historiography

This tag is associated with 6 posts

Book Review: “The Reality of God and Historical Method” by Samuel V. Adams

rghm-adams

The Reality of God and Historical Method by Samuel V. Adams offers an in-depth look into how God’s existence impacts historical method. Adams specifically utilizes the work of N.T. Wright as a lens for apocalyptic theology and historical study.

The central thesis of the book is that the reality of God ought to have a significant impact on our historical method. Thus, a method like N.T. Wright’s which specifically sets out to treat the Bible like any other historical book takes away the power of God’s breaking into history. God’s activity in history causes an “irruption” in which history is reconstituted and centered around that event. Specifically, Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection entail that all of history is now oriented around those events, rather than being a kind of unified whole without any outside influence.

Adams pursues his argument by first outlining Wright’s historical method. Then, he introduces the notion of a theological view of history. For Adams, history ought to be informed by theology. The reason for this is because Christology demands that if Christianity is true, then God’s acting in history ought to determine how history is done, rather than having Christians attempt to do history in a way that puts God on the sideline. Thus, history is not a continuous chain, but rather the in-breaking of God into history brings discontinuity. Adams therefore argues that historiography cannot be theologically neutral. Believing God exists means that the way we do history must itself change. He uses the notion of apocalyptic to show how this method plays out, with theology informing historical study.

The book provides fascinating insight into and critique of N.T. Wright’s historical method, but it is much more than that. Adams presents a significant step forward into how theological history is to be understood.

The main criticism I have of the book is that it does little to present how, exactly, one is to do history going forward. Granting the notion of God’s in-breaking into history and the discontinuity that makes, what impact does this make for historical study beyond those things we tend to think of as theological. For example, how does Adams’ view of historical method impact how one does investigation into a specific event like McCarthyism or the Presidency of George Washington? Does it have no impact at all? That seems to be unlikely given the commitments Adams has drawn out. Does it mean that all history must be redefined by God’s in-breaking of the Word? If so, how?

The Reality of God and Historical Method is a fascinating, deep work that warrants careful reading. It is the kind of book that opens up new avenues to explore, and I think it should make an impact farther reaching than just one book. It will be interesting to see if Adams will continue the project and offer a way to interpret history more broadly than apocalyptically.

The Good

+In-depth look at N.T. Wright’s historical method
+Fascinating thesis with historical and theological import
+Well-documented with many insights
+New avenues to explore

The Bad

-Not enough specifics on a way forward

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of this book for review by the publisher. I was not required to write any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

Source

Samuel V. Adams, The Reality of God and Historical Method (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2015).

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for my writings on science fiction, history, fantasy movies, and more!

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Sunday Quote!- Evolution: A Materialist and an Idealist Weigh In

sp-jwm

Every Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!

Evolution: A Materialist and Idealist Weigh In

John Warwick Montgomery is one of those rare thinkers who seems equally at home in just about any subject with which they engage. I’ve been reading through his phenomenal book, The Shape of the Past and been blown away by the breadth of topics covered. What is more amazing is how he relates them back to the central topic: historiography. The second part of the book is a series of essays on various subjects. In one of these, on Marxism and Materialism, he writes:

Evolution means natural development to the materialist; it means teleology in the universe to the idealist. (234, cited below)

The quote is particularly poignant because it shows how even having what many consider raw data requires interpretation. One person can interpret evolution as confirmation of naturalism, while another might interpret it as teleology–goal orientation–found within the universe.

Be sure to check out The Shape of the PastIt is a fascinating work.

Source

John Warwick Montgomery, The Shape of the Past (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2008 edition [originally published 1975 by Bethany Fellowship]).

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Sunday Quote– If you want to read more Sunday Quotes and join the discussion, check them out! (Scroll down for more)

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for discussions about all kinds of topics including science fiction, history, fantasy movies, and more!

SDG.

Sunday Quote!- History Has a History

sp-jwmEvery Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!

History Has a History

Historiography–the study of historical writing–is a fascinating topic, no matter how esoteric it sounds. There is so much more to history than a simple verbatim report of exactly what happened. The past is experienced by subjects and so has a kind of existential aspect of reality to it. John Warwick Montgomery’s work, The Shape of the Past: A Christian Response to Secular Philosophies of History is an attempt to view historiography through a Christian lens. One of Montgomery’s theses is a point fairly basic to historiography:

History itself has a history. [People] through the ages have written history in different ways as a consequence of the different philosophies of life that they have held. (34, cited below)

History is never fully objective. There can be objective facts of history, but our philosophies of life color how we organize those facts. Montgomery is careful to note that the process of writing history is selective in itself, and the way we organize it is another layer of interpretation.

The Shape of the Past is a fascinating work that I am enjoying immensely. I recommend those interested in the important topic of historiography check it out for a look at how Christianity can make a contribution to the topic.

Source

John Warwick Montgomery, The Shape of the Past (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2008 edition [originally published 1975 by Bethany Fellowship]).

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Sunday Quote– If you want to read more Sunday Quotes and join the discussion, check them out! (Scroll down for more)

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for discussions about all kinds of topics including science fiction, history, fantasy movies, and more!

