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Thread: Jesus Christ - Historicity and Mythicism Theories

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    Administrator lpetrich's Avatar
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    Jesus Christ - Historicity and Mythicism Theories

    Here is a classification of them:
    • The Gospels are completely historical, complete with Jesus Christ working all his miracles: conjuring up bread and fish, turning water into wine, zapping a fig tree, rising from the dead, ...
    • The non-miraculous parts of the Gospels are completely historical, and Jesus Christ only seemed to work miracles without actually doing so. Like his audience discovering that they had plenty of bread and fish with them, the "swoon theory" of his resurrection, that he only passed out, ...
    • The non-miraculous parts of the Gospels are completely historical, while the miracles came from the imaginations of later storytellers.
    • The non-miraculous parts of the Gospels are partially historical, like the Synoptics being largely historical and John being an invention, like Plato's Dialogues.
    • The Gospels are almost completely unhistorical, yet there was a historical JC. Much like the Rastafarian Haile Selassie vs. the real one.
    • Jesus Christ was originally a sort-of god or angel with the Gospels originally being allegories about him. He was later interpreted as having a human existence.
    • Jesus Christ was invented as part of some conspiracy, like by the Flavian emperors (~80 CE) or by Emperor Constantine (~330 CE).


    I propose doing a thought experiment: going back in time to Palestine around 30 - 33 CE. Imagine that you could make yourself totally inconspicuous, dressing like the local people, speaking their languages fluently, being able to understand their languages, and being able to surreptitiously record whatever you wanted to. What would you observe? Would you discover a historical Jesus Christ? What would you watch him say and do? Would you be able to get video of him (say) rising from the dead?

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    Junior Member Torin's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by lpetrich View Post
    The Gospels are completely historical, complete with Jesus Christ working all his miracles: conjuring up bread and fish, turning water into wine, zapping a fig tree, rising from the dead, ...
    This is ruled out by Hume's objection to the argument from miracles: A miracle is a violation of a law of nature, which is an inductive generalization with a mountain of evidence in its favor. So when we weigh the evidence in favor of the miracle (which is just the Gospels) against the evidence against the miracle (which is the aforementioned mountain of evidence), we will always be obligated to conclude that the miracle did not happen.

    The rest of your possibilities may be true, but there is probably no way to know for sure which one is correct, and they don't have much religious significance.

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    Administrator lpetrich's Avatar
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    You can read the original here: Hume on Miracles in his book "An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding", published in 1748. He proposed that a miracle is only plausible if its non-occurrence would be a bigger miracle than it.

    He also noted that miracles have a sort of shyness effect, occurring away from where there would be good documentation of them. He also asks where all the miracles went. Why were there big miracles in centuries past, and not in his day? He was writing over 250 years ago, and what he wrote is still true.

    In Why I Don't Buy the Resurrection Story: General Case for Insufficiency - The Event is Not Proportionate to the Theory Richard Carrier proposes this version: "No Miracles Today Implies None Then".

    That is also evident in miracles allegedly worked by saints. In the Middle Ages, they worked lots of them, while recent saints' miracles are almost incredibly paltry by comparison.

    But I must note:

    John Locke: An Essay Concerning Human Understanding Book IV Chapter XV:
    If I myself see a man walk on the ice, it is past probability; it is knowledge. But if another tells me he saw a man in England, in the midst of a sharp winter, walk upon water hardened with cold, this has so great conformity with what is usually observed to happen that I am disposed by the nature of the thing itself to assent to it; unless some manifest suspicion attend the relation of that matter of fact. But if the same thing be told to one born between the tropics, who never saw nor heard of any such thing before, there the whole probability relies on testimony: and as the relators are more in number, and of more credit, and have no interest to speak contrary to the truth, so that matter of fact is like to find more or less belief. Though to a man whose experience has always been quite contrary, and who has never heard of anything like it, the most untainted credit of a witness will scarce be able to find belief.

    The king of Siam. As it happened to a Dutch ambassador, who entertaining the king of Siam with the particularities of Holland, which he was inquisitive after, amongst other things told him that the water in his country would sometimes, in cold weather, be so hard that men walked upon it, and that it would bear an elephant, if he were there. To which the king replied, Hitherto I have believed the strange things you have told me, because I look upon you as a sober fair man, but now I am sure you lie.

