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The Man From Galilee
May 20, 2010 11:13 AM   Subscribe

What Did Jesus Do? - Adam Gopnik takes a look at the man, and the myth that was Jesus Christ. A Q&A follows.
posted by timsteil (62 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite

 
Here comes the inevitable thunder of argument.

Oh, how I love it so.
posted by grubi at 11:16 AM on May 20, 2010


interesting choices for "man" and "myth"... I'm not sure the shroud qualifies as reality, nor does JCS qualify as our cultures myth...

now I'll go read the article...
posted by HuronBob at 11:19 AM on May 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


QUESTION FROM RONNIE BOSCOLLI: I believe in a literal and inerrant bible. For me, the issues that arise from the Gospels are not due to the perceived “outlandish” nature of the text and events described within, but with people like you (journalist, “scholars”) who seem to try and insert, arbitrarily, the scaffolding of science, rhetoric, and polemics into discussions concerning Christ, his life, and his legacy. Those disciplines do not belong in a religious discussion, your thoughts?

Don't bring your gun to my knife fight.
posted by three blind mice at 11:36 AM on May 20, 2010 [11 favorites]


I'm not sure the shroud qualifies as reality

The shroud's been repeatedly shown to be a hoax.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:36 AM on May 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


As the Bacchae knew, we always tear our Gods to bits, and eat the bits we like.

What the-? Fellow needs to re-read his Euripides.
posted by IndigoJones at 11:38 AM on May 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


Purely personally, Gopnik's probably the only New Yorker writer I would trust with such an article, and definitely one of the only writers who I would click through to read. He's got a great history of presenting a well-thought out look at things, and I've particularly enjoyed his take on Chesterton and C.S. Lewis. Okay, back to the article.
posted by redsparkler at 11:39 AM on May 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


Was Jesus one with God in the sense that, say, Sean Connery is one with Daniel Craig?

All right, I have lost the thread of his essay in favor of a piece of fan fiction that spontaneously began to write itself in my head.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:41 AM on May 20, 2010 [14 favorites]


What the-? Fellow needs to re-read his Euripides.

Eh. Dionysus was a god of resurrection, and it's been argued (in fact, it's generally understood) that the sacrifice performed by the Bacchantes was a symbolic sacrifice of the god himself. They typically sacrificed a bull, the symbol of Dionysus, who was often portrayed with a bull's horns. Poor Pentheus was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
posted by mr_roboto at 11:52 AM on May 20, 2010


In fact, it's been suggested that Jesus arrived to us as a derivative of Dionysus via Mithras...
posted by mr_roboto at 11:53 AM on May 20, 2010 [5 favorites]


Great survey of recent literature on the subject. Thanks!
posted by mrgrimm at 11:53 AM on May 20, 2010


Gopnik likes Jesus's "be passersby" quote from the Gospel of Thomas, although he doesn't really go into the non-canonicity of Thomas and what that might mean for the authenticity of the saying. Gopnik is saying that the whatever messages the Gospels have to transmit are more likely to be heard persons (passersby) outside the official sancturary, and far from the established debates on the meaning or non-meaning of scripture and the existence of God. I'm pleased that Gopnik brings Jack Kerouac into his analysis of the Gospels, since Kerouac is in fact a Christian mystic -- and I would say a great and reverent Christian mystic and open-minded passerby who drank himself into orthodoxy later in life.
posted by Faze at 12:16 PM on May 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


"If one thing seems clear from all the scholarship, though, it’s that Paul’s divine Christ came first, and Jesus the wise rabbi came later. This fixed, steady twoness at the heart of the Christian story can’t be wished away by liberal hope any more than it could be resolved by theological hair-splitting."

Well-played.

The interesting thing to me is the recent need for English-speaking scholars to take on "The Jesus Seminar," which has been debated by the Germans since that serious New Testament scholarship starting point Gopnik mentions earlier on. For Germans theologians, this is all now a non-issue: between Bultmann and Kaesemann, German theologians believe the questions have been solved.

Hands down the best (and most under-appreciated) resource on this issue in English is The First Christian by Paul F.M. Zahl, a student of Moltmann's whose dissertation was the final analysis of Kasemann's work approved during the old scholar's life. The work takes the criteria of dissimilarity seriously and constructs a narrative illustrating how the scriptural accounts of Jesus led inexorably to the "orthodox" idea of Christ.
posted by jefficator at 12:22 PM on May 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


RONNIE BOSCOLLI: I believe in a literal and inerrant bible.... science, rhetoric, and polemics [do not belong in] discussions concerning Christ, his life, and his legacy.

