Responding to David Marshall

After some hesitation, I’ve decided to write a response to David Marshall. The reason for this is because I see that he has been disingenuous and outright dishonest in his response to my post, “The Gospels are Unreliable and the Gospel Jesus is not a Historical Person.” I’ll bypass the attempted insults and dig right in. I’ll keep the parts in where he quoted my post in bold; I’ll put his words in quotes.

In order to prove Christianity true, two central claims are necessary: the Gospel Jesus is a historical person and the Gospels are historically reliable. These are two related claims and both are verifiable or falsifiable. What follows demonstrates exactly why both claims are false.

(1) Actually, “Jesus is historical” is implied by “the Gospels are reliable,” so really this is only one claim.

This is disingenuous at best and a non sequitur at worst. Either David is overlooking the fact that I separated the claims for good reason or he’s masking the premises of the above conclusion. If the former, it should be noted that if the Gospels are shown to be historically reliable, this does not imply that Jesus, as depicted in the Gospels, is historical. Marshall may believe that’s the case, but the one does not imply the other. It is one thing for them to be historical and entirely another for their depiction of Jesus to be historical. This is setting aside that they paint very different portraits of him. Getting into that will be too much of a tangent, but David’s self-proclaimed scholarly acumen implies that he knows what I’m getting at.

If a non sequitur, David is basically making his predilection obvious. He’s arguing: P1 If the Gospels are historically reliable, the Gospel Jesus is equivalent to the historical Jesus; P2 The Gospels are historically reliable; C Therefore, the Gospel Jesus is equivalent to the historical Jesus. This is what he must argue, since he sees the claims I kept separate as one.

Are the Gospels historically reliable? The answer is a resounding no and this much is admitted by the consensus:

“Neither the evangelists nor their first readers engaged in historical analysis. Their aim was to confirm Christian faith (Lk 1.4; Jn 20.31). Scholars generally agree that the Gospels were written forty to sixty years after the death of Jesus. They thus do not present eyewitness or contemporary accounts of Jesus’ life and teachings.” (Matthew Ferguson)

(2) “Historical analysis” and “confirm Christian faith” is a false dichotomy.  Only a small subset of true writing about the past can be called “historical analysis.”  The authors of the gospels were not academic historians, but that need not mean they were freely making stuff up.  Ferguson makes a big deal about differences between the genre of history and the genre of gospel, but this is to confuse real issue, which is not genre but accuracy.

It’s disingenuous to claim that Ferguson intended to create a dichotomy in what he said. I’m sure he’s aware that there are other options. As you claim, they could have been attempting to record historical events pertaining to Jesus and his ministry. They could have been trying to confirm the Christian faith or more specifically, their version of it. As you know, there were competing versions of Christianity; this is attested in the Pauline Epistles. So there’s a third option: they wrote the Gospels in order to win over converts, as means of competing with other versions of Christianity. In any case, you’re assuming their accuracy over and over again. You’ve yet to substantiate that claim.

(3) “Confirming Christian faith” also cannot be reasonably contrasted with “tell the truth.”  For instance, “The witnesses’ aim in testifying was to confirm that he saw the accused murder the deceased” may be entirely true, without in any way impugning his or her testimony.  People often try to convince others because they themselves have been convinced: that is not inherently irrational or unworthy.

It can be reasonably contrasted iff we have reason to doubt what they’re trying to confirm. As I showed, we do have reason to doubt. The difference between a witness in court and these purported eyewitnesses is simple: the former is not trying to confirm that the accused murdered the deceased; instead, they’re relaying what they saw or what they think they saw. Paul tells us that Jesus was buried. He doesn’t say where or how. We have reason to believe that the disciples didn’t know where he was buried, so if this is the case, the Gospels could be stories they told to resolve that uncomfortable fact among themselves. Modern Christians who read Paul’s statement like to superimpose the Gospels onto it. They are, in other words, assuming that when Paul says that Jesus was buried, he means to say that he was buried in the manner that’s described in the Gospels.

(4) The last sentence is a gross non sequitur.  It assumes a conflict between “written 40 years later” and “from eyewitnesses” that does not exist.  I know people who can testify to events they witnessed, for instance the nuking of Nagasaki, and Paton’s march across Germany, from 70 years ago.  Jesus’ disciples were young, certainly, and could easily have lived until the date at which the gospels were written.

We spoke about this at length in our exchange on John Loftus’ blog. As to your examples, you’re overly trustworthy of their accounts. There are known problems with testimony. Go back to the exchange we had. This would essentially be raking over old coals. You were wrong then; you’re wrong now.

(5) In addition, many scholars think Mark was written earlier than that.

