Defining Mythicism: Staks Rosch on the Historicity of Jesus

Staks has recently posted up a blog arguing against the historicity of the figure of Jesus; to address this blog post, I am including it as part of my ongoing ‘Defining Mythicism’ segment.  Staks starts his post with a subject I’ve addressed time and time again:

It is pretty common for Christians to assert that there is more evidence for the existence of Jesus than there is for some other historical figure like Alexander the Great or George Washington. This is simply not true. The fact is that there are no contemporary accounts for the existence of Jesus.

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Staks’ error here, though, is that he is not addressing the question accurately, but actually connects two separate questions (that the evidence for Jesus is not comparable to Alexander the Great and that there is no contemporary evidence for Jesus), and by doing so he does not argue effectively (his arguments don’t follow his thesis).  In my blog article addressing this issue, I make sure to compare the evidence directly to show the flaws in the claim that Staks brings up in his thesis:

For the sake of argument alone, if one takes into account all the evidence for Alexander the Great, a well documented and attested figure in history, there is simply no comparison between him and the figure of Jesus. Take any one Gospel (or all four, if one would like) and examine it next to Arrian’s history of Alexander’s campaigns. Even as late as Arrian is, Arrian uses methods that surpass the methods (if any at all) used by the Gospel authors. For example, Arrian compares his sources which consisted of eyewitness (written) accounts from Alexander’s generals (he explicitly cites his sources, even if they are now lost) and tells us why he is choosing one account of an event over the other, or why one seems to hold more weight. Further, many of the citations Arrian uses are known from other contemporary and later sources.   In addition to Arrian’s work, there are still perhaps hundreds of extant contemporary attestations of Alexander the Great from manuscripts, artwork (busts of him; we have copies of originals done from his life), coins, and inscriptions (many contemporaneous). There are also other lesser evidences (but hardly anywhere near the sort of dubious or questionable evidence we might have for Jesus) like letters of Alexander and Aristotle and Philip and Speusippus, and the hundreds of quotations of contemporaries and eyewitnesses that survive in later works, most of which are hard to dispute.  If we had this sort of evidence for Jesus’ life and ministry, there would be no need to question his historical significance (or, perhaps, his historicity at all).

What was that?  Yes, that’s correct, you read that right.  The best evidence for Alexander the Great comes from sources hundreds of years later (Arrian).  So Stak’s comments here are quite incorrect (emphasis mine):

While it is still possible that Jesus might have existed even if there are no contemporary accounts for his existence, without contemporary sources or any other actual evidence, there is no valid reason to believe Jesus actually did exist.

While we do indeed have contemporary evidence for Alexander the Great (quite a bit, actually), our best data on him comes from sources much later.  So there is no grounds whatsoever for Staks claim above.  In fact for many ancient historical figures, we have little or no contemporary evidence.  So simply because we lack historical contemporary evidence is not a valid reason for dismissing historicity.  It’s called an argument from silence, but its a weak argument from silence (Richard Carrier dismantles this sort of use here); by itself, an argument from silence is not enough to establish a case against historicity.  Richard Carrier explains (and I agree):

Even so, there is nothing inherently dubious in the claim that Jesus existed. So there is no need for much evidence to ground a reasonable belief that he did, so long as that evidence can be trusted more than it can be doubted.

If Staks wants to demonstrate that Jesus never existed, his best bet is to examine the reliability of the evidence.  But this is something that will require extensive time and research that I doubt Staks will want to commit.  First, just because the Gospel contains irrational claims (like miracles and such), that doesn’t mean that invalidates the historicity of Jesus alone.  This is something Bultmann addressed quite aptly over five decades ago.  Quite plainly, most narratives we have about the past, especially in historiography, contain crazy tales about the powers of the Gods, miraculous salvation or embarrassing curses, ghost stories, demonic possessions, and so forth.   One must demonstrate that the Gospels are separate from these sorts of histories, wherein the events probably actually occurred, just not in the manner that the author portrays them.

And even if one demonstrated that they were of a different genre (which I have done here), that doesn’t mean that Jesus never existed.  After all, fictional stories could certainly be written about historical figures (1 and 2 Maccabees are period pieces which adequately prove that).   A case against historicity must be argued from a firm grasp of the data, the languages, the periods in question, etc…. something Staks simply doesn’t have, as is easy to see by the following claim, which is also problematic:

But what I find more interesting is that none of those writers were contemporaries to Jesus who was alleged to have been crucified in the year 33 CE:

Simply because someone wrote about something years later doesn’t mean that what they wrote is unreliable.  They could very well be reliable as long as they had contemporary evidence to draw from when they were writing.  And Staks has not done a very good job of showing his readers that they did not utilize contemporary evidence.  Even with Alexander the Great, if all our contemporary evidence disappeared, Arrian still provides an excellent source of historical, reliable information based on contemporary accounts which we no longer have, but know existed because of his excellent methods.   Staks simply has not made a case.

