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Old 05-04-2001, 10:33 PM   #81
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<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by bd-from-kg:

I agree that the evidence that Jesus lived is sufficient, in terms of the standards ordinarily applied by historians, to draw the conclusion that He really existed. And since this assertion does not in itself involve any claims of anything miraculous or even highly improbable, this is the appropriate standard.</font>
Thank you bd. I agree.

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<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">My comment about the significance of the fact that all competent historians believe that Jesus existed meant only that this particular piece of evidence in itself show only that the probability that Jesus existed is at least in the range of 90 to 95%. It didn’t mean that the probability is necessarily that low, only that this is all that this bit of evidence shows. But it does mean that to show that the probability is higher than this you have to produce more and better evidence than merely what historians have concluded. I am not stubborn about this, especially since I have no intention of reviewing all of the evidence myself. Statements by a number of competent non-Christian historians that they believe the probability that Jesus really existed is higher than X% would be good enough for me.</font>
Fair enough. This is all that I have asked for on this thread.

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<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Now let’s look at some of your specific statements.

Nomad: I am unsure what you mean by the expression "extremely unusual non-miraculous event". Lots of events in history are extremely unusual.

bd: I’m really puzzled that you should bring this up. I would have thought that anyone would know what is meant by an extremely unusual non-miraculous event. However, since you ask, I will mention a couple of common examples: eclipses and earthquakes that are alleged to accompany momentous events.</font>
Alright, I was unsure if you were speaking of natural events (like eclipses and earthquakes), or highly unusual human events, like a nobody rising to take over a great empire, or who conquors much of the known world, or founds a world religion. This helps to clarify your point for me.

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<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"> There is nothing miraculous about either an eclipse or an earthquake, and historically speaking they are not all that unusual in themselves. However, it would be very unusual indeed for either of them to occur at precisely the time and place of some (other) important event.</font>
I would agree whole heartedly. It is not unknown for such a coincidence to take place, but it is rare in the extreme.

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<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"> Yet the ancients reported just such occurrences almost routinely. Here is just one of numerous passages to this effect, this one from Richard Carrier’s Thallus: an Analysis:</font>
Again, I would agree that this is the case. The ancients (and even a good number of moderns) looked for signs to help make claims sound more dramatic. As to whether or not these same ancients always believed that such things were literary devices, or were literally true is a more problematic question, and subject to a great deal of debate.

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<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">I wouldn’t press this matter, Nomad. The more it is looked into, the more it undermines the Christian claims. (For instance, recall Matthew’s statements about an earthquake and prolonged darkness surrounding the crucifixion. Rather damaging to Matthew’s credibility, especially when we realize that such stories were common in those days. And if Matthew – the very first book of the NT - cannot be trusted ...)</font>
I would see Matthew's reported extraordinary natural events as being no more damaging to his reports than it would be to any other ancient writers recordings. Such things were expected at the time, and to judge him (or them) too harshly for such things is to betray a bias for modern biography and recording.

In any of these ancient reports we look for the core things that we can know with reasonable certainty to have happened, then treat the remainder as being part of the literary genre of the day, recognizing it as such. No doubt this makes reading and understanding such reports more difficult for moderns (since we are accustomed to newspaper like reports, and modern biographies). At the same time, we can also admit that when the ancients are telling us something extraordinary or miraculous about someone, they are doing this because they really did believe that there was something extraordinary about the person himself.

Consider how historians of antiquity treat reports of miracles and extraordinary natural events in ancient writings:

”We have to bear in mind something that is familiar enough to students of Talmudic and Midrashic literature… the inveterate tendency of Jewish teacher to convey their doctrine not in the form of abstract discourse, but in a mode appealing directly to the imagination and seeking to arouse the interest and sympathy of the man rather than the philosopher.
The rabbi embodies his lesson in a story, whether parable or allegory or seeming historical narrative; and the last thing he and his sidciples would think of is to ask whether the selected persons, events and circumstances which so vividly suggest the doctrine are in themselves real or fictitious.
The doctrine is everything; the mode of presentation has no independent value. To make the story the first consideration, and the doctrine it was intended to convey an afterthought as we, with our dry Western literalness, are predisposed to do, is to reverse the Jewish order of thinking, and to do unconscious injustice to the authors of many edifying narratives of antiquity.”
(M. Grant, Jesus, pg. 38, quoting C.J. Ball).