Can I challenge the word "literal" in Ronnie's worldview?

How can one insist on a literal, inerrant reading while simultaneously rejecting logical criticisms or questions, or an expectation that literal, real-world science is in play? Isn't this a bit like asking for it both ways, like insisting a cheese-based moon is a real, actual fact but poo-pooing anyone who dares suggest flying up there to check?

Also, yeah, Dionysus via Mithras is the napkin version I think of first, too.
posted by rokusan at 12:23 PM on May 20, 2010 [3 favorites]


Oh, and Gopnik tackled the Gospel of Judas, too.
posted by redsparkler at 12:24 PM on May 20, 2010


although he doesn't really go into the non-canonicity of Thomas and what that might mean for the authenticity of the saying

This is an interesting question that I'd never thought to ask before: What is the relationship, if any, between what writings are canonized scripture and how said writings are weighted for authenticity w/r/t historical scholarship?
posted by shakespeherian at 12:38 PM on May 20, 2010


How can one insist on a literal, inerrant reading while simultaneously rejecting logical criticisms or questions, or an expectation that literal, real-world science is in play?
posted by rokusan at 2:23 PM on May 20


No, "literal" here means that the Bible is literally true, and any real-world evidence that it isn't must be disregarded because the Bible can not be mistaken (it's inerrant). You can believe that that's nonsense (I do), but it's not internally inconsistent.
posted by joannemerriam at 12:43 PM on May 20, 2010


Even if we make allowances for Mark’s cryptic tracery, the human traits of his Jesus are evident: intelligence, short temper, and an ironic, duelling wit. What seems new about Jesus is not his piety or divine detachment but the humanity of his irritability and impatience. He’s no Buddha. He gets annoyed at the stupidity of his followers, their inability to grasp an obvious point. “Do you have eyes but fail to see?”

Holy shit, Jesus was a Mefite
posted by Smedleyman at 1:11 PM on May 20, 2010 [21 favorites]


it's not internally inconsistent.

The Bible is, though. And self-contradictory. So if it's inerrant, then it, by definition, cannot contradict itself.
posted by grubi at 1:12 PM on May 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


No, "literal" here means that the Bible is literally true, and any real-world evidence that it isn't must be disregarded because the Bible can not be mistaken (it's inerrant). You can believe that that's nonsense (I do), but it's not internally inconsistent.

But what happens when the bible text itself is internally inconsistent? Does it then mean, that, for example a square circle becomes an inerrant truth? Because a square circle is an impossibility and an impossible proposition cannot by definition be "truth". Also Truth doesn't need a qualifier like "inerrant" - that is inherent in the definition of Truth. I'm afraid that there is no content to the argument - not right or wrong, rather, it has no content regardless of how it sounds or scans syntactically (famous philosophical example: "green dreams sleep furiously" has no true or false value - it has no meaningful content).
posted by VikingSword at 1:12 PM on May 20, 2010


Holy shit, Jesus was a Mefite

"Do you have beans but fail to overthink them?"
posted by grubi at 1:12 PM on May 20, 2010 [7 favorites]


In other words, that interpretation of the bible makes the bible gibberish - on the level of "green dreams sleep furiously".
posted by VikingSword at 1:15 PM on May 20, 2010


But what happens when the bible text itself is internally inconsistent? Does it then mean, that, for example a square circle becomes an inerrant truth?

It means that you're reading it wrong. Seriously. I know these people and any inconsistency you can point out can be explained away (Acts and Matthew don't have inconsistent accounts of Judas' death, they each tell a different part of it for some reason!). It's not the best reading, obviously, and it's not the most thoughtful worldview, but it's internally consistent.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:17 PM on May 20, 2010


any inconsistency you can point out can be explained away

No, not really. They can come up with an explanation, but their explanations fail because they are utter crap. A for instance: the family tree of Jesus.

it's internally consistent.

Except for the parts where it's not. Another for instance: the conflicting creation stories.
posted by grubi at 1:19 PM on May 20, 2010


If I were the Synod of Hippo deciding which parts of this FPP were to become canonical, I would take the Gopnik article and the Q&A, and bust down the Shroud and wikipedia links to apocryphal status for being irrelevant and weirdly reachy.

Also, while I'm a synod deciding things I'd say that I appreciate Gopnik's brand of humanist religion journalism a great deal, and I hope others do too.
posted by sy at 1:31 PM on May 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


Okay, let me rephrase: Any inconsistency you can point out can be explained away to the satisfaction of the person who believes the Bible to be inerrant, but not to the satisfaction of the person who does not believe the Bible to be inerrant.