The scholars who think that are overly dependent on a supposed proto-Mark. This Gospel has not been found. What we have is speculation that Matthew and Luke used an earlier version of the extant gospel. Other than that, there’s no reason to think Mark was written earlier. Aside from that, this is another blatant appeal to authority. Which scholars argue this? Why haven’t their arguments gained any traction?

(6) Furthermore, there is a great deal of evidence (see Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, and just wait for my new book!) that the gospels DO present eyewitness accounts.

What evidence? Give me something to field, something to consider. What are his arguments? How does he support them? Does he engage with scholars who disagree with him? This is essentially a Courtier Reply. This is the same thing John Loftus called you out about. You claim to have read so much and yet you never prove to have any understanding of what you read–even in cases like this one where an understanding of your sources would help to strengthen your presentation. This just looks as though you’re citing Bauckham because the title of his book agrees with your view. It adds no force to your “rebuttal.” Also, there’s no need for self-promotion here. If your book is that great, let it speak for itself when it is published.

I’m sure Christians think the consensus says otherwise, since many of them seem to have done nothing but indulge their confirmation bias and read what conservative Christian scholars have had to say about this matter. Like the evangelists and first readers, these scholars want to confirm the Christian faith. They never intended to conduct honest research.

(7) Tendentious, sweeping slurs of unnamed scholars have no place in writing that styles itself academic.

It is enough that Christians interested in these topics know the scholars and apologists I’m referring to. Also, my audience is more informed than you think; my readers also know who I’m referring to. Naming them doesn’t change the content of what I said. You’ve named Ferguson, Ehrman, and Carrier and it adds no force to your various opinions about them. Naming them doesn’t strengthen your opinions in the slightest. If anything, it weakens your opinions as it shows you have a personal vendetta against them, especially Ferguson. I simply disagree with these conservative scholars. Naming them wouldn’t say anything more than what I’ve said.

For starters, had they actually intended to conduct honest research, in starting from the assumption that the Gospels are historically reliable, they would have quickly come to find out that the Gospels are not historically reliable at all.

(8) Begs the question.

How? The entire post draws from various sources and comes to a conclusion Christians don’t like. They’ve certainly made that clear in the comments!

To find out why this is the case, we need to discuss authorship, genre, external attestation, and internal consistency. If we want to find out whether we have a historically reliable piece of ancient writing, authorship is important. The Gospels are a curious case already because unlike the writings of ancient historians, the Gospels are, strictly speaking, anonymous.

(9) There is nothing “curious” about books belonging to one genre (gospel) not sharing some characteristic of some other genre (Greek history).  Especially since the gospels were written when Christians were persecuted.  Besides, Bauckham argues that they weren’t that anonymous.

Appeal to authority. It doesn’t matter what he argues, unless you summarize his argument. You want us to be convinced by an argument we haven’t heard ourselves, which is essentially an argument that hasn’t been made. If your response ends up being, “well, go read the book,” that’s unhelpful. It doesn’t advance the discussion at all.

Curiously enough, you allude to something important: “they were written when Christians were persecuted.” That says much about their allegorical style. Also, your insight meshes better with the idea me and Matthew endorse, namely that the Gospels were written to confirm Christian faith. More specifically, they were written as means of communication between believers and not as histories to be passed down the centuries.

(10)  Also, this is another non sequitur.  Anonymity is not inconsistent with accuracy.  That’s why we believe maps, street signs, and instructions books for new cameras.  Even most facts on the better-traveled pages of Wikipedia are fairly reliable, now, most of the time.

Anonymity, in general, isn’t inconsistent with accuracy. However, when concerning history, it commonly is. Also, you speak as though that’s the only strike against the Gospels. Here’s an example I like to use. Philo and Josephus wrote about Pilate’s antics. None of their reflections record an event that took place in private. The Gospels, on the other hand, talk about Jesus before Pilate (see Mark 15). Eyewitness or not, who had intimate access into Jesus’ encounter with Pilate? Sure, he later takes Jesus out in public and offers to free him or Barabbas, but what happens prior to that doesn’t take place in the public eye. That’s not a miracle, not a faith healing, not an exorcism; yet it is improbable that any of the eyewitnesses you’ve alluded to were there to record that.

In the same vein, the genre of the Gospels has to be called into question because they’re not written as history. Furthermore, it doesn’t seem they were written as biographies.

(11) On the contrary, Richard Burridge showed that they were — to the satisfaction of many academics, including me.  Heck, even Ferguson grants this one, I think.  And I show that they’re better than many ancient biographies.

Burridge shows that they were read as biographies in the centuries following Christianity’s inception. It’s non sequitur to conclude that because they were considered biographies then, they’re considered biographies today. This is the standard interpretation of Burridge’s “What Are the Gospels? A Comparison with Graeco-Roman Biography.” Did he say more than that? What specifically and on what pages? Which edition?

