I would like to thank James for working up a general syllogism of his position; he didn’t have to do it, but he has done so anyway (humoring me, most likely!). I sent him a note earlier today that I would blog his syllogism along with my formal analysis. At this point I would like to stress that I am not arguing from a mythicist position (since the subject of the syllogism is actually not about the historicity of the figure of Jesus at all, but rests entirely with the status of certain messianic expectations in the Second Temple Period). I am arguing that more stringent methods are required than those that have been used lately in the ongoing discussions via biblioblog.
Using formal logic (which, for some reason or another, many modern historians fear), when used to test the validity of any claim which is made, can only strengthen an excellent position or, conversely, severely prove its limitations. On the latter, it is important to discover these limitations prior to making an argument, so the claim can be revised to accurately reflect the correct status of the evidence and interpretative data. The process is ridiculously simple to do and it will force conclusions to be more honest, will prevent historians from drawing wrong conclusions from the evidence, and will allow for a better standard towards developing a basic sense of probability which will hold up under scrutiny. In this day and age, where information (much of it useless and inaccurate) is more easily attainable, where everyone claims authority, it is even more integral and responsible for historians to incorporate these methods into their works.
Using Bayes Theorem is still the best means, mathematically that is, for coming to a specific percentage of probability. In far too many instances, however, the use of ‘persuasive’ (a subjective term indeed) has been replacing the term ‘probable’ and I am not so sure that works well, being that historians are supposed to be the guardians of societal memory. In a sense, when one commits the possibiliter ergo probabiliter fallacy, they distort the state of the evidence; often this is done without recognition. Using something as simple as a syllogism will give more meat to a position, assuming it is in line with the evidence. Thus, if a position is accurate (and one cannot know until they test it), then having a syllogism around will help provide the rigor for it to show.
I would expect my own conclusions to be challenged similarly; in fact, it is because of using this method I have become more agnostic about the historicity of the figure of Jesus and about what we can and cannot know about the past.
With that said, here is James’ syllogism containing his central conclusion:
Major premise: Jews who wrote about the expectation that God would raise up a descendant of David to restore the kingship expect that figure to be victorious over foreign powers.
Minor premise: Jewish Christians tried to persuade other Jews that Jesus was the Messiah.
Conclusion: It is unlikely that Jewish Christians would have simply invented a story about Jesus’ crucifixion, since it would make it harder to persuade other Jews that Jesus was the awaited Davidic Messiah.
It is perhaps pertinent to recognize that James admits that he has met some challenges with the use of formal logic. I bring that up because all three of these (the major and minor premises and the conclusion) don’t necessary follow one another coherently. This is an easy thing to correct however, and this is precisely why I have asked James to present a syllogism; he might not even be aware that one does not logically follow the other, and having it written out might help expose the need for a better, more soundly constructed claim. Logic is a valuable tool in historiography and allows the historian to analyze and test his own conclusions before making any claims. The quantitative value of these tests are demonstrable (i.e., they can be replicated and examined by anyone in the field) and can be used behind the scenes, far away from any monograph or paper in which the arguments will appear (these can be done on scrap paper, then written up as an argument using whatever fluffy or rhetorical language with which the author wishes to juice up the results).
When examining James’ conclusions, first a historian would examine what would need to be true in order for the major and minor premise to be accurate (if these are accurate, the conclusion would logically follow). Since there is a difference between a valid syllogism (i.e. one that logically follows) versus one that is accurate and sound according to the evidence (simply because a syllogism is valid doesn’t mean it is supported by evidence), a syllogism must be examined in light of the evidence available. But first one must determine if the syllogism is even valid.
An example of an invalid syllogism:
Major Premise: Other planets exist with possible alien life
Minor Premise: UFOs come from other planets which are technologically superior to humans
Conclusion: Therefore aliens built the pyramids
An example of a syllogism which is valid, but based on no demonstrable evidence:
Major Premise: The Mayans believed that the world would end in 2012.
Minor Premise: Whatever the Mayans believed regarding the end of the world is true.
Conclusion: The world will end in 2012.
