Abuse of Ancient History by New Testament Scholars

The catch-all forum for general topics and debates. Minimal moderation. Rated PG to PG-13.
_Kishkumen
_Emeritus
Posts: 21373
Joined: Sat Dec 13, 2008 10:00 pm

Abuse of Ancient History by New Testament Scholars

Post by _Kishkumen »

So the latest Mormon Stories podcast is up. In it, John Dehlin interviews a New Testament scholar and a Christian apologist, giving them the opportunity to rebut Bart Ehrman's perspective on Jesus. The NT scholar, Mike Licona, who is a professor of New Testament at Houston Baptist University, does his best to put forward the evidence for the historical Jesus.

What irks me to no end is his casual misuse of Ancient History. I don't know what it is about religious apologists and believing scholars. They love to trot out comparisons to Greek and Roman history, and very often they completely misconstrue and misuse it to make it sound like the historical case for Jesus is solider than it is. (And I say this as someone who believes it is sufficiently solid without these unforced errors.)

I present my transcription of Licona's comments, followed by my initial brief response to this miscarriage of history. I don't mean to pick on Professor Licona. Professor Licona is true to form. Most apologists and scholars of NT I have heard or read on the subject misrepresent the evidence from antiquity. In this they show themselves to be kinda sloppy when it comes to practicing sound historical methodology.

Prof. Licona wrote:OK. So. I don’t think you would find a single Classicist today who would doubt or historian who would doubt that Caesar was assassinated on March 15th in 44 BC. So, um, we have a number of sources who attest to that: Appian, Cicero, Dio, Livy, Nicolaus, Plutarch, Suetonius, and Velleius. The only testimony that’s even close there to being an eyewitness testimony is Cicero, and the way his letter that he mentions this in, um, it, it, he doesn’t even say he was there. Um, so he would have been alive at the time, but he doesn’t say he was there, but it’s just assumed that he is. That is the closest thing we have to eyewitness testimony, something written by an eyewitness on the assassination of Caesar . . . .


This is factually incorrect. We possess letters to Cicero and Mark Antony written by the two most famous of the conspirators, Brutus and Cassius, who plunged their daggers into Caesar on the Ides of March. It is hard to get more eyewitness than frank admissions from the perpetrators themselves, and this is what we have. The quality and credibility of this evidence when weighed against the evidence for Jesus is such that any statement failing to acknowledge the huge gap between them must be born of ignorance, incompetence, or both.

Such ignorance and incompetence, sadly, is endemic among NT scholars and apologists. Prof. Licona is not to be individually blamed. What is blameworthy is an educational system and ecclesiastical culture in which people holding PhDs are allowed to blather on about Ancient History, evidently without the foggiest clue about it, in the furtherance of their own arguments about Jesus.

Here is my suggestion to all NT scholars and Christian apologists (of different stripes, obviously including LDS):

Do not presume to pontificate on Ancient History just because you read somewhere some Christian scholar or apologist making what seemed to you a plausible claim favorably comparing the evidence for Jesus with some famous person or event in the history of antiquity.

Just don't do it. You're probably gonna get it wrong. No, it is simply not the case that the evidence for Jesus looks good next to the evidence for Alexander the Great or the assassination of Julius Caesar. In both cases, we have either fragments or complete texts from eyewitnesses to the lives of both men. Yes, we do possess references to the assassination of Caesar by the men who perpetrated the act and gloried in their handiwork.

You only get by perpetrating this offense against history (unconsciously, I am assuming) because too many people are ignorant of the facts. But I am losing patience with it, and it is getting to the point where I am beginning to feel it is my professional duty to make sure your inaccurate and misleading arguments are publicly answered.
"Petition wasn’t meant to start a witch hunt as I’ve said 6000 times." ~ Hanna Seariac, LDS apologist
_Morley
_Emeritus
Posts: 3542
Joined: Mon Apr 25, 2011 6:19 pm

Re: Abuse of Ancient History by New Testament Scholars

Post by _Morley »

Outstanding, Reverend. Thank you.
_aussieguy55
_Emeritus
Posts: 2122
Joined: Sat Nov 18, 2006 9:22 pm