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    Administrator lpetrich's Avatar
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    Of my OP's possibilities, the second one may be called a maximalist non-miraculous historical scenario, while the Haile Selassie scenario may be called a minimalist historical one. Most historical-Jesus scenarios lie somewhere in between, and the minimalist scenario is very close to mythicism.

    The second-to-last scenario is essentially Earl Doherty's scenario, recently advocated by Richard Carrier in "On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We may Have Reason to Doubt".

    The last scenario's two main variants are:

    We can safely dismiss them as crackpottery.

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    Quote Originally Posted by lpetrich View Post
    Here is a classification of them:
    • The Gospels are completely historical, complete with Jesus Christ working all his miracles: conjuring up bread and fish, turning water into wine, zapping a fig tree, rising from the dead, ...
    • The non-miraculous parts of the Gospels are completely historical, and Jesus Christ only seemed to work miracles without actually doing so. Like his audience discovering that they had plenty of bread and fish with them, the "swoon theory" of his resurrection, that he only passed out, ...
    • The non-miraculous parts of the Gospels are completely historical, while the miracles came from the imaginations of later storytellers.
    • The non-miraculous parts of the Gospels are partially historical, like the Synoptics being largely historical and John being an invention, like Plato's Dialogues.
    • The Gospels are almost completely unhistorical, yet there was a historical JC. Much like the Rastafarian Haile Selassie vs. the real one.
    • Jesus Christ was originally a sort-of god or angel with the Gospels originally being allegories about him. He was later interpreted as having a human existence.
    • Jesus Christ was invented as part of some conspiracy, like by the Flavian emperors (~80 CE) or by Emperor Constantine (~330 CE).


    I propose doing a thought experiment: going back in time to Palestine around 30 - 33 CE. Imagine that you could make yourself totally inconspicuous, dressing like the local people, speaking their languages fluently, being able to understand their languages, and being able to surreptitiously record whatever you wanted to. What would you observe? Would you discover a historical Jesus Christ? What would you watch him say and do? Would you be able to get video of him (say) rising from the dead?
    I'd much rather go back to the time when the writers of the original stories were writing their stories. All writers write from experience but that does not mean that all writing is translatable into a distinct experience that we can lift from the page and see happening in the real world. Writers are artists and inventors.

    So I'd like to sit alongside the authors, I'd much rather pal up with them than just hang out.

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    I covered this in a philosophy of religion class, taught by a Catholic.

    In the day there were multiple claimants to the messiah title. Some opportunistic bandits.

    Jesus would have been one of many, wandering preachers talking about doom of one kind or another. I believe the Essenes were an apocalyptic group talking about a looming battle between good and evil, likely Rome and Israel.

    The Jews were feeling nationalistic and pressed by Rome. They thought the messiah would return Israel to power and glory.

    IMO there probably was a flesh and blood Jesus on which the tales were spun. Or possibly the gospels refer to a group of people. Not a specific person but a movement. Jesus being a talking point or reference point. That could explain the disjointed gospels.

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    At this point we need alien contact -- specifically, with an advanced species that has archival footage in some format of all human history. They could gently but surgically excise the religious stuff with a week of Hallmark specials: "Here's our complete coverage of the death and burial of Jesus, and as you can see, there's no earthquake, no people coming out of graves, no rending of the temple veil, no walking Jesus." Next night: "Here's a complete life of Muhammad, and as you can see by RapidScan (TM), there's no horseback ride into the sky." Next night: "Here's the complete life of Joseph Smith, and we can show you that the golden plates were a bunch of horse shoes covered with a rag. Any questions?" Final night: "If you're still Jonesing for that old time religion, we'll cure that tonight with complete footage of the Jim Bakker/Jessica Hahn monkey tussle."

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    Fair dinkum thinkum bilby's Avatar
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    Well we don't need aliens for that.

    We just need to send really large mirror into space at significantly more than half the speed of light (relative to Earth).

    If you take three years to get a mirror to a point two lightyears away, then you can point your telescope at it, and see the stuff that was happening last year (as the light it reflects has had to travel 4ly to arrive back here). So if you can accelerate a large mirror to 0.667c, then in 6,000 years you will be able to see what happened 2,000 years ago reflected in the mirror.