A syllogism which is both valid and sound:
Major Premise: Caesar’s position in relation to the Rubicon changed from being on the Northern side to being on the Southern side in one of the following ways: (1) He crossed the Rubicon, (b) He went around the Rubicon, (c) A Supernatural manner, (d) He tunneled under it.
Minor Premise: His position in relation to the Rubicon was not due to any of (b)-(g)
Conclusion: Therefore, his position in relation to the Rubicon was due to (a) He crossed the Rubicon.
But since there is such a disconnect between the premises and the conclusion of James’ syllogism, additional testing will have to be done to determine the validity of the conclusion itself (see further on) as well as if it is sound. All of this can be done by creating additional syllogisms (called nesting) by which the premises are broken down as individual claims. First the minor premise (if this holds, being the weakest premise of the two, the stronger claim would have a greater chance of being a probability):
Testing the Hypothesis: The Minor Premise (A1) and (A2) (there is a subpremise here that won’t be tackled here because of its irrelevancy—that Jewish Christians sought to persuade others, that they had a mission or commission to convert) These would have to be sound in order for the Minor Premise to be sound.
Major Premise (A1): All Jewish Christians believed in a Davidic messiah
Minor Premise (A1): The messianic figure of Jewish Christianity is Jesus
Conclusion (A1) (Minor Premise): (All) Jewish Christians believed in that Jesus was that Messiah.
The Minor Premise (hereby substituted with ‘Mn’) (A1) is not at all a sound statement since we don’t have any evidence from the period prior to Paul, and since we lack evidence we cannot say with any level of probability (higher than 50%) that Major Premise (‘Ma’) (a1) is true. Since even Paul says little about the Jerusalem pillars, and since Paul’s identity prior to writing his letters is difficult to establish. At best, we can say he was a Hellenized Jew, but his strong focus on a Gentile audience (which his letters address) might lead us to suggest he was more assimilated into gentile culture than a Jewish one. Further, we must recognize that in Paul’s letter, there is a strong dislike of the Jewish-Christianity James is talking about; the distaste Paul has for the Pharisees, his disagreements with those he met with in Jerusalem, also implicate the concept of unity is a frail one indeed. It might be said that we have no account of a unified early Christianity. So it is very possible that not all Jewish Christians were unified in their eschatological expectations of a Davidic messianic figure.
Luke, as well, was probably a Gentile Christian, who might have sought to bring Paul into line with what he felt were Jewish-Christian principles (i.e., those reflected in the pastorals), but being that Luke wrote late (with a terminus ad quem as late as the middle of the second century CE—whether James agrees with it or not, it is still a sound terminus ad quem) it is impossible to say with any certainty (again, we lack a probabilistic number greater than 50%) that he had knowledge of a pre-Pauline Jewish-Christian tradition with which all early Jewish Christians were unified in their belief about Jesus being a Davidic messiah. If anything, the only thing Luke proves is that Luke might have belonged to a sect of Christianity in antiquity which believed Jesus was a Davidic messiah (which, actually, doesn’t say much…see below). Of course, he might have fashioned Jesus into a certain Davidic messianic figure which best fit his own, rather than his community’s, perspectives about a Davidic messiah.
In any event, the evidence is inconclusive and therefore the conclusion of this syllogism is unsound. This does not bode well for the Minor Premise, but we should consider the other syllogism which makes up the whole of this part of James’ syllogism:
Major Premise (A2): Early Jews and Christians held beliefs in many different messianic figure archetypes (Davidic messiah, Priestly messiah, a messiah who would Judge, etc…)
Minor Premise (A2): All these messianic expectations were unified and the same within the confines of the individual messianic archetypes (i.e. all sects of Jews and Christians who held the belief in a Priestly messiah had the same expectations, all sects who held the belief in a messianic judge were the same, etc…)
Conclusion (A2) (Needed to Validate Minor Premise): All Christian messianic expectations about the Davidic archetype were the same.
