Smackdown? More on Mythicism, James McGrath, and Caesar

James has graciously posted up a response of sorts to my blog post here.  He writes:

But precisely for this reason, the comparison between the two possible mythicisms can be instructive, because if someone could deny the existence of someone like Julius Caesar using the same sorts of tactics and approach as are used by Jesus mythicists, would this not constitute an adequate demonstration that the approach of Jesus mythicists is problematic?

And  to clarify, on my blog James writes:

 I don’t actually disagree that the comparison is problematic – but precisely because we can reasonably expect stronger evidence for the existence of Julius Caesar, and yet could cast doubt on his existence using the methods employed by Earl Doherty, to say nothing of Dorothy Murdoch, that suggests that the approach of the Jesus-mythicists is methodologically flawed.

I haven’t read his new book, but I don’t believe Earl Doherty employees a ‘deny all evidence’ methodology, which is what James is sort of suggesting.  This concerns me a great deal.  It suggests that James really doesn’t recognize where Doherty engages the evidence, rather than simply dismissing it.  If we were to employ the methods that Neil Godfrey has suggested, while they are not realistic and could not fully be used–at least without many caveats–to determine the historicity of most figures, one would have to, in fact, draw the conclusion Caesar was real.  After all, Godfrey and Doherty have argued that contemporary silence is a main weapon against the historicity of the figure of Jesus, and contemporary silence is something we don’t have for the historical Caesar.  So once again, James’ analogy is false and inappropriate.  If James wants to make a case that Doherty or Godfrey are just dismissive of all evidence, he needs to express that clearly and with statements from them to support it.  I am not aware of any.

Further, I do not believe James has really produced an instructive analogy, either.  Where has he stated the methods mythicists used which can be used by others?  I believe it is a little unfair to provide an ‘instructive’ blog where people can just make up methods they presume a mythicist would use rather than actually providing his readers with actual methods which Doherty or Godfrey have laid out.  Indeed, since James has only provided one method–that is, the method of just being dismissive–many might actually fall prey into the thought that mythicists are just dismissive.  This is hardly the case.

I should clarify my own position as well, if only to avoid confusion.  I don’t mind at all James’ instructive blogs, and I think James is onto something here by turning the methods of mythicists over to other sorts of figures.  But again, I stress that he needs to do so in a manner that is responsible.  If he refuses to create fair, more appropriate analogies with figures which are more comparative to the figure of Jesus (as far as the evidence goes), then he should at least be considerate enough to utilize the methods Doherty actually employs, instead of fabricating a method which he doesn’t at all use.  I have no doubt that James can find an actual method utilized by Doherty in his new book which will make his case in the same way, without inventing new ones, especially if Doherty makes as many poor arguments as James claims.  Again, I haven’t read the book, so I cannot say whether he does or doesn’t.

Addendum: I do believe dismissive behavior is seen in Zeitgeist mythicists however, and those that follow Dorothy Murdock.  Through correspondence with those sorts of mythicists, I have to agree that they care little about evidence and only for the fancies of what their Archarya S provides them.

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8 Responses

  1. Tom wrote: “If we were to employ the methods that Neil Godfrey has suggested, while they are not realistic and could not fully be used–at least without many caveats–to determine the historicity of most figures, one would have to, in fact, draw the conclusion Caesar was real.”

    Could you expand on that? Which methods are unrealistic? Given the massive amount of primary evidence (including a bust probably based on his death mask), correlated to very good secondary evidence, why would you think it would be difficult to draw the conclusion that Caesar was real?

    Tom also wrote: “If he refuses to create fair, more appropriate analogies with figures which are more comparative to the figure of Jesus…”

    That’s why we continue to bring up Socrates, Siddhartha, and Apollonius of Tyana. Using any number of criteria at our disposal, how much can we say about Socrates? What did he say? What did he do? Did he exist? Does Plato’s *character* of Socrates completely overshadow the real man?

    Comparing Jesus to Gaius Julius Caesar implies that one is either ignorant of the facts or is contemptuous of the person one is arguing with.

  2. If we were to employ the methods that Neil Godfrey has suggested, while they are not realistic and could not fully be used–at least without many caveats–to determine the historicity of most figures, one would have to, in fact, draw the conclusion Caesar was real.

