I’m working on several things for the site at the moment. I’m writing a series I started a while back on Richard Carrier and the resurrection of Jesus. I’ll have a few comments to make about Bart Ehrman’s new book on the historical Jesus. I have some podcasts that I’m working on, too. Good things take time, and I want this stuff to be good. But in the meantime, I thought this recent turn of events might be of some public interest around here.
- Biblical scholarship and the push for novelty
- Colbert vs Ehrman
- Ehrman: I’m not destroying Christianity, I’m only destroying the Bible!
- Internet Sceptic Meets Real World: Reginald Finley and Bart Ehrman
- Looking for other podcasts
70 thoughts on “The times they are a changin’”
wow… what did you do with it? did you sell it???
2 Samuel 14:26
Well, i am not shaving my beard off !!!!! Somewhat surprisingly it makes you look a whole lot younger 🙂
You look even scarier on the big screen!
lol – what do you mean scary?!
It’s much fresher.
Looking good, Glenn!
yeah somehow that looks scarier than “metal Glenn”
I thought that was a picture of Eddie Vedder at first…
You might wish you had that hair in 3 months time living in the deep south! Both topics sound interesting. Bart Ehrman has debated Daniel B Wallace a few times about NT textual criticism. I think they are just about to, or have just had their most resent debate. Look forward to listening to your comments on these topics.
Funny I was just thinking last week you should cut your hair because of how more seriously people may take you in the theological world, whether its fair or not. Looks good!
Funny I was just thinking last week you should cut your hair because of how more seriously people may take you in the theological world
Lame. It’s precisely to challenge this sort of foolishness that anyone who can have long hair, should. Ah, well, Glenn, no one can have long hair forever. As James Hetfield growled, “I had long hair for twenty frickin’ years; of course I cut it!” It grows back.
It IS lame that that happens, you’re right. But stupid things like that matter unfortunately in the christian theological world. Sad but true.
I think it not only looks better, but definitely more hire-able. Definitely a good move.
It’s kind of ironic isn’t it that Jesus, the centre of our theological world, probably had long hair? I suppose he wouldn’t be as hireable. (Although if they knew about his water–>wine miracle ….)
Oh behave! XD
I’ve read most of Ehrman’s books. I haven’t had the pleasure of the one you mention, though. His latest book: Forged: Writing in the Name of God- Why the Authors of the Bible are not who we Think they Are is a real eye-opener.
If even half of what he says is true, where does that leave Christianity?
Revelation – a forgery? Bang goes eschatology.
The first gospel written 30 years after the events? Come on, there has to be certain legendary aspects to the subject therein. Were the writers the apostles and disciples? Read Ehrman’s book.
“The first gospel written 30 years after the events? Come on, there has to be certain legendary aspects to the subject therein”
No offence intended, Frank, but this is a common mistake among those not familiar with ancient historiography (the written recording of history). A mere 30 years between the events and the final written record is a dream come true! This is an incredible timeframe. Consider our confidence in the historicity of the events of the life Julius Caesar. And yet those events were committed to writing, for the most part, more than a century after the fact – in some case much longer. So thirty years isn’t long at all. You also have to bear in mind the much more prominent role that oral history played in the ancient world. Plus, Paul’s letters that talk about the existing belief among Christians in Jesus’ death and resurrection were earlier than the Gospels, and profess to refer to an earlier tradition. So anyone who says that there’s just too much time between the events and the writings is just mistaken.
As for Ehrman’s stuff in “Forged” and “Lost Gospels,” I’m afraid he indulges in the sensational a little too much there. Have a listen to my episode “Sexing Up Early Church History.”
One thing I find particularly interesting about Bart Ehrman is that he is agnostic and therefore more objective about his chosen subject. As a highly qualified Bible scholar, I would presume then he is better qualified than you and me to make the claims he does.
In his book, Forged, he tells of the political and religious race to be heard in the first century; as today we have rival companies and the like, so too there were rival ‘Christians’ all vying for philosophical supremacy. Obviously the concept risen warrior king who would reign in the future sometime to conquer one’s enemies would appeal more to the masses that the Gnostic version which denied the risen Christ in favour secret knowledge bringing salvation.
Christianity grew from a culture that had traditionally handed its history down to succeeding generations orally and became written at some time after the events took place. The accounts were endlessly exegetically interpreted to keep them fresh and, as you know from Jesus’s condemnation of the Pharisaical view of matters; adding to the Law in the form of Mishnah, Talmud etc, which for instance, encouraged the washing up to the elbows as an extra sign of holiness.
I’ve been doing research on dates and found that, while views differ, the consensus is that 1 Thessalonians was the first of the block to posterity. This was somewhere around 51 CE. Mark, the first gospel, wasn’t penned until (possibly, as some contend – early 50s) between 65 and 72 (according to Wikipedia under New Testament).
What you said, Glenn, about Christianity got me thinking. I hadn’t fully appreciated that the religion was bustling for many years before anything was actually written down, and herein lies our clue.
The obvious question is: Why did it take so long to write about miracles, salvation, and resurrection? (The Resurrection, of course, cannot be correctly spoken of as a historical event as measured by any test we have today as it involves an event outside the knowledge of the material universe – it is a confessed belief only.)
Frank – a couple of things. In the podcast episode that I linked to, I provide examples of the kind of sensationalism that I refer to. Hopefully that satisfies your request for examples. Did you listen to it?
