A Request for Easter Thoughts

As Easter approaches there will of course be an innumerable amount of garbage proclaiming to be ‘fact’ about the death and resurrection of Jesus.   Over years past, I have largely ignored this time of year; but this year I’d like to do something different.  I want to hear from you, my readers, and also my fellow bibliobloggers about what they think or believe about the death and resurrection of Jesus.

There are some questions I’d liked to have answered:

1.) What is your overall belief concerning the resurrection?  Do you think it happened?  Don’t believe?  Why or why not?
2.) If you answered above that you believe in the resurrection, what type of resurrection do you think happened?  A bodily resurrection?  A spiritual one?  Purely a theological one?
3.) If you believe in a resurrection, what is your authority on it?  Do you adhere to a particular Gospel tradition?  Combine them all?  Ignore any?  Accept only the epistles about the tradition?  A non-canonical source?
4.) If you do not believe in a resurrection, what is your authority for it?  What would it take for you to be convinced of a resurrection?
5.) If you do not believe in a resurrection, from where do you think the narrative of the passion and Easter originated?
6.) Do you believe that you will one day be resurrected?  In what sense (spiritual, physical?) do you believe this will happen, or conversely do you think it has already happened?

If you would like to include anything else, please consider doing so.  Any caveats or preliminaries or definitions that you think will help clarify your position, I’d like to hear it.

Now you might ask why I’m requesting this.  Frankly, I don’t think we analyze our own belief structures as well as we think we do.  I also think that we can all bring a lot of interesting conversations to the table once we start analyzing our understanding of a particularly prominent religious belief that seems to have many heads.  In doing this, in examining our own interpretations of the Easter tradition, it might not just tell us something about what we believe or reject, but also might tell us a little bit about ourselves.

The Jonah Ossuary: The Physics of ‘Work’ and Data Interpretation

When I was in elementary school, the school itself was under heavy construction (it now looks completely different than it did when I attended).  So the fifth and sixth grade classes were held in trailers attached to the brick and mortar school by a wooden ramp.  All of our subjects were taught from these trailers my last two years there; whether it was snowing outside or a humid spring day, it didn’t matter, we were stuck there.  But our teachers did try to make it fun for us.

One day, during my sixth grade science course, our science teacher attempted to demonstrate ‘work’ in physics.  Many of us only understood the colloquial definition, that is to say, homework.  But in physics the concept is different and to explain this to us he told the class to head over to one side of the trailer and push it with all of our might.  He wanted us to push over the trailer.    Some of the more sinister amongst us tried to ram the side of the trailer while the rest of us did what we could, amidst the groans of failure, to tip it.  After minutes of pushing against the wall without success, the teacher asked us to stop and face him.  He stood next to a podium which rested on four wheels and, with the gentlest push, the podium slid across the room.

The instructor folded his arms and smiled and said, in the most dry manner he could manage, “I just did more work than all of you put together.”

I’ll never forget that lesson as well as the frustration we all felt.  And in a lot of ways this lesson has an appropriate correlation to the scenario with the Jonah ossuary.  You see, James Tabor has once again blogged a response to the latest criticisms of his interpretation of the data.  But it seems to me, at least, that James is just like the sixth-grader (albeit, with a PhD) trying with all of his might to push down that wall, using modern art and bizarre arguments which seem weak, stretched, and implausible to his colleagues, only to face down reconstructions and interpretations which do a better job explaining the evidence and require much less effort than his own.

For example, he belabors the point that the first interpretations of the ‘fish/vessel’ iconography suggested a nephesh.  So what?  That doesn’t negate the fact that no one has yet seen a fish who is either (a) not on payroll or in any way related to their documentary or (b) not related to Simcha.  Nor does it negate the fact that a vessel is the more probable interpretation on the ossuary.  It’s a sleight of hand: ‘Don’t look at those scholars making the vessel interpretations, focus instead on these other interpretations which aren’t as convincing!’  Still, a nephesh is more reasonable than a ‘fish’ and is found much more often (a ratio of about 1:150, a rather conservative estimate) than fish iconography (which has a ratio of about 1:600 or so, which is also a conservative estimation).  But this is all irrelevant anyway, since the iconography is still not a fish.  No one sees a fish but those who want to see a fish.  There, I said it.