And by claiming that other contemporary authors would have written about Jesus, had he existed, is simply untrue.  Josephus, for example, only mentions half of the contemporary towns and settlements in his works that were known to have existed around the time of his life, many of which he would have visited or been through during the course of his time in the region, before he became an apologist and an adopted member of the Imperial family.  Staks would have to demonstrate that the authors would have known of Jesus (Philo, for example, was from Alexandria and was quite busy with Jewish/Roman relationship issues at the time) and that mentioning Jesus would have been relevant to their own writings.  We know of 33 Jewish sects which existed around the time of the first century CE, but there were probably dozens, if not hundreds, more which never got a mention.  And of those 33 sects, we learn about them through multiple texts–they aren’t all found in one place, so clearly not all of them were relevant to the authors of the time, who were writing for their own purposes and agendas.

Overall, I am disappointed in Staks article.  It is misleading, doesn’t argue effectively for any of the claims he makes, and he fails to support his claims appropriately with the sorts of evidence he needs.  It is probably because Staks is not a historian, not even an amateur historian, and doesn’t have the background in the area to be making any sort of argument for or against the historicity of any event in the ancient past.  Leave history to those who have the knowledge to argue these positions in a manner they deserve, which will not mislead.  This isn’t to say a case could not have been argued against the historicity of the figure of Jesus; what I am saying, quite directly, is that Staks has not done so.


28 Responses

  1. Oh boy. Anyone want to tell him (and his readers) that Philo and Seneca weren’t historians? While they wrote about what was around them (i.e. Philo going on an embassy to Rome, Seneca about life in the Imperial court) they weren’t historians. They are USEFUL for historical information, which Staks seems to get confused about. And if he would any even look at the contents of Pliny the Elder’s writings and then ponder, even for a moment, his assertion that he would have talked about ANY of the dozens of Messianic movements in Judea he is wrong. I also want to know why even if they were historians why they would write about a failed Jewish peasant, countryside, messianic movement with enough initial members that would fit in a minibus. Its ridiculous to present his readers with this argument. Its just fradulent.

    Anyway, given that he is a freethinking, rationalist who bases his beliefs not on predetermined ideas but a sober analysis of evidence I expect he will take that post down…

  2. Actually it is not correct that Pliny wouldn’t mention messianic sects as he does in fact talk about the Essenes, but that doesn’t automatically mean he would bring up Jesus or the early Christians. But even if someone did we might not even know it since they weren’t originally called ‘Christians’. We don’t know what they called themselves or what others called them.

    You are correct about everything else however. To be clear, Staks is my friend and I do think he is indeed quite a rational person. I just think that he has fallen into a subject he should consider more carefully before blogging about.

  3. You are right, I am not a historian but this wasn’t an academic history paper. It is an introduction to an idea. The article is intended to get people thinking and to research the topic on their own if they are so inclined. While some of your points are certainly valid, I do think some of them are a little nitpicky. I think you were expecting some sort of scholarly paper squeezed into a short article. But that is not what have written or intended to write. The point is that contemporary evidence is important and there is none for the existence of Jesus. I made a point to mention that it is possible that he could have existed even without contemporary evidence.

    I certainly appreciate your expertise, but I fine your tone a little insulting and counterproductive. I am especially surprised by it given our friendship. When I saw that you were going to respond I was hoping you would expand on some of the things mentioned, provide additional information, and correct any errors I might have made.

    The first error you point out is that I didn’t address the topic the way you would have liked. That is hardly an error. It is simply a different focus from the one you wanted me to take.

    I never said there was contemporary writings for Alexander the Great, but I did imply that there were contemporary sources or other evidence. You admitted that this is correct, but stated that I was incorrect. So I’m confused here. So I stand by my statement that without contemporary sources or any other actual evidence, there is no valid reason to believe Jesus actually did exist. Again, that is not to say that he didn’t exist, but that there is no valid reason to believe that he did.

