The Amazing Meeting 2014

Like it? Share it!

Sign up for news and updates!






Enter word seen below
Visually impaired? Click here to have an audio challenge played.  You will then need to enter the code that is spelled out.
Change image

CAPTCHA image
Please leave this field empty

Login Form



Wrong Again And Loving It PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Steve Cuno   

I relent.  

Before reading Bart Ehrman’s recent book Did Jesus Exist? I had maintained that there was no evidence that Jesus of Nazareth ever existed. Ehrman, a New Testament scholar and self-described “agnostic with atheist leanings,” demonstrates (to my satisfaction, anyway—I cannot speak for yours) that behind the Jesus-legend there probably was a real person.  

This isn’t the first time I have had to relent.  

For instance, after a host of books convinced me that women are inherently better at certain tasks and men at others, Carol Tavris, in a TAM encounter I don’t expect her to recall, was kind enough to refer me to Cordelia Fine’s Delusions of Gender. Fine’s book turned my thinking around.  

Likewise, I relented when a Richard Dawkins book convinced me that the Theory of Evolution wasn’t riddled with holes after all … a Michael Shermer book convinced me that a God belief isn’t a requisite for a moral society … an SGU podcast convinced me that anthropogenic global warming is likely … a Brian Dunning book set me straight as to what immune systems are and are not ... and that’s just a smattering. Were I to list my every comeuppance, we’d be here all day.  

I have, in fact, relented so many times that when I review my personal journal I am embarrassed at the poor dupe its pages betray. Yet I love the revelation, for surely I am making progress or I wouldn’t see in him a dupe at all.  

The look back can also humble. (This is no small feat, as my name and “humble” rarely appear in the same sentence unless separated by words like “decidedly not” or followed by words like “don’t joke when I have a mouthful of coffee.”) Having been wrong about many things serves as a reminder that I may yet be wrong about many more. There’s no telling the number of reversals or, for that matter, re-reversals that yet await me.  

It also serves as a reminder to treat with care people who don’t see things my way. Carol Tavris was consummately courteous when she righted my thinking. I would do well to follow her lead.  

Besides, maybe, just maybe, the person who doesn’t see things my way won’t turn out to be the one who has it wrong.  

 

Though he remains open to being convinced otherwise, Steve Cuno served as the as-told-to writer with Joanne Hanks in her new book, “It’s Not About the Sex” My Ass: Confessions of an Ex-Mormon Ex-Polygamist Ex-Wife.

Trackback(0)
Comments (16)Add Comment
The Thrill of Being Challenged
written by jcchurch, January 04, 2013
I love this. We skeptics should challenge ourselves routinely with ideas that we generally understand to have little evidence. We should also have some criteria defined that determines when our mind shall be changed on a topic. We should always, always be willing to form new opinions and there should be no shame in doing so.
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +7
Be careful...
written by William, January 04, 2013
Some books are well at convincing you of things that are clearly NOT true. They present quite a valid argument, and it is difficult to find the "leap of faith" logic point from which they start.

I was almost convinced of the implications of the speed-of-light decay ("cdk"), until I realized the author was using the constancy of the speed of light as a point in his argument.
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +4
...
written by MadScientist, January 04, 2013
*Yawn*

By Ehrman's logic there really was a historical Willy Wonka and the Philosopher's Stone does too exist. Did Ehrman mention that his Jesus, if it existed, must also have had a host of severe neurological problems? Most likely the Jesus of fable, like all fictional characters, was inspired by a number of real people as well as myths through the ages.
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +0
...
written by lytrigian, January 04, 2013
I have long maintained, even after I lost my religious belief, that it requires far fewer assumptions to hold that Jesus existed than that he did not.

But: the mere fact that he was probably a real person proves exactly zero about Christianity's claims. Legendary material grows up all the time about real historical figures, even those who have NOT become the core of a religious movement. That it should happen with someone who did is one of the least surprising things possible. We have a minimum of 25 years after his death for the stories to grow before being written down, taking the earliest possible date for the earliest Synoptic Gospels. That's plenty of time for tales to be told, repeated, for parables to be mistaken for fact, for confused original accounts to be "canonized" into some standard version that exaggerates the facts, and all the other things to happen that we know happen when people form a community around the personality of some admired religious martyr-figure.