I'm not attempting to defend this view, I just don't think that 'requires convoluted arguments' is the same as 'internally inconsistent,' although I can understand why you might.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:32 PM on May 20, 2010


Any inconsistency you can point out can be explained away to the satisfaction of the person who believes the Bible to be inerrant, but not to the satisfaction of the person who does not believe the Bible to be inerrant.

Granted, but that makes them sound mentally ill.

I just don't think that 'requires convoluted arguments' is the same as 'internally inconsistent,'

I'm not saying it requires convoluted arguments. I'm saying that if you take the Bible as it is, it cannot be seen logically to have any internal consistency. It is not consistent. It's just that people who believe it is inerrant either ignore or explain away (poorly) all of the inconsistencies. That's their own justification, not a matter of fact or logic.
posted by grubi at 1:37 PM on May 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


It means that you're reading it wrong. Seriously. I know these people and any inconsistency you can point out can be explained away (Acts and Matthew don't have inconsistent accounts of Judas' death, they each tell a different part of it for some reason!). It's not the best reading, obviously, and it's not the most thoughtful worldview, but it's internally consistent.

Well, no. For anyone with superhuman curiosity, there are plenty of websites that catalogue various contradictions in the bible, but what is not really possible to interpret away, are those (numerous) instances where directly opposing statements of fact are put forth - like in one place having the centurion personally hold conversations with Jesus, and in another place have elders and friends have those conversations on his behalf etc. - the bible is stuffed to the rafters with flat out opposing statements like this, about simple matters of fact which it is not really possible to re-interpret without squaring the circle. Again, such an interpretation of the bible renders it gibberish devoid of meaning.
posted by VikingSword at 1:42 PM on May 20, 2010


loljesus makes me miss the img tag. :(
posted by jeffburdges at 1:48 PM on May 20, 2010


I apologize for participating in the derail, because biblical inerrancy is probably the least interesting thing I can think of in relation to this post. In any case, I just wanted to say that for people who do not see the Bible as self-contradictory, even though they manage this with handwavy idiotic convoluted arguments, reading the Bible 'literally' means that you place your idiotic 'literal' understanding of what the Bible says as, yuk yuk, gospel, and thus any scientific investigation into matters already covered by the Bible should by all rights be dismissed.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:54 PM on May 20, 2010


well, there's always the old standby Jesus Fucking Christ (NSFW).

I like one I can't locate right now, it's a drawing of Jesus standing behind a woman counting money, and as she enumerates the bills, Jesus throws in random numbers trying to distract and confuse her... anyone have a link to that one?
posted by VikingSword at 1:54 PM on May 20, 2010


More scholarly literature:

Whose Bible Is It?: A Short History of the Scriptures: Jaroslav Pelikan

More Ehrman:

Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why, Bart D. Ehrman

And the master:

Jesus and Yahweh : The Names Divine: Harold Bloom

posted by psyche7 at 2:20 PM on May 20, 2010


This all goes to the heart of my issues with the organized Christian church.

I'm willing to accept that Jesus lived, that he said much that has been attributed to him, and that he profoundly impacted some people. I not only accept it - I want it to be true because the message is largely good.

That said, it's impossible for me (not to mention stupid) to blindly accept as whole or correct a Bible that was written after the fact by men who never actually met Jesus. Not to mention the political angles of such seminal people involved in the creation of organized Christianity as Constantine and Paul.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 3:01 PM on May 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


Post needs [wizard], [zombie] and [terrorist] tags.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 3:12 PM on May 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


2nding Benny Andajetz

The way i trying to explain the Bible to my kids is this:

"You know this conversation we're having right now? Imagine, anywhere from 30-60 years from now, someone who never heard it, and doesnt even know anyone related to anyone who might have heard it second hand, writes it down and ascribes the words to us."

I think Jesus lived too, and for obvious reasons it would crack me up if his real last name was Pantera. All I can believe is that he was probably a nice guy, maybe not as nice as he has been portrayed.

He was probably the sort of local yob you meet who would never start a fight, but the first one to pull somebody off your back if you got yourself into one you couldnt handle.

I'm figurin the message from those days that came out as "Do Unto Others.....?"

If Jesus was walking the earth today would come out as ...

"HEY!...Why don't you stop being a dick to people?"