SDG.

Book Review: “The Philosophy of History: Naturalism and Religion- A Historiographical Approach to Origins” by James Stroud

phnr-stroud

…Either we will stand behind objective truth or sink into the abyss of relativism in the name of political correctness. (278)

One area Christian apologists need to explore further is the study of historiography. Historiography is, basically, the study of how to study history. It provides the framework in which one might seek truth in understanding historical facts. The way we study history will directly impact the results of historical investigation.  John Warwick Montgomery, Michael Licona, and N.T. Wright have done an excellent job integrating historiography into their approach, and there are several treatments of historiography in works on archaeology with apologetic import (K.A. Kitchen is but one example), but there remains much room for development of this essential discipline in the area of Christian evidences.

James Stroud, in his work The Philosophy of History: Naturalism and Religion- A Historiographical Approach to Origins, has provided much development in this area. Historiography, he noted, touches upon a number of extremely important questions such as “What does it mean to know something?”; “How do we come to know something?”; “Can we know the past?”; “How does one study history?”; “Is there objective meaning to history…?” (30-31). He does a good job presenting some of the difficulties inherent in the study of the past, as well as providing a few possible solutions. Central to Stroud’s argument is the notion that “one’s personal philosophy and presuppositions guide.. one’s interpretation of the available data…” whether one is talking about science, history, or religion (31).

Next, Stroud turned to an analysis of positivism and academic freedom. His argument is essentially that one should not pre-commit to a “closed” philosophy of history such that one cuts off any and all debate about the presuppositions one uses to interpret history and historical sciences. The winners write the history, but they are also capable of restricting the direction research may turn (49-50). There must be a distinction between the definition of science and science in practice; that is, one should not restrict scientific study through the use of one’s presuppositions to determine what is even capable of being studied or used as a hypothesis. Instead, people should be allowed to follow the evidence where it leads, even if such a project may discover things which lie outside the accepted explanations.

It must be acknowledged that Christianity is, by its nature, a distinctly historical religion: “[T]he truth or falsity of Christianity stands or falls with individual events within history…” (69). Thus, Christianity is almost uniquely capable of being approached in such a manner as to discern its truth through historical claims.

Interestingly, Stroud did not limit his use of “philosophy of history” to the study of history. Rather, he expanded it to include origin sciences, which are, he argued, a kind of historical science themselves. Thus, he examined both the origins of the universe and the origin and diversity of life alongside the historical portions of the book. In these sections on the historical sciences, he presents the design argument both in its cosmological and biological forms.

The meat of the book, however, may be found in the exploration of human history, which comprises approximately half the book. Here, Stroud really gets into stride. One central part of his argument is that “Language, writing, civilization, and religion all seem to be in a fairly advanced stage of development [from the beginning]….” (146). Proposed solutions which argue for a gradual evolution of human culture continue to be confronted by discoveries to the contrary, such as Gobekli Tepe, which shattered preconceived notions of the history of religion (155-157). Language appears to be highly complex from the beginning, and there is little reason to think that some languages are more primitive (in the sense of development) than others (149-150). Stroud relates these points back to the expectations one might get from the biblical text and argued that the biblical text presents a plausible interpretation of such evidence (163ff).

The Flood served as one of the case studies Stroud utilized to make his point. He argued that the preponderance of evidence suggests that the biblical flood is accurate (174-177). The Table of Nations in Genesis 10 also hints at “astonishing” accuracy regarding the historical recordings in the earliest portions of the Bible. Moreover, stylistic evidence within Genesis places its date as very ancient, just as one might expect from taking the book at face value.

Yet Genesis is not the only portion of the Bible which received insight from Stroud’s analysis. The conquests recorded in Joshua have been backed up by archaeological findings. The history of David also garnered attention, and Stroud’s handling of the archaeological data is informative and concise.

The New Testament is, of course, centered around Christ, and Stroud explores the evidence for the Resurrection and the narratives related to Him. One very important point he made is that “…it must be pointed out that the… manuscripts we have for Jesus today did not start as a ‘Bible’ but were later [collected into one]… [T]o dismiss any of this manuscript evidence is in effect to dismiss the most primary sources we have on the Historical Jesus” (240). Yet even sources apart from these can account for a number historical aspects of Christian faith and practice, to the point that it becomes very difficult to reject entirely the Christian story (240ff). Stroud defended the Resurrection itself with a type of “minimal facts” argument, in which he reasoned from several largely established facts of the historical Jesus to the resurrection (248ff).

Naturalism, argued Stroud, fails to account for the historical and scientific evidences for the origins of the universe, life and its diversity, civilization, and the evidence related to the historical Jesus. One should therefore not be constricted to operating within a naturalistic paradigm when one investigates origins or history generally. An a priori rejection of the supernatural is unwarranted.