And I’m not sure why Tabor keeps using modern and post-modern photos of fish-tails in his (rather extremely anachronistic) interpretation of the ‘half fish’ (actually, it is just another vessel as I show here).  Does no one else find it remarkable that no other ‘half-fish’ images from antiquity exist for him to make a suitable comparison?

As Bob Cargill makes note, motive is always on the table in a discussion like this.  And I second that.  When you have a clear predisposition to find a fish, and you find a fish, but no other critical eye in the academy not affiliated with Simcha doesn’t see a fish, then there is definitely reason to question motive.  So, yes, James, you are correct.  It is anything but a fish (though, as we keep explaining over and over, it is most probably an ancient vessel).

P.S. And if someone is wondering, the ratio of finding a vessel or amphorae on an ossuary is a ration of about 1:120 (c.f. Figueras, DJO, Plate 30).  Rare, but not as rare as finding a fish on an ossuary.  To put it in perspective, if we found about 5,000 ossuaries, we would find about 50 ossuaries with vessels depicted on them.  Out of that same 5,000, only eight would contain fish iconography.   Again, these are conservative estimates (because I’m including images that some think might be fish, but not necessarily).  Math+history=fun!

James McGrath Responds to Richard Carrier and….

…he once again proves my point: He doesn’t read things with which he has a predisposition to disagree.  He reacts to them.  This is precisely the criticism I gave to him before.  And because he doesn’t critically examine things he just flat out disagrees with, he makes gaffes and is then called on them and then he has to apologize and eat humble pie (he hasn’t yet, but perhaps he should).  Which is a shame.

James McGrath responded to Richard’s criticism of Ehrman and anyone with eyes who read it could see clearly that he was missing point after point and his defense of Ehrman was dogmatic, to say the least.

Richard has made this all too obvious.  Unfortunately, this is not the first time this has happened where James, forgetting exactly how educated Richard is, just runs off on a tangent without really reading what it is he is supposed to be arguing against and then has to back-peddle and apologize later when he is called on it.

As I’ve said before, I like James a lot and think he is usually lucid and erudite, but when he deals with the subject of Mythicism it is like he falls into an abyss where all logic and critical thought just vanish and all he can do is make hyperbolic claims and throw around appeals to authority without ever feeling the need to challenge what is actually being addressed by his critics.  I do hope this will end after today.  I believe he can bring a lot of good to the discussion, that is, as soon as he starts getting involved in it.

Book Review Update

Carrier’s book Proving History has been reviewed through Chapter 3 now!  Click through.


More on the Predisposition to Find Links to Christianity in Talpiot

Thanks to David Meadows for the nudge in this direction.  Following up on Mark Goodacre’s excellent post on Simcha’s predisposition to locate any link whatsoever to Jesus or Christianity, this video has earmarks which might prove to be more nails in the coffin ossuary on this subject.

Now some screen grabs:

Ossuaries 2-4 in Talpiot B

Ossuary 5 (The supposed 'resurrection' ossuary)

Close-up Detail on Ossuary 2

Now listen carefully to the 4-6 minute marks.  Here is the important bit:

“Although we found ourselves in the wrong tomb, perhaps these finely crafted ossuaries so close to the Talpiot tomb are somehow connected to Jesus or his followers.”

Silliness.  But it is evidence that there not only was predisposition to locate evidence linking it to Jesus and Christianity, but also evidence (via Goodacre and Meadows’ various posts on the footage from 2007) which suggests that there was a presupposition to find a fish.

I also wonder if some of these photos on the website were from 2007 and not from this recent investigation.

