, 2015


Joe, this is kind of a derail, but both of those references to Jesus are most likely interpolations. Which is precisely the reason we must be very skeptical about the historicity of Jesus or any mythological entity referred to in a religious text.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 7:06 AM on April 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


lol what?

There is pretty broad consensus among historians and textual scholars that Jesus of Nazareth did indeed exist and was some sort of religious leader who was put to death. Cf. Ask Historians on Reddit.
posted by tivalasvegas at 7:10 AM on April 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


Umberto Eco, Foucault's Pendulum:
“Now that you mention it, let’s see. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are a bunch of practical jokers who meet somewhere and decide to have a contest. They invent a character, agree on a few basic facts, and then each one’s free to take it and run with it. At the end, they’ll see who’s done the best job. The four stories are picked up by some friends who act as critics: Matthew is fairly realistic, but insists on that Messiah business too much; Mark isn’t bad, just a little sloppy; Luke is elegant, no denying that; and John takes the philosophy a little too far. Actually, though, the books have an appeal, they circulate, and when the four realize what’s happening, it’s too late. Paul has already met Jesus on the road to Damascus, Pliny begins his investigation ordered by the worried emperor, and a legion of apocryphal writers pretends also to know plenty... Toi, apocryphe lecteur, mon semblable, mon frere. It all goes to Peter’s head; he takes himself seriously. John threatens to tell the truth, Peter and Paul have him chained up on the island of Patmos. Soon the poor man is seeing things: Help, there are locusts all over my bed, make those trumpets stop, where’s all this blood coming from? The others say he’s drunk, or maybe it’s arteriosclerosis... Who knows, maybe it really happened that way.”

posted by zarq at 7:21 AM on April 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


Not trying to derail or argue against expert historians, of course. The passage just amuses me. :)
posted by zarq at 7:22 AM on April 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


There is pretty broad consensus among historians and textual scholars that Jesus of Nazareth did indeed exist and was some sort of religious leader who was put to death.

Fact is that the consensus isn't so broad anymore, and so their most used defense is failing them. And textual analysis is not generally cutting in favor of historicity.
posted by Brian B. at 7:25 AM on April 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


No, honestly, you guys sound like the people who are convinced that Shakespeare's plays were written by someone else. No serious scholars doubt that Jesus existed.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:32 AM on April 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


No, honestly, you guys sound like the people who are convinced that Shakespeare's plays were written by someone else. No serious scholars doubt that Jesus existed.

A few of the scholars you implicitly rely on also sell their own books about the Holy Land to the Christian market, and many of the rest teach at church-funded institutions, which may or may not allow an alternate view. At least Shakespeare has a concrete reason to exist (i.e., that the plays didn't write themselves).
posted by Brian B. at 8:05 AM on April 7, 2015


Brian B., that is a bizarre theory which I'd never heard of before and which according to my cursory (ok, Wikipedia-based) inquiry appears to be a wildly speculative set of conclusions based on pretty weak-sauce "comparisons" between Homeric themes and themes in the Gospel of Mark.

These kinds of theories are... unlikely to stand the test of time.
posted by tivalasvegas at 8:07 AM on April 7, 2015


Legitimate biblical scholars (whether they are personally religious or secular) are able to bracket their nonprovable (faith) claims when they are engaged in academic research / textual criticism / biblical archaeology and are generally able to come to a base level of consensus across theological divides. Obviously there is less information available about events that occurred 2000 years ago than 20 years ago but some educated guesses can be made and justified.

Scholarly cranks (of both the fundamentalist and the anti-religious variety) try to cram any and all facts into whatever their preexisting belief structure may be. They tend to be quite adamant about the probability of their very specific claims.
posted by tivalasvegas at 8:15 AM on April 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


Fact is that the consensus isn't so broad anymore

I mean, Robert M. Price and Richard Carrier versus literally everyone else in the field makes this technically true but much less impressive than you're trying to make it. Yes, there are legitimate scholars who doubt the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth. I am aware of those two, and you keep posting links to them so I guess that there isn't yet a third.

