|Nailed: offending smart people since 2010|
Nonetheless, I appreciate David's kind words and willingness to discuss his book. In case anybody is wondering, I really do want people to read it and consider the arguments. But I still think Nailed makes for better satire than it does history. Fitzgerald's responses are in quotes, followed by my comments.
Before getting to specifics, I have to call him on one problem with his critique: the repeated assurances that, although he can’t provide the refutation just now, all my arguments have been disproven - elsewhereThere were two reasons for my relatively limited response. First, other critics shot Nailed full of holes. Alpha and Omega Ministries and JP Holding, Fitzgerald's favorite apologist, both wrote lengthy reviews of the book. Fitzgerald offered all of 50 words in response. Second, I'd prefer to discuss one or two points at a time so we can digest each other's arguments and then respond. I could have written a 4,000 word blog post, but nobody would have read the whole thing and arguments would have almost inevitably gone unnoticed.
Are Christ-mythers hypocritical? Yep
I wrote in my review of Nailed that Christ-mythers have to snub many decades of historical research to keep their pet hypothesis from collapsing on itself. Outside of literally a handful of scholars, no historian even pays attention to the possibility that Jesus was invented wholesale by the early Church. Hilarious. But what adds to the hilarity is that Christ-mythers are almost unanimously proponents of evolution and critics of religious people who deny it, beating them over the head for ignoring the bulk of scientific expertise. Fitzgerald tried to dodge the hypocrisy by arguing the point I said he would: that..."it’s precisely because Mythicists have evidence that we challenge the current majority opinion - just as the evidence for natural selection challenged the dominant paradigm in Darwin’s time."
The difference between Darwinian Evolution and the Christ-myth, however, is that one was embraced by the scientific community as evidence for it was produced. Meanwhile, at least two centuries after it was first seriously proposed, the Christ-myth has yet to gain any momentum. In my view, that plants mythicism firmly in the same camp as creationism and anti-vaccine paranoia, not any theory that was eventually endorsed by the mainstream. While not a direct rebuttal to his arguments (keep reading), this should give people like Fitzgerald pause before they go on proclaiming that Jesus only existed in the minds of his Schizotypal followers.
The Christ-mythers argument on this point also reeks of special pleading. When's the last time you've heard Ken Ham or any other prominent young earth creationist say they believe in a literal creation account in spite of the evidence? It's certainly rare, because almost every would-be iconoclast thinks the facts are on his side.
Tossing out scholarship
Fitzgerald also argues in Nailed that the Christ myth hasn't been given a fair hearing because most biblical scholars throughout history have been believers. My response was that using just the work of scholars without religious baggage, the Christ myth sinks under the weight of its own suckery. Fitzgerald responded that he doesn't
...“toss out” anyone’s work because they’re evangelical, or any other religious persuasion. In fact, as I mention in the book, I rely on the work of historians from all across the theological spectrum. For example, Bruce Metzger has done brilliant work on the formation of the New Testament canon, which I cite frequently (see ch. 7 of Nailed) - even against some of his own conclusions.Note that I didn't accuse him of tossing out evangelical scholarship in the context of this argument. I said that even if we do throw it out, we can still explode the Christ-myth with the work of critical scholars - a subtle but important distinction.
Secondly, no one has “repudiated” the Myth Theory arguments, least of all Bart Ehrman. For such a staunch non-Mythicist, few historians have done as much to point out the flaws in majority biblical opinion as Ehrman.In every book of his that I've read (currently four), Ehrman regularly reminds his readers that his opinions represent the consensus on the issues he writes about, which is generally true. But there's an important point here: the fact that scholars of Ehrman's stature, who also lack any ideological urge to defend Christianity, don't think their arguments lead to mythicism should throw up red flags for Fitzgerald and co.
And as for the idea that the early church would never invent such an unlikely messiah as Jesus, our mutual friend Richard Carrier has more than debunked that notion in his book Not The Impossible Faith by demonstrating that there were first century Jews who expected precisely such a messiah.Nope. First century Jews didn't interpret any passage of scripture as referring to a despised messiah. Specificity in this case is critical because the expectation Fitzgerald cites would contradict the idea found in the Old Testament and other ancient sources that crucifixion was a shameful way to die. That's why The Impossible Faith is such a powerful apologetic for Christianity. Jesus' earliest followers would have needed some very compelling reason (resurrection maybe?) to convert to and die for such a socially unacceptable faith.
Contradictions in the Gospels: evidence for a mythical Jesus?