    You mention that there is no contemporary evidence (not writings necessarily) for other historical figures. That may be true. Could you give me some examples. Maybe we should start questioning the historicity of those alleged individuals if there is indeed no evidence for their existence. But you have still not pointed out an incorrect statement that I have made. I was hoping that if I did make an incorrect statement that you would point it out. Perhaps I got some of the dates wrong or something.

    You are correct that I am not really interested in putting in extensive time and research into the historicity of Jesus. It quite honestly isn’t that interesting to me. I’ll leave that up to the real historians. But this article was meant to put the question out there and to get people who make the claim that there is more evidence for Jesus then there is for their favorite historical figure to start to actually question that belief. It simply isn’t my place to demonstrate that Jesus never existed, but it is my place to call it into question and address some of the arguments my religious believers to the best of my ability. Since you are more educated on the matter, I really was hoping you would contribute some information and again let me know if I got a fact incorrect.

    It doesn’t seem like you actually disagree with any of the facts that I mentioned, but that you just think you could have written it better. Well, you probably could. I hope you do. I think that the more people get this idea out the better. I guess I was just hoping for a more constructive criticism.

  4. I disagree with a lot of the facts you mentioned, Staks, which is why I took the time to respond. I simply didn’t just disagree with your ‘facts’ but even how you presented them. People with no background in subjects shouldn’t be writing ‘introductions’ as introductions are the most important parts of a subject! When you read a book, you start with the introduction which is meant to open up the whole purpose of the book. Maybe it doesn’t do it in detail, but the introduction must be clear, concise, and direct but also as accurate as possible. When you have written up is completely the opposite. It doesn’t deal with any of the appropriate subject material, it engages the wrong sorts of arguments, and doesn’t even present the evidence correctly.

    I want to reiterate what I said in my article, Staks and I encourage you to go through my reply again. If you want to introduce people to a subject, and you are not familiar enough with the material to write on it, then quote another introduction from someone who IS in fact familiar with the subject. You can do that. You can add your thoughts to it, but I hardly think it appropriate to do anything more than that; you risk misleading people and causing more damage to the meme-base as it is. With the sorts of crap like Zeitgeist and other media spreading faux facts and information, don’t you think it is a little irresponsible to post this sort of subject matter? ESPECIALLY if you are not even interested in fact-checking your article! You are sharing your article with hundreds of people who read you daily and now have a false impression of the evidence. Good job. Now I have to work twice as hard, along with other scholars, to correct the damage done.

    This is no minor manner and if I’m nitpicking it is to prevent the masses from being fed bad historical information. I’m sure you can relate to this Staks; imagine all the work you have to put in to blogging and research and correcting opinions about political figures. Now imagine having to do more work to correct a blog post to hundreds of people which completely gets the information wrong. I’m sure you’d nitpick the hell out of that article. That is how I feel about the article you wrote. But I have to spend more time correcting false information about the past because I cannot show someone video clips of a speech given by Pliny, or show them footage of Caesar getting in and out of a limo, like you could do with politicians. So for the love of Pete, next time just quote an article from an actual scholar on the subject; it doesn’t even have to be me. Just don’t corrupt history like this.

  5. ” You mention that there is no contemporary evidence (not writings necessarily) for other historical figures. That may be true. Could you give me some examples. Maybe we should start questioning the historicity of those alleged individuals if there is indeed no evidence for their existence.”

    Well here we have the heart of it. Sorry, but that is a shocking position. If I can welcome you to the reality that apart from grand political figures and events (and even then the contemporary history for them is frequently not to be found!!) we really have the tiniest glint of light to see from even people of equestrian rank. History from antiquity IS reading people 100-200 (even 500) years after the event. You also need to know that we probably have <1% of sources from antiquity- a fact that makes a profound counter to this argument from silence. You can make practically make almost anyone in Roman history (aside from perhaps the politicians at the fall of the Republic, and members of the Imperial family) disappear by using the methods of the proponents of this type of argument. Its ridiculous. Never mind the fact that your entire argument seems to come down to 'Why didn't Pliny the Elder write about Jesus…'

    Again, why a failed peasant Jewish itinerant messiah figure who, during his lifetime, had enough close followers that we could fit them in a minibus should have induced such a record or attracted the attention of a historian to visit the villages of Galilee is beyond me. As, in fact, so it should to anyone with even the faintest awareness of classical antiquity and a modicrum of common sense. Again, the fact that we know ANYTHING about the existence of Jesus (from quite a long list of near contemporary historians) is amazing. That is the true story- and its one your readers aren't getting.