Jesus mythicism is one of those cases where a hypothesis is interesting, but requires such a selective reading of certain sources (NT, other early Christian texts) and tendentious dismissal of others (Josephus, Tacitus) that the vast majority of historians can't accept it. Price and Carrier aren't going to change that, particularly with Price going out on a ridiculous limb about Paul being mythical as well. But it's catnip to atheists, particularly ex-Christians, who want a total refutation of the Christian bible, so they sell lots of books.
posted by graymouser at 8:31 AM on April 7, 2015 [5 favorites]


I think it's great that there is some serious critical doubt out there about whether Jesus even existed. Because there must be. Because whatever happened (or didn't), it was a damned long time ago. But that distance of time, and the inevitable vagueness of the actual evidence does cut both ways, and I don't see either side in the argument being entirely immune to (as tivalasvegas just put it) trying ...

to cram any and all facts into whatever their preexisting belief structure may be.

I mean, history is an art. Its conclusions will always be open to argument just as science's will always be open to experiment.
posted by philip-random at 9:47 AM on April 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


philip-random: "Which reminds me of something Malcolm Muggeridge said when asked why, if he wanted to reach all of humanity, would Jesus have come to earth in such a backward time? Why not do it in the 20th Century, in a time of mass communication etc?"

You'd have managed better if you'd had it planned.
Why'd you choose such a backward time in such a strange land?
If you'd come today you could have reached a whole nation.
Israel in 4 BC had no mass communication.
posted by Chrysostom at 12:17 PM on April 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


I believe his comments were in response to Jesus Christ Superstar, but I read them a long time ago, so maybe I'm just mixing stuff up. And to be clear, I'd hardly call myself a "fan" of Muggeridge. I mostly remember him as a pompous ass. But credit where it's due. That particular response was elegant and more to the point, did a great job of elucidating how faith looks at things.
posted by philip-random at 12:25 PM on April 7, 2015


The scholarly consensus on Tacitus and Josephus is that they are both, at least, partial interpolations. The consensus had been steadily been shifting from accepting them as partially authentic to throwing them out all together. It has been a while since I have looked into this in detail so I am not sure of where the consensus is now, but last I checked the tendency was leaning towards throwing them out all together. Pliny the younger's reference is really not that strong as it is clear from the text that he got his information from Christians themselves. Either way, outside of the Biblical accounts the historical evidence for Jesus existing is almost nonexistent. The same goes double for the Exodus. The evidence for such an event is nonexistent outside of the biblical sources. For some reason the Biblical narrative always seems to be given special consideration, and leaps of faith and logic are made that would never be made in other contexts.

Just to clarify my position. I am not saying Jesus did not actually exist. All I am saying is that there is no good/untainted evidence outside of the Biblical accounts that he was a real person. Absence of evidence isn't evidence of absence and all that jazz, so I remain fairly agnostic about the whole thing but lean towards being a Jesus mythologist. As far as the Exodus, though, I come down strongly in the mythologist camp. Yeah, well, that's just, like, my opinion, man.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 2:28 PM on April 7, 2015


But it's catnip to atheists, particularly ex-Christians, who want a total refutation of the Christian bible, so they sell lots of books.

The Bible is already refuted so much that believing that Jesus was only a man is the default position; it would matter far less to an atheist than to a Christian (the former having no faith in a human Jesus any more than a divine one). The problem is that while non-believers are able and willing to go there, most Christians can't or won't out of a sense of sin.
posted by Brian B. at 4:39 PM on April 7, 2015


The scholarly consensus on Tacitus and Josephus is that they are both, at least, partial interpolations.

The emphasis is on the word "partial". Josephus mentions Jesus twice. The reference to James "the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ" is pretty well undisputed except by cranks. The Testimonium Flavianum is generally thought to consist of an original core with interpolations.

The idea that the passage in Tacitus is an interpolation seems to be self-advanced by Richard Carrier, whose Wikipedia page describes him as an "atheist activist, author, public speaker, and blogger". I think his argument is fanciful, and he doesn't seem to have any actual evidence for it.

If I understand Carrier correctly, he maintains that the passage originally referred to a Jewish rabble-rouser called Chrestus, and that Christians added the rest of it. I (and pretty much everybody else) disagree: a Christian interpolation would not be phrased this way, calling Christianity a "mischievous superstition", "hideous and shameful", and accusing its followers of "abominations". That sort of interpolation would be precisely contrary to the presumed-interpolations in Josephus, which are laudatory and primarily concerned with Jesus:
"Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judæa, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind".
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:49 PM on April 7, 2015


The reference to James "the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ" is pretty well undisputed except by cranks.