This is not at all realistic. It is a well-known fact that Davidic messianism was as divisive and interpretative as any other form of messianism in antiquity so Ma(A2) is dubious. But looking at the evidence actually hammers in the final nails on this particular syllogism. For example, the Davidic messianism of the author of 4 Ezra is completely different, as far as expectations go, from what the author(s) of Psalm 17 had written. This alone proves diversity in belief and, again, we lack additional evidence contrary, so it is impossible to say with certainty just how diverse these Davidic messianic expectations were; but it is regarded as a fact that there had been no unity beyond a figure that descended from David (which is where this sort of messianism gets its name). There is no such thing as a unified Davidic messianism and each sect which attributed to this messianism had its own theological and eschatological perspectives and expectations. There is no evidence, whatsoever, that every Davidic messianic group expected a messiah who would be king and save Israel from an enemy or tyrant—this apologetic generalization is a fringe position in certain circles of New Testament, but not held by the majority of the experts on Second Temple Period Judaism (i.e., nearly every study done on this subject in the past three decades agrees that Davidic messianism was anything but uniform). So we can safely and soundly say that this conclusion is also bunk.
[Notes (not comprehensive): D. Juel, ‘Messiah’, in D.N. Freedman, et al, eds., Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 889-890; M.E. Stone, ‘The Question of the Messiah in 4 Ezra’ in J. Neusner, et al, eds., Judaisms and Their Messiahs at the Turn of the Christian Era (Cambridge: CUP, 1987), 209-224; R.A. Horsley, ‘”Messianic” Figures and Movements in First-Century Palestine’ in J.H. Charlesworth, ed., The Messiah: Developments in Earliest Judaism and Christianity (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992), 276-295.]
So a revised syllogism, made to reflect the evidence, would look like this (with the conclusion here acting as a new Minor Premise for James’ syllogism)…
Major Premise (Rev): It is possible that some early Jewish Christians had specific eschatological expectations about Davidic messianism which meet James’ said expectations.
Minor Premise (Rev): It is probable they held different messianic perspectives than other Christian sects and, as such, had different eschatological expectations.
Conclusion (Rev, New Mn Premise): Therefore it is possible that these specific Jewish Christians formed a sect of Christianity which held the belief in a Davidic messianic figure that matches James’ said expectations and they tried to persuade other Jews and Christians that Jesus met those Messianic expectations.
As one can see, the language and terminology greatly changes the conclusion; the certainty and authority of the Mn Premise made by James cannot be met in accordance with the evidence. In fact, they might only be met in the sense of a special plea, whereby the syllogism would be sound only if certain conditions were already in place and things were to have happened specifically which were, if anything, the exceptions to the rule of the evidence, rather than being a part of it. Now, we move onward to the Ma Premise.
Testing the Hypothesis: The Major Premise
Major Premise (B): There is no diversity in belief concerning the expectations of a Davidic messianic figure in either Judaism or Christianity in antiquity
Minor Premise (B): All evidence with regards to Davidic messianism points to a unified understanding and expectations
Conclusion (B) (Major Premise): Jews who wrote about the expectation that God would raise up a descendant of David to restore the kingship expect that figure to be victorious over foreign powers
This is really based upon the same subpremise as the Mn Premise discussed above. This is an overgeneralization of Davidic messianism and we already know that there were no dogmatic or uniformed expectations in Davidic messianism (notes listed above). James would have to provide evidence that Jews who wrote about this particular Davidic messianism had these specific, and only these specific, eschatological and messianic expectations. Otherwise he cannot make a probabilistic claim; he can only make a possible claim—that is, anything is possible within the realms of the natural laws; so it is possible that a particular sect of Jews who wrote about the expectations (both messianic and eschatological) fell into this category, but we do not have any evidence of this sect, so of probability we can say nothing.
However we can say, since some writings do attest to these expectations, that it is probable to a high degree of certainty that some Jews felt this way and wrote about this Davidic messianic figure. Beyond that, we must remain cautious about our claims (we cannot be 100% certain since we shouldn’t presume to know the minds of what are mostly anonymous and pseudonymous authors).