  6. Hanery is generally right with his remarks. We don’t have evidence for 99% of the world’s population in antiquity, so according to Staks logic, we should just assume they don’t exist. The fact is, Staks, that lack of evidence doesn’t mean anything. But we do have some evidence for Jesus, even if you don’t like it. The question is not whether or not there is evidence–there is. The question is whether it is reliable, useful evidence. Do you see the difference? This sort of statement that ‘Maybe we should start questioning the historicity of those alleged individuals if there is indeed no evidence for their existence’ is just ludicrous from a historical standpoint.

  7. Again, What are the actual facts that I got wrong. So far, the only thing that you have actually corrected me on was my claim that Philo and Seneca were historians. Okay, I’ll give you that one. That really isn’t all that big a deal in relation to the article. I really don’t know what your real issue is. It seems like you have read into what was written and then attacked it. Like I said, I am pretty disappointed in your response. I really thought you would have been more constructive and actually elaborated on what was said and corrected any factual errors. But instead this just looks like you are pissy because I am not a historian and I wrote a short article which discussed some historical facts.

    I don’t think someone needs to be an expert to have an opinion or to present facts although I do think that knowledge is important. I think you should have used the opportunity to be more constructive and I am surprised and disappointed that you took that opportunity to write a hatchet job in which you didn’t really add anything to the actual conversation. I guess I just expected more.
    PS, I made that correction about Philo and Seneca.

  8. Staks if you can’t read what I wrote, then you have lost some comprehension skills since we last talked. I’ve corrected you on quite a large amount of stuff. Do I really need to make a list? Really? Do you want me to embarrass you like that? Just read more carefully, I corrected every point you made.

  9. Tom, I really don’t understand the mean-spirtedness of your post and your comments. I get that you disagree with the way I wrote about the topic, but you really haven’t given any facts that I was mistaken about. You have criticized some straw man positions and you have attacked me for writing about the topic, but as far as actual facts that I made that you believe I was mistaken about, there was just that one which I have corrected. Maybe I can’t comprehend your criticism or maybe your criticism wasn’t all that clear. I am disappointed at your tone and that you didn’t take the opportunity to expand on what I actually did say. My goal is to get people thinking and questioning. I think I did that.

    While I do have a history degree, that time period is not my focus and I don’t consider myself a historian. So while I absolutely did not go into detail about the matters discussed, I did give an brief overview that I think most laypeople would understand, think about, and perhaps if so inclined research more.

    I am open to criticism and when someone tells me that I was wrong about something, I am certainly open to making corrections and have done so. But like I said, your criticism seemed much more like an attack. It wasn’t very constructive and I really was surprised by that. I am even more surprised that you are continuing to be mean spirited. So I guess if you get your kicks by embarrass me like that, then whatever. If you actually want to point out facts that I got wrong in as a friend who knows more about the subject, I would greatly appreciate it.

    If there is some other reason why you are being so hostile, please let me know and we can talk about it.

  10. Wow, Staks, I am really disappointed in your responses here. Talk about dogmatic. Really?

    Tom, I really don’t understand the mean-spirtedness of your post and your comments.

    I’m not ‘mean-spirited’ at all. I’m annoyed by your (a) persecution complex you’ve displayed in every post to me so far, (b) your complete and total disregard for fact-checking (which you have also admitted to), (c) your complete disregard for my own opinions on the matter (by the fact that you fail to either read my response to you in its entirety or your failure to address my criticisms appropriately), and (d) finally, I’m greatly annoyed that you’re repeating the same arguments that I have lectured against and from lectures you’ve heard me give time and time again. So if I am showing frustration with you (you are still my friend, I’ve got no ill-will towards you at all), it is because I expect more from you and you seem to be completely ignoring or completely missing the several very clear, valid criticisms of your piece. I’m not the only person who recognizes this.

    I get that you disagree with the way I wrote about the topic, but you really haven’t given any facts that I was mistaken about.

    So I have to relist what I already wrote to you? Do you know how frustrating it is to rewrite something? Fine, because you have to dogmatically oppose my criticism, I’ll list it:

    1: You claim that: “without contemporary sources or any other actual evidence, there is no valid reason to believe Jesus actually did exist.” This is completely false. I gave reasons why such a claim is flawed. We don’t have any ‘actual evidence’ (which you fail to define) for most everyone who is mentioned in any other history written in antiquity. And almost all historical figures lack contemporary evidence. Anyone with even a modicum of knowledge of the primary and secondary source material knows this. So your claim is false.