Argumentum ad hominem is never a good idea. Either way, cite?

I (and pretty much everybody else) disagree

Argumentum ad populum is also never a good idea.

a Christian interpolation would not be phrased this way, calling Christianity a "mischievous superstition", "hideous and shameful", and accusing its followers of "abominations". That sort of interpolation would be precisely contrary to the presumed-interpolations in Josephus

This is right out of the apologist handbook. So now you can read the minds of early Christians and how they would forge documents? I don't think you or any scholar can claim to know this. Tacitus is pretty clearly an interpolation. The only line which actually references the person of Jesus doesn't even get Pilates title correct. The rest of the reference to Christianity may well be authentic, but so what? Remember, we are talking about something written circa AD 116. If that is the best historical evidence you have for Jesus being a historical character, color me unimpressed.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 5:43 PM on April 7, 2015


So we have Tacitus, Josephus, and Pliny the younger. Two interpolations and one merely describing the practices of early Christians in the context of who they worship. Then there's also Seutonius. While he does mention a "Chrestus," it is in the context of Jews and it seems that "Chrestus" was still alive at the time of the writing. Other than that there is a deafening silence.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 5:55 PM on April 7, 2015


The reference to James "the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ" is pretty well undisputed except by cranks.

Hardly. The entire major passage is in doubt by many, and if Eusebius, considered untrustworthy, gratuitous faked something which interrupts the continuity of the passage, then nothing would have stopped him from adding on the reference to a Jesus called Christ, after a reference to James. Origen, who first pointed James out in a tract (see below), failed to note the reference to Christ explicitly, and even hinted otherwise. The addition of those few words is desperate support for his other deed, and the entire debate gives the benefit of doubt to a zealot forger.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Josephus_on_Jesus
The context for Origen's references is his defense of Christianity.[75] In Contra Celsum (Book I, Chapter XLVII) as Origen defends the Christian practice of baptism, he recounts Josephus' reference to the baptisms performed by John the Baptist for the sake of purification.[75] Here Origen also says " For in the 18th book of his Antiquities[1] of the Jews, Josephus bears witness to John as having been a Baptist, and as promising purification to those who underwent the rite. Now this writer, although not believing in Jesus as the Christ,..."[66] In Book II, Chapter XIII Origen mentions Josephus' reference to the death of James. And again in his Commentary on Matthew (Book X, Chapter 17) Origen refers to Josephus' Antiquities of the Jews by name and that Josephus had stated that the death of James had brought a wrath upon those who had killed him [75][77] and that Jesus was not seen by Josephus as being the Christ.[66]
posted by Brian B. at 8:12 PM on April 7, 2015


Brain B., I'm getting tired of this. The question is, did Jesus exist? There are a number of reasonably-contemporaneous references to him outside the Christian scriptures, ones made by people who lived within within one generation of his death. There are arguments that can be made against any one of those texts, but there are arguments that can be made against most texts. Arguing that they are all mistakes or pious forgeries is implausible, and it's precisely the same sort of tendentious crankiness that makes people write tracts about Shakespeare being a mere pen-name of someone else.
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:31 PM on April 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


ones made by people who lived within within one generation of his death.

Joe, there is no timeline for someone if they never existed, so referencing a timeline isn't support of their existence. Also, there are scholars out there, mentioned in articles here, who point out that there are too many candidates for the obscure Jesus if that's what we're looking for. They will probably get to keep their jobs by simply admitting that one may have existed by sheer probability (I refer to Bart Ehrman's essay on the cultural rise of the mythical Jesus, which claimed that nobody denying the existence of Jesus would find a job teaching at a department of religion, because it was "extreme and unconvincing." Read between the lines there.)
posted by Brian B. at 8:48 PM on April 7, 2015


There are a number of reasonably-contemporaneous references to him outside the Christian scriptures

There are not "a number of reasonably-contemporaneous references." There are two dubious ones which are most likely interpolations by later Christian apologists. At the very least there is room for debate about their authenticity.

ones made by people who lived within within one generation of his death.