Secondly, I see no reason to assume that the views of an agnostic are more “objective” than anyone else’s – especially when it’s an agnostic who was a Christian and who “saw the light” and is now making money writing books that lift the lid on alleged scandals in Christianity.
I appreciate your opinion that Ehrman ‘sensationalises’ his writings. Can you supply some examples?
He gives quite number of extra examples of obvious forgeries such as the Pilate writings, and Nag Hamadi collection, but when examining the accepted books he shows by studious examination why there are philosophical contradictions between books claiming to be written by the same author.
Is this all you’ve got as discussion, Glenn. So far it’s like pulling teeth to get you to debate anything. So what that Ehrman “saw the light.” Dawkins calls agnostics ‘namby pamby fence sitters.” At least fence sitters sit between two paradigms waiting for something more than is offered as proof. At least Ehrman explains why he ‘lost his faith.’
While you’re waiting for my comments on your podcast (I like podcasts if you have any more) you may wish to reply to my take on my reading of Forged. Do you disagree? Why? Please say something substantial, arguable.
Remember, atheists sell more books. Why? Because they are the more rational (that doesn’t make them right, of course) and have more compelling evidence.
I don’t think I’m being coy or anything, Frank. You say it’s like pulling teeth, but that’s because you – as far as I can tell – really haven’t offered any arguments in need of rebuttal. You just claimed that Ehrman is more objective. Why? Because he’s an agnostic. Now clearly this requires good reasons if you want me to believe it. There’s nothing to debate otherwise. I have noted that it’s not a plausible claim, especially given the fame and money associated with publishing on alleged scandals. So I’m sorry, but I don’t think you’ve the right to be disappointed in you not generating much of a debate with remarks like that. If you want to explain why Ehrman’s agnosticism makes him more believable apart from the evidence he appeals to, go ahead.
And as for selling more books – I guess Dr Seuss was right after all.
I would have thought you might have caught on that I was referring to the comments dated 24/4/12. These are arguments NOT TAKEN from Ehrman’s book. Do you have any rebuttals?
Seuss never argued for or against the existence of God.
OK, from 24 April, it seems that this is your focus: “The obvious question is: Why did it take so long to write about miracles, salvation, and resurrection?”
But I did answer this in a previous comment.
As I’ve indicated already, 1) a comment like this just doesn’t take into account the importance of oral histories in the culture into which Christianity was born, 2) actually the very first Christian documents that were written do indeed make reference to the resurrection, so I’m not sure why you are talking about it taking “so long,” and 3) the timeframe of just a couple of decades before such things were committed to writing is, in historical terms, luxuriously short. Often our knowledge of historical events that we all believe in comes from accounts written over a century after the fact.
Frank, I’ve already pointed to these facts before, so I do not see why you’re still asking me to offer some thoughts on this. I really don’t see anything really significant here. Perhaps you could beef up these observations of yours into something that actually poses a problem for Christianity, so that there’s really something to debate.
Initially, Glenn. What are these early Christian documents to which you refer?
As to resurrection claims, do you think that Joseph Smith really conversed with God and John the Baptist? What about the golden plates? People are prepared to die for their beliefs too.
Luxuriously short or not, legend can grow very quickly as I found out recently of a Russian man who has made a shrine to John Lennon which he has based on his belief that the former Beatle did and said thing he didn’t – in other words – legend. More about Ehrman soon.
I’ve been listening to your podcasts (so far 5). In your cited podcast (“Sexing up the Gospels”) I must admit to being a bit confused. I couldn’t work our whether you were saying that Jesus was gay or not, but I did get that you felt that Ehrman shouldn’t have dismissed The Secret Gospel of Mark merely on the ground that it claimed Jesus was.
Hmm, if you are a Christian (and with my readings and listenings it seems more that you are a philosopher first and foremost), then you may conclude that Ehrman’s dismissal is entirely reasonable on this ground, don’t you think. In fact, this shows his respect FOR Christianity and why his claim to agnosticism makes him wholly reasonable and friendly to the religion.
Have you read Forged? He mentions such Gnostic gospels more than in just passing. What the existence of such writings shows clearly is that there were other sects of ‘Christianity’ which fell prey to stronger memes (as I mention above) and the surviving one was obviously the most, or more, popular notion.
The question that occurs to me is this: 2 Peter reminds us of very overt signs from God that should move us to repentance and we are reminded that God doesn’t wish to destroy anyone (verse). If this is the case, why is it so difficult to establish anything from the confusion of sects, claims, and competition that existed in the first century? Why has God left pretty much no physical evidence (chariot wheels at the bottom of the “Red” sea, evidence of Israelites in Sinai desert, etc) of any of the wondrous acts he’s accomplished throughout history?
“I couldn’t work our whether you were saying that Jesus was gay or not, but I did get that you felt that Ehrman shouldn’t have dismissed The Secret Gospel of Mark merely on the ground that it claimed Jesus was.”
I didn’t say anything even slightly resembling that. I have no idea what you’re talking about, Frank. Your comments are swarming and numerous, so I assume that this is what you do with your evenings. Please don’t be offended if I don’t commit myself to following up all of them.
Podcast 42: Crowd hallucinations not possible? Try this:
“As early as July 1917 it was claimed that the Virgin Mary had promised a miracle for the last of her apparitions on 13 October, so that all would believe. What happened then became known as “Miracle of the Sun”.