Even if we allow the assumptions that they were ancient biographies and are historically reliable, we’d still require external attestation–especially for the more fantastical bits found in the Gospels, e.g., Jesus walking on water. Also, if we allow for these assumptions, we’d want to see if the Gospels are internally consistent, i.e., do the Gospels cohere with one another. Once we discuss these points, we’ll arrive at the honest conclusion that the Gospels are historically unreliable.

(12) “Internally consistent” means is each Gospel consistent with itself, not with another Gospel.

Wrong. One item that’s discussed is the discrepant genealogies in Matthew and Luke. Internal consistency is about coherence with one another.

I. Authorship

Matthew Ferguson, a Ph.D. graduate student in Classics at the University of California, Irvine, states:

The mainstream scholarly view is that the Gospels are anonymous works, written in a different language than that of Jesus, in distant lands, after a substantial gap of time, by unknown persons, compiling, redacting, and inventing various traditions in order to provide a narrative of Christianity’s central figure, Jesus Christ, to confirm the faith of their communities.

(13) Names given in the gospels almost perfectly match names discovered by archeology from the time.  Bauckham explains this fact, which shows that in fact, the gospels must have been extremely close to 1st Century Palestine in their reporting.

All this is saying is that the names were common at the time.

(14) No “substantial gap” in time existed — not beyond ordinary memory

A substantial gap did exist, enough to put a strain on ordinary memory. Go back to our discussion on John Loftus’ blog. I refuse to rake over old coals.

(15) We probably do know two or three of the authors of the gospels.  Bauckham’s book has been extremely well-received by top scholars.

Which scholars? You accuse me of an “error,” but I see you’re exempt from committing what you called an error. Take your own advice.

Even conservative scholars like Craig Blomberg accept this conclusion, so if you’re the type of Christian to bypass that and say the Gospels were written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, you might as well continue in your delusions.

(16)  What, the author of The Historical Reliability of the Gospels, and The Historical Reliability of John?  I think Blomberg’s true views are being misrepresented here. A direct quote would help.

Craig Blomberg states:

“It’s important to acknowledge that strictly speaking, the gospels are anonymous.”

Strobel’s The Case for Christ (p.22)

(17) But the alternative, again, is not that “the Gospels were written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John” per se.  Straw man.

You do realize I’m dealing with the claims of everyday Christians, yes? This is the alternative according to them. Hence I am debasing that alternative. Another Christian named Stephen Bedard, whose review I’m choosing to ignore, had this to say:

“Secondly, this does nothing to diminish the historical value of the Gospels. It is possible that the Gospels were not written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John (although I think a good case can be made for traditional authorship) and they would still be good sources.”

Emphasis mine. He’s an everyday Christian as he’s not a qualified scholar. He clearly thinks the Gospels were written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

The related delusion is that these accounts were written by eyewitnesses. It is also a matter of consensus that the Gospels were not written by eyewitnesses. B

(18) No, it is not.  Majority opinion, perhaps, but not consensus.

From Ferguson:

“To provide a good overview of the majority opinion about the Gospels, the Oxford Annotated Bible (a compilation of multiple scholars summarizing dominant scholarly trends for the last 150 years) states (pg. 1744):

“Neither the evangelists nor their first readers engaged in historical analysis. Their aim was to confirm Christian faith (Lk 1.4; Jn 20.31). Scholars generally agree that the Gospels were written forty to sixty years after the death of Jesus. They thus do not present eyewitness or contemporary accounts of Jesus’ life and teachings.”

You wrongly attributed this to him earlier and then proceeded to rant. Rant against Oxford for making this claim. Go after the scholarly trends for the last century and a half.

That the authors don’t tell us who they are is a glaring issue because the authors of historical accounts identify themselves, e.g., Jospephus, Suetonius. It’s an issue, but it can be overcome. Tacitus, for instance, did not identify himself. Thus, this need not be the deciding factor in concluding that the Gospels are historically unreliable. The question remains, however, how exactly does one identify the author of a historical text. Though we’re not discussing external attestation and internal consistency just yet, these points relate to how we find out who the author of such a text is. It is widely recognized that there’s not one generally accepted method for doing this, but there are reliable ways. Matthew Ferguson outlines one way in which we identify the author of an ancient historical text:

“Scholars generally look for both internal and external evidence when determining the author of an ancient text. The internal evidence consists of whatever evidence we have within a given text. This can include the author identifying himself, or mentioning persons and events that he witnessed, or using a particular writing style that we know to be used by a specific person, etc. The external evidence consists of whatever evidence we have outside a given text. This can include another author quoting the work, a later critic proposing a possible authorial attribution, what we know about the biography of the person to whom the work is attributed, etc.”