    Obviously you will need a pretty good telescope to resolve individual and recognizable human individuals from 4,000ly away; And you probably need to launch three mirrors in different directions, so that your view isn't blocked by the rotation of the Earth at some critical point. The mirrors are going to need to be quite big, too. So there may be a few technical issues that need to be resolved.

    But at least we won't be dependent on aliens to help out.

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    Fair dinkum thinkum bilby's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by lpetrich View Post
    You can read the original here: Hume on Miracles in his book "An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding", published in 1748. He proposed that a miracle is only plausible if its non-occurrence would be a bigger miracle than it.

    He also noted that miracles have a sort of shyness effect, occurring away from where there would be good documentation of them. He also asks where all the miracles went. Why were there big miracles in centuries past, and not in his day? He was writing over 250 years ago, and what he wrote is still true.

    In Why I Don't Buy the Resurrection Story: General Case for Insufficiency - The Event is Not Proportionate to the Theory Richard Carrier proposes this version: "No Miracles Today Implies None Then".

    That is also evident in miracles allegedly worked by saints. In the Middle Ages, they worked lots of them, while recent saints' miracles are almost incredibly paltry by comparison.

    But I must note:

    John Locke: An Essay Concerning Human Understanding Book IV Chapter XV:
    If I myself see a man walk on the ice, it is past probability; it is knowledge. But if another tells me he saw a man in England, in the midst of a sharp winter, walk upon water hardened with cold, this has so great conformity with what is usually observed to happen that I am disposed by the nature of the thing itself to assent to it; unless some manifest suspicion attend the relation of that matter of fact. But if the same thing be told to one born between the tropics, who never saw nor heard of any such thing before, there the whole probability relies on testimony: and as the relators are more in number, and of more credit, and have no interest to speak contrary to the truth, so that matter of fact is like to find more or less belief. Though to a man whose experience has always been quite contrary, and who has never heard of anything like it, the most untainted credit of a witness will scarce be able to find belief.

    The king of Siam. As it happened to a Dutch ambassador, who entertaining the king of Siam with the particularities of Holland, which he was inquisitive after, amongst other things told him that the water in his country would sometimes, in cold weather, be so hard that men walked upon it, and that it would bear an elephant, if he were there. To which the king replied, Hitherto I have believed the strange things you have told me, because I look upon you as a sober fair man, but now I am sure you lie.
    Of course, the King of Siam is correct to be highly skeptical; but his certainty that it is a lie is misplaced - not because agnosticism or skepticism is demanded for all claims, however strange, but because the claim as presented is testable, but has not yet been tested. The King could travel to a cold country, and observe for himself whether the claim has merit. Or the ambassador could bring ice to show to him - even in the C17th, large blocks of ice could be transported long distances using straw to insulate them (albeit they might be rather smaller at the conclusion of the journey than they were at its outset).

    The historicity of Jesus is untestable; But the existence of miracles is not. Ice may not be present in the tropics, but there's a solid and testable theoretical framework for why that should be the case. The absence of miracles in the present day has no such theoretical support.

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    Super Moderator Atheos's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bilby View Post
    Well we don't need aliens for that.

    We just need to send really large mirror into space at significantly more than half the speed of light (relative to Earth).

    If you take three years to get a mirror to a point two lightyears away, then you can point your telescope at it, and see the stuff that was happening last year (as the light it reflects has had to travel 4ly to arrive back here). So if you can accelerate a large mirror to 0.667c, then in 6,000 years you will be able to see what happened 2,000 years ago reflected in the mirror.

    Obviously you will need a pretty good telescope to resolve individual and recognizable human individuals from 4,000ly away; And you probably need to launch three mirrors in different directions, so that your view isn't blocked by the rotation of the Earth at some critical point. The mirrors are going to need to be quite big, too. So there may be a few technical issues that need to be resolved.

    But at least we won't be dependent on aliens to help out.
    That may be true but leave us not forget that the earths orbital diameter is 185 million miles so these mirrors would have to compensate for that. And of course there's the pesky fact that our solar system orbits galactic center point at a rate of 514,000 mph, so keeping the mirrors aligned while all this happens would be almost as difficult as calculating the rotational, orbital and galactic position necessary to get a DeLorean to continue travelling with the same inertia and from the same point on the surface of the planet after transporting 30 years into the future.

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