That, I think, is the tack the atheist skeptic should take on the subject. Blank assertions that Jesus never lives are very difficult to sustain.
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +14
...
written by Steel Rat, January 04, 2013
Women are inherently better at telling men what they're bad at (which is everything)

It's a joke, son!
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +0
...
written by The St. Dr. Oscar, January 05, 2013
...it requires far fewer assumptions to hold that Jesus existed than that he did not

This is Ehrman's assertion and he is probably correct. I refer to this as the "some guy" problem, i.e., was there "some guy" that early Jesus People referred to as the originator of their sect/movement/school? Probably. We'll never know for sure. I refer to him as "some guy" because the wondrous things ultimately ascribed to him were made up later. At some early point he would have been just that, "some guy".
the mere fact that he was probably a real person proves exactly zero about Christianity's claims

IOW, the mere existence of "some guy" does not lead to his being what Orthodox Christianity claims he was/is. While the historical reality of "some guy" is a topic of great interest, it is not necessary to prove his non-existence in order to effectively disassemble the claims of Christianity. Unfortunately, some scholars seem to be highly enamored of the argument that disproof of "some guy's" existence is the single most important "fact." This reminds me of creationism--start with a conclusion and work your way backwards.
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +4
...
written by Monkey Man, January 06, 2013
Fine's book turned you around? Oh no! Did you read Simon Baron-Cohen's rebuttal of that yet? There were lots of rebuttals to that book. It might have had some actual debunkings in it but on the whole, a fail.
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +1
Ehrman Overstates His Case
written by PsiCop, January 06, 2013
While Ehrman has a bit to offer here, and generally speaking, I've long agreed with the idea that there was very likely to have been "some person" in the 1st century Levant upon whose life the Jesus Christ legend was later constructed, he's gone a bit far in making his case.

For instance, he makes a lot of Paul's mention (in Gal 1:19) of having met "James, the Lord’s brother," and considers that a compelling piece of evidence that Jesus existed. I have to question this.

First, this is Paul's self-report to the Christians of Galatia. We have no idea if Paul actually met "James," or even if he even met any of the other Christian leaders. Virtually the entirety of the first two chapters of Galatians consists of Paul selling himself to his readers as an authority and as having contended with, and won out over, "the Pillars" in Jerusalem. Did he actually meet "James" or any of the rest? I don't know, and neither does Ehrman.

Second, even if Paul did meet "James," we have no idea if the James he met truly was "the brother" (as in a true biological sibling) of "the Lord" Jesus. Paul might have been told James was the Lord's brother, but was he? Was Paul in any position to have known that? What if, as many scholars contend, this formulation was metaphorical ... a notion that's supported by Paul having referred to lots of other Christian men as "brothers" in just that sense?

No matter how you cut it, Ehrman assumes a lot about a passage that really isn't anywhere near as certain as he claims.

I repeat that I have no problem with the idea that some person existed who eventually became the proverbial "grain of truth" at the heart of the Jesus legend that Christianity later constructed. A lot of things don't make much sense unless we treat that as a genuine possibility. That said, this doesn't mean we actually know much about that real person. And as St. Dr. Oscar points out in his comment above (on 1/5/13), that concession doesn't really help Christianity make its case.

As a final note, it's rather sad that the whole question of the historical Jesus, if there was one, has become as bogged down as it has been by a lot of contentiousness. One expects that from Christians, who are personally and emotionally invested in Jesus' historicity and have incentives to deny the impossibility of it, even if there were proof he didn't exist. But there are also a lot of mythicists who really won't relent on the subject, either, but in their own way and for their own reasons. I think what Ehrman was doing was attempting to walk down a path between these two extremes. He was a bit overzealous about doing so, that's true. But neither Christians nor mythicists are going to listen to anything he said ... no matter how valid any of his points may have been ... and that's unfortunate.
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +2
...
written by quizmasterchris, January 06, 2013
I find it highly doubtful that there was even any grain-of-truth Jesus. Positively everything about the life of Jesus was plagiarized from earlier religions, myths and even published fictional stories floating around the region at the time.

It's like people in 4000 AD/CE believing that there really was a savior named Clark Kent, who saved people with the help of one Dr. Watson, who was persecuted by Nixon, who derived strength from cans of spinach, who defeated Catwoman, who made the Statue of Liberty disappear on live TV, who won the Thrilla in Manila, who jumped a shark tank on his motorcycle and had a wacky neighbor named Kramer.