    2. You claim: “All be have is hearsay accounts from people who never saw or met him.” Again, this isn’t true. (Aside from the argument you’re making about contemporary witnesses (again, most of our source material is secondary sources, so most of it, about any historical figure, isn’t witness testimony) Paul claims to have connections and speak with many people. Paul is also a contemporary of Jesus. Even though he never met Jesus, he claims to have spoken with the Jerusalem pillars. He writes about Jesus constantly. Paul, if he indeed spoke with contemporaries, becomes just as valid as a contemporary source who met Jesus, just as Arrian became as valid as a contemporary source for the life of Alexander the Great. You might not agree that Paul believed in or knew of a historical Jesus, but that demands you argue for THAT case. The claim you made here is completely false otherwise.

    3. You claim: “When I first bring this up, the very first thing most Christians often tell me is that most historians accept the historicity of Jesus. This is just an appeal to authority.” Way to sound like a creationist. “When I bring up evolution, the first thing people say is that most scientists accept evolution. This is just an appeal to authority.” Historians, like scientists, have methods to follow. Most accept Jesus’ historicity for valid reasons. They might be wrong, but that clearly has not been demonstrated by your post, so your claim is completely bunk and dogmatic. Historians are credible individuals who train long and hard and pay a lot of money to become certified to teach, publish, and lecture on the subject of their specialized field. If many historians accept the historical figure of Jesus, and they do, you shouldn’t wave it away out of hand. It might not be a sound argument for historicity, but it is a valid statement that needs to be addressed.

    4. “The fact is that most historians accept the historicity of Jesus on faith. When we really look at the evidence, it is clear that there is very little reason to believe Jesus existed.” Prove it. You make lots of claims but never once stop to back it up. What scholars do you know? How many of them base their historical Jesus on faith? Which faith? Demonstrate it. There are many valid historical reasons to accept the historical figure of Jesus. Paul, being one, is a strong example of a reason to accept Jesus. You might not like that, but just because you don’t like the reason doesn’t mean there isn’t one. See the difference?

    5. “It is only recently that some historians have started to even question the historicity of Jesus.” False. Scholars have been questioning the historicity of the figure of Jesus since the first quest, the German enlightenment, around two centuries ago. Again, if you can’t bother to fact-check yourself, don’t publish on a subject you don’t know about.

    6. “When they have, no actual evidence has been found to support the claim of a historic Jesus.” False, Richard Carrier has stated over and over again that there are valid reasons to accept the historical figure of Jesus. Bob Price is agnostic about Jesus historicity, as I am.

    7. ‘Here are some writers who would have been contemporaries of Jesus and interestingly enough never mentioned him at all despite the Gospel claim that he was known far and wide.” Which Gospel claims Jesus was known ‘far and wide?’ Further, your claim that they don’t mention him is completely irrelevant as I have demonstrated in my original post. And you can’t claim that I’m creating an ad hoc here; you bring this up as to suggest they would have written about him had they known of him, which again is completely bunk. As I explained with Josephus, he doesn’t bring up lots of things, including sects that we KNOW for a FACT were known to everyone. Why? They didn’t fit his reason for writing. You mention Philo Juddeaus, which if you bothered to fact check would know this is Philo of Alexandria, who would not have mentioned Jesus because he lived in Alexandria. Seneca wouldn’t have known of Jesus as he was in Rome in the 30’s and was banished to Corsica by Claudius in 41, nowhere near Palestine. And since Seneca wrote tragedies, philosophical treatises, and letters, we would not expect to see any historical information about Palestine. And last but not least, Pliny was only 10 years old in 33 CE. It is doubtful he could have been in any position to be a witness to Jesus and ergo he would not have written about him since he certainly wouldn’t have known anything about him at 33 CE. Your criticism here is completely ungrounded.

    If anyone is making an strawman arguments here, it is you. You either copied these uncritically from somewhere or you heard it and uncritically posted this and it is both sickening and unnerving that you would restate the very same points I have warned you and others about before. You posted this up, not to make people think, but you didn’t bother to think this through yourself. If you want to make people think, next time be sure to educate them and not mislead them. If you’re open to criticism, take this like a rational person and remove your post until you can adequately create a post worth reading.

  11. First, right from your initial post, you have come off as combative rather than constructive. In every subsequent comment you have repeated that tone. Maybe that was not your intent, but it certainly seems mean spirited. That not a persecution complex at all. As I stated, I was excited to hear that you would be commenting about this and I was looking forward to your response.