Thus far, I have shown a number of  positive portions of the book. That is not to say there are no areas of disagreement or any problems. First, Stroud’s writing style often comes across as autobiographical, which takes away from the academic feeling of the overall work. Second, there are a number of grammatical errors in the book which are sometimes quite distracting. Third, there is a tendency to overstate the case in some places, such as asserting that any discussion of evolution beyond microevolution is “100 percent speculative”  (117) or that “all scholars” in some certain field agree with some fact or another. Fourth, at points Stroud states the view of the opposition in ways that I suspect would be objectionable. One example may be found here: “[T]he vast majority of naturalists confirm that humankind did indeed share a common language…” (177) or the notion that “even the most adamant proponents of naturalism” would admit that the origin of life is unexplainable through naturalistic means with the current understanding (115). I suspect that adamant naturalists would object to this and argue that the RNA world hypothesis or some other origin-of-life scenario does, in fact, explain the origin of life.

Many of these difficulties are minor, but they tend to pull down an otherwise excellent work. It is unfortunate, because it also seems like these could all be solved by a good editor. As it stands, however, one should be careful when reading the work to be aware that in many cases one should perhaps temper the sweeping conclusions Stroud makes. In any field of study, there are rarely (if ever!) times where “all scholars” might agree on something, and the language in the book constantly implies that there are many such agreements in some of the most contentious areas of all historical or scientific studies. Although this does not throw his conclusions out the window, it does somewhat devalue the work, as one must read it with an actively cautious eye.

I don’t often (in fact, I can’t think of ever mentioning this before) discuss the cover of a book I’m reviewing, but I have to say this has what might be the coolest cover for an academic book I have seen. I mean seriously, look at it! It is awesome.

With The Philosophy of History James Stroud has provided much needed development for Christians who might want to look into the study of the methods of historical investigation to develop their own understanding of Christianity. He also applies these methods in sometimes surprising ways. I have noted a number of areas of difficulty found within the work, but it should be noted that these are comparatively minor when compared to the project as a whole. Stroud has provided some necessary development in an area of study that Christians should continue to develop. Historiography is an essential field for Christians to study and become involved in, and The Philosophy of History has provided a broad framework for others to continue the work (and hopefully for Stroud to continue, himself). It is an excellent, thought-provoking read which illumines areas of which many apologists, unfortunately, remain unaware.

Source

James Stroud, The Philosophy of History: Naturalism and Religion- A Historiographical Approach to Origins (Mustang, OK: Tate Publishing, 2013).

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of this book for review. The author only asked that readers provide feedback of any kind, including negative, in order to broaden the dialogue in this area. 

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

“Fitzpatrick’s War”- Religion, truth, and forgiveness in Theodore Judson’s epic steampunk tale

fw-judsonThe roar of our guns was more than my ears could hear. The slaughter in the two rivers was more than one man’s mind could absorb… A sort of madness over came us; we had an infinity of bullets and an infinity of Chinese before us. Every one of our men felt he was killing thousands… Death ran wild. How terrible it is, I thought, that the Yukons should be so good at this. (Judson, 319-320)

Fitzpatrick’s War is a phenomenal read. Theodore Judson takes elements of history, steampunk, and religion and mixes them together to make a compelling story that presses through the imagination the need to contemplate issues of ethics, religion, and warfare. I realize that many of my readers will not have read this book, so I have included an overview of the plot, from which I have edited a few major details for those who want to read the book afterwards. After that, we’ll look at many of the extremely interesting themes found throughout this masterpiece. There are, of course, SPOILERS in this look at the book, starting immediately with the overview.

Brief Overview of the Plot

Fitzpatrick’s War is written as an autobiographic tell-all from the perspective of Sir Robert Mayfair Bruce. He is writing about Lord Isaac Prophet Fitzpatrick, a man who, like Alexander the Great, had conquered the world at a young age and also died young. Bruce was a close friend of Fitzpatrick (whom he calls Fitz) and so reveals a number of less-than-flattering aspects of his personality in his account of the life of the former ruler. It describes Fitzpatrick’s rise to power, his preparations for war during behind his father’s back, and his post-war rule.

Fitzpatrick is revealed as a man who lusted for power and ruled ruthlessly. He participated in assassinations, set up deaths, and mercilessly slaughtered his enemies. He used biological and chemical weapons and burned his enemies to the ground, all simply because of a desire to conquer the world. He had delusions of grandeur, envisioning himself as a kind of modern Alexander who would outdo the other man in every way.

The Timermen are another major player throughout the book. They are mysterious in their motivations and have supreme power over all space travel and most communications. Bruce reveals a number of unflattering details about these people as well.

The book has been edited by Doctor Professor Roland Modesty Van Buren, who is hostile to Bruce’s recounting of the events. Van Buren does not believe that Bruce is telling the truth about the great Fitzpatrick and believes he is instead attempting to make his own name live on through his lies.  Thus, the book is footnoted throughout with Van Buren’s corrections to Bruce’s “lies.”

Religion

Religion is pervasive throughout Judson’s work. The characters constantly quote from the Bible to justify their positions which frequently seem unbiblical and evil. Although the society at large seems to think highly of the Bible, the United Yukon Church itself seeks to take over all religion and has repressed other expressions of religion for quite some time.

