The Children of Wisdom

A few days ago fellow Cadre contributor Joe Hinman took apart an argument common among Jesus mythicists: that if Jesus existed, the first century Jewish philosopher Philo probably would have mentioned him, and because Philo did not in fact mention him, it follows that Jesus probably did not exist.[1] Joe rightly contends that the mythicist appeal to Philo is, like so many others of its kind, little more than a (weak) argument from silence. In a comment on Joe's post I pointed out that Jesus didn't mention Philo either, in which case perhaps Philo didn't exist. It turns out that if we were to apply mythicist reasoning consistently we would have no history at all – since no events or personalities are mentioned by everyone else.
Because it leans so heavily on a methodological double standard, Jesus mythicism apparently cannot be falsified. So, for the Roman historian Tacitus to mention Jesus in passing suggests merely "hearsay"; but full-blown biographies of Christ outlining his ministry, teachings and travels, complete with detailed birth and death accounts – i.e., the Gospels – indicate excessive "theological bias." As I said some time ago concerning mythicist treatments of the famous passages by Josephus: "An incidental reference to Jesus as the brother of James is not enough evidence to 'prove' anything; but at the same time a detailed elaboration of just what it meant for Christians to understand Jesus as the one 'who was called Christ' (i.e., what made Jesus worthy of mention historically) is somehow saying too much."[2] In other words there appears to be no form of evidence for historicity, even in principle, which a mythicist could not manage to construe in purely mythic terms.
A similar kind of duplicity abounds not only in the area of Jesus mythicism but in hypercriticism of the Bible and of Christianity generally. This is demonstrated vividly, if routinely, in the field of Near Eastern archaeology. The operating assumption among professional archaeologists almost seems to be that the biblical narratives must be presumed false until proven true. These accounts are only accepted (and then with great caution) when "confirmed" via the witness of a nonbiblical account. The historicity of kings, peoples, places and events mentioned in the Scriptures therefore requires external, extrabiblical support to find acceptance. So if the Bible tells the stories of kings like David and peoples like the Hittites in great detail, then the stories have to be doubted, even if the origin of Israel as a nation cannot be reasonably explained without them. When both David[3] and the Hittites[4] are eventually found mentioned in nonbiblical sources, then and only then is the biblical record confirmed – because nonbiblical sources are not subject to the excessive skepticism and scrutiny reserved for the Scriptures.
Or consider skepticism itself. One would think that professing skeptics would be sympathetic to the considered and conscientious doubts of others. But too often it seems as if the beliefs of skeptics themselves are not to be questioned. I've been told that questioning the doctrine of common ancestry, for example, or whether there is a viable mechanism for macroevolution, cannot be founded in honest inquiry or informed skepticism, but only in a simplistic "personal incredulity" or "science denialism" that refuses to accept the so-called "mountain of evidence" for grand-scale evolutionary theory. This is not the language of intellectualism (let alone skepticism) but of propaganda. For a person who finds a theory incredible, personal incredulity is perfectly rational. And whatever is supposed to be meant by science denialism, it can only mean denial of the very institution of science. After all, individual scientific theories in principle are always potentially subject to revision and replacement, if not outright falsification.
Some people ultimately will never be satisfied. What may have begun as honest skepticism eventually becomes a way of life to which they are ironically, wholeheartedly committed. Christians often hear skeptics assert that they have "grown out" of their belief in God, just like they grew out of their belief in Santa Claus. But it may be that they have some growing up of their own to do. Jesus suggested that insatiable skeptics are "like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their companions,
            'We played the flute for you,
            And you did not dance;
            We mourned to you,
            And you did not lament'" (Mt. 11:16-17).
The picture resembles something like a bunch of bored kids looking for something to do on a Saturday afternoon. A few of them try to start up a game, but the others appear sullen and disinterested. So the first group tries to console them instead – but they don't want that either. In fact they don't know what they want. They only know what they don't want. Thus Jesus continues, 
"For John the Baptist came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, 'He has a demon.' The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!" (Mt. 11:18-19).
"But," he adds, "wisdom is justified by her children" (v. 19). Other translations have "her deeds," or "her offspring." This calls to mind the warning of Jesus concerning false prophets: "You will know them by their fruits" (Mt. 7:16). The idea here, I suggest, is that skepticism and criticism will fail in the crucible of life, and certainly in the afterlife. This only makes sense, given that doubt leaves one with literally nothing in which to hope or trust. At this point I would remind my skeptical philosopher friends that philosophy means not rationalism, skepticism or empiricism, but "love of wisdom." And wisdom begins not with doubt, but with the fear of God. 

[1] Joe Hinman, "Contra Jesus mytherism; answering the Philo argument,"
[2] Don McIntosh, "Myth-Managing History: A Reply to Aron-Ra,"
[3] See "The Tel Dan Inscription: The First Historical Evidence of King David from the Bible," Bible History Daily,
[4] See Joshua J. Mark, "The Hittites," Ancient History Encyclopedia (April 28, 2011),


great post Don.I like the way you extend to other forms of skepticism.
It's just amazing to me how slow the mythers are to learn, they just keep repeating the same absurd lies over and over again. They are impervious to facts or learning,
Anonymous said…
That's what happens, Joe, when people (like certain ones who have commented on this site) are wedded to a certain type of scientific ideology.

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