Reza Aslan promotes himself, demonizes atheists, and exaggerates his credentials

November 25, 2014 • 10:40 am

Once again Heather Hastie, at her website Heather’s Homilies, has saved me from the wearisome task of writing about Reza Aslan.  Her latest post takes apart Aslan’s recent article in Salon, “Reza Aslan: Sam Harris and ‘New Atheists’ aren’t new, aren’t even atheists.” Read Aslan’s post if you can stand it, and then Heather’s, as Heather went to a lot of trouble dismantling Aslans’s claim that new atheists, unlike old ones, are “anti-theists,” bent on ridding society of religion (tell that to Ingersoll and Mencken!), and his argument that people like Harris and Dawkins want to remove religion from society, using violence if necessary.

Aslan’s article differed from his usual screeds in that he tried to summarize the history of atheism in a semi-scholarly way, even though it’s tendentious and, argues Heather, misleading. I suspect Aslan’s new “scholarly” tone comes from his being caught out trying to claim that he’s a religious scholar with a Ph.D. in religious studies.  He has in fact repeatedly distorted his credentials, obscuring the fact that he’s an associate professor in creative writing at the University of California Riverside, and that his doctorate is in sociology (granted, it’s on the idea of jihad). He even appears to have lied, claiming that he’s affiliated with a department of religion at Riverside.

One critique of his credentials, “The lies and misrepresentations of Reza Aslan,” written by by Majid Rafizadeh, was published in August of last year in the right-wing magazine Front Page. A quote or two:

First of all, Reza Aslan has continuously presented himself as a professor of religion. This is done in an attempt to sell his few books, which lack academic and credible references. In one of his recent interviews, Aslan claims, “I am a scholar of religions with four degrees including one in the New Testament . . . I am an expert with a Ph.D. in the history of religions . . . I am a professor of religions, including the New Testament – that’s what I do for a living, actually . . . To be clear, I want to emphasize one more time, I am a historian, I am a Ph.D. in the history of religions.” Aslan also recently said on Twitter, “I have a BA, MA and PhD in the history of Western Religions so yes, again, I am an ACTUAL expert in Judaism.”

. . . although Reza Aslan calls himself a “historian,” he has never attainted a degree or had professional training in history, and has never even taken an elementary course in historiography for that matter. His dissertation focuses on the events and movements of the twentieth century and does not apply any historical methods or archival research. In addition, his dissertation is also an abnormally short one – approximately 130 pages double-spaced – which seems to have been written for publicity purposes for his book, Beyond Fundamentalism. Reza Aslan has been exploiting the situation in the United States after 9/11 to self-promote and make profits through these exaggerations and fabrications.

Well, you can dismiss that if you want because it’s a passionate piece in a right-leaning journal. (I don’t think it’s kosher, though, to ignore arguments simply because they’re published in such places.) But you can’t so easily dismiss a piece by Manuel Roig-Franzia in The Washington Post, also published in August of 2013 (this was right after Aslan’s book on Jesus, Zealot, was published). An excerpt from that:

Aslan, who has an undergraduate degree in religious studies and a master’s in theological studies, is not currently a professor of religion or history. He is an associate professor in the creative writing department of the University of California at Riverside. He has asserted a present-day toehold in the field of religion by saying he is “a cooperative faculty member” in Riverside’s Department of Religious Studies.

Yet this is not so, according to Vivian-Lee Nyitray, the just-retired chair of the department. Nyitray says she discussed the possibility last year with Aslan but that he has not been invited to become a cooperative faculty member, a status that would allow him to chair dissertations in her former department.

The Post piece lauds Aslan’s absorbing narrative (with neither Aslan nor Roig-Ranzia ever questioning whether Jesus really existed), but does question his scholarship:

Dale Martin, a Yale University religious studies professor who reviewed Aslan’s “Zealot” for the New York Times, sees Aslan’s characterization of his credentials in a different light. “I think he overplayed his hand,” Martin says of Aslan in an interview. “He’s just overselling.” Martin, who has praise for Aslan’s writing skills, was critical of his seeming reliance on the work of previous scholars to formulate one of the central theories of his book: that Jesus was a revolutionary executed because he posed a political threat to the Roman Empire.

“The record needs to be corrected,” Martin says. “Both about his credentials and his thesis.”

Of course what Aslan claims about Jesus or Islam should be judged independently of his credentials, and I’m not a big fan of assessing someone’s competence in academia from simply looking at their degrees. But Aslan’s repeated distortions of his credentials is worrisome, and should make us wonder about his motivations. Yet even leaving that aside, I am aware of the distortions about Islam in Aslan’s first book, and I’m not convinced of the historicity of Jesus in his second.

Aslan is an apologist for faith, and in his own way is just as dangerous as Karen Armstrong. If he had his way, we’d write off the misdeeds of jihadists as “distorted faith,” and simply accept religion in general, and Islam in particular, as a good thing.  That would be a mistake.

And who needs ipecac if you can listen to Krista Tippett interviewing Aslan at her National Public Radio (NPR, also know as “Numinous Public Relations”) show “On Being.” (Hit “play episode” at the upper right.) Here we have the most unctuous promoter of faith on public radio osculating the most unctuous promoter of faith in popular books. They really need to get a room, as Tippett just lobs hearts and softball questions at Aslan.  Truly, I wonder why she has a gig on NPR. (Don’t answer that; I know they’re soft on faith.)