I'm still trying to wrap my head around how contradictory accounts confirm the Christ myth. Fitzgerald says it's
...because the ways our four canonical Gospels contradict each other are not at all typical of other historical figures. To begin with, these are not independent accounts; all are based off of Mark, who is a neither an eyewitness nor claims to be, writing a generation or more after the events he describes, descriptions that are completely uncorroborated historically, filled with unhistorical mistakes and inadvertent anachronisms...This paragraph highlights my biggest complaint about the book: it's filled with controversial assertions that are passed off as basic facts about the Gospels. There's a case to be made for Mark as an eyewitness account, but even if it isn't, why does it have to be firsthand in order to report accurate history? We also need to see some examples of historical errors and anachronisms. My contention is that any errors Fitzgerald will cite are either overblown or non-existent (pun absolutely intended).
But to reiterate the point in my last post, many biographies of historical figures contradict each other in the same ways Fitzgerald claims the Gospels do. They don't report the same events, offer contradictory reports of the same events, use different sources and sometimes rely on each other for information. If you don't believe me, try it some time. The only difference between the Gospels and my example is that Fitzgerald has no ideological reason to disbelieve biographies of Abraham Lincoln, or the eyewitness testimony they consult, even though they're just as dead as anybody who could confirm the Gospel accounts. Point is: Fitzgerald's standard for judging the Gospels is purely subjective.
[Mark] appears to be written not as a biography at all but as an allegory for a Jewish version of the pagan mystery faiths.No, it doesn't. Mark and the other canonical Gospels fit nicely into the genre of ancient biography, and it's, again, rather presumptive of skeptics (Fitzgerald didn't originate it) to pass off such a radical conclusion like it's uncontroversial fact. There are a number of issues with the Gospels as allegory routine, but the major problem is that the accounts could serve both purposes. While reporting history, they could also contain some the allegorical elements (though not the specific example) Fitzgerald is describing. He interprets the Bible the way a lot of fundamentalist Christians do - in absolutists terms. That's the real problem.
What’s worse, the later gospel writers who reworked Mark added information of their own without regard for if it contradicted their original source or each other (and in the case of the second century writings of Luke and John, any of the myriad other non-canonical Gospels that were also written around that time).But it doesn't follow that they made up any information that didn't come from Mark's Gospel. And why are we dating Luke and John so late? The majority of scholars put all the canonical Gospels in the mid-to-late the first century, with John being the latest at 90-95 CE. If they are that early, that means there would have been witnesses around to check against massive errors creeping into the accounts, like fabrication of major portions of the story. What non-canonical gospels are we talking about? Peter? Thomas? "Around that time" is awfully vague, too. We need to discuss dates for these books, and most of the dates I'm aware of for non-canonical literature are well into the second century and later.
For the first 150 - 200 years we have nothing but tiny scraps and much later, partial chapters of NT manuscripts, and therefore no way to verify how much our texts matched the originals. And for the entire first century, we have no manuscript evidence whatsoever.On such a basis, we could discount almost everything we have from the first century. Either we say textual critics can apply the same standard to ancient documents and can generally reconstruct them, or we don't. It's not fair to have one standard for the Bible and another for everything else. On this point, even scholars Fitzgerald trusts believe we can get back to the earliest stage of the manuscript tradition, which is "...no doubt closely (very closely) related to what the author originally wrote." That's Bart Ehrman in Misquoting Jesus (62), by the way.
Comparatively speaking, the New Testament is far better attested than any text from the same period. Additionally, the onus is on the skeptics to provide evidence that the period between composition and the appearance of our earliest extant manuscripts produced completely unreliable copies of the text. It's one thing to say that we should remain open to new evidence and directly deal with this gap in NT textual history. But it's quite another to say the major players in the early church weren't historical figures because of it.
To begin with, the diversity of early Christianity is truly astounding already if Christianity is meant to have begun with a founder of a small group in Jerusalem.Alright seriously, this is just Fitzgerald shoving his assumptions into the text where they don't belong. While there were diverse groups of "Christians" in the years following Jesus' ministry, the evidence suggests that their views were concocted in response to Orthodox theology, as Phillip Jenkins reports in The Hidden Gospels. It's also worth noting that all the Gnostic literature discovered at Nag Hammadi is probably second century and later. The only way to get around this is to assume late dates for the canonical Gospels and utilize Jesus Seminar methodology (faulty form criticism) to place them on the same footing as books like Thomas.
the equally sparse and conflicting info on the Twelve apostles, the curious geographic distribution of early Christianity, the identity of all the “other Christs” mentioned in both Paul and the Gospels are all just a few. Another more fundamental problem are the differences between the first generation of Christianity and post-Gospel ChristianityThe first point only survives if Fitzgerald is right in trashing the Gospels as reliable sources. He's not. Nor is the evidence for diversity among Christians enough to say that no faction knew the truth. They argued with each other. I get it. But that doesn't prove what the Christ-mythers so desperately want it to.
With that said, I stand by what I originally wrote. Modern scholarship has debunked the Christ-myth, and the faulty logic that permeates Nailed won't save the hypothesis.