    Now let’s get to the points.
    1. You talked about how there are no contemporary writings about Alexander the Great and then went on to list several pieces of contemporary evidence for his existence. That’s fine. I agree with that. You are now claiming that there are historical figures that don’t have any contemporary evidence. That maybe the case, I don’t know. I asked you to name some and you haven’t. Like with anything, if a claim is made then it should not be unreasonable to ask for evidence. If no evidence is provided, then there is no valid reason to accept the claim. Then your friend Hanery attempted to straw man me by asserting that I said that if no evidence existed than people must not exist. When I in fact said just the opposite. I said and you quoted that just because there is no valid evidence doesn’t mean that someone didn’t exist only that there is no valid reason to assume that he or she does. So on this point, I don’t see your issue.
    2. “All we have is hearsay accounts from people who never saw or met him.” Looking at this particular claim on its own, I don’t see how you can say this is not true. I understand that you are comparing this to how we know about other historical figures, but that is not what I wrote about. I wasn’t talking about other historical figures here. I was specifically talking about Jesus. And as far as I am aware all we have are hearsay accounts from people who never saw or met him. Now you can argue, “so what, that is the case with many other historical figures” but I don’t think you can say that the statement itself is not true.
    3. Claiming that most scientists believe in evolution is an appeal to authority. Again, science and history have a method and a peer review process. But not all scientists are experts in evolutionary biology nor have all historians looked at the evidence for the historicity of Jesus. From what I understand, many who have (yourself included) find the evidence lacking. Now you can argue that there is evidence but that it is complex and that someone like myself would need to have a much better understanding of history to understand it, but that most who have studied it with that understand agree. That would be a valid criticism. It is my understand (and I could be completely mistaken) that most historians haven’t really looked into the historicity of Jesus was any rigor and that those who have find the evidence lacking.
    4. That’s a valid criticism. I didn’t back up that assertion with scholarly evidence. I was also not writing a scholarly paper. Still, here you make a valid point. I do seem to recall however that you were critical of Paul as a valid source. But maybe your view on that has changed. Still, while I could have added more evidence, that is an editorial decision.
    5. That’s a great point and I am glad you made it. I was not aware of it and probably should have written “too my knowledge” before I said that. Still, this is not a scholarly paper for a journal, it is an editorial for laypeople. I will make that change.
    6. I was under the impression that Carrier, Price, and you were all skeptical of the historicity of Jesus. Perhaps I should have said, “When they have, some have claimed no actual evidence had been found to support the claim of a historic Jesus.” (David Fitzgerald comes to mind) Still, you could take this opportunity to present evidence you think support historicity of Jesus. But you haven’t. All you have said is that I am wrong. But you haven’t given any evidence for that opinion.
    7. The Gospel of Matthew talks about how Jesus had a multitude of followers and that Herod had heard of him. But again, you are the Bible expert here. It is your opinion that the fact that no one mentioned him is irrelevant. While I don’t claim it is a smoking gun, I think it is certainly relevant. My point is that if Jesus was that well known and did so many miraculous things (or even lead a large group of people) then it is likely that someone would have written about him. Now you may disagree with that, but we are talking about opinions now. Those criticisms about those particular writers may be valid. Perhaps you could tell me who might have written about Jesus during that time? That might be constructive.

    Again, you are being hostile here and I think it is unwarranted. Yes, I read a few different articles and used what I have heard from others (including you). Perhaps your views have changed and I didn’t get your updated opinions. While I think you have made some valid points, I think most of your points are not valid for the reasons I mentioned above. If you want to disagree with what I wrote, that’s fine. But I really was hoping you would be more constructive with your criticism. Instead, you seem to be of the opinion that only experts have anything to say on the subject and that anyone else shouldn’t write anything at all. I disagree with that philosophy. I think that it is good to get ideas out there and to stir the pot. If someone has evidence for the existence of Jesus, I am certainly open to it. Even then though, I still wouldn’t remove the article. I would just add a statement and link to an updated opinion.

    For the record, I don’t see where I could have possibly strawmaned you. That seems like an odd accusation. I think I am done with this discussion.

  12. Staks, criticizing your article is not attacking you. It certainly isn’t being hostile. Am I disappointed that I have to feel like I have to defend the fact that I am not attacking you? Yes, it’s troubling. Very troubling. And it does reflect, for me, a tell-tale sign of a persecution complex. I am not attacking at all, I am expressing, quite plainly, the problems inherent in your article and underlying that the issue you seem to have had with reading my post and seeing my criticisms. Maybe I wasn’t clear, but everyone who has read the article so far, and it’s quite a few, could grasp what I was saying rather clearly without any help from me.

