Saturday, April 18, 2015

Why I Think Jesus Didn't Exist

Dr. Richard Carrier’s video message, “Why I Think Jesus Didn’t Exist” is a clear, clean academic exercise. This is not to say there is any completion to his arguments or that he even provides examples in those instances when he makes one of his abundant assertions. It is to say that his message is so abundant in assertions, short on substance that it seems a masterpiece of editing. All his points are the usual and familiar array to dismiss Jesus as nothing more than just a guy, or the idea/myth created in the minds of some people, about a guy who made some off the wall and historically familiar claims about his deity. It is not surprising that the same short list of ancient deities which he enumerates is the same as heard from Christians, whom, upon first learning about those deities often dismiss and abandon their faith in Jesus. Carrier, despite his high academic credentials, his much learning and much touted expertise has absolutely nothing more to say than those Christians with far less knowledge, education or touting.

There are a multitude of claims, according to Carrier, which reveal the development of the myth about Jesus, an ordinary guy who never existed. Carrier peppers his message with assertions without offering any substantiation. Instead, he repeatedly informs his listeners that there are many or the majority of scholars and mainstream scholars who agree with him in his dismissal of scripture passages as well as entire books of the New Testament. He would have the faithful believe him that those scholars who deviate from the faith and agree with him are otherwise strong, faithful adherents of the scriptures and the faith. However, if Bart Ehrman is any indication of those scholars who agree with him; Ehrman is quite outspoken in his unbelief and dismissal of the scriptures as being corrupted or fabricated. Even when something such as the resurrection of Jesus is referred to by the apostle Paul in I Corinthians 15 as being, according to the scriptures Carrier dismisses it. It’s the proverbial predicament of being damned if you do, damned if you don’t; a catch-22. In other words, it is evident there is no answer which would satisfy Carrier, but . . . there is an answer. There are greater, weightier matters ahead for Carrier to consider and which he has, not surprisingly, avoided.

So, I will not dispute with Carrier about matters which may or may not have been written about long ago.

something in common

Instead, I prefer to address just one point, two actually, which Jesus stated and which is as readily dismissed by Dr. Carrier. There is no need to verify the authenticity of this one main point. It does not require sifting through ancient documents. It is something which Carrier has in common with every Christian, Muslim, animal and plant, atheist, and _ Jesus. All are born. All will die. What Carrier has in common with all these is birth, and specifically, death which obscures his academic, feeble efforts to dismiss the existence of Jesus.

Carrier can forget and dismiss the claims of the the virgin birth of Jesus. I can level the playing field for him because in the same manner as Carrier dismisses the extraordinary claims surrounding the virgin birth of Jesus the same dismissal can be applied to the birth of Carrier or any human birth. The truth is no one knows where they were born, when they were born or who are their parents. The fact that one does not know these things first hand or even if no one could attest to their birth does not invalidate or nullify the reality of their life. They may be despised and their humble origins questioned but they are no less a life regardless whether or not they leave a lasting impression or message. Humans can only acquire and accept the information about he place, time and parents and the beginning of their life from others as they grow older. Although we can only verify and authenticate our own birth through the testimony of others if we belittle, deny or dismiss someone else’s birth we have been most disingenuous. The same holds true of dismissing the birth of Jesus, but, frankly whether it is our birth or the birth of Jesus; it is a moot point really. Again, Carrier has some weightier matters than birth and the existence to which birth initiates into this world.

it’s alive; it speaks

Death, unlike any number of points concerning Jesus which Carrier can scrutinize and dismiss can not be dismissed. Death was the same reality which existed for all human beings two thousand years ago just as it exists for human beings in the twenty first century. No measure of  academic exercise or the collaborative work or say-so of numerous scholars can change that reality. None are necessary. Whether or not a real or created, mythic Jesus made those claims about his resurrection from the dead does not require an academic exercise to verify or invalidate those claims.

Fortunately, death is alive with us today. It stands ready to speak to us in the twenty first century. We can examine it ourselves as scholars, mainstream scholars or individuals, but even without the need for scholars or mainstream scholars. All that is required are those lives have been touched by the reality of death.

Carrier parrots the standard, familiar inclusion of the gods Horus, Mithra along with Jesus and states:

All these gods DO have in common: They all obtain victory over death which they share with their followers.

He is correct about their death.

death of a myth

Once again, lets leave aside the breakaway distinction of those claims associated with those gods and the same claims of Jesus concerning his own resurrection to friends and foes alike. Lets put aside also the fact that the narrative of Horus and Mithras died at birth. Why? Their narrative died simply because the undeniable reality became irrepressibly apparent to even their staunchest believers that they were not willing and able to sustain a myth which did nothing to affect a change, much less a transformation, of their lives.