Yet Bruce is fully aware of how the Christian faith is being abused throughout the work for evil ends. In one scene, he is speaking privately with Fitzpatrick, who asks Bruce whether God can love someone who will wreak such evil on the world. Specifically, he asks about King David in the Bible. Fitzpatrick wants to know whether he himself is like King David and why God would love someone who so frequently strayed from righteousness. Bruce realizes that it is here that he could have influenced Fitzpatrick to turn from the great evils he would perpetuate. Yet, coveting power, Bruce makes the decision he would regret for the rest of his life and backs Fitzpatrick’s notions of glory and God. He writes:

I would today give up my soul if I could go back to that moment and tell Fitz he could still turn back from his awful destiny. I grant that he had at this date already committed murder. It was equally true that he had not yet made his oceans of blood… The world could have still been saved from his wrath… (204)

Instead, Bruce caves into his own lust for power and desire to please Fitzpatrick. He tells Fitzpatrick:

God loves you… There are a few special men… who, like David, walk through History as Angels walk through thunderstorms. Those about them become wet with sin, while they remain untouched. They may seem to be bad men, these special ones. If we judge them by the standards we hold ordinary men to, they are the worst of men. Ordinary standards do not apply to them. They are doing God’s work here on earth, and as we do not know God’s motives or His ends we cannot judge His servants… You [Fitzpatrick] will be said to be God’s beloved. (204-205)

Bruce regrets this discussion with Fitzpatrick for the rest of his life and struggles with the notion that he can be redeemed.

Fitzpatrick himself seeks a kind of syncretism of all religions, but realizes that it will not ultimately work. He keeps his old tutor, Dr. Flag, around mostly to feel superior about himself. But he had initially attempted Dr. Flag’s project of making all faiths equally valid. One discussion in the book is particularly revealing. Dr. Flag is expounding upon the notion that all religions are essentially the same, but Marshal Jeremiah Truth Hood challenges him on this notion:

“Sir, am I to understand you believe all major religions profess the same core beliefs?” [Hood Asked]

“Yes…” [replied Flag]

“Then that would mean, let us say, that the Chinese and the Arabs share the same beliefs on marriage and family?” asked Hood… “Can we say,” asked Hood, “that Arabs and the Chinese value life to the same degree? Or is human life another secondary question?”

“I mean specific, general matters. You see, such as treating others well.” [Responded Flag]

“You say cultures are essentially the same,” continued Hood. “How would you explain, sir, the different Histories of North and South America? Both continents are inhabited by Christians. The majority in both continents are of European descent…” (364-366)

Hood’s point is well taken. The fact of the matter is that all religions are not the same and to say otherwise devalues the religious persons themselves. The way that Judson presents this dialogue allows for some real insight into the issue: how is it possible to say that, at their core, all cultures or religions are the same when they are so radically different?

Evil, Repentance, and forgiveness

There is great evil in the world, and Bruce’s world is no different. Much of the evil is caused by Fitzpatrick and the war which he created in his lust for power.

Ultimately, Fitzpatrick is reduced to a broken, suspicious man who becomes incapable of even doing the simplest tasks on his own. Marshal Hood is greatly distressed over his own incapacity to make amends for the evils he had done during the War. Hood is sitting with Fitzpatrick and several other Lords when they watch a video from an aerial shot of China and see the destruction their war had done to the country. The bodies  were strewn about and death was everywhere. Bruce, too, feels the need for repentance: “There were no words in my vocabulary I could utter that could justify this abomination, no act of contrition that could ever take away what I had done” (410). Hood himself begins quoting from the Bible, Joel chapter 1. He relates the evils they have done to the crimes that Joel cries out against. Later, Hood is found among the Chinese, trying to help them by growing food and feeding them. It was his way of making amends.

Bruce himself finds forgiveness only through his wife, who speaks with clarity on God’s will and his grace. It seems to me that this theme of forgiveness is grounded thoroughly in the Christian notion wherein people are to forgive each other. We act as God’s agents here on earth, and so we are called to repentance and forgiveness.

Charlotte

Bruce’s wife, Charlotte, is a paradigm example of a powerful, spiritual, loving woman. Van Buren, the hostile editor of the book, has several choice words to describe Charlotte, whom he believes is overstepping her bounds by attempting to be equal to Bruce. She often seems overbearing, but ultimately she strives to be equal to Bruce, and to temper the poor qualities of Bruce’s character. Charlotte is Roman Catholic, a religion which is violently oppressed in Yukon, until Fitzpatrick allows for religious freedom to endorse his own pluralism. Charlotte’s character is important throughout the work as one who provides the positive example of womanhood and the equality of men and women.

History and Doing History

History (always with a capital “H”) is an area of extreme interest in the world of Fitzpatrick’s War. Fitzpatrick himself continues to utter a recurring theme: History is written by the winners. Above, there was a discussion of King David. Fitzpatrick in that same conversation presses the notion that King David rewrote the history books in order to paint him in the most positive light. Later, in his own life, Fitzpatrick would do the same thing. He had the greatest poets and historians of his age come and write histories about him which were highly favorable in their portrayals of himself.