I truly like the message of goodness, I truly hate the way it has been twisted into something political, and completely away from the foundations it may or not have been built on.
posted by timsteil at 3:24 PM on May 20, 2010 [5 favorites]


There is no contemporary evidence suggesting that Jesus of Nazareth ever existed.



Swish!
posted by Sys Rq at 3:42 PM on May 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


Count me in the "Jesus never existed" camp. I admit I am no scholar on the subject, but it seems most logical conclusion. Or rather, he existed, but was just a normal dude that later writers embellished to be something else.
posted by zardoz at 4:35 PM on May 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


The ancient messiah was much anticipated, but way overdue. Although many never gave up hope, some began searching the past for his arrival and departure. In fact, the first coming was so obscure and doubtful that they ordered a second one for the holdouts.
posted by Brian B. at 4:47 PM on May 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


This discussion makes me want to dig up my copy of The World's Sixteen Crucified Saviours — Christianity Before Christ I bought from Loompanics back in the day, or was it off of a friend? Probably doesn't matter one iota.
posted by adipocere at 5:02 PM on May 20, 2010


Jesus: right idea; poor execution.

Please don't smite me, God.
posted by bwg at 5:05 PM on May 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


A very enjoyable article. Thanks for posting!
posted by The World Famous at 6:15 PM on May 20, 2010


Also, someone really needs to write the full Gilbert & Sullivan lyrics to "
Malcolm X was the very model of a modern apocalyptic prophet-politician."
posted by The World Famous at 6:17 PM on May 20, 2010


I like one I can't locate right now, it's a drawing of Jesus standing behind a woman counting money, and as she enumerates the bills, Jesus throws in random numbers trying to distract and confuse her... anyone have a link to that one?

This?
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:21 PM on May 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


There is no contemporary evidence suggesting that Jesus of Nazareth ever existed.

No historic evidence either. It's why it's called faith.
posted by philip-random at 6:33 PM on May 20, 2010


For Germans theologians, this is all now a non-issue: between Bultmann and Kaesemann, German theologians believe the questions have been solved.

That seems crazy to me. It's not like someone has found a manuscript for Q. Maybe they've come up with a scheme that seems persuasive to the majority of German theologians right now, but short of some dramatic new primary sources, I don't see how those questions could be considered "solved." I mean, there are still scholars making respectable arguments for the thesis that Jesus never existed at all.
posted by straight at 6:44 PM on May 20, 2010


No historic evidence either. It's why it's called faith.

Whoa! We just skipped a stinking dead horse named Josephus.
posted by Brian B. at 6:50 PM on May 20, 2010


There is no contemporary evidence suggesting that Jesus of Nazareth ever existed.

No historic evidence either.

You know, I understand what people mean when they say this. And I actually don't disagree with that they mean. But it would really be a lot more intelligent discourse if people would just do away with the shorthand phrase "no evidence" in favor of a more precise way of getting the point across.
posted by The World Famous at 6:57 PM on May 20, 2010


Ha, ha, Pope Guilty, that's exactly it. Cracks me up - I'm immature that way :)
posted by VikingSword at 8:32 PM on May 20, 2010


Whoa! We just skipped a stinking dead horse named Josephus.

The bits mentioning Jesus are generally believed to have been inserted later by people who were not Josephus.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:31 PM on May 20, 2010


No historic evidence either.

You know, I understand what people mean when they say this. And I actually don't disagree with that they mean. But it would really be a lot more intelligent discourse if people would just do away with the shorthand phrase "no evidence" in favor of a more precise way of getting the point across.


Okay. My understanding (based on hearsay, I must confess, I have not done my own research here) is that the Jesus of the Gospels is completely absent from the historic record. Which isn't to say that he didn't exist, just that we have no record of it. This also goes for pretty much every other human alive at the time.

Interestingly, the first person I ever heard put forth this notion was Malcolm Muggeridge, old school, Brit-Roman-Catholic-intellectual type. It was in an old radio lecture where he was responding to the Jesus Christ Superstar question of, why did Jesus come and do his thing way back when, when there was no way to record what he actually did and said, as opposed to now, this time of mass communication where his every word would likely be recorded? Why allow for so much potential confusion?

As I remember it, Muggeridge's response went further than the Jesus Christ Superstar thing. He said, we don't even have proof he existed, certainly nothing that would satisfy a scientist or a historian. All we have is the story told in the Gospels, first passed down by word of mouth, then put to text, then translated any number of times and spread around the world in all manner of strange ways. This, argued Muggeridge, is exactly the way a God would do things.

I laughed.
posted by philip-random at 10:02 PM on May 20, 2010


The bits mentioning Jesus are generally believed to have been inserted later by people who were not Josephus.