Here is the revised syllogism to reflect the new Ma Premise in James’ argument:
Major Premise (Rev): It is probable that some Jews believed in this sort of Davidic messiah which fit these qualifications (listed in James’ original Ma Premise)
Minor Premise (Rev): It is probable that some of these Jews, who held this messianic belief, had the ability to read and write (i.e., they were literate)
Conclusion (Rev, New Ma Premise): Therefore it is probable that some Jews wrote about the expectation that God would raise up a descendant of David to restore the kingship expect that figure to be victorious over foreign powers
Now we should examine the conclusion before returning to discuss these results…
Testing the Hypothesis: The Conclusion
James’ conclusion is thus: It is unlikely that Jewish Christians would have simply invented a story about Jesus’ crucifixion, since it would make it harder to persuade other Jews that Jesus was the awaited Davidic Messiah.
Yet this conclusion is actually two separate syllogisms (or, rather, the historian would need two separate syllogisms to prove the veracity of the conclusion—none of these two relate to the Mn and Ma Premises in James’ syllogism), which would look like this:
Major Premise (1): Humiliated figures were never followed in antiquity
Minor Premise (1): No textual evidence exists that a humiliated messiah was expected by Jews
Conclusion (1): Therefore no one (nor any Jew) would be expecting a humiliated messiah
The Mn (1) Premise is clearly false; there is even a Biblical example in Daniel 9:25-26 (and Jews in certain circles used Psalm 50-53). James might argue that this does not refer to a messianic figure, but Geza Vermes, in his analysis of 4Q471b, 4Q491, and 4Q541 argues, in fact, that it does (in disagreeing with the arguments for a likely suffering messiah portrayal in 4Q285, placing emphasis on the priestly messiah instead of the kingly one). One only need read 11Q13 (Melch) 2:18-20; the author is interpreting Isaiah via Daniel 9, discussing its messianic value (this is a mid-first century BCE document) which proves that some Jews were expecting a humiliated messianic figure (the Qumran community, in fact, had been expecting two messianic figures—one was to be humiliated).
As for the Ma (1) Premise, that is also a false statement. Since we know people followed all sorts of cultic figureheads (both fictional and historical) who not only were thought to be humiliated (castration or other genital mutilation, like with the cult of Cybele and Attis), but tortured (those who worshipped Perseus), or who were slain unfairly by undead/demonic forces (the cult of Tammuz—and later adopted by the Jews per Ezek. 8:14); people believed in (and at times still believe in) silly things. Richard Carrier aptly points out that the Argument for Embarrassment is a feckless argument without any logical consistency (and zero historical credibility). Here below is a segment of his testing of this same logical thought replacing ‘messiah’ with ‘Attis’:
Major Premise a: Cybeleans would not invent anything that would embarrass them.
Minor Premise a: The castration of Attis would embarrass Cybeleans.
Conclusion a: Therefore, Cybeleans did not invent the castration of Attis.
Major Premise b: A report is either invented or it is true.
Minor Premise b (= Conclusion 1): The castration of Attis was not invented.
Conclusion b: Therefore, the castration of Attis is true.
Carrier writes (p. 13):
“This is obviously not a credible conclusion. We have no good reason to believe there was ever an actual Attis who was castrated and it is commonly assumed the story was invented for some particular symbolic reason. The same, then, could be true of the crucifixion of Jesus. Tacitus reports that the castration of Attis was indeed embarrassing (it is grounds for his disgust at the religion), yet the castration of Attis is not a credible story, therefore the criterion of embarrassment is in some manner fallacious. An example within the Christian tradition is the astonishing stupidity of the Disciples, especially in the earliest Gospel of Mark. Their depiction is in fact so unrealistic it isn’t credible (real people don’t act like that), which means Mark (or his sources) invented that detail despite its potential embarrassment. Hence the flaw in the criterion of embarrassment is in assuming that historical truth is the only factor that can overcome the potential embarrassment of some reported detail, when in fact moral or doctrinal or symbolic truth can also override such concerns.”