Grant goes on to tell his readers that we should not impose our modern understandings to the writings of the ancients, less we miss the larger message by spending our energy trying to determine whether or not the stories are literally true. We simply cannot know whether or not they are historical.

Quite simply, “[N]o one, therefore-apart from sceptical pagans-would have thought of asking or trying to find out whether the miracles attributed to ancient Jews ‘really happened’… and to the evangelists’ reports of Jesus’ miracles precisely the same considerations applied.
…According, therefore, to the cold standard of humdrum fact, the standard to which the student of history is obliged to limit himself, these nature-reversing miracles did not (emphasis in original) happen… But once again the question posed in these terms of happening or non-happening would not have possessed great interest to the ancient Jews, or the evangelists. The attention of the Gospels was focused on something larger, on the mighty role of Jesus which the miracle stories imaginatively depicted. ”
(Ibid. pg. 38-39).


Grant concludes by telling us: In a sense, therefore, these stories are not tractable material for the historian, for they do not add to the facts which he has to try to marshal. But to declare in consequence that they have no claim to ‘serious consideration as historical evidence’ is to invite misunderstanding. On the contrary, they are extremely important historical evidence because they tell us how Jesus was regarded.” (my emphasis).
(Ibid. pg. 39-40).


There is much more, of course, and Grant spends a good deal of time talking about the miracles in the Gospels. After all, they are central to the story of Jesus. As a sceptic and an atheist he rejects the historicity of the miracles, rightly telling us that we cannot know what happened by mere historical study methods. What he does admit is that something happened. To quote him once more:

“But what is the nature of this (the miracles)? What, in fact, did Jesus do? We cannot say for certain. But we can, on this particular occasion (the feeding of the 5,000), rationalize. Rationalization, the foisting of materialistic interpretations upon the miracles, is a familiar process which has been with us for hundreds of years. It is not always profitable. But in this case it is legitimate because Jesus must have done something (emphasis in original).”
(Ibid. pg. 41-42).


For those interested, I would strongly recommend reading the entire chapter, What Were the Miracles?” (found in pages 30-44). It is instructive in helping the modern student better understand the mind of the ancient writer and his audience, as well as to better appreciate the value of the stories being relayed to us across the centuries. With luck, one culture (namely our own), might better understand another (that of the ancients), and possibly, even learn something from them.

I do not ask anyone to do this, of course. If it is too great of a leap to make, so be it. At the same time, to simply turn up our noses at such people, and to label them as ignorant and credulous rubes or “superstitious back water hicks” betrays our own prejudices I think. It certainly clouds our ability to understand history.

So, will I insist that we have sufficient evidence from these ancient accounts to prove the miracles? No. Do I believe many of them? Yes. But that is an entirely separate matter, and certainly beyond the scope of this particular thread. To get to that point we must first overcome the obstacles that arise when the sceptic cannot (or will not) separate the miracles from the natural and ordinary. When someone tells me that if the story has dragons or supernatural beings, earthquakes and eclipses, then we cannot even believe that there is any real person or event behind such stories, well, at that point I think discussion must end. I have no idea how to overcome such an attitude.

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<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">bd: No competent historian (other than Christian historians examining alleged Christian miracles) would in fact conclude that such an event had occurred based on such evidence.

Nomad: I am curious about this one bd. Do you know a Christian historian that actually says that the evidence for the miraculous events in the Bible is sufficient to prove that they happened?