This is more or less the smoking gun. If we have either of these, but preferably both, we have no reason to doubt the authorship of the text. To go with an example you’re no doubt familiar with, no one can reasonably doubt the authorship of the authentic Pauline Epistles: 1 and 2 Corinthians , Galatians, Philemon, Philippians, Romans, and 1 Thessalonians. This can’t be reasonably doubted because Paul identifies himself within the text. Yet the ones that are doubted– Ephesians, Colossians, 2 Thessalonians, Hebrews, 1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus–are doubted for one of the reasons cited above. The non-authentic Pauline Epistles are written in a palpably different style that doesn’t match the style of the authentic ones. That there are only seven authentic Pauline Epistles is a matter of scholarly consensus as well. Ephesians was and still is disputed, but it is likelier that Ephesians is not authentic . . .

(19) The author again confuses the difference between “consensus”and “majority opinion.”  Personally, I think Ephesians and Colossians especially match Paul’s style (and thought) very closely, while Hebrews obviously does not.

Consensus or majority opinion, your opinion doesn’t hold a candle to either one. The consensus, in a scholarly discussion, according to Merriam-Webster is, “the judgment arrived at by most of those concerned.” So consensus just is the opinion of a qualified majority. You do not fall into that majority. More on that later.

Aside from this, since the original manuscripts aren’t available, we don’t know whether these titles were original to the text. Bart Ehrman explains that the titles can’t be traced back to the original manuscripts and that it is highly likely that the titles were added afterward by scribes.

The fact remains that there’s no external attestation. Pliny, for instance, confirms that Tacitus wrote Historae. No one confirms that Mark, for instance, wrote the Gospel of Mark.

(20) Papias obviously attests to the authorship of books by the four writers now identified as the authors of the gospels.  He may have had in mind a different Gospel of Matthew.  Justin and others also attest, in the 2nd Century, to the authorship of the gospels.

Papias and Justin Martyr aren’t considered historians. They’re second century apologists who had a vested interest in the authorship of the Gospels. In fact, Papias is credited with starting the tradition on the Gospels’ authorship. He states: “[John] The Elder used to say: Mark, in his capacity as Peter’s interpreter, wrote down accurately as many things as he recalled from memory—though not in an ordered form—of the things either said or done by the Lord.” Eusebius would later claim that John the Elder wrote the Book of Revelation, a book that Eusebius considered heretical. These men were more interested in substantiating the authority of their canonical scriptures so as to invalidate the scriptures of them they considered heretics. It would seem that in an attempts to uproot heresy, they would go as far as to disagree with one another and disagree on what was considered canonical and what wasn’t.

The problem is the Christian’s starting point. Their claim is fixed and is therefore the “truth claim.” They then try to find only that evidence which seems to agree with they’re presumed conclusion. This is confirmation bias.

(21)  This is psychobabble.  No particular person has been named, yet, still less any particular error exposed, still less its psychological origins demonstrated.

Confirmation bias is pervasive among Christians and it manifests itself in different ways. This is why creationists quote mine. This is why intelligent design advocates quote the same three or four Ph.Ds. This is why David Marshall lauds the scholars who argue to his favored conclusion and rails against the scholars who don’t.

This is what I mean when I call someone intellectually dishonest. They do not research first and then conclude. They draw a comforting conclusion and then seek evidence; some don’t even care about evidence or change the meaning of evidence so that it is easier for them to disqualify unfavorable facts. At any rate, the authorship of the Gospels is a settled matter: the Gospels are anonymous works and aside from the pretended expertise of layman and the books of dishonest apologists like Lee Strobel, there’s no way around that.

(22) It is not academically credible to identify an opposing position with a layman like Strobel, when serious academics like Bauckham (backed up by the likes of NT Wright) argue in great detail, and quite famously, for the same position.

Again, I’m arguing against the claims everyday Christians make. Everyday Christians don’t read Bauckham and Wright. I’ve heard of Wright from a literal handful of Christians. I’ve not heard of Bauckham from any of them. Strobel, Licona, and Craig are the usual suspects. But like you said, the serious academics argue for the same positions. Unfortunately, they’re not as famous as you think, since Christians rarely mention any of them. That’s just the reality. It’s a shame you’re so disconnected from everyday Christians.

(23) It is also uncharitable and unwarranted (by anything shown) to accuse Strobel of not caring about the evidence — still less, the masses of unnamed Christians the author refers to.  Does Strobel ever argue, “I believe in Jesus because Matthew was written by Matthew?”  If so, let this person offer a quote.

Remember whose claims I’m addressing.

II. Genre

When concerning the genre of the Gospels, it is not straightforwardly obvious to Christians that they are not historical accounts. Christians with more literalist bents can’t see it any other way. This goes back to starting with a comforting conclusion.

(24) More tendentious psychobabble in lieu of reason.

Confirmation bias once again. They need the Gospel Jesus to exist. Without that Jesus, Christianity is just another religion.