There is active repression of historical knowledge due to the fact that the culture at the time the book is set in believes that the “Electronic Age” (20th and 21st centuries) was a blight upon all History. During one scene, Bruce is being questioned about the Electronic Age and readers discover that only one history exists from that period. The reason is because “[A]ll other Histories of that era were perverted by the strange ideologies of the day…” (35).

As one who has studied historiography (and written on the method regarding Jesus), I can’t help but think of all the issues these discussions raise throughout the book. Interested readers should check out the post linked in the parentheses for one brief account of historiographic method.

Conclusion

I have read few books which have had such a great depth of knowledge about so many subjects as is demonstrated in Fitzpatrick’s War. The book is just phenomenal, and it touches upon so many areas of great importance for Christians and non-Christians alike. As with all great fiction, it does this without becoming overbearing, but instead focuses upon the story. Judson develops wonderful characters whom the reader can relate to, love, or loathe. He explores heady themes with wit and precision. I highly recommend this book to my readers.

Links

Religious Dialogue: A case study in science fiction with Bova and Weber– I explore two excellent science fiction books alongside each other to see how they speak to religious dialogue.

The Presumption of Pluralism: How religious pluralism devalues all religious persons– I discuss religious pluralism, a topic which is brought up throughout Fitzpatrick’s War and show how it fails.

Check out more of my looks at popular level books. (Just scroll down to see more!)

Hieropraxis is an excellent site which focuses upon a number of cultural issues and how they relate to Christianity. I really cannot recommend this site highly enough.

Empires and Mangers– Another phenomenal site which looks at many popular level works from a Christian perspective. The posts are consistently fantastic. I encourage you to follow this site closely.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Method or Madness? A reflection on Jesus, the Titanic, and Parallelomania

“[I]n the case of Jesus Christ, where virtually every detail of the story fits the mythic hero archetype, with nothing left over, no ‘secular,’ biographical data, so to speak, it becomes arbitrary to assert that there must have been a historical figure lying back of the myth.”[1]

One needs only to ask the question, “Did Jesus exist?” in order to spark intense debate amongst skeptics and Christians. A simple search for the question online turns up any number of non-professionals who boldly assert that there was no historical Jesus, or even that the evidence that Jesus was a myth outweighs the evidence that he was a real man.[2] There are even a few scholars who allege that Jesus never existed.[3] Perhaps the most frequently-cited “evidence” that Jesus never existed is the purported evidence of parallels in pagan and mystery religions.[4] The notion that legendary or historical parallels can discredit a historical account is itself on shaky epistemological ground. If, however, one were to take seriously the notion that parallels discredit a historical account, vast swathes of history would also evaporate into skepticism. Simply put, if the hyper-skepticism related to parallels about Jesus were applied to all of history without bias, historical inquiry would be undermined.  In order to draw out the implications of parallelomania[5] for what are generally acknowledged as historical accounts, the rest of this study will start off with a tongue-in-cheek investigation of one historical event (the wreck of the Titanic), emphasizing the parallels between it and a fictional account; then an inquiry into historiographical investigation will be launched in relation to the methodology which utilizes alleged parallels and their connotations for historical study. Thus, the following study will show that the methodology of those who argue from alleged parallels to the non-existence or “legendary hypothesis” of Christ is mistaken, rather than arguing that individual parallels are wrong.[6]

There is a tradition within Christian apologetics of pointing out the absurdity of rival positions, sometimes even by satire.[7] Essentially, by showing that an opponent’s method or conclusions lead to absurd conclusions about things nearly everyone agrees upon, the apologist can discredit the method or conclusion that is under investigation. The following section will be an exercise in this strategy. Note that the author is satirically employing the methods found in several sources of supposed historical inquiry into the existence of Jesus.[8]

The Myth of the Titanic: An argument from a “Titanic myther”

It is clear that the wreck of the Titanic is a mythic tale which has been foisted upon history. Few people know that Morgan Robertson’s novel, Futility, or the Wreck of the Titan,[9] which was written in 1898, 14 years before the RMS Titanic sank, outlines a highly telling, fictional account that has any number of parallels to the purported wreck of the Titanic. First, note the number 14’s significance: the Titanic hit an iceberg on April 14th, 1912![10] The book itself discusses the wreck of the Titan, which a child could see is very similar to Titanic. Consider the first line of Robertson’s work: “She was the largest craft afloat and the greatest of the works of men.”[11] The Titanic was supposedly the largest ship afloat at the time of her voyage.[12] The captains on both ships had the same name, Robert Porter. Not only that, but both the fictional and supposedly historical ships[13] had three propellers. Both were said to be unsinkable.[14] Both ships carried the minimum number of lifeboats required by law and therefore both ships lost an enormous number of passengers when sunk. [15] Finally, the clinching piece of evidence is that both the Titan and the Titanic were sunk by hitting an iceberg.[16]