A crowd believed to number approximately 70,000, including newspaper reporters and photographers, gathered at the Cova da Iria. The incessant rain had finally ceased and a thin layer of clouds cloaked the silver disc of the sun. Witnesses said later it could be looked upon without hurting the eyes. Lúcia, moved by what she said was an interior impulse, called out to the crowd to look at the sun. Witnesses later spoke of the sun appearing to change colors and rotate like a wheel. Not everyone saw the same things, and witnesses gave widely varying descriptions of the “sun’s dance”.”
Here’s the point” “Since no scientifically verifiable physical cause can be adduced to support the phenomenon of the sun, various explanations have been advanced to explain the descriptions given by numerous witnesses. A leading conjecture is a mass hallucination possibly stimulated by the religious fervor of the crowds expectantly waiting for a predicted sign.”
Tell a person that a house is haunted and a speck of dust becomes a spectral orb!
Secondly about the podcast:
On the road to Emmaus the disciples did not recognise Jesus as the Messiah and only became convinced based on what the man was saying. Later, at the convention of 500, how did the crowd know that the speaker was Jesus if he was, as some interpret, materialising using different bodies (his original body had been sacrificed)?
Re: Comment 29, Frank, the only Christian documents that we have that are earlier than the Gospels are the New Testament letters (mostly written by Paul).
And there is an obvious difference between being prepared to die for a belief because you mistakenly hold it, and dying for a belief when you know that it’s false.
Now, re: Post 31: Frank, I suggest looking at the psychological literature on hallucinations. Instead of looking to Catholic claims about apparitions of Mary in order to explain the intricacies of psychological phenomena, try the literature on the subject of hallucinations. Unless you think those reporting the miracle of the sun are more reliable on this subject of course, but I am inclined to doubt that.
It seems you have a large number of requests for me to show you things, which is flattering, but I really can’t oblige every time. I also think that posting many times every day at someone’s blog and asking them to come back and meet your new challenges (challenges that are actually fairly old and well-known) is neither endearing nor healthy. Honestly Frank, Go for a walk, get some fresh air, read a book, catch a movie or something. And maybe sometimes just have thoughts about what you hear that you don’t immediately type here! This isn’t meant as a “go away,” but something doesn’t seem right here. I say this for your good and mine!
This is what I find amazing about you ‘Christians.’ You’re obviously not Catholic, so you patronisingly suggest that what they saw was ‘probably’ false, yet your own personal experience of ‘Christ’ is true. Of course, if you didn’t, you wouldn’t hold the beliefs you do.
You said that ‘public hallucinations are not possible’ (or words to that effect). I have proved that wrong, but you won’t accept this evidence. Why won’t you accept the hallucinations of other people? They are, after all – halluncinations!!! Just admit you got it wrong. I don’t need a load of psychobabble to show me what is obvious – and that’s another thing:
Podcast 39 I listened to with great relish hoping for answers to my long-sought-after questions about divine child-murder. Obviously I’m just a pleb and you have the diplomas, but you might consider writing your podcasts, not with university students in mind. I had no idea what you were talking about and got bored waiting for something to think about.
As I imagine, because you seem readily to take offence at being out-foxed, this is the last comment of mine you’ll publish (or maybe not), I need to tell you have a rather condescending tone and a self-sense of omnipotence, maybe because you consider yourself learned.
I ‘obsessively’ write because it’s my hobby. If you wish no more correspondence then just say so, don’t patronise me. Perhaps you just want sycophants, sorry, I don’t do toady.
I would suggest too that if you wish to ensnare more Christians to your way of thinking perhaps you should consider getting rid of the ambiguous icon of a symbol of death and torture.
Frank… I don’t know what space you’re in when you say these things and I don’t know where you’re getting this from. I said nothing about the alleged miracle of the sun – nothing at all. I can only deduce that you attributed such comments to me so that you could throw in the generalisation about Christians being condescending. Enough. And really, you have “proven” nothing of any sort about the studied nature of hallucinations. It’s just silly to think that by making this allusion to Fatima you could prove something about hallucinations. In order to delve into that subject, as I’ve suggested, the place for you to go is not to accounts of a purported miracle, but rather to the study of the psychological phenomenon of hallucination in general.
The fact is, hallucinations are events inside people’s minds/brains. Other people don’t see what you’re hallucinating – to say that is simply to misunderstand what a hallucination is. That’s like saying that you can “hear” my thoughts or enter my dreams – and be aware of being there!
As for your comments about my sense of omnipotence, this is another one of those occasions where I have no idea at all what you’re talking about, other than to think that it’s a random ad hominem remark.
OMG… Glenn just stop feeding him. Wow… he is on something.
Obviously I’m going to have to go more slowly for you. First let’s get this out of the way:You said on your podcast that Jesus’ posthumous appearances could not have been by mass or crowd hallucination – Did you say that or not? Just answer yes or no and lay of the judgements if that’s possible for you.
This morning I listened again to podcast 39. In hindsight most of your arguments are tautological, meaning that such matters as the “empty tomb” are only reported in the Christian writings and therefore do not have any bearing on archaeological science. Michael Shermer, president of the Skeptics Society points out that many conspiracies have no substance, but some do – this may be one as a revolutionary approach to the Jewish situation with invaders could have meant that the ‘dying Messiah’ would have easily have drummed up support.