Note that Aslan claims that the “Islamic Reformation” is already under way, something that seems to contradict his first book on Islam, which implicitly argued that it was reformed at the beginning (and hence some sects have degenerated). In Aslan’s view, the violence of Muslims is simply an inevitable byproduct of its reformation, and we should be “excited” about it all.

At 29:20, they both discuss New Atheism, with Tippett complaining that although atheism has moved on, the New Atheists still get all the attention. Tippett and Aslan then agree that New Atheists give atheism a bad name (something she’d never say about faith), and Aslan longs for the “good old atheists” like Schopenhauer, people who, Tippett says, were “constructive,” as opposed to the New Atheists, who “tear things down.” (What?) Aslan also argues that New Atheists say that believers are “stupid” and that religion must be “forcibly removed from society.” That’s just wrong. In this segment, more than I’ve ever heard before, we see how deeply Tippett believes in belief, and it’s not pretty.

When I hear this kind of stuff, and get disheartened about it, I remind myself that the whole religious enterprise is based on fiction, and, in the end, will largely disappear from our world. We just won’t be around when that happens.



107 thoughts on “Reza Aslan promotes himself, demonizes atheists, and exaggerates his credentials

    1. Headline : “Bear tears College of Cardinals limb from limb”?
      No, that’s not credible. Bears are generally not that aggressive. OTOH, Cardinals can be. Hmmm, I suppose it could happen.

      1. The Inuit have great respect for bears, as the non-human animal in their environment seemingly most like us. Inuit also have a tradition of killing people who repeatedly act like dumbasses (because whatever it is might be contagious). Maybe those can be run together 😉

    1. LOL. I’ve had a couple of short twitter “discussions” with him regarding women’s rights in Islam.

      Not surprisingly we got nowhere.

    2. I wish you hadn’t told me about him – now I’ve got another idiot to add to my “keep an eye on” list! It’s getting longer every week!

  1. Aslan capitalizes on the argument to moderation. Many people are receptive to this fallacy because they were overexposed to false dilemma in school. Now, they think the right answer to every question is “both” or “somewhere in between.” You say you believe in guardian angels and I say you are deluded; therefore, since we both have to be right, the truth is that angels are real for you but not for me. Let’s celebrate this contradictory nonsense as “complexity” and congratulate ourselves for discovering the “nuance.”

    1. It’s not just moderation and the Fallacy of the Golden Middle — it’s also the idea of the Identity Smorgasbord, where everyone brings their “truths” to the table and there’s no right or wrong, just different. The more “dishes” the better.

      The Identity Smorgasbord is an excellent idea — if we really are just dealing with matters of ‘identity’ like race, nationality, sexual orientation, lifestyle, taste, preference, and so forth. You don’t attack people because they’re different than you. You don’t bully people just because they think different than you do.

      And that last sentence is the hub of the problem. It’s a deepity. It doesn’t just include personal opinions like favorite rock groups, it is suddenly stretched to include opinions, views, beliefs, and conclusions about anything. Now ideas are sacrosanct too, in the name of ‘respecting diversity.’ Never tell anyone they’re wrong. You just “think differently.”

      Without the rational criticism of ideas we lose the entire possibility of liberal progress. Bottom line, Aslan wants to treat religion as a matter of identity — and the “anti-theists” want it treated like rational conclusions.

      1. Hey Sastra, been said before, would read your blog dude 🙂 I know a friend who makes $700 a month from writing a good, informed blog (programming related)

          1. I have heard it argued that “dude” is a sexless term. I’m not sure that I buy it, but the lack of an equivalent term for females is something to ponder.

            1. We use “dude” broadly; “guy”, too, at least in the plural.

              All actresses these days seem to be “actors” in the press.

              There seems to be a trend for “masculine” terms to become gender neutral.


              1. And the sooner the better. There’s no etymological reason why the -er or -or endings should have any gender. We don’t, after all, have doctresses or realtresses.

                And when you read those silly terms, you realize just how diminishing the diminutive forms are.

                Architectress, chemisestte, scientisette…this is fun…

              2. We did have aviatrices (sing. aviatrix), particularly in the 1930s (Johnson, Earhart, et al.), which still seems to me (OWM) more adventurous than mere /aviators/.

                /@ / San Diego

              3. “Aviatrice” does seem a to have a bit of panache. 🙂

                Though perhaps that’s due to people’s ingrained bias to equate adventuring with males; so any woman trying same would ergo have to be exceptional.

              4. Truly, dudes!

                [Dang, I was sure I’d written ‘aviatrix’–I blew one of the few chances I’ll ever have to use it!]

              5. “Actor” is structurally gender neutral, but by driving women into the subset of “actresses”, men took it over (bearing in mind that the stage was all-male until 1660).

                We should lament their return to equality no more than we do the loss of “Negress” or “Jewess”.

                “Dude” incidentally has reversed its meaning from “A fastidious, aesthetic person; a dandy, a fop” (gay, almost) in the late 19th C.