(25) What does the word “historical” mean here?  Belonging to the genre of ancient Greek history?  Or historically truthful in its affirmations about the past?  I think I see Ferguson’s practice of gross equivocation on the tarmack, awaiting liftoff.

Both, but definitely more of the latter. I’m not equivocating. Their genre isn’t history nor are they historical in the way we understand it, i.e., relaying a factual account of the events in question.

The conclusion is that Jesus was god and that therefore, the acts attributed to him in the Gospels actually happened. Otherwise, it would be difficult to conclude that he was god incarnate. Take away all of these fantastical acts and all you have is an itinerant first century preacher.

(26) No, the reasoning is the other way around, as is quite clear already in the Gospels.  “He even opens the eyes of a man born blind!  Who is this fellow?”

No. I’m talking about modern Christian claims and not the purported claims made in the Gospels.

(27)  More begging of the question.  As Jesus himself asked, why shouldn’t God raise the dead?

You might want to stop accusing a philosopher of fallacies you can’t define. Furthermore, they’re inapplicable, since you’ve lost sight of my intended audience.

This is precisely who the historical Jesus was according to the majority of scholars. They have, in other words, favored a minimal historicist conclusion. They have, for all intents and purposes, stripped Jesus of the divinity he demonstrated in the stories told by the Gospels. In any case, the Gospels aren’t historical accounts. Matthew Ferguson outlines the criteria historical texts meet:

“The genre of ancient historical prose has key features that are crucial to understanding which works belong to the category and why they are more trustworthy than sources that do not. It is not enough for a text to simply talk about things that took place in the past, even when the content deals with real people and locations. A historical text must investigate and probe these matters, discussing the research process involved, so that it does not merely provide a story, but a plausible interpretation of what took place.”

(28) As I said, gross equivocation.  Ferguson is conflating historical genre with historicity.  But not all truthful writings of the past belong to the genre of history.

I’m sure you’ve taken that up with him and received thorough correction. He has addressed all of your laymen accusations.

Right away, if we call to mind the content of the Gospels, we will quickly notice that the Gospels meet none of these criteria. They don’t accurately represent the past events in question. In fact, the Gospels embellish and mythologize and thus, make it quite difficult to find the historical tidbits contained within them.

(29) More begging of the question.  Pure Hume: “My world doesn’t allow God to act, so anyone who says they saw God act must be lying.” Sorry for your world, but it’s too small for the rest of us to fit.

Matthew Ferguson addressed this as well. We aren’t assuming naturalism. We’re weighing probabilities. Go back to my Pilate example. We don’t even need to get into the supernatural stuff. But while we’re at it, supernaturalism is a slippery slope. Religious folk, like yourself, only seek to qualify their own supernatural claims and yet, they have no criteria to disqualify similar claims made by adherents of other religions. Sure, you can say it’s the devil or demons, but that doesn’t tell us skeptics anything. So you’re actually begging the question. All we are arguing is that in a very superstitious, syncretist society, it is highly unlikely that someone actually walked on water or ascended into heaven in broad daylight. Again, why stop there? What’s stopping you from qualifying the miracles of other religions of the time and after? I know what’s stopping you: patently Christian predilections.

They also do not investigate these events or offer plausible interpretations of what happened. More specifically, they don’t explain how or why a given event happened. Ferguson continues:

“As someone who studies ancient historical writing in the original Greek and Latin languages, it is clear to me that the Gospels are not historical writing. These texts instead read like ancient prose novels. In all but Luke, we do not hear anything about the written sources that the authors consulted (and even the author of Luke does not name them, explain their contents, or discuss how they are relevant as sources), the authors of the Gospels do not discuss how they learned their stories or what their personal relations are to these events, and even when John claims to have an eyewitness disciple “whom Jesus loved,” the gospel does not even bother to name or identify this mysterious figure (most likely an invention of the author). Instead, the Gospels provide story-like narratives, where the authors omnisciently narrate everything that occurs rather than engage in any form of critical analysis. Accordingly, the Gospels all fall short from the criteria that can be used to categorize a piece of historical prose.”

(30) As someone who has read all extant ancient Greek novels (in English), Ferguson is so far wrong, it isn’t even funny.  Not a one of them looks remotely like the gospels.   There are dozens of differences that are highly significant and favorable to the gospels historically — as I begin to show with Ferguson’s favorite example, The Contest of Hesiod and Homer.

Once again with your obsession with Ferguson. Take this up with him. But honestly, I prefer the person who reads these novels in their original language over someone who has to read them in English because he’s too unqualified to speak on these matters.

(31) The authors of the gospels were much closer to the events than the authors of many ancient histories, which far and away makes up for failure to name sources.  (Out of safety concerns, perhaps.)

