Showing posts from February, 2010

Is Neil Godfrey Right About How Classical Historians Treat Documents Like the Gospels?

I ran across a comment by Vridar/Neilgodfrey over at’s discussion board in yet another thread about the lost cause of Jesus Mythicism.

We do not know who wrote the gospels, when or where or for whom. Yet "biblical historians" treat their narratives as sources of historical data. I know of no other historical studies that would ever contemplate using such "unsourced" documents as evidence in this way.
Neil suggests that only “biblical historians” use ancient documents like the Gospels, whose provenance is purportedly unknown. In fact 1) the provenance of the Gospels and Acts is better than Neil acknowledges, 2) leading historians who are not “biblical historians” in fact rely on the Gospels and Acts as sources of historical data, and 3) classical historians use as sources of historical data ancient documents with less provenance support than the Gospels and Acts.

1. Disputed Does Not Mean “Unsourced”

Many scholars dispute Neil’s assessment about the lack …

Tillich, part 2: What does it mean to say "God is Being Itself?"

In this essay, which is a chapter from the new book I'm now working on, I'm moving toward defining what I think Tillich means exactly by being itself. It's a long journey but an important one.
What does Tillich actually mean by “being itself?” Does he mean the same things as other theologians who use the phrase? It’s a mysterious sounding phrase and Tillich never actually comes out and says what he means by it. As I will show there is a reason for this, and I will show what I think that reason in is. In the mean time the task of this chapter is to deduce exactly what Tillich actually means by this phrase. There are three basic possibilities:

Three alternatives as to meaning

(1) The basic fact that things exist is all that the concept of “God” amounts to.

(2) There is a special quality to being, an impersonal aspect” ground of being” or “being itself” and that quality constitutes ‘the divine.’ This possibility excludes God as “king of the universe.”

(3) God is beyond our u…

Introduction to Paul Tillich's Ontology

This will be in several parts, an introduction and a couple of explaintory installments then some arguments.

Paul Tillich (1866-1965) was one of the most influential Christian theologians of the twentieth century. Tillich spoke to the times. He was painfully aware of the collapse of modernity (the beginning of which he traced from the enlightenment), and tried to formulate a concept of Christian theology for the dawning Postmodern era.  In so setting up the dialogue with post modernity he forged the central concept with which this essay will concern itself: God as being itself, or The Ground of Being. Tillich was not the first theologian to think of this idea, nor the last to embrace it, he was probably its most famous supporter. He was born in Strazeddel, Brandenburg (Germany—now part of Poland). His father was a Lutheran minister and the family moved to Berlin in 1900. He studied at three universities, Berlin, Tübingen and Breslau, taking his doctorate in philosophy from the latter …

How to Determine the Genre of Ancient Documents

A helpful, concise discussion about determining the genre of literary works is A Preface to Mark, by Christopher Bryan. Genre is, of course, an important first step in properly understanding the purpose and meaning of any ancient document. The strength of Bryan’s discussion about determining genre is the concise two points he makes about the nature of genre and his use of contemporary as well as classical examples.

First, “genre involves a cluster of elements. So striking are these elements that we can entirely understand why one might be tempted to regard them as ‘rules.’ Yet they are not precisely ‘rules,’ for they need not all be present in one example. The genre of a particular work is established by the presence of enough generic motifs in sufficient force to dominate.” A Preface to Mark, page 13.

Second, “a work of one genre may contain motifs from another. This means that in establishing genre we need to identify the dominant cluster of motifs: just one or two will not do.…

Exploring Mythcist Thinking

McGrath's Blog on the second article linked by J.D. "Microexistence vs. Macroexistence." I am just selecting a few comments that I think are interesting. I urge the reader to read the original because are many interesting comments I'm not reflecting here. There's an intereseting discussion between McGrath, Vinny, and several others on criteria and the limits of criteria for establishing valid evidence of historical existence (or the even the desirability thereof).

This first one is from Vinny, a former member of the CADRE.

Dr. McGrath, Suppose that Paul’s Jesus was mythological or suppose that Paul’s understanding and preaching of Jesus was based entirely on the visionary experience he had of the risen Christ and had nothing to do with anything that an actual person said or did. Further suppose that some of the things described in Mark’s gospel happened to actual people or were said by actual people, and that Mark attributed these sayings and events to Paul’s Je…

Mythicism: a fringe view that deserves to be fringe

Prof. James McGrath has been posting recently on Jesus-mythicism. His opening salvo is one of the most concise yet effective rebuttals of the Jesus-myth I have ever seen. He has continued his criticism in a series of posts, and has attracted quite a firestorm of comments, which are interesting both for what the commentators say and what the comments say about them. I think McGrath is a little too liberal in some areas, but he is for the most part an honest, rigorous scholar, and he rightly takes mythicists to task for so casually dismissing the scholarly mainstream. Check out his posts and see what you think:

Mythicist Misunderstanding
Mythicism: Microexistence vs. Macroexistence?
Accusations and Assumptions: Another Mythicist-Creationist Parallel
More Mythicist-Creationist Parallels

Hartshorne's Modal argument

Charles Hartshorne 1897-2000
Modern Champion of the modal argument

What follows is one of the most challenging subjects you will ever hear about. It is the best way to get a head ache, but I think it proves the existence of God. The problem is it requires a very specialized background to understand it. First you have to understand modal logic.

Modal Logic is so called because it turns upon the use of so called "modal operators." It's called "modal" because it is the logic of modes of being. "modes" as in what type of existnce something exits in, weather it is dependent upon other things, weather it can cease or fail to exist and so forth. The modal operators are "necessity," "contingency" "impossibly," "possibility."

Necessity and contingency lie at the base of our modern understanding of cause and effect. They come from scholastic notions of logic, but the distinction between the notion our modern notions of c…