Happens all the Time

Richard Carrier’s Response Makes Ehrman Look Foolish

Which is a shame because I like Ehrman generally and think his work is generally good (though occasionally dated).  Because of Richard’s response I see no need to write a Part 2 to my response to Ehrman, since I don’t think I can say much more.  Though I will add a few things.  But first, go check out Carrier’s response (which is both lucid and appropriate).  Here is a snippet:

I am puzzled especially because this HuffPo article as written makes several glaring errors and rhetorical howlers that I cannot believe any competent scholar would have written. Surely he is more careful and qualified in the book? I really hope so. Because I was expecting it to be the best case for historicism in print. But if it’s going to be like this article, it’s going to be the worst piece of scholarship ever written. So stay tuned for my future review of his book. For now, I will address this brief article, not knowing how his book might yet rescue him from an epic fail.

Attacking Academic Freedom

I won’t address his appeal to the genetic fallacy (mythicists are all critics of religion, therefore their criticisms of a religion as myth can be dismissed) or his sniping at credentials (where he gets insanely and invalidly hyper-specific about what qualifies a person to speak on this subject), except to note that it’s false: mythicist Thomas Thompson meets every one of Ehrman’s criteria–excepting only one thing, he is an expert in Judaism rather than Christianity specifically. And I know Ehrman knows of him. So did he just “forget” when he says he knows of no one who meets his criteria? Or is he being hyper-hyper specific and not allowing even professors of Jewish studies to have a respectable opinion in this matter? As Thompson’s book The Messiah Myth introduces the subject, “the assumptions that the gospels are about a Jesus of history…are not justified.” He says (my emphasis) that “a historical Jesus might be essential to the origins of Christianity,” but is not essential to the construction of “the gospels” (p. 8), not even the sayings in them come from a historical Jesus (pp. 11-26).

Thompson allows the possibility of a historical Jesus, but concludes that the “Jesus” of the New Testament is mythical, and calls for renewed study of the question of historicity generally. In his introduction to a recent anthology on the topic, which includes works by mythicists alongside historicists, Thompson (as co-author) concludes that “an unquestioning acceptance of the New Testament figures of Jesus, Paul and the disciples as historical can at times be shown to ignore and misunderstand the implicit functions of our texts” (p. 8 of Is This Not the Carpenter? The Question of the Historicity of the Figure of Jesus) and the possibility that Jesus didn’t exist “needs to be considered more comprehensively” than the dismissive attitude of historicists (like, as it happens, Ehrman) has allowed (p. 10). Currently all we have, Thompson concludes, is “a historical Jesus” who “is a hypothetical derivative of scholarship,” which “is no more a fact than is an equally hypothetical historical Moses or David.”

That’s a prestigious professor of biblical studies. Is Ehrman really pooh-poohing his qualifications? Because if he is, this article becomes a massive case of foot-in-mouth.

Ehrman Trashtalks Mythicism | Richard Carrier Blogs.

Back from reading his response yet?  Oh, good.

That may be a lot of quoting, but trust me when I say there is more where that came from.  Carrier easily dissects the arguments Ehrman makes and calls him out on several glaringly obvious factual errors (even I made note of Ehrman’s rather obnoxiously odd statement: “With respect to Jesus, we have numerous, independent accounts of his life in the sources lying behind the Gospels [and the writings of Paul] — sources that originated in Jesus’ native tongue Aramaic and that can be dated to within just a year or two of his life [before the religion moved to convert pagans in droves]. ”  Seriously, he wrote that and, frankly, that is downright goofy).  I cannot recommend Carrier’s response enough.

I am grateful also for Carrier’s gracious citation of Thompson’s and my forthcoming collection of essays (featuring chapters by James Crossley, Jim West, Emanuel Pfoh, Mogens Muller, NP Lemche, and many more top notch scholars!) and the fact that he felt our words in the (pre-galley) introduction to the book merited being quoted.

As for Ehrman’s use of Paul as a source, I’d like to make note that my contribution in that same collection of essays addresses Paul as a source for the historical Jesus and I even confront some of Ehrman’s arguments directly.





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