Perhaps, but you still haven’t addressed my point: the Gospels aren’t histories. You’ve appealed to authority, begged the question, and alluded to arguments that lie somewhere in the privacy of your consciousness. As is common with you, you didn’t summarize these arguments or give me anything to consider.

(32) Obviously it is not that John “did not bother to name” the beloved disciple — more psychobabble.

That’s actually relevant, but since you have nothing better to say, you settle for a meaningless sentence.

(33) “Story-like narratives?”  What other kind are there?

As to what kind are there, there are historical narratives that don’t have a group of disciples behaving abnormally. Follow me and I’ll make you a fisher of men. Sure dude, we’ll quit our jobs and follow you.

(34) Ancient Greek historians often go for long, long stretches without naming sources.  This is, at best, a secondary characteristic.

Yet you can’t say that Ancient Greek historians never name sources, so this is another meaningless sentence.

(35) The author simply overlooks the dozens of traits in the gospels that render them, in fact, highly credible historical accounts, which I will describe in detail in the upcoming book.  (And some of which have been part of the scholarly conversation for decades.)

Why not describe them here? Afraid an “amateur” can continue to prove that you’re not the expert you claim to be?

This is the arguably the primary reason they’re historically unreliable: they don’t even qualify as historical accounts in the first place.

(36) Equivocation.

Please go look that word up. It makes no sense as a response to what I said above.

If we cannot establish that these are historical accounts, then we can’t even begin to talk about whether they’re historically reliable. It stands to reason that they have to be proven historical texts before we begin to have a conversation about whether the text honors what actually took place and whether it adequately explains and interprets these events. A Christian can claim, for example, that Jesus walking on water is the “truth claim.” Yet this doesn’t read as a historical account, much less a reliable one. We have an isolated event that is told in a story-like manner in where the writer narrates his account from an omniscient point of view. There is no investigation, no explanation of why this happened, and no plausible interpretation for this rare feat.

Aside from that, there is absolutely zero outside attestation of this event .  . .

(37) Again, “outside attestation” should properly include “from other early sources,” other gospels.

Sure, let’s get the Gospel of Peter, so we can read the only extant resurrection account. Jesus walks out with two gargantuan angels (see The Gospel of Peter, verses 35-40). As Ehrman states in an article he wrote for the Huffington Post:

“Remarkably, the Gospels of the New Testament do not tell the story of Jesus emerging from the tomb on Easter morning. But the Gospel of Peter does. In this text, discovered near the end of the nineteenth century, Jesus comes out of the tomb as tall as a mountain, supported by two angels, nearly as tall themselves. And behind them, from the tomb, there emerges the cross, which has a conversation with God in heaven, assuring him that the message of salvation has now gone to those in the underworld. How a Gospel like this was ever lost is anyone’s guess.”

Other gospels do not count. That’s selective by the way because you’re definitely going to want to omit parts of these other gospels (perhaps the talking cross!). So you’ll essentially take what confirms what you already think is true and throw away what you think is false or ludicrous. See what I mean by confirmation bias?

(38) And in fact, there is attestation from outside even all the NT for much of Jesus’ life — that he lived, preached, did miracles, died, and was said to have risen from the dead.

Yeah? Which sources corroborate the miraculous stuff?

For our purposes though, it is useful to note Ferguson’s observations concerning the type of biographies the Gospels attempt to be–namely ones that focus on Jesus’ moral character and personality:

  1. The Gospels are anonymous in the composition, just like the popular biographies of Homer, Aesop, and Alexander.

3. The Gospels do not discuss their sources or methodology, which is a feature of more historical and scholarly biographies. Instead, like the popular biographies of Homer, Aesop, and Alexander the Great, they are less critical, more hagiographical, and include more legends and myth-making.

And that point.

That last point speaks to the exact genre of the Gospels.

As they stand, they are mythological hagiographies. As a point of comparison, Ferguson goes on to speak of Alexander the Great, since myths about him became ubiquitous shortly after his death.

“As Kris Komarnitsky discusses in “Myth Growth Rates and the Gospels,” fictional biographies emerged about Alexander the Great within half a century of his death, just as the Gospels were written about Jesus roughly 40-60 years after his death. As the comparison with the Alexander Romance shows, a biography is not historically reliable simply because it is written only a few decades after the subject’s death, since many popular ancient biographies were written within that span, even for historical figures like Alexander the Great, and yet they included large amounts of legendary development. This form of biography likewise does not engage in the source analysis and methodology that is necessary to make an ancient text historically reliable.”

(39) The Alexandrian Romance is a particularly hilarious comparison to the gospels.  But did anyone say, “This story is early, so it must be true?”

It isn’t a hilarious comparison when you consider that both are myths. It’s hilarious because you call the one historical and the other myth.

Ferguson eventually concludes that the Gospels resemble the Septuagint more than Greco-Roman biographies.