    What are “my methods” that you are talking about? In what way are they unrealistic? Be specific.

  3. Tim, I don’t know how you misunderstood my statement, but it may be I wasn’t as clear as I think I am. Of course I don’t think it would be difficult to draw the conclusion that Caesar was real. I don’t think I made that claim anywhere. Could you kindly reread my quoted statement and reconsider this?

    As for Socrates, we can be reasonably certain he existed as a historical figure. That figure might be completely concealed behind the cultural memory of the figure Plato created. But we have attestation, even contemporary enemy attestation (if you could Aristophanes). But yes, we quite agree on the principle of it.

  4. Neil, you’ve made claims and criticisms of scholarship which are unrealistic because you expect too much when you should recognize the limitations of the field. I think you are quite bright and you are clearly studious, but I don’t believe you have a firm enough grasp on the standards and methods of scholars when it comes to determining historicity. I, like you, find many of the arguments for the historicity of the figure of Jesus weak, but that doesn’t mean eo ipso Jesus did not exist. I believe you often draw conclusions that overstate the value of the silence you argue from at times.

  5. Tom: “Could you kindly reread my quoted statement and reconsider this?”

    What I thought you had said was one could use “Neil’s” criteria, but not “fully,” since they’re “unrealistic.” And one would have to use many “caveats.” I gathered from this statement you contend that under the full, onerous weight of Neil’s criteria it would be difficult.

    However, as far as I know, all Neil has ever said is that we should apply normal standards in the realm of NT scholarship. They might be perceived as minimalist standards, but they are surely not unique or even unusual.

    So to clarify, I think you believe it’s easy to prove that Julius Caesar existed, but if you were hobbled by Neil’s restrictions it would be difficult (and you couldn’t even use them fully). If that assessment is incorrect, please let me know.

    On the other hand, I think it would be a fairly simple matter to declare Caesar’s historicity using either set of criteria — even “fully.”

    Tom: “But we have attestation, even contemporary enemy attestation (if you could Aristophanes).”

    Absolutely so. We have independent multiple attestation from eyewitnesses. What’s sobering, though, is how difficult it is to tease out a real “logion” from Socrates. We possess documents that are not anonymous, and that are contemporary. Compare this to the gospels, which are late and anonymous (and I think mutually dependent), and yet many scholars confidently declare that Jesus “really said” something.

  6. Oh quite so, Tim, on your last point. And I am with you; nothing can be confidently declared with the cultural memory-based traditions we have in the Gospels. And I don’t think a historical Jesus can be found anywhere, if he existed, in any of the extant data we have. That doesn’t mean that he didn’t exist, though. As with Socrates, even if we had no contemporary evidence, we would still be able to say Socrates probably lived, though with the caveat that we know nothing about him.

  7. Tom, you should check out Gakuseidon’s post at the Matrix post on this subject. He has a an imaginative Caesar myth in the works.

  8. TOM
    After all, Godfrey and Doherty have argued that contemporary silence is a main weapon against the historicity of the figure of Jesus…

    CARR
    We are talking about the contemporary silence of Christians like Paul, who regarded the Romans as God’s agents sent to punish wrongdoers, and points out that Jews could not be expected to believe in jesus because they had never heard of him until Christians preached about him.

    Here is where Neil uses that argument

    http://vridar.wordpress.com/2010/10/03/how-shall-they-hear-about-jesus-unless-from-a-christian-preacher/

    Do we have people claiming nobody had heard of Caesar?

    ‘Paul again explains why the whole of Israel has been rejected:

    GODFREY
    They have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God. (Romans 10:2-3)

    This is a very strange way to explain that God rejects them because they killed his son.

    CARR
    Yes, there is a contemporary ‘silence’ about Jesus.

    But it is a silence that is filled with Paul speaking. He simply talks about a different history – one where there was no Jesus to reject and kill, and one where the problem with Judaism had nothing to do with any interaction between Jesus and Jews.

    In Paul’s epistles, and also Hebrews, James, Jude, there is lacking any interaction of Jesus and Jews.

    You can call this silence if you wish.

    If you regard people as being silent if they are talking about things you cannot make sense of if you expect them to be talking about an historical Jesus.

    But why not listen to early Christians instead of declaring them to be silent?

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