          2. Ah, but how do you know I’m not “given to sporting expensive suits and flashy jewelry” while wearing a monocle, twirling a cane, and fastidiously brushing dust from my brocade vest? There are “dudes” — and then there are “dudes.”

            Either sex may apply: George Sand was quite dapper, I believe.

          1. Keep up the good work! When I’m short of time and skimming the posts, I always stop to read yours (and a few others’, but I’m not going to swell their heads right now).

    2. Many people are receptive to this fallacy because they were overexposed to false dilemma in school. Now, they think the right answer to every question is “both” or “somewhere in between.”

      Counter example : “I think my bank account is in the black ; my bank manager thinks it’s not.” Where is the moderate position?

      1. Bloody hell, we should start a post-modern bank.

        “I distinctively remember depositing a 1000 quid last week and now it’s gone”.

        “We beg to differ”.

    3. This is something that’s bugged me for a while. Being fair is a good thing, so the media makes a point of presenting both sides of the argument. However, too often they present them as if the two side are equal, like To Vaccinate of Not to Vaccinate, or man-made Climate Change vs the deniers.

      When the contra argument is just stupid (yes, I know I could have used a better word), it shouldn’t be presented as having equal merit.

      After a particular vaccination program in NZ a few years ago, anti-vaxxers got on TV to state 13 of the vaccinated children had died since they were vaccinated. No-one questioned them further at the time. It turned out the children had died in car accidents, drownings and other accidental causes – absolutely no relation to the vaccine whatsoever.

      1. Sometimes one does hear glimmerings of how this works. I remember reading something about why some show or other in the mainstream doesn’t invite Chomsky to speak, and they said in order to balance him they’d need like four people on “the other side”. 😉

  2. Emma Green at The Atlantic write about “aggressive atheism” and her main explanation for it seems to be that atheists feel wronged and ignored by society, or something. It’s really kind of a rambling nothingburger that stops short of criticizing atheists, but does mention some of the uglier Internet episodes of the last few years. Nothing about church-state issues, nothing about civil rights issues like reproductive choice of same-sex marriage – it’s just a freaks and geeks situation, like you would have in high school. But I bring it up because she talks about Sam Harris as someone advocating a kinder, gentler atheism. She obviously is not up on her apologist memes; Aslan could set her straight!

  3. Excellent post by Heather Hastie. She writes:

    Most of us are anti-theist as well as atheist, and some aren’t. That doesn’t mean we have any plans to go around attacking theists. Aslan, however, characterizes the anti-theist stance as follows:

    “… religion [is] an insidious force that must be rooted from society – forcibly if necessary.”

    Yes, how consistent that Aslan thinks the only real ‘atheists’ are the good atheists of whom he approves. That category seems to include not only accomodationists* but dead atheists and atheists who wrote in scholarly venues where the general public would be unlikely to stumble in unwarily. But as Heather points out, what he calls ‘anti-theism’ is simply a subset of atheism.

    And how dare he lump “rational criticism” in with violence. As the Enlightenment (and Steven Pinker) showed, the ability to engage with the opposition through reason cuts down on violence. It’s not another kind of violence.

    That is, it’s not a form of violence if you don’t need to be in control.

    Indeed, while we typically associate fundamentalism with religiously zealotry, in so far as the term connotes an attempt to “impose a single truth on the plural world” – to use the definition of noted philosopher Jonathan Sacks – then there is little doubt that a similar fundamentalist mind-set has overcome many adherents of this latest iteration of anti-theism.

    Again, what does it mean to “impose?” Mandating atheism through law and force is the opposite of what the gnus want. We want to persuade people to change their minds and work towards a consensus on religion the way we work towards a consensus on science — or, for that matter, a consensus on morals.

    Oh look, Aslan thinks he’s right and he published his views! He’s imposing his truths on us!

    Most definitions of “fundamentalism” include something about truths which cannot be questioned. Like belief proudly and openly based on “faith.” At least when Aslan accuses the new atheists of being unreasonable and very like a religion, we know to take that as an insult instead of a fair description and compliment.

    *(Accomodationism: “I don’t believe in God but I have no problem if other people do AND shame on those atheists who don’t practice the same respect towards faith as I do.”)

    1. That category seems to include not only accomodationists* but dead atheists and atheists who wrote in scholarly venues where the general public would be unlikely to stumble in unwarily.

      Dismissing the more ‘academic’ atheists like Ingersoll and Mencken and saying most past atheists weren’t like them is one thing. But how can Aslan so easily dismiss people like Twain? He was very widely read. Not at all an ivory tower sort. And he aggressively attacked religion.

      I think the real historical change is almost the reverse of what folk like Aslan claim it to be. Instead of atheists getting more aggressive, what’s happened is that theists have gotten more sensitive. Conversation that used to be considered reasonable and normal is now looked upon as offending our sensibilities.

      Early last century: Twain’s pothumous publication refers to the bible as containing “some blood-drenched history; and some good morals; and a wealth of obscenity; and upwards of a thousand lies.” Society collectively shrugs.

      Early this century: atheists invite people to their meetings via billboards. Society response with fainting chouches broken and pearls over-clutched.