“It should also be noted that, unlike historical Graeco-Roman biographies, the Septuagint is not as methodologically rigorous, and almost never discusses the sources or the methods of investigation used to construct narratives. This may very likely account for why the Gospels are not similar to ancient Graeco-Roman historiography. Since historical biographies, such as those of Plutarch and Suetonius, overlapped with this category, the Gospels are not very similar to them as well, though they may share features with popular Graeco-Roman biographies, such as those of the Alexander Romance.”

(40) It is not very convincing to cite a grad student with an unestablished thesis against Burridge, whose thesis that the gospels are bioi has convinced many eminent scholars.  Especially without engaging his arguments.

Again, Burridge argues that they were considered biography in the early centuries, which isn’t the same as arguing that they’re still considered such. Nice ad hominem by the way. Ferguson is a grad student and that says what exactly? At least he didn’t get his degree from a degree mill that’s actually a church. You pretty much confirmed that yourself. You’re a counterfeit scholar. Matthew is real currency.

(41) Discussion of sources, again.  Repeating that one very minor point ad infinitum will not buy you a cup of  coffee at Starbucks, nor should it convince any critical thinker.  In fact, ancient novelists often DO discuss their “sources.”  But the writer of the Analects does not.

A critical thinker you are not. More on this later.

III. External Attestation

As stated earlier, we cannot have external attestation of Jesus walking on water. According to the myth, it happened during a storm, so there’s no conceivable way an ancient historian would have been out in the storm seeing this all unfold.

(42) Now this is a truly bizarre argument.  Is the writer maintaining that the disciples were all blind?  That would be a dangerous affliction indeed for a group of fishermen.  The reports all say they were nearby in a boat, and that they saw Jesus.  Why is it incredible that fishermen who have spent their lives on the sea, should manage to see a person in a vertical position rising above the plain of the water?  If that were the case, they would have crashed into any number of reefs, logs,and other less prominent objects, and won a Darwin Award, long since.

This is begging the question. You haven’t established that they’re eyewitness accounts and yet you’re assuming that the disciples were eyewitnesses to this event. Outside attestation would come from someone else who saw the event. As I argued, it is unlikely someone could see through a heavy storm. Thus, there can’t be any outside attestation for some of the Gospel myths.

One might argue, however, that there is historical attestation for the existence of Jesus. In this section, I simply want to throw the external attestations into disarray. I, in other words, want Christians to question Josephus, Tacitus, Suetonius, and so on. I want them to realize that these external attestations aren’t as reliable as they’ve been led to believe.

(43) Again, “external attestation” must be described in reference to a single document, not a collection of documents by different writers, like the gospels.  They provide independent attestation for one another.

They don’t. That’s an unsubstantiated claim, a mere assumption. Bible scholars recognize that there’s content in Matthew and Luke that do not occur in Mark. Then there is content in John that doesn’t occur in any of the them. This is why the Q source was proposed, to account for the content that Matthew and Luke share, content that they didn’t get from Mark. Whatever they do agree on is, sure enough, content found in one of the previous Synoptic Gospels that was then either redacted or expanded upon. Even then, there’s still vast disagreement. Go back to my set of inconsistencies.

Did Jeus carry the cross the entire way or did Simon of Cyrene carry it for him; Mark 15:21 or Luke 23:26 and John 19:17?  Did one robber mock him or did both; Matthew 27:44 or Luke 23:39-40?  Did the curtain rip before or after; Mark 15:37-38 or Luke 23:45-46?  Who went to the tomb–did Mary Magdalene go alone or did she have company and if so, how much company; Mark 16:1-3 (Mary Magdalene goes with Mary and Salome) or Matthew 28:1 (Mary Magdalene goes with just Mary) or John 20:1 (she goes alone)?  Was there one man or one angel in the tomb (Mark 16:4 or Matthew 28:2-3) or were there two men or two angels (Luke 24:4 or John 20:11-12)?  Was the stone rolled away or not; Mark 16:3-4 or Matthew 28:2?  Where’s this earthquake in the other Gospels by the way?  Were the disciples to stay in Jerusalem or were they to go to Galilee (Mark 16:7 and Matthew 28:7or the silence of Luke and John on whether or not to go to Galilee)?  Did the women tell the disciples or did they stay silent?  As Ehrman says, it depends which Gospel you read.

(44) I feel Richard Carrier coming on.  That in itself is a logical fallacy.

I feel more ad hominem coming on, which is actually a fallacy.

For starters, Christians who think that the miraculous acts found in the Gospels are historical are confronted by an unfavorable fact: none of the extra-biblical sources confirm any of Jesus’ miracles. My purposes here aren’t so much to show that they fail to mention any of his miraculous acts, but that they might also fail to mention him altogether.