Bd: In the first place, you use the word “prove”. No one in his right mind would assert that the evidence proves that these events occurred. The question is whether they think the evidence is sufficient to justify belief in them. Maybe no Christian historian believes this, but you’d never guess it.</font>
As my question indicates, I do not think you have read enough Christian historians bd. If you take a look at some of the books from J.P. Meier and Raymond Brown (both Catholic priests), or Robin Griffith-Jones and Bruce Chilton (Protestant clergy), and other Christian historians of similar calibre, you will find the same willingness to admit that we simply cannot offer enough evidence to compel belief in such miracles. Some, like Chilton, reject them outright. Others (especially Brown), admit that it is faith that leads to belief, but as I have said before, it is an informed belief. It is not one that I ask you and non-Christians to share. I will not tell you that the evidence is beyond doubt or challenge. But when it is substantial, especially when compared to other events that we have reported to us from antiquity, I will tell you such.

At that point, if any are interested in a discussion, then I welcome it. This thread, in fact, was meant to get us to that very point. But, as they say, first things first. The existence of Jesus, and a number of natural events associated with his life has a very high degree of probability and plausibility. If that is accepted as a given, then we can talk more about the miracles, and why I believe them.

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<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"> Anyway, I didn’t even say that they claimed that the evidence was sufficient; I just suggested that they might conclude that such events had occurred based on such evidence. Since you admit to doing the very same thing yourself, you can hardly say that this is unreasonable (although I would), or that Christian scholars do not do this. In any case, my point (as usual) was a logical one: if Christian historians who go into their research believing in the Christian miracles “conclude” that they really happened, this is not significant evidence, because of their pre-existing bias.</font>
Again, as I have said, I think that if you read the best and most responsible of the bunch, they will not do this. Belief in miracles, and the supernatural as a whole, can never be based solely or even predominantly on natural or scientifically generated evidence and methods.

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<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">On the other hand, if such Christian historians conclude that the evidence is insufficient, this is strong evidence that it isn’t. “Statements against interest” have always been held to have strong evidentiary value.</font>
I agree. Read the authors I have mentioned (and many others), and you will see this exact admission.

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<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Nomad: In the case of the Resurrection, I stand by my claim that it is the best documented event in antiquity.

bd: Even if it were, that wouldn’t come close to justifying belief in it.</font>
I have said the same thing.

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<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"> But it isn’t. The claim is ludicrous. Caesar’s death (to stay close to the subject of this thread) is far better documented. And this is just one of numerous examples.</font>
Actually, if you check, I believe you will find no independent testimony of this event at all. You certainly will not find much written about it within the first 100+ years of the event itself. Since it is agreed that all of the Gospels (and most likely all of the rest of the Canonical NT) was written less than 100 years after the death of Jesus, and a good deal of it (especially Paul, written within 15-30 years) talks a great deal about the crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus.

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<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Nomad: At the same time, it does allow the Christian apologist to show that his or her faith is formed not against the evidence, but in accordance with it... totally irrational would mean that we have no evidence at all.

bd: Wrong twice. A belief is formed “in accordance with the evidence” if it is based on an objective evaluation of all of the evidence. In the case of a miracle, this includes all of the evidence as to whether miracles happen, and in particular whether miracles of the type in question ever happen.</font>
Well, since the determination of whether or not miracles happen at all is a metaphysical question, and not one that the natural sciences can prove or disprove, your statement is merely question begging. When I did not believe in miracles, it was not because science told me that they were impossible (science cannot do that). I believed this based on philosophical reasoning. Now that I do believe that miracles do happen, I accept this truth also based on philosophical belief. We all do this, with the “agnostic” in such matters forming neither a positive nor a negative belief in miracles per se.

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<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"> Belief can certainly be totally irrational even though there is some evidence for it. Case in point: Smith’s two-year-old son says that there’s a monster under his bed. If Smith believes there’s a monster under the bed based on this evidence, he’s being totally irrational. Yet the boy’s statement is evidence – just not very good evidence, for something absurdly unlikely.</font>
An interesting analogy, but completely irrelevant. I am not talking about monsters under the bed, but rather events testified to by people who firmly believed that they happened. My own experiences tell me that they happen. I understand that my beliefs and evidence are entirely personal and non-transferable (as are many experiences), but that does not make them untrue. For anyone to tell me that my experiences are not real is bizarre in the extreme.