    To your points (I will skip over the ones you agree with):

    1. With your degree in history you should know better. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. In fact it is evidence of absolutely nothing. That it doesn’t exist shouldn’t surprise you. But there is something called being overly-skeptical. In historical research, MOST OF THE TIME there is no evidence, but that doesn’t mean that we automatically assume ahistoricity. In fact, I mean it when I say most people we know from antiquity only from one or two sources written a long time after. Jesus ben Damneus, for example, as well as other High Priests we have no record of but know must have existed. There is no record of the heads of the school at Athens for several decades, but we know there had to have been since the school was operational at the time. And this extends beyond people to places. Again, we know Nazareth existed as a place during the time Josephus was alive (through archaeological digs and so forth), yet he never brings up Nazareth in his works. The examples are so extensive it is downright surprising I have to provide any of this to you. It is shocking, Staks.

    2. Did you even read what I wrote? Paul is a specific valid example which contradicts your whole case. Paul claims to have connections and speaks with many people. Paul is also a contemporary of Jesus. Even though he never met Jesus, he claims to have spoken with the Jerusalem pillars. He writes about Jesus constantly. Paul, if he indeed spoke with contemporaries, becomes just as valid as a contemporary source who met Jesus, just as Arrian became as valid as a contemporary source for the life of Alexander the Great. You might not agree that Paul believed in or knew of a historical Jesus, but that demands you argue for THAT case. The claim you made here is completely false otherwise. See my comparison in the original post with Arrian for more evidence of what I am talking about.

    3. Your understanding is wrong for the reasons I listed earlier.

    4. My arguments against Paul don’t matter since you didn’t link to any argument I ever made on Paul, remember? If you make a claim, you need to support it. As you even said. Yet every claim you made you didn’t bother to support it, including this one. If Paul supports a historicist view, you need to address it before making the claim you made here. If you can’t adequately defend the mythicist case against Paul, then it is best you don’t make a claim.

    5. An editorial for laypeople is precisely why you need to be more exact, Staks. Why don’t you get that? You are creating a fictional history here. Don’t you get the damage you are causing?

    7. Even if Jesus were well-known in his region, why do you suppose they would have spread that fast? They didn’t have the internet, telegraphs, cellphones, or even a postal service. Word spread slowly, not quickly, and over time. Again, I am really shocked by the claims you make. I suppose I should clarify; your problem is that you overstate the evidence, and when you do that without supporting your claims you damage your own credibility with every word.

    I’ve been very constructive Staks. Your inability to recognize that notwithstanding, I have tried to offer you sound advice; you continue to fight against me. I can’t understand why you want to continue acting as though I haven’t.

  13. The fight over the historical Jesus damages another relationship.

    Why does it even matter if Jesus existed, if he was not the Son of God born to a virgin who ascended to heaven and will return with power? Especially if he was too obscure for anyone to notice.

    Staks’ article was not all that bad. It could have used a little editorial help to clarify some concepts. Some of Tom Verenna’s points are highly debatable – Paul is not at all comparable to Arrian — the very idea is laughable.

    Please, guys. Wait for Richard Carrier’s books to come out. Find some topic that actually means something.

  14. ‘I also want to know why even if they were historians why they would write about a failed Jewish peasant, countryside, messianic movement with enough initial members that would fit in a minibus.’

    No wonder Jesus was crucified by the Romans, They were terrified of people who had virtually no followers.

    Why was the historical Jesus crucified by the Romans? That has to be explained on the ‘Jesus was very obscure’ theory.

    At the least, people who explain why Jesus went under the radar during his lifetime should address in the same article why he was such a threat to the Romans.

    ‘In historical research, MOST OF THE TIME there is no evidence,…’

    So why not simply say there is no evidence for the existence of Jesus? Instead of beating mythicists over the head with this lack of evidence?

    Just because there is no evidence for William Tell or King Arthur doesn’t mean they didn’t exist….