Bart Ehrman at Standford – Misquoting Jesus lecture reminds us that there are over 300,000 textural (scribal) errors in extant New Testament documents (papyrus etc) and the earliest extant copy of Mark, the first Gospel written, dates as late as 200 AD. Adding to this that oral tradition is not the same as oral history, the major differences in details between the Gospel accounts, and the lateness of the writing of the Gospels mitigates against the age of the writers (in Roman times the average life-span was 45 but Mark could date as late as 65 AD)) I would think we have a lot to talk about, Glenn, don’t you?
Or perhaps you think Ehrman is ‘sensationalising” again. If so, please be specific.
Several more comments from Frank since I was last here…..
Re: Bart Ehrman – Frank, none of this is new or shocking. Learn a little bit about the nature of ancient documents in general – and also be a bit more candid about what most of these errors actually are. Slight differences in spelling or wording that make no material difference (i.e. nearly all variants – as Ehrman freely admits) are not exactly about to wipe out Christianity. There’s nothing to see here.
If you’d like more than one perspective on the issue, here’s a debate between Bart Ehrman and Craig Evans that covers this issue. Enjoy. 🙂
Re: your yes/no question – How about we don’t do that. I’ve answered this question in the podcast. If you have a genuine critique to make, just share it. If you’ve looked into the phenomenon of hallucinations and you’ve got a finding to share, go for it. The easiest way to see if you’ve got a serious objection that you’ve investigated and you properly understand is just for you to spell it out. But you’re not going to walk me though what I said and didn’t say.
As I obviously can’t tempt you into honest debate, Glenn, maybe you’ll point me to one of your studious writings we’re I might glean exactly what your answer is to my enquiries. Ehrman admits that most of the 300,000 textual errors are just that, that’s why they’re called ‘textual.’ But he highlights quite rightly that these errors throw accuracy into doubt as to what we read in the closest extant manuscripts ACTUALLY tell us about the nature and death of Christ.
I realise you’re busy, but as I gather this is more than a hobby and actually is an apologist site, perhaps I could persuade you actually to have a dialogue. You never know, you might save a soul.
Frank, I don’t think you’re really in a position to question my honesty. That’s a bit ungracious of you, really, given the interaction I have extended to you. There’s no “debate” to be had until you make a case for something. You are trying to make a case that the number and type of textual variants are such that they drastically call into question whether or not we can know what the original said, or what it meant, or something bad along those lines.
But it’s not enough to drop Bart Ehrman’s name and give a number and end it there. Please tell us what type of variations these are in the text. Give examples. I’m doing this to help you to see that once you actually start examining the evidence that you think is there but which you haven’t looked at for yourself, you’ll see the evidence is actually not as shocking as you thought. But so far you haven’t even described what the evidence is in any detail (I haven’t seen any examples from you), or what you think it shows.
Are you ‘honestly’ saying, Glenn, that making the claim to not knowing if we’re reading the original manuscripts that come down to us is not adequate for a debate? Really? It is not for me to ‘prove’ the case as I have a world-renowned Biblical scholar rooting for my side. Rather, you must demonstrate that it is possible for accuracy even under theses circumstances.
Has the story of Robin Hood come down to us accurately? I don’t think so, and yet the ‘account’ is MUCH newer than the claims of miracle-working and salvation to mankind. What about king Arthur? Better?
I must conclude, therefore, by the absence of debate, that you have no answer for me.
Lions 2 Christians 0
“Are you ‘honestly’ saying, Glenn, that making the claim to not knowing if we’re reading the original manuscripts that come down to us is not adequate for a debate? ”
If that’s what you think Ehrman said, look again. Nobody thinks that we are reading the “original manuscripts.” They perished a very long time ago. No, the issue is that,as Ehrman points out, there is a large number of textual variants – that is, differences between one copy and another. These can generally be grouped together into “textual traditions,” where we can see which one was copied from which, and group them into families based on common readings.
But of course, none of this is news. Christians have known this for centuries. Just putting it out there like it’s a major issue and I need to deal with it is fairly pointless. So here’s what you need to do if you think I should offer a case in response: Make a case to respond to. OK, so you’ve started with the fact as noted by Ehrman (and every single Christian new Testament scholar that I know of as well) that there are lots of textual variants. So? What sort of variants are they? What do they tell us? What has been changed, and how? And what difference does it make?
Obviously I’m not just going to say “No. There are no textual variants.” There are thousands. But what am I meant to be debating against? What’s your actual claim here, Frank, and how would you defend it? Stated simply: What are you asking me to deny?
Could it be, Glenn, that you are like the super-computer that can do vast universal equations but cannot add two plus two. I mean no disrespect by this comment, it’s just that it seems, at least to me, that I had factored in what you say about the manuscripts not being the originals. That’s not what I meant.
It seems likewise obvious to me that if you have hundreds of thousands of textual variants in lanquage that the original message is going to evolve over time. Nature shows this to be the case. What the original writers meant will eventually be lost, even if you have the most accurate of copyists.
Factor in too that culture itself is a variant, the expectations of expectant people (though the military messiah did not emerge), the fact that accounts of miracles can be falsified, and the length of time (30 to 60 years after the alleged events)that is involved; how can we possibly accept that things happened in EXACTLY the way the gospels.