Re: Abuse of Ancient History by New Testament Scholars

Post by _aussieguy55 »

If one looks at the resurrection in the gospels there are contradictions. How do they account for the number of women (and who they were, the fact they arrived in one account and the stone was already rolled away and in another they witness it. The temptation story also. Did Jesus dictate they to someone?
Hilary Clinton " I won the places that represent two-thirds of America's GDP.I won in places are optimistic diverse, dynamic, moving forward"
_Kishkumen
_Emeritus
Posts: 21373
Joined: Sat Dec 13, 2008 10:00 pm

Re: Abuse of Ancient History by New Testament Scholars

Post by _Kishkumen »

aussieguy55 wrote:If one looks at the resurrection in the gospels there are contradictions. How do they account for the number of women (and who they were, the fact they arrived in one account and the stone was already rolled away and in another they witness it. The temptation story also. Did Jesus dictate they to someone?


One of my other pet peeves in these historical Jesus apologetics is the use of historicity to bolster miraculous claims. It is a kind of bootstrapping, if you will. The idea is that if Jesus was a real person, then we can or must believe the miraculous claims about him. If there was a Jesus, and people claimed they saw him after his crucifixion, then the resurrection must be true, as well as all of the orthodox and credal theological concepts that deleloped as Christianity evolved and grew.

Of course, that’s complete nonsense. Evidence for the existence of a man named Yeshua who led a small group of people that believed he was a prophet or important teacher does not mean this person actually did perform miracles, was the literal son of God, or God himself, or, indeed, that he rose from the dead. Someone else’s perception that the Virgin Mary appeared in their toast does not oblige me to believe in the Virgin Mary, her Assumption into heaven, or any other theological claim.

It is also frustrating to watch Christians gloat over Mormon historicity problems as though the fairytales, false histories, con jobs, and bogus beliefs of millennia ago were sanctified by mere age. No, the fact that Ezra made it up does not make it more credible than Smith’s Book of Abraham. Genesis is a bunch of codswallop just as the Book of Abraham is. One may be superior in literary terms, but that makes it no more valid as a historical narrative.

It is about faith. Historical questions are great for understanding the vanished world that gave birth to a religion, but history does not make theology valid. The spiritual remains outside the purview of history. Feel free to believe the claims of disciples who believed they saw Jesus risen from the grave, but don’t try to press history into supporting your belief. It doesn’t.
Last edited by Guest on Tue Oct 30, 2018 11:04 am, edited 1 time in total.
"Petition wasn’t meant to start a witch hunt as I’ve said 6000 times." ~ Hanna Seariac, LDS apologist
_SteelHead
_Emeritus
Posts: 8261
Joined: Tue May 17, 2011 1:40 am

Re: Abuse of Ancient History by New Testament Scholars

Post by _SteelHead »

Kishkumen wrote:
aussieguy55 wrote:If one looks at the resurrection in the gospels there are contradictions. How do they account for the number of women (and who they were, the fact they arrived in one account and the stone was already rolled away and in another they witness it. The temptation story also. Did Jesus dictate they to someone?


One of my other pet peeves in these historical Jesus apologetics is the use of historicity to bolster miraculous claims. It is a kind of bootstrapping, if you will. The idea is that if Jesus was a real person, then we can or must believe the miraculous claims about him. If there was a Jesus, and people claimed they saw him after his crucifixion, then the resurrection must be true, as well as all of the orthodox and credal theological concepts that deleloped as Christianity evolved and grew.

Of course, that’s complete nonsense. Evidence for the existence of a man named Yeshua who led a small group of people that believed he was a prophet or important teacher does not mean this person actually did perform miracles, was the literal son of God, or God himself, or, indeed, that he rose from the dead. Someone else’s perception that the Virgin Mary appeared in their toast does not oblige me to believe in the Virgin Mary, her Assumption into heaven, or any other theological claim.

It is also frustrating to watch Christians gloat over Mormon historicity problems as though the fairytales, false histories, con jobs, and bogus beliefs of millennia ago were sanctified by mere age. No, the fact that Ezra made it up does not make it more credible than Smith’s Book of Abraham. Genesis is a bunch of codswallop just as the Book of Abraham is. One may be superior in literary terms, but that makes it no more valid as a historical narrative.