      1. Good point. People only think these criticisms are new because they’ve forgotten. I’ve got a book about Joseph McCabe. Today he’d be “New.”

        We didn’t pick the name, critics did. “New Atheism” isn’t defined against anything called “old atheism.” It’s defined in contrast to accomodationism.

        I’ve read that many of the criticisms the most popular 19th and early 20th century atheists made were towards hellfire and brimstone versions of Christianity — and thus mainstream Christianity took lessons from the moral complaints and became less “judgmental” and less “anthropomorphic” (at least in their own minds.) There were also a lot of ‘atheists’ from that time period who fell for things like spiritualism and Theosophy. So they didn’t reject the supernatural — just the authoritarian God and in some cases just the institutions. It’s rather confused.

        I wonder how many people who complained about the atheist billboards did so not because they were offended, mind you — but what about the others? The simple folk who need faith? Or, perhaps, the “just shut up everybody shut up about religion a pox on both your houses” crowd of apatheists and lukewarm believers.

        1. “New Atheism” isn’t defined against anything called “old atheism.” It’s defined in contrast to accomodationism.

          To be fair, there seems to have been a period of approximately 60s-80s where the most aggressive atheism was coming from figures like Carl Sagan, who people just can’t help but like no matter what words come out of his mouth or his books. I think the gnu = aggressive may thus be a result of a one-generation lull in how atheist figures presented it. Adults today remember Sagan as the “original” atheism, even though he was actually a much more soft-spoken departure from the atheist public figures that had come before him.

          To make a poor analogy, imagine smoking (electronic) cigarettes rises sharply amongst 16 year olds next year, becoming trendy. People under 40 might call this a “new” trend, even though its just a resurgence of an old one.

          1. To indulge in some further idle speculation, the lull in outspoken atheism may also have been a partial result of the cold war, in that it became unfasionable in the US for a time to tout atheism too loudly, as it was associated with the Soviet Union.

            1. Yes, that too. I’m just old enough to remember when communism =totalitarianism = atheism. Reasoned arguments were only a cover for the True Agenda of control. Also, the post-war existentialists lay a lot of emphasis on the pointless meaninglessness of existence. Atheism = nihilism.

          2. Maybe, but Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris,and Dan Dennett are also soft-spoken (Hitchens, okay, not so much) — and yet people will still insist they all rant, rave, pound the table, call religious people stupid and spray spittle when they do it. My guess is that Sagan is better known to the general public for both Cosmos and his skeptical arguments against people like Velikovsky. Therefore, Demon-Haunted World didn’t really apply to their beliefs, the beliefs of the sort of sophisticated people who read books by Carl Sagan.

            Critics of gnu atheism are especially incensed because apparently we made it clearer that no, the problem isn’t just extremism — it’s you, too.

            1. Critics of gnu atheism are especially incensed because apparently we made it clearer that no, the problem isn’t just extremism — it’s you, too.

              Exactly. We apply the Outsider Test to them just as they apply it to others. That instantly raises their own cognitive dissonance to the boiling point, and they lash out at us as the proximate cause of their own self-inflicted pain.


          3. The way I remember it, Dawkins esp. picked up the reins from Carl, but at the time no one was really paying much attention. While Carl had been on the Tonight Show & making Cosmos, Dawkins was writing books, and articles for Skeptical Inquirer and Free Inquiry and the like.

            I don’t think there was really a lack of atheists speaking out, there was a lack of interest on behalf of the press & public on anyone who wasn’t a celebrity. Had there been an internet back then, the movement might have seemed far more continuous.

            Who knows how far Sagan would have gotten had Johnny Carson not had a strong interest in science? During the same era Carson also had Paul Ehrlich, Robert Jastrow, sundry astronauts, & others I’m forgetting on his show…

    2. I was amused by how discreetly Aslan admitted that “There were, of course, numerous other Enlightenment figures who professed atheism, such as Jean Meslier and the French philosopher Baron d’Holbach.” What Aslan left out was that Meslier and d’Holbach were anti-theists.
      I was also amused when Aslan patted Hobbes and Hume on the head for not saying God didn’t exist. Of course they didn’t–they would have been tortured or executed if they did! There’s a good deal of scholarly debate on whether Hobbes was secretly an atheist.What isn’t debatable is that Hobbes lived in fear of being burnt at the stake by the church. So much for the wonderful social cohesion and order promised by religion. No wonder so many atheists became anti-theists!

      Aslan’s assertion that Stalin persecuted religious folk out of anti-theism is truly an all-time low. Stalin would hardly have done so if he wasn’t promoting Communism, which under the Soviets became a quasi-religion of its own. It took a fully-formulated rival system of belief to encourage persecution of the religious, not mere anti-theism.

      Aslan is also a hypocrite–he praises folks like Locke for seeking “a means of replacing religion as the basis for making moral judgments in European society” yet attacks New Atheists for attempting to “replace religion with secularism and faith with science.”

      Contemptible as this article is, it’s also dangerous, because Aslan is playing a clever game. He’s playing divide and conquer, trying to sic atheists on each other. He wants to marginalize “New Atheists” by turning other atheists against them. I hope they won’t fall for his bullshit.