From these evidences one would not be hard-pressed to conclude that the story of the Titanic is merely the plot of the Titan with historical embellishments. Consider the parallels once more. From the description (unsinkable) to the propulsion system (three propellers); from the lifeboats to the size of the ship; from the names of the ships to the very means of destruction, the Titan and Titanic are the same. Furthermore, numerology is inherent in the Titan/Titanic narratives. The 14 years between the two stories echoes in the alleged date of the wreck of the Titanic. Therefore, in the case of the Titanic, where virtually every detail of the story fits the “shipwreck” archetype, with nothing left over, it becomes arbitrary to assert that there must have been a historical event lying behind the myth.[17]

Parallels and Historiography

Setting aside the satire, it is clear that the example of the Titanic used here is only[18] the tip of the iceberg.[19] There are a number of other historical accounts and persons one could do a similar “study” upon.[20] But what does such an investigation prove? The notion that parallels can somehow discredit a historical account is on a very faulty ground. First, the notion of “parallel” is highly subjective and can mean different things to different readers. “One tends to read into accounts the commonalities one is looking for.”[21] If one assumes that a text is mythical—if one assumes the text is not trustworthy or at least had other sources or was derived—then one will find exactly that which one has assumed in the text. Samuel Sandmel writes, “I am not denying that literary parallels and literary influence, in the form of source and derivation, exist… I am speaking words of caution about exaggerations about the parallels and about source and derivation.”[22] He goes on to argue, regarding alleged parallels as derivations in Paul’s writings, “[T]o make Paul’s context conform to the content of the alleged parallels is to distort Paul… if we make him mean only what the parallels mean, we are using the parallels in a way that can lead us to misunderstand Paul.”[23] Similarly, if readers look at a historical account—even one that they believe only alleges to be historical—and make it mean only that which the parallels allow, then they distort the text’s meaning. Indeed, it can lead one to look only to the parallels for meaning rather than to the text itself.[24]

A second problem with the kind of parallelomania found in some skeptics’ looks at Jesus and alleged sources for the Jesus “legend” is that they have discounted many principles of historical inquiry. Historians begin by looking at the conventional meaning of a text.[25]  They also look at the historical context of the text in order to interpret the text.[26] However, in order to do this accurately, they must be aware of their own biases and be open to correction.[27] It is of the utmost importance for historians to consider the complexities of a historical picture as well as the links between causation, contingency, and counterfactual reasoning in historical research.[28] To put it more precisely, history is not a simple task in which one can conclude with certainty the causes of a past event.[29] Rather, historians must consider the interdependency of variables in a historical event[30] and avoid the temptation to oversimplify a historical account in an attempt to “clean it up.”[31] Those who seek to reduce the story of Jesus “without remainder” to legendary figures have fallen victim to a historiography of their own invention. They’ve followed their intellectual biases to their own conclusions and failed to take the texts into account.

Those who argue that the Gospels are discredited because of alleged parallels also utilize a poor, unjustified inference. Even were there a huge number of parallels between Jesus and the supposed mystery (and other pagan) religions, these would not, of themselves, discredit the account of Jesus as historical. Consider the “Titanic Myther”[32] in the satirical account above. The myther seeks to show that, due to all the parallels one can draw between the Titan and the Titanic, the latter is derived from the former. But by what principle of reasoning does it follow that similarities show derivation? Is there a way to determine when a document is derived from another? What is the cutoff point at which we know that a supposedly historical event can be said to be legend? None of these questions is intended to say that historians can never accurately say that a document—even one that claims to be historical—is legend. Rather, the question is whether the Gospels are shown to be legend by supposed parallels. If one holds that they are legends, then how is it that one comes to the conclusion? One can see by looking at most of the purported “studies” online that the conclusion is most often reached simply by citing a number of alleged parallels to Jesus across differing accounts, but of course that won’t do. One would have to show that these parallels are accurate in their claims (and many of them are not),[33] while also showing that the parallels are not mere coincidences, like those between the Titan and Titanic. Finally, the question remains: what rule of logic or historical inquiry yields the outcome that a prima facie historical account is in fact legend because there are legendary parallels?

Finally, there is the question of the burden of historical proof. The burden of proof is upon the one making the claim,[34] and in this case, people claim that Jesus was a legend. That is a positive claim in need of evidence. Unfortunately, the argument is most often made in a manner which simply dismisses counter-evidence while vastly overstating and sometimes even lying about the parallels which are found in other religious figures.[35] The dismissal without argument of counter-evidence, combined with a sometimes blatant disregard for historical accuracy[36] radically undermines the case of those who claim Jesus was a legend based on parallels.

Jesus and Legend

Hypotheses about historical events must take into account the entire body of evidence.[37] The theories which try to reduce Jesus to a legendary figure alone do not take into account the entire body of evidence, and therefore fail the test of historical credibility.[38] Suppose, for the moment, the numerous alleged historical parallels to Jesus were true. How, then, would historians account for the willingness of the disciples to go to their deaths for their beliefs in the truth of the Gospel accounts?[39] What of the Pauline epistles?[40] What of the archaeological evidence and extra-biblical documentation about the life of Jesus?[41] By reducing their historiography to a mere shadow of that which is used in standard historical studies, those who argue that the parallels of Jesus discredit the Gospel accounts have failed the test of explanatory scope for their theories. Like the “Titanic Myther” above, who didn’t take into account the photographs of the wreckage of the Titanic or the numerous firsthand accounts of her voyage, their theory cannot begin to account for the above questions—it does not cover the whole body of evidence. The “Jesus Legend” is a pure figment of their own imaginations–one which is not backed by historical inquiry.

