Tuesday, August 23, 2016

"Inciting Incident" Podcast on History for Atheists

Al Laiman from the "Inciting Incident" podcast enjoyed my chat with Thomas Smith a few weeks ago and decided to have me as a guest on his show.  Unfortunately our first conversation failed to record, so we tried again last weekend and the podcast is now up.  We cover some of the same ground as I did with Thomas, though I go into a little more detail on the myths around Galileo and the Great Library of Alexandria.  We also discuss the likely psychology of why pseudo history appeals to people more than real history and look at the Jesus Myth thesis as a largely online phenomenon related to conspiracy theories.


  1. Off topic, but I wonder if you’ve a moment to spare on mythicism… I got involved in a discussion (sigh), and was told that

    “The greek in Mark “ναζαρηνoς” (Nazōraios), simply cannot be derived from a place name. Someone from Nazareth would have been called a “Nazarethnon”.

    Jesus is instead a nazarite, the keeper of a religious vow, himself a form of sacrifice, of which several appear in the OT. The root word also has gnostic connotations.

    Only after the exegetical gospel of Mark began to be wrongly interpreted as an historical account, was the label ‘nazarite’ crudely kludged into a home town.”

    Now, I don’t know Greek at all, but even to me this looks suspicious: surely “ναζαρηνoς” would not transliterate to “Nazōraios”, but something more like “Nazarenos”? This made me suspect that my interlocutor may not have any more Greek than I do; but I’m not competent to evaluate the general argument from grammar: if he’s copying it from elsewhere, I can’t say if it’s wrong. Could you comment on this?

    (The issue of Jesus the “wine bibber” being a nazirite is, I suppose, a separate issue.)

  2. Their "simply cannot" is massively overstating the case. We have several variants of the placename reported in the gospels, with further variations in the manuscripts: "Nazareth", "Nazaret", "Nazara", "Nazarat" and "Nazarath". Similarly, we have two variants on the adjectival form of the place name: "Nazarenos" and "Nazoraois". So to claim that the latter "simply cannot" be derived from the place name is ridiculous - the variants of both the place name and its adjective show that we can't make any definitive statement about what can or can't be derived. The variants seem to derive from the name being pronounced different ways by different people, with perhaps a local Galilean pronunciation and a different one for those from elsewhere. This could be like the way the place name "Launceston" can be pronounced "LAWN-ceston", "LON-ceston" or "LONS-'ton", depending on who is speaking.

    Most of those who claim that Nazoraois must mean "Nazarite" rather than "one from Nazareth" depend on the fact that derivation from the Hebrew or Aramaic tsade into Greek would usually result in a sigma rather than a zeta. But we have examples of tsade->zeta elsewhere. In Judges 8 the name of the Midianite king Zalmunna has his name transliterated with a sigma in the LXX, but with a zeta in Josephus. Ditto for the place name Zoar in Genesis 13:10 and the cliff called Bozez in 1Samuel 14:4. Just to further illustrate the lack of total consistency on this point - in Genesis 22.21 we have Uz and Buz; the LXX uses a zeta and Josephus uses a zeta in one and a sigma in the other.

    So the name could come out with a zeta because there simply was no consistency. Whatever the reason, these other variants make any blanket declaration on how the word "should" be transliterated patently false. It varied.

    And yes, the idea that Jesus was a Nazarite and that this somehow got completely forgotten in any of the gospel traditions is pretty far fetched.

  3. Tim,

    Normally I would be shocked at someone suggesting you're a "Vatican operative" but nothing surprises me these days. One mythicist once libeled me by accusing me of being a Christian fundamentalist (this was on Facebook so I expect these accusations and take them with handfuls of salt. I am too amused to consider anything serious like legal action). I think James McGrath is right to compare mythicism to creationism. I have never been a mythicist but I have been a creationist before so I understand the mindset. I am now convinced, more than ever, that mythicism is the pet hypothesis of former Christian fundamentalists who are just militant apostates. I am guilty, myself, of having been an angry apostate from Evangelical Christianity in the past but I never went so far as to embrace mythicism. Nowadays, I have made peace with my past. I am no longer angry or bitter at the faith community that I was a part of. I wish others would get over their personal war on any and all things "religion". I am, like you, passionate about educating people and debunking nonsense. Probably the nonsense I am most passionate about debunking is biblical infallibility.

  4. Enjoyed the dialog on Atheistically Speaking (Sept 12; Episode AS275). I'm a solid mythicist, and have been nice I was a kid. Until I read Richard Carrier's On the Historicity of Jesus, I had only scant bits here and there to reference.

    I can't imagine any serious historian not giving mythicism serious consideration after reading OHJ. Essentially everything discussed with Thomas is in the book.


    1. I'll be posting links to Part 1 and Part 2 on this blog once Thomas has posted the second half, so if you want to comment further on what I say in those podcasts you may want to wait until then and do so on that post. Doing it here is going to confuse things.

      But to address your point above, I'd question how much you've read on this subject and its massive scholarly context other than Carrier's book. Because I can assure you that scholars who actually have devoted their lives to understanding this scholarship are not impressed with his book at all.

      So this could be because (i) they are all idiots and Carrier is a sole shining genius, (ii) they are all strangely biased against mythicism, despite the fact there is no shortage of other non-Christian ideas about who/what Jesus was that are well accepted in the academy or (iii) Carrier's book is much less impressive and convincing to people with a vastly greater grasp of the material than you.

      Think about it.

    2. I've thought about it quite a bit, and did my own research on the issue. Scholars can be as unmovable as anyone else. Moses fell to mythicism, and so to will Jesus, in time. Until someone can point to Paul's initial writings as having any inclination at all towards Jesus walking on land I will remain unconvinced of historicity. And that's only one of countless other instances where Jesus as a human doesn't make any sense. Scholars are going to have a hell of a time coming around to the notion of Jesus beginning as a mythic figure. I'll wait.

    3. Scholars can be as unmovable as anyone else. Moses fell to mythicism, and so to will Jesus, in time.

      Good luck with that.

      Until someone can point to Paul's initial writings as having any inclination at all towards Jesus walking on land I will remain unconvinced of historicity.

      You mean the Paul that says Jesus was born as a human, of a human mother and born a Jew (Galatians 4:4), repeats that he had a "human nature" and that he was a human descendant of King David (Romans 1:3), refers to teachings Jesus made during his earthly ministry on divorce (1Cor. 7:10), on preachers (1Cor. 9:14) and on the coming apocalypse (1Thess. 4:15), mentions how he was executed by earthly rulers (1Cor. 2:8) and that he died and was buried (1Cor 15:3-4) and says he had an earthly, physical brother called James who Paul himself had met (Galatians 1:19)? That Paul? And yes, I'm aware of the contrived and ridiculous ways people like Doherty and Carrier use to try to reconcile all that with their "celestial Jesus" stuff. No scholars are convinced by that crap, even if people like you apparently are.

      Scholars are going to have a hell of a time coming around to the notion of Jesus beginning as a mythic figure. I'll wait.

      You're going to be waiting for a hell of a long time. Now, as I said, these comments aren't relevant to this post so any further points you want to make will not be published here. If you're so good at waiting, wait until the end of the week when I'll publish both links to Thomas Smith's podcasts and you can make any further comments there.

  5. Tim, may I suggest a new subject for you? While I appreciate your posts about Atheist bad history, I think I now mostly understand where and why atheists get things wrong. I am interested in a piece of potential Christian bad history - namely the claim that biblical slavery was not at all as bad as southern slavery so God instructing Israel how to enslave people is really not all that bad. Can you write more about that?

    1. I could, but it's not relevant to this blog. So, no.