      1. Yes, I recently wrote a post on Jean Meslier and Joseph McCabe. Here’s McCabe (1867-1955):

        Roman theology is a masterpiece of ingenuity in exegetics. From Christ’s simple words, “Whose sins you shall retain they are retained,” the whole hideous system of the Confessional is evolved; from a medicinal remark of James comes the curious dogma of Extreme Unction; from some strong language of the sorely-tempted Paul is pressed Original Sin and Baptismal Regeneration; from the farewell supper of Christ the extraordinary doctrines of the Eucharist and the Mass, with all their complicated ceremonies; and the Immaculate Conception is proved from a stray remark in the Genesis version of an old Babylonian legend.

        And Meslier (1664-1729):

        Your religion is not less vain or superstitious than any other; it is not less fake in its principles, nor less ridiculous and absurd in its dogmas and maxims. You are not less idolatrous than those whom you are not afraid to blame and condemn for their idolatry. The ideas of pagans and yours only differ by their name and appearance. In one word, everything your doctors and priests preach with so much zeal and eloquence about the splendour, the excellence and the holiness of the mysteries that they make you worship, everything they tell you so solemnly about the certitude of their alleged miracles, and everything they recite with so much self-confidence concerning the magnificence of the rewards of heaven, and touching the dreadful castigations of hell, are nothing but delusions, errors, lies, fictions and impostures.

        ‘Stridency’ from the long before the Gnus!

        1. Excellent quotes, and thank you for introducing me to Joseph McCabe (who I’d never heard of) and to your blog, which has many enticing articles.

          In case anyone else is interested, Meslier’s magnum opus has been recently translated and is available under the title “Testament: Memoir of the Thoughts and Sentiments of Jean Meslier.” Though the book is long and sometimes disorganized, the translation is clear and reads well. Meslier–a disillusioned priest who left behind a long tract denouncing not only the church but God himself–is perhaps the first “New Atheist,” and when it comes to stridency he definitely makes Dawkins look like a pussycat.

          1. You’re welcome, and glad you like the blog.

            That recent edition of Testament looks excellent (with a preface by Michel Onfray), though a little pricey at the moment.

  4. Pat pat, whatever you’ve done will be remembered, even we may not have chance to see a day that atheist are the majority of the society. But, if we hold up long enough, we may! :))

  5. Aslan’s “repeated distortions of his credentials” is not ignorable and very likely suggests his views are biased and that he is insecure about one or several interpretations that he has made.

    If an orthopedic surgeon devises a method for 5nm optical lithography that Intel adopts on their next chip set and she claims she does this just as a hobby. Well, then she’s a genius and, in my book, the world’s expert in the field of nanoscale lithography.

    Experts can come from anywhere, but Aslan is irresponsibly pushing the stuffing when he may or may not have the right ingredients.

    1. Aslan’s doctorate is in sociology of religion, not history of religion, (and he has !*previously*! held posts as a religion professor but does not have one now.)

      Now history and sociology are closely linked disciplines, but they are still different, just as chemistry and physics are different. You need SOME training in physics to do chemistry, but not full mastery of physics.

      To be fair to RA, there have been some very good works of history written by sociologists. “The Mormons” by Thomas F. O’Dea is one. E. Digby Baltzell’s “Puritan Boston and Quaker Philadelphia” is another. But in both cases, O’Dea and Baltzell represented themselves as sociologists (who were venturing into history using a lot of sociological methods).(There is specifically a field called “Historical Sociology” which applies sociological methods to history.)

      Occasionally, amateurs have done such superb historical research that posterity has deigned to call them “historians” in spite of their lack of professional training, of which the best-known example is Barbara Tuchman whose “Guns of August” remains one of the best books about the origins of World War I. But an amateur needs to do !*original*! research of good quality to desrve the label “historian” and Reza Aslan is a writer of popular history recycling old material, at best in the league with Isaac Asimov’s books on ancient Greece and Shakespeare (which are terrific, but contain no original research!!) RA’s thesis that Jesus was a member of the Zealot party is an old position, and he ventures hardly any original arguments for it.

      I suppose an astrophysicist is both an astronomer and a physicist, and a biochemist is both a biologist and a chemist, but a sociologist is not per se a historian, not even if they write decent history popularizations that do not contain new material.

    2. Indeed; outsiders like Earl Doherty, for example, don’t dwell on who they are and what their credentials are/aren’t, they just mention it in passing and get on with the arguments.

  6. Heather Hastie is being too easy on Aslan but then that is the way we Atheist are built.

    The guy hopes for fame by going after the top of the line when he isn’t making up new credentials. Wishing he was in league with Dawkins or Harris is beyond his faith.

  7. Appreciate the trenchant criticism of Aslan, but can we just stop with the whole “Jesus didn’t exist” stuff? It’s an embarrassment to the “New Atheist”/freethinking movement in my opinion.

    1. This likely isn’t the post to rehash this argument, but one should have overwhelming confidence that even a most minimal Haile Selassie type of figure of Jesus didn’t exist, and that, even if somebody like that did exist, he unquestionably bore no relation nor semblance whatsoever to the Jesus of the Bible.