Finally, those who argue from parallels make a number of other methodological blunders. First, they tend to lump all the mystery religions in with other pagan and ancient religions in order to form a kind of “composite parallel” to Jesus from which the Gospels are supposedly derived.[42] The problems with such a method, of course, are that it is extraordinarily anachronistic and that those proposing such theories “have been a bit too casual in fitting Christian elements into mystery religion data.”[43] Second, they borrow terminology from Christianity in order to retrospectively apply it to mystery religions, despite what are often entirely different contexts.[44] Third, the theories disregard the first century context of the Gospels in which, first, the “Homeric assumption” about resurrection (that is, that humans did not rise from the dead) persisted throughout the world;[45] second, the Jews would have been staunchly opposed to letting pagan religions undermine Judaism.[46] Fourth, the groundwork which must be laid down in order to establish dependence of one religion upon another is often ignored or misrepresented by those who alleged the ahistorical nature of Jesus.[47] Finally, at least some of the “sources skeptics typically cite as evidence that pagan religions influenced early Christian beliefs postdate the writings of the New Testament.”[48]

Concluding Remarks

Just like the “Titanic Myther” above, who drew upon disparate, unconnected, and self-invented (the reader may have noted one such example in the satirical section above)[49] connections and connotations to prove his point, those who hold that Jesus never existed, or that the Gospel narratives are reducible to legend have fallen into the trap of parallelomania. In their search for meaning, they have found exactly that which they set out to find. By rejecting the standard methods of historiography and embracing a hyper-skeptical approach to the Gospels, those who argue from parallels to the non-existence of Jesus become caught in their own arguments. Without any kind of historiographic base, their theories are trumpeted as unassailable facts.  The study that has been presented here reveals that rather than using sound historiographic methods, these hyper-skeptics have fallen into historical madness. Once one applies their method to widely acknowledged historical facts, history collapses in upon itself. In short, the way of parallelomania leads only to madness.

Links

Some people, reading this post, may immediately object because they find the parallels referenced in things like Zeitgeist very convincing. My stated topic in this paper was not to explore the individual parallels and refute them, but rather to point out the flawed methodology of these persons. However, for those who want more point-by-point rebuttals of these “parallels,” I have included a few links:

All About Horus– in-depth analysis of Horus as a potential parallel for Christ. Also, follow the links for discussions of other supposed parallels. See the next link.

Evidence for Jesus and Parallel Pagan “Crucified Saviors” Examined– More supposed parallels examined.

Zeitgeist Part I– a fairly thorough rebuttal of the movie.


[1] Robert Price, “Christ a Fiction.” Infidels.org. 1997, http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/robert_price/fiction.html.

[2] Mark Thomas, “Did Jesus Really Exist?” Godless Geeks. 2011. http://www.godlessgeeks.com/JesusExist.htm.

[3] Robert Price, Alan Dundes, and others are cited in Paul Eddy and Gregory Boyd, The Jesus Legend (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2007), 136ff.

[4] Eddy and Boyd dedicate a chapter to rebutting such claims in The Jesus Legend, 133ff. Examples of those who use this evidence are in abundance, for example: Robert Price, “Christ a Fiction”; Mark Thomas, “Did Jesus Really Exist?”; Jim Walker, “Did a historical Jesus exist?” No Beliefs. 22 April, 2011. http://www.nobeliefs.com/exist.htm.

[5] Following Samuel Sandmel’s study of Parallelomania, “We might for our purposes define parallelomania as that extravagance among scholars which first overdoes the supposed similarity in passages and then proceeds to describe source and derivation as if implying literary connection flowing in an inevitable or predetermined direction.” (Sandmel, “Parallelomania” Journal of Biblical Literature 81, 1962: 1-13, 1.) I came upon this source independently of Eddy and Boyd, but am pleased that they cite this excellent paper as well.

[6] Again, for a study of these supposed parallels, see Eddy and Boyd, The Jesus Legend, esp. 133f; see also the excellent study in J. Ed Komoszewski, M. James Sawyer, and Daniel Wallace, Reinventing Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2006), 219-258.

[7] Perhaps the most interesting and humorous of these can be found in Richard Whately, Historical Doubts Relative to Napoleon Bonaparte (1819), where Whately applies Humean skepticism about the historical Jesus to Napoleon Bonaparte with great success.

[8] This study is not intended to be a comprehensive refutation of the sources which have already been cited. However, by showing the flaws in historical methodology, it seeks to show that those who ascribe to the non-existence of Jesus due to parallels are starting off from a flawed position.

[9] Morgan Robertson, Futility, or the Wreck of the Titan, 1898.