As one can see, the conclusion, therefore, does not fit within the evidence, nor does it follow logically. On to the next…
Major Premise (2): Jews were expecting a triumphant Davidic messiah
Minor Premise (2): There are Davidic references in early Christian literature relating to Jesus
Conclusion (2): Jewish Christians saw Jesus as a triumphal Davidic messianic figure
I wouldn’t want to hash this out again, but the Ma (2) is difficult to define. Particularly because it is nearly impossible for us to narrow down what it meant for all Jewish sects in antiquity (as expressed thoroughly above). We have to remember that Christians were once Jews, and if Jews were converted they were converted from multiple sects which existed (and we have a list of at least 30 known Jewish sects with varying doctrines and different perspectives on ‘messiah’—and those are only the ones about which we know!) at the time of Paul and before. Paul, as well, was converted to Christianity from a sect of Judaism which I do not believe we know anything about. We assume he was a Pharisee because he says he persecuted Christians and the Gospels portray the Pharisees as persecutors—but we needn’t assume that those discussed in the Gospels reflected Paul’s sect of origin preconversion. Rather, we must come to grips with the reality of the situation, that is to say, we might never know from whence Paul came and from which sect he deconverted. However, we can say that Paul certainly felt Jesus was a Davidic figure; perhaps messianic, and we are right to presume this. Beyond that, however, as with the situation above, there is nothing more that can be said.
Major Premise (Rev2): Some Jews were expecting a triumphant Davidic messiah
Minor Premise (Rev2): There are Davidic references in early Christian literature relating to Jesus
Minor Premise (Rev2[a]): In what way that messianic figure would be triumphant (i.e. the eschatological expectations) was defined from sect to sect
Conclusion (Rev2): Some Jewish Christians saw Jesus as a Davidic messianic figure, and it is probable they saw him as a triumphant figure, though not likely the same as other Jewish sects would have expected.
When we compile all of this data—and it must be remembered that this is neither comprehensive in terms of the available studies on the subject nor does it incorporate all the available testing options that could be done with this syllogism—what we find is that the language we use has a huge impact on the stability and veracity, that is the soundness, of the conclusion. Below I have listed a revised syllogism based upon the available evidence. It is not a completely valid syllogism primarily because James’ syllogism wasn’t valid to begin with and much of the discussion here rested on breaking down the invalid syllogism into multiple, more valid ones. When that was completed, the syllogisms, while valid, were not sound based upon the available data. We must grant the possibility that James will need to revise his syllogism and the one below is merely a suggestion based upon the evidence. When and if James decides to create a new syllogism more in line with the data, it will need to be revisited at that point. Pay close attention to the language below; possible means a 49% or lower variable while probable would signify above a 50% variable. A 50% variable specifically would indicate agnosticism.
Revised Hypothesis: (Within the Current Limitations of the Evidence)
Major Premise (Rev): It is probable that some Jews wrote about the expectation that God would raise up a descendant of David to restore the kingship expect that figure to be victorious over foreign powers
Major Premise (Rev1): Some Jewish Christians saw Jesus as a Davidic messianic figure, and it is probable they saw him as a triumphant figure, though not likely the same as other Jewish sects would have expected.
Minor Premise (Rev): It is possible that these specific Jewish Christians formed a sect of Christianity which held the belief in a Davidic messianic figure that matches James’ said expectations and they tried to persuade other Jews and Christians that Jesus met those Messianic expectations.
Minor Premise (Rev1): Some Jewish Christians, as well as some Jews, might have expected a humiliated messianic figure.
Conclusion (Rev): It is probable that Jewish Christians embraced a humiliated messianic figure and it is probable, as they all reference the resurrection, that they willingly sought to use the resurrection as a means to convert other Jews and Gentiles
Conclusion (Rev1): It is possible that some Christians were embarrassed by the crucifixion and it is possible that they avoided the subject because of its embarrassment; though we do not possess any evidence of this from our current sources.
We must accept that there is a strong level of uncertainty with the evidence we have. This is precisely why we must resort to an agnostic position until the details can be sorted and analyzed accordingly. At the end of this analysis I found James’ syllogism (and the perspective behind it) interesting and I can see why, on the surface, it seems logically sound. But the problem is not with the possibility of the conclusion, it rests entirely with the insistence that it is a probability. That sort of claim is an overstatement of the available data and simply should not be made presently. It might be that James can present evidence, and a syllogism, by which the conclusion is, in fact, a probability. But as it is represented in the one at the beginning of this post, that conclusion is far from probable and even less a certainty. So I eagerly await James’ revised syllogism which presents a sound conclusion in light of the available evidence.