      Rather, the Jesus / Joshua of the Gospels is the same Joshua / Jesus of Zecharaiah 6 (written centuries earlier) fleshed out with Philo’s work with the Logos (as made explicit by Philo himself) and, after Paul, given an euhemerized history by the Gospel authors.

      See Richard Carrier’s On the Historicity of Jesus for full details and citations and calculations and several hundred pages more of anything and everything you could ask for.



    2. Sorry, but you don’t get to tell the management what to say or post about. If it embarrassed the New Atheist movement, that’s just too damn bad, for the evidence is virtually nonexistent. The reason you call it “embarrassing” is that so many people are unaware of the paucity of evidence, and so are appalled at anybody that questions the historicity of Jesus.

      If you think there’s solid evidence for Jesus’s existence as a historical (and not necessarily a divine) person, you will now recount it, for obviously you know something I don’t. Your next post will be on that evidence, or you’ll have to post elsewhere. Or you can take back what you said.

    3. Well don’t just leave it at that! I’m just dying to hear your convincing argument for the existence of Jesus!

      You are talking about the same Jesus that is mentioned so prominently in the xian bible, right? Please, please, please. Continue.

  8. First off, I sincerely apologize for the tone of my post. I wasn’t trying to proclaim myself editor of your blog; I was just offering what is (from my perspective) a bit of advice.

    Second, as for evidence for Jesus, why are the Gospels themselves not considered historical evidence? Before you let your reflexive convulsions of laughter take over, let me explain what I mean by that. Forget the thousands of years of dogmatic nonsensical theology that has accreted around Jesus and the sociological chaos it has wrought; just read the Gospels as you would if we lived in a world where there was no such thing as Christianity and the manuscripts were found just last week. What would they be? They wouldn’t be endless, nauseating, nonsensical, exquisitely crafted Augustinian theological discourses about the Trinity, “soteriology”, Papal Infallibility, or any other risible Christian doctrine you want to name. Rather, they would just be stories about an iconoclastic Jewish rabbi who was crucified by the Romans. What, specifically, about that arouses so much skepticism?

    1. Second, as for evidence for Jesus, why are the Gospels themselves not considered historical evidence?

      They are indeed evidence for a historical Jesus. But not very good evidence. For starters, the gospels were written post-AD71 (the earliest, Mark, from which the others copied, clearly already knew about the Roman destruction of the temple). Second, they are all anonymous. We have no idea who wrote them, and little idea of when, and we’re only guessing at why.

      Then, quite notably, we have some earlier Christian writings, namely Paul’s letters. And Paul never ever talks about a Jesus living as a human. He never says that anyone had met Jesus and lived with him, indeed he shows no awareness of that concept at all. When he does speak of Jesus he speaks of a heavenly being who appears in visions (of the Road to Damascus type).

      It is remarkable that Paul quotes the Old Testament over a hundred times. How often does he quote a gospel or a proto-gospel, or all the supposed teachings and sayings of Jesus? Zero. Not at all. The early church was supposed to be buzzing with talk of a recently-lived Jesus, but there is no sign of such a person in Paul’s letters. Ditto Hebrews, Ditto 1 Clementine.

      Indeed if you actually look at all the Old Testament citations in those works they more or less tell you that the whole thing was a story constructed out of *Old* *Testament* writings.

      Then you look into the “Vision of Isaiah” work, where the early versions have a *heavenly* Jesus being crucified and resurrected — not a living-as-a-human one!

      So, it seems this story was later turned into the gospels, first in Mark, where it seems the gospel writers wrote a new allegorical version, this time set on earth.

      Matthew and then Luke took the idea and ran with it, embellishing further. It’s the same idea as C.S Lewis writing a new allegorical version, this time set in Narnia.

      Anyhow, if you’re really interested, read Richard Carrier’s new book.

    2. IMO, the preponderance of the evidence is in favor of Jesus existence (in the same sense as a civil vs. a criminal trial), but there is no airtight proof beyond reasonable doubt.

      However, the presence of Jesus-mythicism in the atheist movement does strike me as a “scorched earth” attitude towards Christianity, as if disproving Jesus’ existence would cause the final collapse of Christianity just as Frodo Baggins destroying the One Ring caused the collapse of Mordor.

      While there is a modest embarassment of too many theories about what the “real” Jesus was like, there are also conflicting versions of Jesus-mythicism. The mythicist theories of Earl Doherty are quite different from the mythicist theories of George Wells (the latter more credible IMO). For most historians, the default fallback position would be non knowing.

      1. IAF (In Actual Fact, as opposed to your opinion) the evidence is remarkably thin. Most arguments for a historical Jesus that are not factually inaccurate amount to “it is such a slender claim, that a rabbi named Jesus existed in such a place at such a time that you ought to throw us the benefit of a doubt.”

      2. However, the presence of Jesus-mythicism in the atheist movement does strike me as a “scorched earth” attitude towards Christianity, as if disproving Jesus’ existence would cause the final collapse of Christianity just as Frodo Baggins destroying the One Ring caused the collapse of Mordor.

