Agnosticism and Jesus and What it Means

Joel Watts recently wrote:

One cannot easily deny their association with a group if they spend all of their time defending the ‘quality’, ‘truth’ claims, or ‘validity’ of said group.

Pick a side, Tom.

via Pick a side, Tom | Unsettled Christianity.

But I refuse to do so.  The only honest position in this whole debate is on the side of doubt and agnosticism.  Does he not know that the reason I am agnostic is because I am not convinced by arguments for historicity?  It just so happens I think that some (please note: some–not all, not most) mythicists have sounder arguments about the state of the evidence (because historicists will often take that evidence for granted).  That doesn’t mean I agree with their conclusion about historicity.  Has Joel never cited a work or spoke praise of an argument from someone whom he didn’t agree with on everything?   Or does he only cite someone with whom he completely agrees with on every point?

I think this is a logical fallacy latent in certain parts of scholarship.   Just because I agree with certain arguments about the status of the evidence does not mean I agree with other conclusions.  I don’t believe all the evidence is in and thus I remain unconvinced that Jesus did not exist.  I also remain unconvinced that Jesus did exist.  Frankly I find the whole question useless and currently unanswerable.

However, I do think that Ehrman makes a ton of mistakes and ignores a lot of relevant scholarship and as a result Carrier comes out looking the better because he doesn’t ignore that scholarship.  I do not like ANY position based in presupposition.  And frankly Carrier is more agnostic about historicity than any other mythicist I know.

Finally, I agree with a lot of historicists on subjects unrelated to historicity (like with mythicists).  I like Crossley’s work, I like Crossan’s work (I really, really love Crossan’s work) and I think that Thomas Brodie’s arguments are outstanding.  And all of these individuals are historicists.  I also find a lot of what James McGrath says to be on the money about the socio-cultural world of second temple Judaism.

So Joel’s assertion that I disagree with historicists is just silly.  I don’t agree with them on historicity–and I don’t agree with mythicists on that point either.  But I have yet to see a historicist make a sound and reasoned argument without drawing on very crappy criteria and old data.  I am hoping that Casey’s forthcoming work is better and more sound and from what I hear it will be.  But Ehrman’s book is anything about good work.

Finally, I am surprised by Joel’s hypocritical suggestion that I ‘pick a side’ since he agrees with me!  He finds the whole question unanswerable and irrelevant (though he believes in a historical Jesus, he argues we can never find that individual).  And I say hypocritical since he sides with tons of historicists and never once makes even a passing agreeable comment about an argument from a mythicist!  if his response is ‘well I just don’t find them convincing’, then he knows why I am not in agreement with historicists currently.  That doesn’t make me a mythicist, however.

Richard Carrier, Bayes’s Theorem, and Historical Jesus Criteria

Richard Carrier has a new article posted at the online journal Bible and Interpretation entitled Bayes’ Theorem and the Modern Historian: Proving History Requires Improving Methods.  Here is the blurb:

Several examinations of the methodologies employed in the study of Jesus have consistently found those methods invalid or defective. Which fact has resulted in the proliferation of endless different conclusions as to the nature of the historical Jesus and the origins of Christianity. Attention to the logical validity of the methods we employ is essential to repairing this problem. One particular theory of human reasoning can lead the way: widely known as Bayes’ Theorem, historians would benefit tremendously from understanding it and learning how to apply it in their arguments and research.

Bayes.pdf (application/pdf Object).

You should definitely go read it!  I especially like this part:

The latest in this series of studies is a new volume to be published this year, edited by Chris Keith and Anthony LeDonne, titled Jesus, Criteria, and the Demise of Authenticity (T & T Clark, 2012), and featuring such luminaries as Mark Goodacre and Morna Hooker, all coming to the same conclusion: the method of criteria is simply not logically viable. This leaves the field of Jesus studies with no valid method, and puts into question all consensus positions in the field, insofar as they have all been based, to one extent or another, on these logically invalid methods.
The consequence of this has been more than evident: every scholar using these methods “discovers” a completely different historical Jesus. As Dale Allison concludes, “these criteria have not led to any uniformity of result, or any more uniformity than would have been the case had we never heard of them,” hence “the criteria themselves are seriously defective” and “cannot do what is claimed for them.”[8] As Helmut Koester concluded after his own survey, “The vast variety of interpretations of the historical Jesus that the current quest has proposed is bewildering.”[9] James Charlesworth concurs, concluding that “what had been perceived to be a developing consensus in the 1980s has collapsed into a chaos of opinions.”[10] Several others have come to the same conclusion, demonstrating, with extensive citation of examples, the whole confusion of contradictory opinions that has resulted from applying these methods: Thomas Thompson,[11] Thomas Verenna,[12] James Crossley,[13] Mark Strauss,[14] John Poirier,[15] Mark Allen Powell,[16] and John Dominic Crossan,[17] just to name a few.

When everyone picks up the same method, applies it to the same facts, and gets a different result, we can be certain that that method is invalid and should be abandoned. Yet historians in Jesus studies don’t abandon the demonstrably failed methods they purport to employ.[18] This has to end.

Indeed. Do read on.  Exceptional article.

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