Despite the connections which Carrier blithely, but rightly, makes between Judaism and Christianity (I will suffer this use of the latter term for which I have no use, but it’s Carrier’s use and it is in the vernacular here.) he is oblivious to a vital point and one which in no small part attests to the reason why the so-called myth of Jesus has survived. The message of the faith that is in Christ Jesus began well enough with the Jews, but it very quickly became apparent in the first century that this faith was not hemmed in, limited or characterized by Jewish culture, customs or language. Even Greek, which is the primary language of the scriptures was indicative of something bigger than any single ethnic group. The Greek people themselves never claimed nor has the claim ever been asserted by others that this message of faith was of Greek origin or that it was of the Greek people.

The fact that Jesus’ claims were not new and were centuries old has made them a favorite touchstone for sword sharpening and dashing for Carrier and his fellow scholars. However, by this same tactic the claims of Jesus’ would be just as readily be targeted for dismissal for no other reason than that those claims were new and never heard or attested to in ancient literature. Again, like a Catch-22; you can’t win for losing.

The Roswell Analogy

Carrier concludes his video message with the Roswell Analogy as his way of overlaying his mistaken notions concerning the mythic Jesus over the mythic gods of Mithra and Horus. Simply stated, just as the Roswell incident involving flying saucers and aliens never happened so too neither did Mithra, Horus and Jesus.

This is Carrier’s breakdown of the 1947 incident at Roswell, New Mexico.

What really happened: A guy found some sticks and tinfoil in the desert.
What was said to have happened: It was debris from an alien spacecraft.
What was said to have happened within just thirty years: An entire flying saucer was recovered, complete with alien bodies that were autopsied by the government.

Then, he overlay his Roswell analogy template over the Mithra and Horus gods with this explanation:

The “tinfoil in the desert” would be analogous to “the revelations of the archangel named Jesus”
“the flying saucer and alien bodies” would be analogous to the “historical Jesus of Galilee.”

Carrier is true to form,. Granted that to provide corroboration for his rejection of the entire Roswell incident would be tedious and outside the scope of his message. Nonetheless, this is the track record Carrier has established for himself, but if the corroboration of the incident is outside the scope of his message; why use it? Furthermore, the fact that Carrier should resort to something out of this world, literally, such as flying saucers and aliens is most tellingly disingenuous of him.

a trend

Carrier rejects the standard rebuttal by Christians who insist that Jesus was different from those gods, and thereby, he casts his own ensnares himself unwittingly. He states, “The differences are not the issue. Their similarities are what identify them as a trend.”

A trend towards what, Dr. Carrier? A trend, as your choice of words suggests, is a breakaway move from what has been seen and established as the track record. Yes, the resurrection, as one example, is one element held in common between all those different god myths. However, the claims concerning the resurrection of Jesus were made by Jesus himself in the presence and for the knowledge of his disciples as well as his adversaries. It was not a private secret. When his resurrection became a reality it was not denied by his adversaries. They elected to suppress it, but not to deny it.

death speaks

I expect Dr. Carrier remains unconvinced. Well enough. What remains is for Carrier to examine today what he has observed or what he might experience if a close, lovely family member or friend die. Never mind that the friend never said or made any claims that he/she would rise up from the dead.

It is safe to say Carrier would likely react with some modicum of astonishment were he to see his deceased family member rise up from the dead.

If his family member or friend had indeed stated he/she would rise up from the dead it is safe to say Carrier would likely react to those words with unbelief.

If his family member or friend indeed told Carrier he/she would rise up from the dead and then actually did it it is safe to say that despite the awesomeness and overwhelming joy of seeing his family member or friend back from the dead Carrier might still rightfully react with unbelief. His mind would likely be flooded with doubts and possible messages he missed concerning the loved one risen from the dead who is standing before.

None of these responses by Carrier would represent or constitute an outrageous or incredible response. They all represent a very human behavior response to an extraordinary phenomenon. It does not require the write testimony of ancient or contemporary scholars or mainstream scholars to validate or authenticate these responses.

This is no less what the disciples of Jesus experience. They had heard Jesus tell them he would rise up from the dead. They saw him after he was risen from the dead. They could not believe it even as he stood in their midst.

Now, what remained for them as well as Carrier is to consider what might be the implications and significance of one who said these things about himself and fulfilled them in the presence of his followers and adversaries alike. Suddenly, what someone wrote or did not write and whether or not it were corrupted or whether there were any witnesses all pale because death, Carrier’s own, stands before him and it speaks to him. It awaits your answer, Richard.