        No, it represents an interest in the truth and a refusal to unduly privilege the claims of Christians. As it turns out, there’s no more reason to think of Jesus as an historical figure than there is to think of Xenu, Moroni, Osiris, or Quetzalcoatl as historical figures.

        While there is a modest embarassment of too many theories about what the “real” Jesus was like, there are also conflicting versions of Jesus-mythicism.

        There’s really only one myth theory that need be taken seriously, and it’s so simple and boring as to be anti-climactic.

        In Zechariah 6, there’s a character called, “Jesus” (aka, “Joshua” in the KJV — but that’s the same name through different languages) who is YHWH’s anointed (i.e., Christened) high priest given the name, Rising (“Branch” in the KJV), and who is the builder of YHWH celestial temple and all the rest of the critical theological functions the Christian Jesus fills. Philo expanded upon that, equating this Jesus as the Logos, and his Logos is all the rest of Christian theology. Paul’s Jesus is indistinguishable from that of Philo and Zechariah, save Paul adds the detail of the specific manner (crucifixion) in which Jesus fulfills the prophecy in Zechariah. A couple generations later, Mark euhemerized a biography for Jesus in the form of his Gospel, and the other Gospels were built upon Mark’s. At some point along the way, Mark’s fabrication of a life for Jesus came to be believed as really having really happened — the same way that some Pacific Islanders really believe John Frum really did visit them and will soon return.

        For full details, read Richard Carrier’s recent book, On the Historicity of Jesus.



        1. Well, Paul says he went to Jerusalem and met Jesus’ brother. Just prima facie that suggests that Jesus existed. It’s not an incredible claim at all. Lots of people existed in the past. If someone claims to have met someone, it’s not absurd to think that that person did in fact meet that person, without some countervailing consideration. And similarly if someone claims to have had a brother, it’s not absurd to think that that person did in fact have a brother. I would wager that most people had brothers in first-century Palestine (since the fertility rate was probably very high, and even higher if you excluded all those women who had zero children).

          The claim that Philo’s Logos is identified with “Jesus” is not a bare observation of the text. Some people have argued it (few), but that’s not a datum per se, because then you would still have to show that Paul accepted that tendentious interpretation, which is probably impossible.

          1. Well, Paul says he went to Jerusalem and met Jesus’ brother.

            Paul never once wrote any such thing.

            He writes of meetings with James, the brother of the Κύριος. He never identifies James as the brother of Ἰησοῦς or even Χριστός; only ever Κύριος. And even Origen makes explicit that James was not a biological brother of Jesus but rather a Brother of the Lord in the exact same sense that modern monks today are.

            The claim that Philo’s Logos is identified with “Jesus” is not a bare observation of the text.

            1. Alright, so you don’t think Paul identifies the kyrios with Jesus, is that right? Don’t you think the preponderance of evidence is otherwise? There is only one other time that “kyrios” is used in Galatians 1, and that is in reference to “kyriou iesou christou”. And then the next usage in Galatians. Do you think that kyrios in 1:16 refers to any otherwise known character or person?

              Do really think that Origen is valuable here? I would think he is writing around 150 years later trying to justify many theological claims without any concern for history.

              1. “Κύριος” in Paul’s own Bible that he quoted exclusively rather than Jesus was the name for YHWH that today’s KJV translates as “the LORD.” If Jesus were an human, can you really imagine Paul calling James YHWH’s brother?

                And if you’re going to dismiss Origen as an authority on early Christianity, you’re going to have to do away with the Gospels as well. They’re already at least a couple generations after the presumed dates of the alleged events. Do that, and all you’re left with is Paul…and if all you have is Paul, you have no Jesus save the archangel version of Zechariah 6 and Philo.

                I’m not exaggerating. The only detail Paul adds that wasn’t already present and widespread in ancient Jewish writings is that of the proximate reason for why Jesus had to Rise — namely, crucifixion. And, even then, we don’t hear from Paul that it was Pilate, whose lifetime overlapped with Paul’s, but “the archons of that age” who were responsible.


              2. Thanks for the answer.

                The point about the Septuagint seems to be a bit of leap: Because we know that kyrios in the Septuagint refers to YHWH, that doesn’t mean that Paul used the term to refer to YHWH. I’m not even sure if Paul would have ever used the term YHWH, as he perhaps didn’t know anything but Greek and a few phrases in Aramaic and Hebrew. So it seems a bit of reach to say that Paul must have been using the term kyrios the same as the Septuagint translators were.

                So, to answer your question, I’m not entirely sure what relationship Paul thought YHWH had to Jesus, and thus to James.

                Here’s something I think is pretty strong: In 1 Corinthians 8:6, Paul says that “there is one kyrios, Jesus Christ.” Paul seems to be saying that there is just one kyrios, and Jesus is that kyrios. So if he then refers to a kyrios in Galatians 1:19, I think it would be a safe interpretation that he means the same thing as he means in 1 Cor 8:6.

                Well, I wouldn’t really say there is any real authority. The closest thing to an authority would be the set of traditions that survive critical scrutiny.

              3. Helps if you quote at least the entire verse. “But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.”

                That’s not a description of a mere mortal schmuck whom others could mistrake for a deranged crank babbling on the street corner. That’s a description of, as Zechariah 6 puts it, he who built the temple of the Κύριος, who shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule upon his throne; and he shall be a priest upon his throne: and the counsel of peace shall be upon them both.