Jesus is just a pastiche.
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +3
Jesus of Bethlehem
written by Gaius Cornelius, January 06, 2013
One interesting argument for the physical existence of Jesus is one that I think I recall being mentioned by Christopher Hitchens: the story of the nativity is a convoluted tale that is required to put the birth of "Jesus of Nazareth" in Bethlehem. The story is necessary in order to fulfil certain long standing prophesies. If Jesus was just an invented character then such story would not be necessary; you could just make the story to be about Jesus of Bethlehem.
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +2
...
written by Editor23, January 07, 2013
Sadly, my close personal friend Chris, whom I knew very well, though not Biblically (not for want of trying) got that one wrong. "Of Nazareth" is a wrong translation. A better one would be "The Craftsman" or "The Artisan". Thus, Our Lord and Savior gave his name both to a line of tools and a family of cheeses.

And yes, before you get started, I know Hitchens insisted on being called Christopher or Hitch. Got you.
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +0
Jesus Lived But We Don't Know Much About Him
written by StarTrekLivz, January 08, 2013
Ehrman's book makes the point that there probably was a Jesus of Nazareth, but we probably don't know much reliable about him. The accounts of his life (the Gospels) are written primarily to induce faith, they're not "biographies" as we use the term now. And there are major discrepancies (the references that give a birth timeframe in Matthew and Luke are at least 10 years different, for example). The character in the books is almost certainly a combination of the other "Messiahs" and "Wonder Workers" who were wandering around, with material that is "inspirational" rather than "factual" referencing Jewish scripture ("Jesus said/did this to fulfill the scripture" etc.)
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +0
Anonymity of the Gospels
written by StarTrekLivz, January 08, 2013
One of the striking things about the Gospels is how ANONYMOUS they are: "Jesus walked into a village and met a man" "Jesus was resting at a well outside of a town and met a woman" "Jesus was walking in a field and there was a man" Names of places and people are notably lacking. Which again indicates that the stories are likely to be "inspirational" not accounts of real encounters.
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +1
Anonymity
written by William, January 08, 2013
Actually, STL, the anonoymity tends to gain credibility. With the knowledge that the written account was provided almost a generation later, would you more readily believe (for a one time encounter):
1) "Jesus walked into a village and met a man", or
2) "Jesus walked into Habbouch and met Abahu".

More details make me question it even more.
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +0
Anonymity Rebutted
written by StarTrekLivz, January 08, 2013
Actually, William, no: some anonymity and even some errors & discrepancies are to be expected when the source documents were written anywhere from 30 to 100 years after the events (depending on whose chronologies & text analyses one uses), especially during an age & area when life expectancy was only 35. But when I was still religious I was part of a group that read the entire Gospel of Luke out loud in an afternoon and did a rough outline of it, and the first thing that struck us was almost no one and no place was named. Can you imagine a biography that said, "Richard Nixon was a president from the West, and had a governor as his Vice President, but when he was disgraced he was replaced by a Congressman" -- no names, no identifiers (governor of which state? Congressman from where?) ever? Especially in the case of Luke's Gospel, where he writes "Theophilus" (=God Lover in Greek, and could be a name or a literary affectation, like "Dear Diary") and how he worked very carefully to collect facts about Jesus -- yet leaves so much out.

And it is telling that Paul, who wrote between the death of Jesus and the compilation of the Gospels, never quotes Jesus, never tells a story about him (except for references to the Last Supper, death, and resurrection), never cites a miracle or parable, nothing, even when trying to settle disputes among his unruly religious communities .... This has been one of the big arguments for the non-existence of Jesus, and support for the thesis that the Gospels are compilations of pious tales based upon a man who existed but may not have anything to do with him. Think of Washington and the Cherry Tree ....
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +3
...
written by quizmasterchris, January 09, 2013
Just because life expectancy was 35 doesn't mean that not many people lived past 35. When people survived beyond childhood (many didn't) they lived almost as long as folks do now.

The killer for me isn't just that the gospels (which struggle to be on the same page about the most basic facts of the story) were supposedly written 30-100 years after the supposed Jesus (knowing that alone led me at a young age toward skepticism and eventual atheism). The killer is that many of these tales were written many years BEFORE the supposed Jesus! That's just a clincher.

Anonymity doesn't gain credibility to me for writings from the same era that gave us the detailed histories and fictions of the Roman era. What's notable is that the non-Christians make no mention of Jesus at all.

Let's take for contrast Mohammed. Is there any doubt Mohammed existed? He doesn't have to have been divinely inspired for us to know he was very real.
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +1

Write comment
This content has been locked. You can no longer post any comment.
You must be logged in to post a comment. Please register if you do not have an account yet.

busy