It is about faith. Historicity questions are great for understanding the vanished world that gave birth to a religion, but history does not make theology valid. The spiritual remains outside the purview of history. Feel free to believe the claims of disciples who believed they saw Jesus risen from the grave, but don’t try to press history into supporting your belief. It doesn’t.


I was debating an amateur christian apologist on Facebook the other day. A big problem is many of these folks do not know what "historical" and "primary sources" are. They point to the NT and say -> see history. **SIGH**

Huge problem with the If Jesus then Jesus was the Son of God logic also. He tried this. I noted that while there was likely a rabbi leading some movement named Jesus, it did not necessarily follow that he was god.

I also like to point to the lack of some of the large events in the NT being recorded in no other place. The Jews and Romans did not record the darkness, the rendering of the veil etc. Sources for this are mostly 100+ years more recent.
It is better to be a warrior in a garden, than a gardener at war.

Some of us, on the other hand, actually prefer a religion that includes some type of correlation with reality.
~Bill Hamblin
_Philo Sofee
_Emeritus
Posts: 6660
Joined: Wed Jul 04, 2012 9:04 am

Re: Abuse of Ancient History by New Testament Scholars

Post by _Philo Sofee »

Kishkumen wrote:
aussieguy55 wrote:If one looks at the resurrection in the gospels there are contradictions. How do they account for the number of women (and who they were, the fact they arrived in one account and the stone was already rolled away and in another they witness it. The temptation story also. Did Jesus dictate they to someone?


One of my other pet peeves in these historical Jesus apologetics is the use of historicity to bolster miraculous claims. It is a kind of bootstrapping, if you will. The idea is that if Jesus was a real person, then we can or must believe the miraculous claims about him. If there was a Jesus, and people claimed they saw him after his crucifixion, then the resurrection must be true, as well as all of the orthodox and credal theological concepts that deleloped as Christianity evolved and grew.

Of course, that’s complete nonsense. Evidence for the existence of a man named Yeshua who led a small group of people that believed he was a prophet or important teacher does not mean this person actually did perform miracles, was the literal son of God, or God himself, or, indeed, that he rose from the dead. Someone else’s perception that the Virgin Mary appeared in their toast does not oblige me to believe in the Virgin Mary, her Assumption into heaven, or any other theological claim.

It is also frustrating to watch Christians gloat over Mormon historicity problems as though the fairytales, false histories, con jobs, and bogus beliefs of millennia ago were sanctified by mere age. No, the fact that Ezra made it up does not make it more credible than Smith’s Book of Abraham. Genesis is a bunch of codswallop just as the Book of Abraham is. One may be superior in literary terms, but that makes it no more valid as a historical narrative.

It is about faith. Historical questions are great for understanding the vanished world that gave birth to a religion, but history does not make theology valid. The spiritual remains outside the purview of history. Feel free to believe the claims of disciples who believed they saw Jesus risen from the grave, but don’t try to press history into supporting your belief. It doesn’t.

I think as an apologist that was where I was attempting to go with things until I read some arguments by Matt McCormick, an atheist who wrote Atheism: The Case Against Christ. He argues in the same vein as you are here.
Dr CamNC4Me
"Dr. Peterson and his Callithumpian cabal of BYU idiots have been marginalized by their own inevitable irrelevancy defending a fraud."
_Kishkumen
_Emeritus
Posts: 21373
Joined: Sat Dec 13, 2008 10:00 pm

Re: Abuse of Ancient History by New Testament Scholars

Post by _Kishkumen »

Philo Sofee wrote:I think as an apologist that was where I was attempting to go with things until I read some arguments by Matt McCormick, an atheist who wrote Atheism: The Case Against Christ. He argues in the same vein as you are here.


Huh! Well, cool. I wouldn't go so far as to say "great minds think alike," but it is nice to know that others have similar ideas and concerns.
"Petition wasn’t meant to start a witch hunt as I’ve said 6000 times." ~ Hanna Seariac, LDS apologist
_Kishkumen
_Emeritus
Posts: 21373
Joined: Sat Dec 13, 2008 10:00 pm

Re: Abuse of Ancient History by New Testament Scholars

Post by _Kishkumen »

Morley wrote:Outstanding, Reverend. Thank you.