(45)  Actually, they do refer to his resurrection, the most important of them.  And that he was a worker of miracles.  And why would one expect any more than that?  Heck, important Greek historians write 400 books without even so much as mentioning the existence of the Jewish people!

What source, outside of the Gospels, corroborates the resurrection? Other gospels? The Gospel of Peter? We just went over that. Again, keeping what you like and discarding what you don’t like I see.

A. Josephus

We’ll begin by discussing the Testimonium Flavianum. There isn’t much debate about it’s authenticity. Christian apologists will have us believe that, but there have been a few nails in this coffin for quite some time. Richard Carrier put the last nail in the coffin…

Surprise, surprise.  Guessed right.  I’ve exposed enough about that crackpot on this blog over the years, that I think I can rest on my laurels now, and stop at 45.

And just skip Goldberg who you didn’t address? I guess he’s also a crackpot simply because he doesn’t agree with you. More ad hominem.

(46) Enough to add, most scholars, including atheists, think Josephus DOES report on Jesus.  It is possible that this one time Carrier is right, and the full weight of scholarship he opposes (as usual, he is the Donald Trump of New Testament studies) is wrong.  The problem here is the utter failure of “Academic Atheism” to so much as mention the little fact that almost all scholars disagree with the fringe scholar he or she is citing.  That’s academic malpractice, end of story.

Personally, though, I could hardly care less about Josephus.  I maintain that the evidence for historicity within the gospels is so strong, that distant shout-outs by random Roman historians several decades later, add no more to that total weight than a feather to the top of Mount Tai.

Actually, the consensus is that Josephus contains interpolations. It is still problematic.

(47) The author goes on to critique other extra-biblical sources, which matters no more to me, and seems no more likely to succeed against the weight of scholarship.  He then points out that there are numerous conflicts in the various accounts given by the gospels about details in Jesus’ life.

I guess you can’t address any of it. But then again, you’ve already assumed that the Gospels are histories.

He should read more ancient history.  Arrian alone points to far more discrepancies among the historians who act as his sources, when he chronicles the life of Alexander, some of thos errors quite serious.  That’s normal.  It moves no modern historian whom I know of to deny either the existence of Alexandria, or the broad outline of his life that Arrian details.  That is simply not how history is done.  One expects the perspective of witnesses to differ.  Indeed, prosecutors become suspicious when witnesses agree too closely.

Talking to yourself I see. The historians are my sources now? If not me, who are you talking about? What does Arrian detail? What discrepancies are you alluding to?

What is remarkable about this article is the discrepancy between the author’s claim to “academic” quality writing, and its actual amateurish quality.  He or she relies heavily on two scholars, one of whom has yet to earn a terminal degree, the other of whom has no teaching position, has made no impact on the scholarly world, and has a reputation for wild theories, over-heated rhetoric, and an astonishing, often almost comic, degree of self-importance out of proportion to his success.  These two scholars he cites uncritically, without any awareness that doubts have been expressed about their theories, still less of counter-arguments.   His (or her) own writing shows little independent awareness of the issues or the texts.   It is full of tendentious rhetoric, straw men, sweeping but vague slurs, and claims that beg extremely important questions (like what kind of universe we actually live in!).

This is how bad habits of mind reproduce.

This is the same mistake other Christians make. Academic Atheism implies that I’m highlighting the work of academic atheists. I am not claiming to be an academic. In fact, I don’t consider myself one just yet. But I can assure you, I’m not going to a degree mill to get degrees in philosophy. I’m at an accredited school and if everything lines up, I will follow in Massimo Pigliucci’s footsteps and attend CUNY Graduate School. The rest is more ad hominem from someone who couldn’t define a fallacy if it slapped him across the face.

Ultimately, you’ve only pretended to address my post. You committed various fallacies, most pronounced of which being a constant appeal to authority and a serious case of confirmation bias. A critical thinker’s first step is doing away with confirmation bias, what Michael Shermer calls “the mother of all biases” (Shermer 2012, p.259). The rate at and negligence with which you commit these fallacies tells me that you’re not a critical thinker. Before addressing posts like mine, you have to address your persistent cognitive and logical shortcomings. That isn’t an attempt at insult; it’s honest advice.

One comment

  1. seeker

    You’re not the first person to discover that David Marshall is dishonest.

    I posted an essay a while back documenting a couple dozen obvious falsehoods in his book about the new atheism, and Marshall responded to some of those allegations by simply conjuring up even more falsehoods, some of which were even more blatant than the falsehood he was trying to defend. It’s like Marshall was *trying* to look dishonest. He really seemed like a pathological liar on many occasions.

    Anyway, I hope you enjoy the essay. Once you read it, you’ll think twice before ever trusting him again.

    Note: Since you cite Michael Shermer yourself, you might find it particularly interesting that Michael Shermer figures prominently in one of Marshall’s most blatant falsehoods.


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