I know, it's just that I never saw any discussion bypass the debate before. It's like a snow day in middle school or something.
posted by Brian B. at 10:09 PM on May 20, 2010


Actually, at least one of them is agreed to be real.
posted by shii at 11:25 PM on May 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


VikingSword: “But what happens when the bible text itself is internally inconsistent? Does it then mean, that, for example a square circle becomes an inerrant truth?”

shakespeherian: “It means that you're reading it wrong. Seriously. I know these people and any inconsistency you can point out can be explained away... It's not the best reading, obviously, and it's not the most thoughtful worldview, but it's internally consistent.”

grubi: “No, not really. They can come up with an explanation, but their explanations fail because they are utter crap.”
You should not think that these great secrets are fully and completely known to anyone among us. They are not. But sometimes truth flashes out to us so that we may think it is day, and then matter and habit in their various forms conceal it so that we find ourselves again in an obscure night, almost as we were at first. We are like someone in a very dark night over whom lightning flashes time and time again, so that he is always, as it were, in unceasing light. Thus night appears to him as day. That is the degree of the great one among the prophets, to whom it was said: But as for thee, stand though here by Me, and of whom it was said: that the skin of his face sent forth beams, and so on. Among them there is one to whom the lightning flashes only once in the whole of his night; that is the rank of those of whom it is said: they prophesied, but they did so no more. There are others between whose lightning flashes there are greater or shorter intervals. Thereafter comes he who does not attain a degree in which his darkness is illumined by any lightning flash. It is illumined, however, by a polished body or something of that kind, stones or something else that give light in the darkness of the night. And even this small light that shines over us is not always there, but flashes and is hidden again, as if it were the flaming sword which turned every way....

Know that whenever one of the perfect wishes to mention, either orally or in writing, something that he understands of these secrets, he is unable to explain with complete clarity and coherence even the portion that he has apprehended, as he could do with the other sciences whose teaching is generally recognized. Rather there will befall him when teaching another that which he had undergone when learning himself. I mean to say that the subject matter will appear, flash, and then be hidden again, as though this were the nature of the subject matter, be there much or little of it. For this reason, all the Sages possessing knowledge of God the Lord, knowers of the truth, when they aimed at teaching something of this subject matter, spoke of it only in parables and riddles. They even multiplied the parables and made them different in species and even in genus.
— Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, Guide of the Perplexed [circa 1170 AD] Introduction

posted by koeselitz at 12:47 AM on May 21, 2010


i'm pretty sure he wasn't christian.
posted by empath at 2:13 AM on May 21, 2010


Actually, at least one of them is agreed to be real.

Not agreed to explicitly, it was simply not widely addressed as real or fake during the many disputes with the main passage, and some have pointed this out. Here is a brief excerpt detailing some problems with the second passage:

Nevertheless, several modern commentators have found the passage inauthentic, and for good reason.19 To begin with, only three texts of Antiquitates Judaicae 18-20 survive; the texts containing the passage about James also contain the Testimonium, which is admitted to contain Christian interpolations. If Christian interpolations managed to find their way into these texts in the case of the Testimonium, we have no reason to believe that they could not have done so in the case of the passage about James as well. Furthermore, the second argument in favor of the authenticity of A.J 20.9.1 (sec)200, namely, that the passage is told in typically Josephan language, is not true in the case of the word Christ. The only other place where this word occurs in our texts of Josephus is in the Testimonium, in one of the three sections admitted almost unanimously to be a Christian interpolation. Josephus, writing for a Roman audience in the aftermath of the Jewish War, avoids discussing Jewish messianism, and he is not likely to have dropped the word "Messiah" casually into his text as a means of identifying a minor character. ...

This establishes that Eusebius had no qualms about rewriting Josephus to bring him into line with Christian tradition and that he, in turn, helps us to see how our version of the passage about James may have entered the text. Eusebius read in Origen that Josephus recorded the death of James the brother of Jesus. He deduced that one of the two men named James whose executions are reported in A.J 20.5.2 (sec)102; 20.9.1 (sec)200 must be Jesus' brother, and he identified him as such in his citation of the passage. The version of the passage about James found in our texts of the Antiquitates Judaicae, along with the Testimonium, was then carried over from the Historia ecclesiastica by Christian scribes who accepted it on Eusebius' authority.