The biggest cliffhanger, though, is the possibility that some or many of the New Testament books could be fake. Ehrman describes beautifully in his book, Forged, how the ACTUAL religious and political situation PROBABLY looked back then and wipes away any modern stereotype we may have learned in church about these writings.
Pilate said, “what is truth.” Yes, what is it, if we accept Biblical truth, then don’t bother looking scientifically deeper into these issue. But you and I know that, as modern persons, we nowadays require a much higher criteria of proof.
” I had factored in what you say about the manuscripts not being the originals. That’s not what I meant.”
Well Frank, that’s what you said. You said that you made “claim to not knowing if we’re reading the original manuscripts that come down to us.” In textual criticism, when we talk about “manuscripts” we are talking about the actual physical objects. I assume now that you really mean “original reading.” A “reading” is a particular wording in one manuscript or many, and it is different wordings that we are referring to when we talk about textual variants.
You now claim that it is obvious that if we have thousands of textual variants, it must be true that the actual message will evolve over time. But this isn’t obvious over time. This is why my questions to you mattered: What kind of variants do we have, and in each case what actual difference do they make?
Only when you seriously make this a matter of discussing evidence will you appreciate why this argument has no real weight, which is why I have insisted that you do the work: Get into the evidence and start presenting it, and only then we can discuss what significance that evidence has.
As you will know, Glenn, all legends are usually based on real identities. Even the most dimensional characters in fiction are usually based, at least partly, on actual people. Robin Hood, probably originally: robbing hood, must have been someone who at least inspired the ‘accounts’ of what later became legend.
Of course, I’m not comparing the two characters in any way other than to state 30 years after the events of Jesus written ALLEGEDLY by disciples of Jesus today is simply not enough to verify the truthfulness of the all stories in all the details – especi. Here’s why:
Robin Hood (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robin_Hood#Early_references)
“The oldest references to Robin Hood are not historical records, or even ballads recounting his exploits, but hints and allusions found in various works. From 1228 onwards, the names ‘Robinhood’, ‘Robehod’ or ‘Robbehod’ occur in the rolls of several English Justices. The majority of these references date from the late 13th century. Between 1261 and 1300, there are at least eight references to ‘Rabunhod’ in various regions across England, from Berkshire in the south to York in the north.
In a petition presented to Parliament in 1439, the name is used to describe an itinerant felon. The petition cites one Piers Venables of Aston, Derbyshire, “who having no liflode, ne sufficeante of goodes, gadered and assembled unto him many misdoers, beynge of his clothynge, and, in manere of insurrection, wente into the wodes in that countrie, like as it hadde be Robyn Hude and his meyne.” The name was still used to describe sedition and treachery in 1605, when Guy Fawkes and his associates were branded “Robin Hoods” by Robert Cecil.
The first allusion to a literary tradition of Robin Hood tales occurs in William Langland’s Piers Plowman (c. 1362–c. 1386) in which Sloth, the lazy priest, confesses: “I kan [know] not parfitly [perfectly] my Paternoster as the preest it singeth,/ But I kan rymes of Robyn Hood and Randolf Erl of Chestre.”
The first mention of a quasi-historical Robin Hood is given in Andrew of Wyntoun’s Orygynale Chronicle, written in about 1420. The following lines occur with little contextualisation under the year 1283:
Lytil Jhon and Robyne Hude
Wayth-men ware commendyd gude
In Yngil-wode and Barnysdale
Thai oysyd all this tyme thare trawale.”
Why do they keep making films about Robin Hood? Because it inspires us, moves us, brings out, albeit reluctantly, the nobility that humans are capable of.
“30 years after the events of Jesus written ALLEGEDLY by disciples of Jesus today is simply not enough to verify the truthfulness of the all stories in all the details”
So? Nobody claims that the relatively very short time lapse verifies all the details, so I’m not sure why this matters. But you’ve basically granted that Robin Hood comparison isn’t very good. Even the material you quoted says that the first reference to a literary tradition of Robin Hood doesn’t appear until 1362–c. 1386, more than a century after allusions to the name appear. So I just don’t see what is established by any of this, other than that they may have been a historical person behind the Robin Hood stories. The timing however is much longer, and the details very sparse (in the earliest references to his name) – there was a guy, he was a criminal. It hardly compares to the depth of biographical detail detailed within the lifetime of Jesus’ contemporaries.
I’ve been listening to a debate between Craig Evans and Ehrman. As you have pointed out, Glenn, that Jewish ‘history’ is largely oral (the inverted commas are because, in the case of Jesus, it cannot be determined accurately, due to 300,00 textual differences and the time involved for the first ‘gospel account,’ whether it’s history or tradition).
As ‘salvation originates with the Jews,’ Christianity has inherited an ‘account’ or ‘accounts’ of the Messiah via Jewish oral tradition. As Jewish history is exegetical in nature (interpretable and growing to each generation and in difference in circumstances) what are we actually to believe, as the FACTS show that an apparently evolved set of differing texts have been bequeathed to posterity?
Ehrman lists the many overt differences actually in the telling of the story of Jesus that differs from gospel to gospel AND points out that the writers didn’t appear until much later bearing the name apparently of a genuine disciple or apostle (to ‘authenticate’ their ‘authorship’). Add to this that they wrote in modern koine Greek and there are good reasons to question their authenticity.