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<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Nomad: To reject a miracle only because the evidence is insufficient to believe it with 100% certainty may be rational, but may also be wrong.

bd: Reasonable skeptics don’t insist on 100% certainty. A probability of 50% or better should be good enough. Believing something with a probability less than that is irrational. Believing something with a probability of less than, say, 1% is totally irrational.</font>
How probable was it that man would walk on the moon, say to a person that lived in 1930? How do you assign a probability to an event without being totally arbitrary? I think a better standard, rather than probability, is plausibility, and here, we are into the world of metaphysics again, not natural sciences.

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<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Nomad: My experience with those that reject miracles like the Resurrection is that this rejection is not based on the lack of evidence, but on an a priori assumption that such things do not happen.

bd: This is not an a priori assumption, but a conclusion based on the evidence. Billions of people have died, so we have a pretty good database here. How many of them have been resurrected? (Exclude the resurrections claimed by Christianity; they cannot be allowed as evidence in their own behalf.)</font>
Christians believe that it is a one time event. Singular events are not impossible bd, and you should know this.

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<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"> Granted, this does not show that such a thing absolutely cannot happen, but it certainly justifies the belief that it is extremely unlikely in any particular case, and a belief that it very probably does not happen ever. But because these are rational beliefs based on evidence, they could be changed by sufficiently good evidence to the contrary. Your problem is that you don’t have it.</font>
Of course I do not have such evidence. If I did, we would not be arguing about this. The evidence was sufficient to convince me, and those who confess that the Resurrection is true. For the rest, each must make his or her own decision on the matter.

At the same time, I am glad that you are open to being convinced by sufficient evidence.

Quote:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Nomad: I have not claimed that the evidence is sufficient in and of itself to form belief, and have told you this in the past bd.

bd: Say what? Didn’t you read my post? Let me run the quote by you again:

Nomad: ... the amount of evidence for the Resurrection as believed by Christians is FAR greater than is the evidence for any other alternative explanation. On this basis it becomes more reasonable to believe in the Resurrection than to not believe.

bd: So maybe you weren’t saying that the evidence was enough to form belief, but only enough to make belief more reasonable (that is, rational) than disbelief? Then your statement is meaningless. No amount of evidence is sufficient to form belief if one refuses to go by the evidence.</font>
I am going by the evidence bd. So are you. The amount that you have is not yet sufficient. That is alright. For me, it is, and so I believe it.

Peace,

Nomad

P.S. Considering the upcoming debate with Doherty, I am doing my best to wrap up those threads that I am involved with. Hopefully I will be able to continue to participate on selected threads, but I will have to ask those who join me to be patient. I will not be able to reply as quickly or as often as I am normally accustomed. I do apologize. That said, I would like to thank you, bd, for your contribution to this thread. No doubt you and I will have plenty of opportunity to talk about (and disagree about) such things again in the future.


[This message has been edited by Nomad (edited May 04, 2001).]
 
Old 05-04-2001, 11:44 PM   #82
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This is a serious question which has been on my mind for some time, and which you may decide not to get into now.

Given your quote from Grant:

”We have to bear in mind something that is familiar enough to students of Talmudic and Midrashic literature… the inveterate tendency of Jewish teacher to convey their doctrine not in the form of abstract discourse, but in a mode appealing directly to the imagination and seeking to arouse the interest and sympathy of the man rather than the philosopher.
The rabbi embodies his lesson in a story, whether parable or allegory or seeming historical narrative; and the last thing he and his disciples would think of is to ask whether the selected persons, events and circumstances which so vividly suggest the doctrine are in themselves real or fictitious. (emph added)
The doctrine is everything; the mode of presentation has no independent value. To make the story the first consideration, and the doctrine it was intended to convey an afterthought as we, with our dry Western literalness, are predisposed to do, is to reverse the Jewish order of thinking, and to do unconscious injustice to the authors of many edifying narratives of antiquity.”


how do you know that the entire personage and history of Jesus is not one of those instructional fictions, meant to illustrate a point, with no relationship to what we moderns with our "dry literalness" think of as scientific truth?
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Old 05-05-2001, 08:32 AM   #83
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<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by Toto:

This is a serious question which has been on my mind for some time, and which you may decide not to get into now.