Given that in ancient times a generation was around 20 years it's actually more like 3 generations removed.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 9:11 PM on April 7, 2015


So can we combine the historical evidence for Jesus with the historical evidence for Atlantis, and say Jesus came from Atlantis? I think this could explain a lot.
posted by happyroach at 9:34 PM on April 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


What other historical figures are mythical? Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Pythagorous? Are there known examples of imaginary people being added to the contemporary history of a society behind the proposed case here? It just seems like a simpler explanation was that there was some guy named Jesus wandering around Roman Palestine in the first century.
posted by humanfont at 9:42 PM on April 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


Humanfont: that's an interesting question, and the answer is that we probably wouldn't know. I mean, we know about Socrates because two of his students wrote about him. But Plato's Dialogues aren't transcripts of what Socrates actually said; they're philosophical works in which Socrates appears as a character. The question of how much of this is actually from Socrates is called the Socratic Problem.

I suppose you could build a case that Socrates didn't actually exist and that he was basically a mythical or a literary creation. Such an argument would be very similar to the argument that Jesus didn't exist, and the refutation is similar: Plato and Xenophon were writing at a time when people would have recalled Socrates directly, or at least heard of his trial; they could not have successfully published works about him unless they agreed with what was generally known.
posted by Joe in Australia at 11:14 PM on April 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


Socrates was a historical figure. Aside from Plato and Xenophon, we know that Aristophanes lampooned him in The Clouds, written during the time when Socrates would've been alive.

As to Jesus, I actually think this nails it (no pun intended):

It just seems like a simpler explanation was that there was some guy named Jesus wandering around Roman Palestine in the first century.

Historians are never going to come around on the mythical Jesus thing because, well, it's a rather complicated hypothesis. You have to rely on two interpolations in Josephus (the Testimonium Flavianum is problematic, but historians disagree over it, and the James brother of Jesus reference is much more thorny) and one in Tacitus, to actually get to a point where historicity itself relies strictly on the Gospels, and then you have to take the view that Paul, whose letters are generally considered to predate the fall of the Temple, was a believer in a cult with quasi-Platonist metaphysical beliefs rather than around a dead would-be Messiah. (Earl Doherty's book Jesus: Neither God Nor Man makes a very interesting case for this, but it's so bound up in all of this contingency that almost no historical scholars would ever touch it.)

The problem being, you have moved from a simple hypothesis of, "There's no real reason to believe this person existed," to a complicated and problematic one of, "If you look at these sources in this way, and think of this as having been redacted, and dismiss those problems over there, then Jesus probably didn't exist." And that's a complicated, difficult viewpoint, with several very obvious spots where it's going to be attacked by critics with a vested interest in it being wrong. The common-sense sort of "well, there's no real evidence" view that AElfwine Evenstar is putting forward doesn't work in ancient history, particularly, because there's not a lot of great evidence for anything. We have much more evidence for Jesus than we do for most people in the ancient world who didn't lead armies, rule cities, or write books.
posted by graymouser at 2:50 AM on April 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


"If you look at these sources in this way, and think of this as having been redacted, and dismiss those problems over there, then Jesus probably didn't exist." And that's a complicated, difficult viewpoint [...]

Actually, even that just gets you to the point of having no evidence for Jesus' existence. I'm not sure what evidence would be proof of no-existence.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:01 AM on April 8, 2015


The same reasoning that would excludes the 4 Gospels and Acts as evidence of the existence of a real person at the core of the Jesus story would apply to the various writings of Plato and others about Socrates.
posted by humanfont at 4:47 AM on April 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm sure this wasn't the intent, but it feels like it creates a kind of hostile commenting environment to bring any old thing about Jewish history around to what heretofore-unmentioned Holocaust denialists may or may not propose.

threeants, I assure you that was not my intent with my comment at all. The reason I brought it up was because regardless of the historicity of the Exodus , it's literally the sort of thing that racist crackpots would (and apparently do, judging from a couple of comments in response) use as ammunition for their theories. I'm wasn't calling into question the purity of the historical or Biblical scholarship here, I was just speculating on the potential for the research to be misused.
posted by Strange Interlude at 5:36 AM on April 8, 2015


The same reasoning that would excludes the 4 Gospels and Acts as evidence of the existence of a real person