  15. Steven,

    If you would read the accounts of why Jesus was deemed a threat that might help. The earliest sources represent Jesus was annoying the Jewish leadership by making statements that threatened them, and that were taken to imply he wanted to destroy the Temple. They were tetchy and they had him crucified. If you want a modern parallel think of some of the more knee-jerk reactions that have been exposed in the media recently on our authorities locking up and trying suspected terrorists (and putting some through torture) with little cause or evidence other than inference. These people aren’t leaders of hoards of men, they aren’t in charge of a new supermovement or religious sect.
    As for:

    “So why not simply say there is no evidence for the existence of Jesus? Instead of beating mythicists over the head with this lack of evidence?”

    I am not ‘beating mythicists of the head with this lack of evidence’. You seem to forget that I am responding to someone who thinks that fact that three writers didn’t mention Jesus makes an effective argument against his existence. All I did was to show that this particular argument doesn’t work, that it can be applied to almost anyone in classical antiquity, and that it is naive and wrong to credit this argument with the force that Staks gives it. I don’t want to get into a far broader question on whether there is evidence for Jesus here, I am just addressing the value of this particular argument. Trying to bring in a HUGE other area is not a legitimate reply, or indeed vindication of Staks.

  16. A good overview of a controversial issue is one that gives the strongest arguments for both sides. I think Rosch’s article does a disservice to its readers because it implies that the best arguments for historicity are those used by conservative Christian apologists.

  17. Indeed, Vinny. Precisely. His ‘introduction’ to the question of historicity is one-sided, bias, and full of holes. If Staks wanted to make people think, his best bet is to spend more time to create a more open, honest look at the data. In its present state, there is little separating it from being criticized as an under-researched, extremely narrowed article that insults scholars.

  18. ‘The earliest sources represent Jesus was annoying the Jewish leadership by making statements that threatened them, and that were taken to imply he wanted to destroy the Temple. They were tetchy and they had him crucified.’

    The Jews had Jesus crucified? How?

    And how could one man with a handful of followers destroy the Temple?

    It took an entire Roman army to do that.

    I guess Historical Jesus studies has a lot of work to do yet.

  19. […] Tom Verenna discusses the historicity of Jesus. […]

  20. Hello, all!
    Since Steven wonders about that HJ and how he got crucified (and I think some reasons given on that blog look dubious), did anyone read my reconstruction?
    I got it summarized here:
    I call that short page ‘Historical Jesus, in a few words’. Please note I do not even see HJ as an itinerant preacher, but rather as an accidental petty healer, follower of John the Baptist (therefore professing the Kingdom is near).
    Another note:
    I agree with Toto. But that’s not what I am seeing on FRDB.

  21. Toto, I think you missed the point here. I didn’t say Paul was comparable to Arrian; I am not arguing for historicism. I am arguing that what Staks presented is anything bu reliable and what he sought to claim is not the least bit supported. And there are reasons to accept a historical Jesus, one being that Paul is a contemporary and claims to have spoken with followers of Jesus. You can quibble over whether or not that occurred, but that id precisely the point, isn’t it? I have given you a reason why something is acceptably valid, which refutes Staks claim that there are no valid reasons. Sure there are. You might disagree (I disagree, obviously), but you have to demonstrate that in an introduction if you make the claim. If you can’t demonstrate that, or unwilling to do the research to demonstrate that, then keep your mitts off history. You only do damage by overstating your position and exaggerating the evidence (or, in Staks case, completely ignoring it). That was the main problem with Staks article. There is a difference between pointing out valid reasons and agreeing with those reasons. Try to see the difference and reread my post with that in mind.

  22. […] « Near EmmausGavin Rumney @ OtagoshPick-a-scholarTom Verenna @ The Musings of Thomas VerennaDefining Mythicism: Staks Rosch on the Historicity of JesusScience and TechnologyJames Kidder @ Science and Religion: A View from an Evolutionary […]

  23. […] Staks Rosch on the Historicity of Jesus […]

  24. […] Staks on the Historicity of Jesus Share some history:Like this:LikeBe the first to like this. […]

  25. […] Bible and Interpretation dealing with Ehrman’s book on mythicism).    My older articles don’t compare to anything I’ve published or written recently; I used to be very polemical, very aggressive, made lots of baseless, unverified claims (visit […]

  26. You may be interested in my upcoming book, Secret of the Savior: The Myth of the Messiah in Mark, which argues that Mark, the earliest Gospel, is an allegory in which Jesus serves as a symbol of salvation and the story of Jesus recapitulates the history of salvation. You can see a preview of the book at

    Sid Martin

  27. I have read the summary and chapter summary of your book and I’m not at all impressed.

  28. […] said this over and over again; around this time of year, some internet meme will develop about Jesus or Easter or the resurrection and produce some lame […]

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