Given your quote from Grant:

”We have to bear in mind something that is familiar enough to students of Talmudic and Midrashic literature… the inveterate tendency of Jewish teacher to convey their doctrine not in the form of abstract discourse, but in a mode appealing directly to the imagination and seeking to arouse the interest and sympathy of the man rather than the philosopher.
The rabbi embodies his lesson in a story, whether parable or allegory or seeming historical narrative; and the last thing he and his disciples would think of is to ask whether the selected persons, events and circumstances which so vividly suggest the doctrine are in themselves real or fictitious. (emph added)
The doctrine is everything; the mode of presentation has no independent value. To make the story the first consideration, and the doctrine it was intended to convey an afterthought as we, with our dry Western literalness, are predisposed to do, is to reverse the Jewish order of thinking, and to do unconscious injustice to the authors of many edifying narratives of antiquity.”


how do you know that the entire personage and history of Jesus is not one of those instructional fictions, meant to illustrate a point, with no relationship to what we moderns with our "dry literalness" think of as scientific truth?</font>
Hi Toto

This is a good question. But remember the context of the quote from Grant. He is talking about when the ancient Jews made specific use of miraculous and extraordinary stories that they did not care about whether the story was fiction or not. This does not mean that they never cared about whether a person was historical or not. Clearly they did. But when relating stories with a purpose, the things that those people did were the key concern of the story teller.

A good example would be when Tacitus tells us about Vespasian healing the two men. Did it happen? Who knows, but the point Tacitus wants to drive home is that Vespasian held a special relationship with the gods. He certainly would not have expected his readers to go from the story itself may or may not be true, to Vespasian himself may not be true.

If you would like to see exceptional examples of this being done by the Jews, you may want to take a look at the Dead Sea scrolls. In their stories, only characters from the very ancient past (i.e. Enoch, Abram, Moses, ect.), or completely unnamed individuals are discussed in these stories. Thus, they take on the character of Jesus' parables, for example. The writers want the reader to focus on the story, not the characters. But in the Gospels, the evangelists want the readers to focus alternately on the stories and parables, but most importantly, they want them to see these stories as demonstrating the power of the very real person of Jesus, the man they believed to be the Messiah.

I am sorry that I cannot get into this in more depth, but your question does cut to the heart of how to view the ancients and the way that they saw the world. I really do encourage you to look up and read some good books on ancient history. It is a window into another world, and may well serve to help teach us moderns how to see our own world through new and different eyes.

Peace,

Nomad
 
Old 05-05-2001, 02:32 PM   #84
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<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by Brian Trafford:
This does not mean that they never cared about whether a person was historical or not. Clearly they did.
</font>
This is not so clear.

Quote:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">
. . . But in the Gospels, the evangelists want the readers to focus alternately on the stories and parables, but most importantly, they want them to see these stories as demonstrating the power of the very real person of Jesus, the man they believed to be the Messiah.

I am sorry that I cannot get into this in more depth, but your question does cut to the heart of how to view the ancients and the way that they saw the world. I really do encourage you to look up and read some good books on ancient history. It is a window into another world, and may well serve to help teach us moderns how to see our own world through new and different eyes.

Peace,

Nomad
</font>
Well, I have read *some books* on ancient history, and I am aware of the different viewpoint of the ancients. I regard our modern viewpoint as much superior, as evidenced by our better science, medicine, and technology.

I am not sure why you are so sure that the ancients were so prone to invent stories, parables, etc., but suddenly when they're talking about Jesus, they have to be referring to a real person. But this is what you are going to be debating with Doherty, so I will look to that debate for more enlightenment.

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