I don’t think the Robin Hood analogy is too far from the truth. Salvation is a popular notion, and so are heroes. As you point out, that there is a mere 70 years (‘mere’ by your reckoning) separating the first reference to Hood and the first written account of Jesus.
Of course, Robin Hood didn’t start a religion but he did spawn many movies.
Another point I would make the same as Ehrman is that if the origins of the telling of the story of Jesus is exegetical in nature, then science (this originates with Western Society largely)is not interested in a growing and changing view of Jesus’ resurrection, it concerns itself with whether a man could come back from the dead in the natural world.
Frank, do you see what is happening now? At least twice I have asked you to actually get into the raw data if you’re going to use this argument. The figure of 300,000 is clearly important to you, so I have asked you to make the actual case for your objection by studying the variants and presenting evidence that the number – and most importantly, the kind – of variants in the Greek New Testament cast doubt over the reliability of the transmission of the meaning of the New Testament. Each time you have refused.
And yet now – remember, while refusing to discuss the evidence – you are starting to “cheat” by appealing to this number of 300,000 as though it actually does cast some important doubt on… well, something.
So this is where the discussion comes to a natural pause and I wait for you to go back and make the case I asked you to make earlier. Make an evidence based case that the number and nature of textual variants somehow casts real doubt over whether or not we can know what the New testament documents first said. Use examples, please. Because I can tell that you’re going to keep thinking that you’ve got an argument there, and only when you force yourself to actually make that argument will you see that it doesn’t work.
Glenn, is it not true that extraordinary events require extraordinary evidence? You want me to have a debate based on the intricacies of textual anomalies. You know that’s not going to happen. If you are saying that Jesus as a historical character is verified in these texts then, yes, I would go along with that. But surely, you want me to accept the whole package deal – miracles and all; am I right?
No I not trying to debate rhetorically, but like me, you are aware of the principle of parsimony, Occam’s Razor. Doing away with as many supernatural entities and replacing the facts with frugal concepts should mean that a grand study of texts should be unnecessary.
If YOU believe that Christ rose from the dead you are making an extraordinary claim. All the so-called ‘evidence’ I hear about ‘eye-witness testimony’ and empty tombs does not prove a man rose from the dead, does it? The fact that a story of a man walking on water does not prove this supernatural event to be true, does it?
The textual differences is one of MANY evidences that parsimony, and even scepticism, is likely the only correct reaction in an age of science to a 2000-year old account.
Frank, right now I would settle for just SOME evidence from you. Extraordinary can wait! Remember – I am the one still sitting here waiting. You were trying to make an argument from textual variants. OK, but you can’t now slip away from it now that I have turned the heat on by asking you several times for evidence. What is your evidence, and what does it show?
This is where things stop until you offer something. Otherwise, you’ll need to step back and say “Sorry, I have nothing. I referred to textual variants as though they showed something, but I admit it, I can’t use them to show anything.” Then we will be able to continue. But you can’t just put the implied argument out there, refuse to ever defend it – even when I ask you to, and then keep appealing back to it as you now have.
“Most of these [textual] differences are completely immaterial and insignificant….In fact, most of the changes found in our early Christian manuscripts have nothing to do with theology or ideology. Far and away the most changes are the result of mistakes, pure and simple – slips of the pen, accidental omissions, inadvertent additions, misspelled words, blunders of one sort or another….when scribes made intentional changes, sometimes their motives were as pure as the driven snow….And so we must rest content knowing that getting back to the earliest attainable version is the best we can do, whether or not we have reached back to the ‘original’ text.
Is this what you mean, Glenn?
What do you think of this, then?
“In the first several centuries after Jesus’ ministry, the followers of the Nazarene engaged in fierce theological polemics with Jews, Gnostics, pagans and other Christians. They resorted to forgery, fabrication and character assassination to disparage their adversaries and bolster their own ranks, Ehrman writes.
Forgery, or writing under a false name, ultimately helped early Christians consolidate their fractured movement into a coherent theology. These letters, essays and treatises helped gloss over internal conflicts to discredit foes, to justify admitting non-Jews and to expand across the globe.
I guess that if it follows that Ehrman is right about the insignificance of most textual differences, then what would it matter if the message is tainted will reams of forgeries?
Sorry about the cut and pasting, but I couldn’t have put it better myself. My advice – read Forged.
Can we get on to ethics and morals now?
Frank. All you are doing here is quoting one of Ehrman’s summary style claims after the other.. First he’s saying the variants make no difference, then he’s throwing around the word “forgery.”
Clearly by putting these links here you do think there is an argument to be made, you just don’t want to make it. So here we sit until you do. Please explain the negative effect that you believe textual variants have on the reliability of the Gospels.
And since you have chosen to add the “forgery” canard to this, feel free to elaborate on that as well. But you don’t get to link drop, pretend there’s really nothing to say, then ask if we can move on. You wanted to make the argument now you can go ahead and make it. Properly. I am familiar with the claims in Forged. Now, your argument please.
Oh, and Frank – While you’re putting your argument together, have a look at http://www.ehrmanproject.com/
Glenn, are you genuinely asking me to present learned arguments that are best left to the experts? Are you qualified as an expert to rebut my claims should they be scholarly?
The fact that Christianity (in its many forms)has lasted for 2000 years because it has popular notions and inspirational memes, doesn’t mean, due mainly to the intrusion of the principle of parsimony, that its founder could perform miracles!