[10] This Day in History, April 14th, The History Channel. http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/rms-titanic-hits-iceberg.

[11] Robertson, Futility, Kindle location 15.

[12] “Historic Images from the Titanic Sinking” Times Union, 2012, http://www.timesunion.com/news/slideshow/Historic-images-from-the-Titanic-sinking-41504.php#photo-2803535.

[13] “The Titanic: All About the Ship” Titanic Facts, 2012, http://www.titanicfacts.net/the-titanic.html.

[14] Robertson, Futility, Kindle Location 15; “Sinking the Unsinkable” 2005, http://www.snopes.com/history/titanic/unsinkable.asp.

[15] Robertson, Futility, Kindle Location 32; “Titanic Lifeboats” Titanic Facts, 2012, http://www.titanicfacts.net/titanic-lifeboats.html.

[16] “The Titanic Iceberg” Titanic Facts, 2012, http://www.titanicfacts.net/titanic-iceberg.html; Robertson, Futility, Kindle Location 329.

[17] The wording here intentionally parallels that of Robert Price at the beginning of this study.

[18] A search on Bing of “weird parallels between fiction and history” turns up millions of results. Many of these parallels are extremely thoughtful and creative, and demonstrate parallelomania (intentionally) in a perfect way.

[19] No pun intended in relation to the Titanic. Or was it the Titan? Sorry.

[20] One of the more popular historical examples is to compare Abaraham Lincoln to John F. Kennedy—in particular, the stories of their assassinations. A skeptical treatment investigating these parallels (while still acknowledging that many of them are parallels) can be found at “Linkin’ Kennedy”, 2007, http://www.snopes.com/history/american/lincoln-kennedy.asp.

[21] Boyd and Eddy, The Jesus Legend, 141.

[22] Sandmel, “Parallelomania,” 1.

[23] Ibid, 5.

[24] There are indeed writings on the internet which allege, for example, that Robertson was “inspired” to prophesy the wreck of the Titanic in his novel. This is an example of parallels dictating not only the history but also the interpretation of a text. See “Inspiration 1: Futility, or the Wreck of the Titan” http://www.light-eternal.com/Titan.htm/.

[25] C. Behan McCullagh, The Logic of History (New York: Routledge, 2004), 18.

[26] McCullagh, The Logic of History, 24-26.

[27] Ibid, 31-34.

[28] John Lewis Gaddis, The Landscape of History (New York: Oxford, 2002), 71ff.

[29] Gaddis, The Landscape of History, 102-103.

[30] Ibid, 69-70.

[31] Ibid, 108-109.

[32] Using the terminology of those who denote themselves “Jesus Mythers” who deny the historical existence of Jesus.

[33] Eddy and Boyd evaluate many claims in The Jesus Legend, 142ff; another problem with assessing many of these claims is that they are often given without any citation. One infamous example of outright lies is the “Zeitgeist” video (Peter Joseph, “Zeitgeist, the Movie” 2007, accessible here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oZgT1SRcrKE), which literally makes up a number of its parallels (a critique can be found here: Edward Winston “Zeitgeist Part I: The Greatest Story Ever Told” 2007, http://conspiracies.skepticproject.com/articles/zeitgeist/part-one/). For example, it uses the English words’ “sun” and “son” to supposedly demonstrate that Jesus was the Sun God (despite the fact that English didn’t exist when the Gospels were written).

[34] For an argument to this effect see Michael Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2010), 94ff.

[35] A number of claims are analyzed and come up wanting, or as simply inaccurate or false in Komoszewski, Sawyer, and Wallace, Reinventing Jesus, 219ff.

[36] Ibid; see also Eddy and Boyd, The Jesus Legend, esp. 139-146.

[37] McCullagh, The Logic of History, 49-52.

[38] On testing for historical credibility, see McCullagh, The Logic of History, 138ff.

[39] William Lane Craig, “Opening Statement” in Jesus’ Resurrection: Fact or Figment? Edited by Paul Copan and Ronald Tacelli (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2000), 34ff; William Lane Craig, The Son Rises (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 1981), 127-134.

[40] Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus, 400ff.

[41] Gary Habermas, The Historical Jesus (Joplin, MS: College Press, 1996), 187-242.

[42] Komoszewski, Sawyer, and Wallace, Reinventing Jesus, 223-224.

[43] Ibid, 224.

[44] Ibid, 224-226.

[45] See N.T. Wright’s brief but devastating criticism of the “dying and rising gods” alleged motif in The  Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2003), 80-81.

[46] Eddy and Boyd, The Jesus Legend, 136ff.

[47] Komoszewski, Sawyer, and Wallace, Reinventing Jesus, 226ff.

[48] Ibid, 233; for even more historiographical blunders made by those putting forward this theory, see Eddy and Boyd The Jesus Legend, 134ff.

[49] The reader may not have caught the lack of citation for the notion that the Captains’ names were the same in the book Titan and the “real life” Titanic. It is that easy to sneak a claim in between the lines. The actual names of the captains were Captain Bryce of the Titan and Captain Edward Smith of the Titanic.

SDG.

——

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