Thank you, Morley!
"Petition wasn’t meant to start a witch hunt as I’ve said 6000 times." ~ Hanna Seariac, LDS apologist
_Symmachus
_Emeritus
Posts: 1520
Joined: Mon Feb 25, 2013 10:32 pm

Re: Abuse of Ancient History by New Testament Scholars

Post by _Symmachus »

Prof. Licona wrote:OK. So. I don’t think you would find a single Classicist today who would doubt or historian who would doubt that Caesar was assassinated on March 15th in 44 BC. So, um, we have a number of sources who attest to that: Appian, Cicero, Dio, Livy, Nicolaus, Plutarch, Suetonius, and Velleius. The only testimony that’s even close there to being an eyewitness testimony is Cicero, and the way his letter that he mentions this in, um, it, it, he doesn’t even say he was there. Um, so he would have been alive at the time, but he doesn’t say he was there, but it’s just assumed that he is. That is the closest thing we have to eyewitness testimony, something written by an eyewitness on the assassination of Caesar . . . .


Oh my god, what an embarrassing statement, unworthy of someone claiming to be a historian. It reminds me of the historiography of Brian Hales, whose threshold for historiographical probability is impossibly high either because it has been constructed for the incredibly gullible or because he is unbelievably stupid.

The historiographical logic is backwards. The most basic approach to the nature of historical evidence from any period is not very hard to grasp, since it's the same approach generally used by non-paranoid and non-drunk people in human relationships when they are sincerely trying to understand: believe until you have a reason not to. Without this basic criterion, the line between skepticism and conspiratorial thinking quickly becomes blurred.

Obviously, one has to examine the reasons not to accept the claims of a given source, and then reject such claims when the reasons for doing so are compelling and can be articulated; but even a mildly awake historian can tell the difference between rigorous analysis and uncritical skepticism, particularly when it's advancing an agenda (e.g. Hales). Only amateurs like Hales and this clown think a historian should adopt the pose of a lawyer defending a guilty client in an American court—or really, an American TV show about courts. But even TV lawyers are expected to get their facts right within the world of the show. As usual, apologists of all of confessions, inebriated with their own sense of mission, imagine themselves free from such sobering restraints.
"As to any slivers of light or any particles of darkness of the past, we forget about them."

—B. Redd McConkie
_Kishkumen
_Emeritus
Posts: 21373
Joined: Sat Dec 13, 2008 10:00 pm

Re: Abuse of Ancient History by New Testament Scholars

Post by _Kishkumen »

Symmachus wrote:Oh my god, what an embarrassing statement, unworthy of someone claiming to be a historian. It reminds me of the historiography of Brian Hales, whose threshold for historiographical probability is impossibly high either because it has been constructed for the incredibly gullible or because he is unbelievably stupid.

The historiographical logic is backwards. The most basic approach to the nature of historical evidence from any period is not very hard to grasp, since it's the same approach generally used by non-paranoid and non-drunk people in human relationships when they are sincerely trying to understand: believe until you have a reason not to. Without this basic criterion, the line between skepticism and conspiratorial thinking quickly becomes blurred.

Obviously, one has to examine the reasons not to accept the claims of a given source, and then reject such claims when the reasons for doing so are compelling and can be articulated; but even a mildly awake historian can tell the difference between rigorous analysis and uncritical skepticism, particularly when it's advancing an agenda (e.g. Hales). Only amateurs like Hales and this clown think a historian should adopt the pose of a lawyer defending a guilty client in an American court—or really, an American TV show about courts. But even TV lawyers are expected to get their facts right within the world of the show. As usual, apologists of all of confessions, inebriated with their own sense of mission, imagine themselves free from such sobering restraints.


As usual you cut to the heart of the matter, dear consul. It is a good thing you didn't hear John Dehlin waffle about whether he believed Caesar was assassinated on the Ides of March. My heart sank. Sweet fancy Moses!
"Petition wasn’t meant to start a witch hunt as I’ve said 6000 times." ~ Hanna Seariac, LDS apologist
Post Reply