Religion has lasted for the same reasons and was probably the first human attempt at science – a way to explain phenomena that could not be readily understood.
But so you know I’m not just carrying a torch for Ehrman, here is an article not by Erhman”
“Seven letters are generally classified as “undisputed”, expressing contemporary scholarly near consensus that they are the work of Paul: Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon. Six additional letters bearing Paul’s name lack academic consensus: Ephesians, Colossians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Timothy, and Titus. The first three, called the “Deutero-Pauline Epistles,” have no consensus on whether or not they are authentic letters of Paul. The latter three, the “Pastoral Epistles”, are widely regarded to be pseudepigraphical works, though certain scholars do consider Paul to be the author. There are two examples of pseudonymous letters written in Paul’s name apart from the alleged New Testament epistles: These are the Epistle to the Laodiceans and 3 Corinthians. Since the early centuries of the church, there has been debate concerning the authorship of the anonymous Epistle to the Hebrews, and modern scholars reject Pauline authorship.?”
You see, it’s not just my imagination or Ehrman’s ‘sensationalism’ that need to take a holiday. There is simply not consensus about certain generally-accepted books in the New Testament that can stand up to scholarly scrutiny.
Thanks for the video, I’m downloading it now.
Frank, let’s recall why I have asked you to do this:
1) You suggested an argument against the reliability of the New Testament portrait of Jesus by referring to the many textual variants that exist.
2) I asked you to back this up. You didn’t. You went silent in response to that request.
3) Then when you went on to make another attempted argument, you referred confidently back to your earlier comment about textual variants, as though you had established a point that you could now refer back to as settled.
4) I then stopped you and asked you to go back and back up your first implied argument.
The reason I am doing this is so that you realise – so that the penny drops and it fully dawns on you – that you (and I say this to be honest and maybe even helpful, not rude), that you are genuinely too ignorant of the subject of New Testament studies to know enough of the facts to have the sort of confidence that you should have. You’re shadowboxing like Ali, but if you were to get into the ring on that issue you’d crumple like a featherweight, and by calling you out on your confidence, by asking you to actually make the argument that you’ve implied, I’m hoping to get you to see that you actually don’t know what you’re talking about.
Now, are you going to make the argument or not? If not, just admit that you don’t currently know enough.
As for the second issue (which I’m willing to bet that you also won’t mount a serous argument over), authorship of NT books, you need to widen your reading a little. Even conservative Evangelical New Testament scholars are well aware that there have been questions asked about the authorship of several books that bear Paul’s name. I think the question is relatively easily settled by an appeal to amanuensis (which I’m sure you are familiar with), and I think the case for outright “forgery” there is weak. But if you want to make the case, go ahead. As for Hebrews, what’s the issue? We don’t know who the author is, and given that no author is listed, why would anyone claim that it’s a forgery?
It seems odd, Glenn, that you seem not to have grasped that common sense is my argument. This was the point of my description of you as a complex computer that can create complicated equations but not add 2 plus 2. Most of us are aware (apparently only most of us)of the concept of ‘Chinese whispers.’ I’m not sure why it needs scholarly treatment to understand what is plainly staring us in the face.
I’ll try again: If the oldest extant manuscript dates to as late as 200 AD, and if it has been established that are currently known to be 300,000 textual variations, wouldn’t we have expected ‘God’s Word’ to have been transmitted to us 100% accurately, rivalling and bettering the printing press?
Of course, at one time no one ever questioned religion’s role in the transmission of ‘the truth,’ but with the inconvenience of science, so much more is now expected of ‘historical claims’ of a resurrection, miraculous healing, and the resultant spiritual joy.
The appeal to scribes actually is all too easy and doesn’t explain the textual anomalies anyway.
Glenn, I won’t tackle you on a subject you are obviously more qualified than me to argue (I’ll just stand behind Ehrman’s apron strings) but I would like to get on to Biblical morality.
Frank: Given what we know about textual variants, there is no good reason to see the New Testament documents as a case of Chinese whispers. The evidence is sufficiently strong regarding what the originals said that we can have confidence in what is said 99% of the time. No important teaching (or even interesting teaching) is jeopardised by the level and nature of textual variants that we have.
I see no particular reason why we should think that God would need the Bible to be transmitted mark for mark, letter for letter, from the original documents right down to us now. As long as the message presented then is the message presented now, where’s the issue? So there’s just no “gotcha” argument here. The study of textual criticism is certainly fascinating and I enjoyed it very much, but it doesn’t yield any dramatic insights that bring the Bible crashing down.
If I’ve written a post on biblical morality that you’d like to discuss, feel free to comment in the comments section of it. But if you just want to bring up a subject out of the blue and get me to spar with you, I’ll pass.
Tell me, Glenn, do you think the Shroud of Turin, worshipped and adored by so many adherents (mostly Catholic), is the genuine shroud of Christ or a forgery?
Can you tell me, please, where to locate your thesis on morality. Thanks.
Frank, I do not think the Shroud of Turin is the actual burial cloth of Christ, no. The Bible actually describes Jesus’ burial cloths.
I haven’t written a thesis on morality. Not sure what you’re looking for.
Yes, Glenn, I agree with you that the Bible’s description precludes that the ‘shroud’ is that of Jesus. What are the scientific and common sense reasons, though, for you not accepting this cloth as a ‘holy relic’?
I gather, then, that you would not accept the ‘explanation’ that – because science cannot yet explain the image on the cloth, that the only solution is that the answer is supernatural?