[K. A. Olson, “Eusebius and the Testimonium Flavianum,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 61.2 (1999) 305-322]
posted by Brian B. at 6:51 AM on May 21, 2010


Jesus built my hotrod
posted by stormpooper at 7:28 AM on May 21, 2010


Josephus, writing for a Roman audience in the aftermath of the Jewish War, avoids discussing Jewish messianism, and he is not likely to have dropped the word "Messiah" casually into his text as a means of identifying a minor character.

See this, plucked at random from the above passage, is very typical of the kinds of arguments scholars make about this stuff, and is why I objected above to anyone characterizing any of these arguments as settled or "solved."

This isn't evidence. It's speculation. It's scholars saying, "Gee, it seems unlikely to me that Josephus would use that word here." But how unlikely is it? 10%? 5%? .00003%? They mean unlikely in an impressionistic sense, not a rigorous statistical one.

And even if you could say, "There's only a .003% chance that Josephus would have used that word in this situation," unlikely stuff happens all the time. Authors do unexpected things. If you compile a list of things historians reject as "unlikely," it seems statistically certain that some of them must have happened. We're not talking about repeatable events where you can use multiple trials to weed out the random anomalies. History is one long random anomaly.

The facts of the matter are that we do not have enough primary sources to make confident assertions about what Jesus actually said and did or who wrote which bits of the Gospels. All the clever methods in the world of combing through and matching and re-reading those sources is not going to change that.
posted by straight at 7:57 AM on May 21, 2010 [3 favorites]


This isn't evidence. It's speculation .....

And even if you could say, "There's only a .003% chance that Josephus would have used that word in this situation," unlikely stuff happens all the time. Authors do unexpected things. If you compile a list of things historians reject as "unlikely," it seems statistically certain that some of them must have happened. We're not talking about repeatable events where you can use multiple trials to weed out the random anomalies. History is one long random anomaly.


Nicely put. Which brings me back to the Muggeridge notion that the most singular "fact" about Jesus Christ is that there are no "facts", which if you share Muggeridge's purview, is all good. Who wants a saviour whose mystery and majesty can be penetrated, dissected, eviscerated by the tools of science and/or history? Not that this hasn't stopped various scientists and/or historians from trying anyway. It's always good for a headline or two.
posted by philip-random at 8:52 AM on May 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


This isn't evidence. It's speculation. It's scholars saying, "Gee, it seems unlikely to me that Josephus would use that word here." But how unlikely is it? 10%? 5%? .00003%? They mean unlikely in an impressionistic sense, not a rigorous statistical one.

It's speculation about extraordinarily thin evidence. Josephus' use of the term is evidence, and interpretation of that use as significant or insignificant is speculation.

It's not useful to use the term "evidence" to mean "compelling evidence" or "convincing evidence."
posted by The World Famous at 10:02 AM on May 21, 2010


World Famous, there are different ways of using the word "evidence," but that's not my point.

My point is there is a qualitative difference between having an actual source for a claim that a passage in question is a later addition, such as an earlier manuscript that omits the passage, and these kinds of attempts to psychoanalyze a person who has been dead for thousands of years and guess what he would or would not have written in a given situation.

The question is whether Jesus of Nazareth existed and was sufficiently extraordinary to merit a mention from Josephus. It's pretty close to begging the question to turn around and say, "We don't think Josephus wrote this, because he doesn't ordinarily mention such things."

Have there been any serious attempts to validate this kind of thing? If I take two authors, one of whom uses a word only once all his writing, the other I add a word that is never used in any of his writing. Can scholars reliably tell the difference?
posted by straight at 11:35 AM on May 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


Count me in the "Jesus never existed" camp.

One of the writers Gopnik mentions in his survey is Earl Doherty, who provides scads of ammunition for that camp. Pretty interesting, while certainly wonky. I had never heard of the "Q gospel."

Jesus built my hotrod

Soon I discovered that this rock thing was true
Jesus was the devil
All of a sudden, I found myself in love with the world
So there was only one thing that I could do
was ding a ding dang my dang a long ling long

Who wants a saviour whose mystery and majesty can be penetrated, dissected, eviscerated by the tools of science and/or history?

Me.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:39 AM on May 21, 2010


World Famous, there are different ways of using the word "evidence," but that's not my point.

But it is my point - i.e. that while there are different ways of using the word "evidence," it is better to use one of its actual definitions, rather than the way that it generally gets incorrectly trotted out in discussions about religion.

That said, I wholeheartedly agree with you.
posted by The World Famous at 12:08 PM on May 21, 2010


Andrew Sullivan: Jesus And Christ
posted by homunculus at 6:36 PM on May 24, 2010


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