Those were the first to be questioned. As for mythical, consider that there was already a common resurrected savior myth tradition in agricultural civilization, ultimately based on Osiris, but coming through the local versions of Dionysus, Attis, Adonis, and Mithra. This powerful crucifixion and re-birthing tradition evolved from seasonal planting and harvesting, and hope, and was embodied by a sacrifice for mercy with ritual sacrament of bread and wine, and very secretive. The mystery rites concept entered Judea perhaps later than most and blended with a messiah concept within the Essene commune, who adopted the mystery rites. John the Baptist was a prominent member. The messiah was based on the physical return of the Essenes' Teacher of Righteousness (who was likely crucified generations earlier). In time, this awaited Messiah was a no-show, and cognitive dissonance took over from there. By now civilization preferred stories that honored actual human founders, but John the Baptist didn't fit the resurrection narrative by staying dead, so history assumed the savior's now useful obscurity (and made John a sidekick for a rebel named Jesus, who never existed, but was written into lore using mimetic techniques from writers versed in the Odyssey, perhaps familiar with Josephus). This fictional rebel was of course crucified, as were hundreds in reality, but the story was crafted with a revolutionary slant to suggest that humans enduring persecution and suffering was a path to heaven, and so it naturally beat out competitors like Mithraism which was closed off to women and most slaves. The idea that mythical beings require a human seedling from which to evolve is our way of making sense of something which evolved for other reasons we long forgot, called Euhemerization.
posted by Brian B. at 7:10 AM on April 8, 2015


It's hard work down there in the source mines.
posted by snottydick at 11:10 AM on April 10, 2015


Kim Il Sung's official biography contains a number parallels with popular Korean folk legends. This is evidence that elements of his biography may be fabircated. It is not evidence that KJI never existed.
posted by humanfont at 11:46 AM on April 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


It is not evidence that KJI never existed.

Evidence that someone never existed is a combined lack of historical necessity and lack of historical evidence. For example, someone occupied the position of Socrates in the intellectual tradition; if not him, then someone else hiding behind him. The existence of Abraham in Genesis has no such luxury, and so he is not believed by most scholars to be a real figure. Understanding Jesus, however, is made difficult by the circular nature of the obscurity argument (ie, that Jesus was clandestine, but he was famous enough to be passed down through generations to be first written into history by myth writers to embellish his non-magical and dull anonymity with fantastic sayings and deeds). Oddly, many apologists would lead us to believe something they don't even believe: that he was just a human, not divine. But if nobody rose from the dead and nobody said all those things that were already recorded from famous Rabbis, and his associations with historical people went unnoticed, then Jesus could have been anyone, therefore no single person existed that matters (unlike Socrates). And if you want to follow the necessity argument to its logical conclusion, the Christian writers needed a "real" human to rise from the dead in the objective sense, because the times had changed towards a pragmatic reality, with rational critics, where human sacrifice to the gods and clay food for the next life were now superstitions. So the revolution of Christianity was establishing that a real human rose from the dead for our sins, and any detailed evidence or memory that such a human existed was, to this task, competing evidence against it, both divinely and naturally.
posted by Brian B. at 9:40 AM on April 11, 2015


Google is failing me, but I have heard one good argument for skepticism regarding the professional historian professional archaeologist conventional wisdom. I think it's in the 1491 book, which is written by a journalist, not a specialist academic, but it has tons of footnotes and purports to be fact checked. The skeptic says their standard arguments are mostly based on pottery shards which provide reliable keys to where on the accepted time and action line something goes. And there is an assumption which is usually present and rarely stated that if they don't have any pottery remnants it didn't happen. This is often wrong. Sometimes the existence was thin enough and the decline total enough that none of their pottery has been found yet. And sometimes they used gourds and skins and baskets and didn't even use any pottery.

No pottery shards -> nothing happened is probably a great rule of thumb but it ain't scientific proof.

(The guys who claim aliens built the pyramids also use this argument but that does not imply it's a bad argument.)
posted by bukvich at 8:30 AM on April 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


At Jericho on top of the pottery shard analysis there is an abundance of confirming evidence including the geologic history of the spring, radio carbon dated artifacts and other items that have lead multiple archeologist to confrim the original conclusions from 1957 that the area was not occupied by a permanent human settlement during the window of time when Joshua might of been conquering. Sure it is always possible someone will uncover some long overlooked rubble pile by the spring, but it seems really unlikely given the search radius.
posted by humanfont at 4:46 PM on April 21, 2015


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