You say you’ve written a post on morality. Can you leave the URL in your answer, please.
As far as I know, nobody uses that argument in regard to the shroud of Turin. Not at all! Their argument is that the circumstances (e.g. the fact that it’s a burial cloth, they fact that they think there’s good evidence of its age, the fact that the marks resemble those describe of Jesus), it is probably Jesus’ shroud. This “I don’t know, so God” argument would be a new one.
“You say you’ve written a post on morality. Can you leave the URL in your answer, please.”
No I didn’t. You said you wanted to talk about biblical morality. In reply, I said: “If I’ve written a post on biblical morality that you’d like to discuss, feel free to comment in the comments section of it. But if you just want to bring up a subject out of the blue and get me to spar with you, I’ll pass.”
I find what you claim quite surprising, Glenn. Thousands, if not millions of Catholics continue to do obeisance to the shroud in an act of idolatry. Does this not logically presuppose that they view the image as made supernaturally?
Carbon dating tests have consistently shown that the cloth is 12th to 13th century. As to the ‘image,’ this is one of the strongest evidences AGAINST the authenticity of its provenance. If you lay a cloth over a face and body, even if the body can emanate something, the image would be starkly distorted by the action. This has been demonstrated many times by means of experiment.
Would God and Christ leave such a relic? Not if one accepts the scripture in Jude which show that the Devil and Michael argued over the body of Moses. Humans, as both of us know, will worship anything if they believe it has magical properties.
It is quite possible (but by the principle of parsimony, not probable) that it is a painting by Da Vinci (as theorised interestingly using a camera obscura). I like this idea because Da Vinci was a stirrer and left a lot of cheeky symbols in his religious works to show his agnosticism, as he couldn’t state his view directly (look what happened to Galileo).
The point I was making about the parallel between the ‘Gospels’ and the Shroud is that, with the cynical scientific age we live in, much harder evidence is needed than wish-fulfilment and historical acceptance if one wants to maintain the status quo of belief. God’s Word should have been transmitted perfectly if God is omnipotent, omniscient and crystal-clear in his explanation of truth, don’t you think? The fact that we are having this discussion demonstrates ambiguity.
As I said, Frank, your characterisation of the argument is a false one. Those who believe that the Shroud of Turin is genuine believe that the evidence supports their claim, and they do not make the naive argument “I don’t know how it was made, so God did it,” which you want to attribute to them.
You can continue to believe as you do about textual transmission, but until you come up with an interesting argument, I’m just not interested.
Glenn, you are so much like your idol, William Lane Craig. He too simply declares himself the winner of a debate because he, “has heard nothing to demonstrate that theism is not true and that atheism is true.” This is his default ‘argument’ as well.
Glenn, your apologist arrogance (I prefer the literal understanding of this word) is that you believe that what you believe is true, a default belief based on the fear of I prefer the literal understanding of this word) theism losing the control it once had before the Age of Enlightenment. This movement, like the Reformation and the fall of the Berlin Wall, came about because some dared to question the status quo. I state again, it is YOU who has to prove the existence of an external agency capable of miracles in a universe that simply does not support such a view.
Do you accept the existence of aliens because some have a religious fervour for such a belief? They say there are thousands who have had abduction experiences, have seen UFOs; why don’t you accept their testimony? Could it be because as an intelligent educated man you seek the wisdom of parsimony before you go off half cocked in belief that likely would earn you a mocking?
All have ‘evidence’ for your consideration.
You may recognise that I argue much like the much-vaunted late Christopher Hitchens. Now this was one intelligent man – well-travelled and thought-provoking in his comments. Have you read his book?
Frank, your last comment appears to have no point. It was just an ad hominem rant.
If you mean by changing the subject when you’re asked to actually back up your claims, then yes. Yes you do.
Glenn, my last comment was designed to encourage you to see that simply asserting that something is true without significant evidence is arrogant. Yes, there is reason to believe that Christianity grew as a religion in the first century, but what many don’t appreciate is that it had a number of rivals that could just have easily have grown into the empire Christianity is today. The present incarnation survived because it has the most persuasive memes; life after death, salvation, paradise, etc. Advertising works the same way.
William Lane Craig argues, he feels, on a non-religious basis and as a philosopher, uses ‘blinding by science’ to ‘prove’ his claims, but even he has to use the qualifier “I see no reason to BELIEVE that atheism’s claims are true.” Belief is the key. In the Age of science we need concrete evidence to ‘believe’ that a man can come back from the dead, that miracles can occur before people change their lives to come under the authority of religion.
Hitchens’ arguments are genuine because they are chiefly aimed at common sense that needs no proof, just an acknowledgement and therefore doesn’t need screeds of evidence. Try a bit of common sense, Glenn, you might actually like it.
“Glenn, my last comment was designed to encourage you to see that simply asserting that something is true without significant evidence is arrogant.”
This is incredible. You implied that you had this awesome argument against Christianity earlier. I asked you many times to put up or shut up. So finally, you caved in and admitted that you didn’t have an argument at all. And now you’re telling me about simply asserting things without evidence? And what, exactly, have I simply asserted without any good reasons?
“Try a bit of common sense, Glenn, you might actually like it.”
OK Frank, I will try some common sense. I’ll start by not approving such childish comments. That seems sensible.
Comments are closed.