              4. That might be right. I don’t claim that Paul says that Jesus is such a schmuck. But the point is that it seems that Paul closely identifies Jesus as the kyrios, and so it is reasonable to think that when he refers to a kyrios in Gal 1:19 he is also referring to Jesus.

              5. Then you’re claiming that James is the brother of the supreme architect of YHWH’s celestial temple who served as the spiritual template for the soul of mankind. That is, you’re claiming that James is also a divine otherworldly figure. Or else you’re claiming that he who shared YHWH’s throne and judgement duties, the Prince of Peace, also went slumming in Jerusalem and Paul never noticed his corporeal presence.

                I don’t think either option is defensible. But for James to just be a monk the same way that Christian Brothers throughout history have been monks? As early Christians themselves explicitly explained? Seems such an unremarkable position I have a difficult time how anybody can challenge it.


              6. I’m not claiming either of those. I’m saying that when Paul says that he met this guy he called James, he probably did. I also think when Paul says that James had a brother, he probably did have a brother. If Paul thought that this guy’s brother was some things he could not have possibly been, then that just means Paul believed absurd things. People believe absurd things all the time, so there’s nothing historically unlikely about that.

                I think claiming that this James person was a monk does not make a lot of sense. Because there is no evidence for it. The evidence you seem to be using is the fact that Paul calls him a brother of the kyrios, and the fact that later Christians referred to monks as “brothers”. But this is retrojecting a later usage in order to explain why Paul says that James is someone’s brother. But this assumes that there is a problem with James having a literal brother and so therefore there needs to be an explanation for why Paul would seemingly claim so. But I don’t think it is a problem that James had a literal brother.

              7. The problem isn’t with James having a brother; the problem is with James’s brother being, as in the very passage you quoted, the very archetype for the soul of humanity.

                I’ll let Origen have the final word on this matter — especially since, in the same passage he so neatly demolishes the other canard so favored by Jesus historicists, the notion that Josephus had a clue about Jesus.

                For in the 18th book of his Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus bears witness to John as having been a Baptist, and as promising purification to those who underwent the rite. Now this writer, although not believing in Jesus as the Christ, in seeking after the cause of the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple, whereas he ought to have said that the conspiracy against Jesus was the cause of these calamities befalling the people, since they put to death Christ, who was a prophet, says nevertheless — being, although against his will, not far from the truth — that these disasters happened to the Jews as a punishment for the death of James the Just, who was a brother of Jesus (called Christ), — the Jews having put him to death, although he was a man most distinguished for his justice. Paul, a genuine disciple of Jesus, says that he regarded this James as a brother of the Lord, not so much on account of their relationship by blood, or of their being brought up together, as because of his virtue and doctrine.

              8. Right, but I’m not arguing that Jesus was “the very archetype for the soul of humanity”. So if that’s a problem, it’s not a problem for me.

                What was Origen’s source for this claim? Paul was long dead. Origen’s primary sources for Paul were his letters and Acts, so the claim he is making has no known support. And it serves an obvious purpose for Origen: It allows him to maintain the perpetual virginity of Mary against this seeming contradiction of the doctrine by Paul, a doctrine Origen affirms in his _Homilies_on_Leviticus_.

                Really, I would say that quote from Origen only affirms the literal reading. Because it shows definitively that native Greek readers would normally interpret it that way, and that thus he had to make an effort to explain away this contradiction to his doctrine of perpetual virginity.

              9. Right, but I’m not arguing that Jesus was “the very archetype for the soul of humanity”.

                Then you’re in vehement disagreement with Paul, including the very verse you earlier cited.

                You’re also in vehement disagreement with every other ancient mention of Jesus.

                Indeed, you’re only in agreement with a rather transparent “lie-for-Jesus” eventually invented by Christian apologists precisely to deflect attention away from the fact that Jesus is indistinguishable from all the other syncretic Greco-Roman Pagan demigods. And even the people who long ago invented the apology didn’t believe it but rather, as Eusebius (and Plato long before him) urged, told lies in furtherance of a greater truth.

                It’s also worth noting that, originally, this fact was sean as a feature. See Justin Martyr’s First Apology, dedicated entirely to the proposition that Jesus was, indeed, cut from the same cloth — only it was evil daemons with the power of foresight who knew Jesus was coming who spread the Pagan stories centuries in advance in order to lead honest men astray. It took a while for the pretense of Christian originality to grow to the point that they claimed none of the other religions were anything like their own — and that, in large part, because they claimed that their stories of their demigod weren’t made up, unlike all the others.


              10. What exactly do you mean by “every other ancient mention of Jesus”? Take any (non-empty) set of all propositions concerning Jesus affirmed by an ancient writer. Is that what you mean by “ancient mention”? If that’s the case then I could name at least two with which I would not vehemently disagree: Josephus and Tacitus (go ahead and exclude the Testimonium Flavianum).

                However, if that is what you mean, it is not much of a concern to me. It wouldn’t really matter to me if no ancient writer offers an entirely true description of Jesus. I don’t think any of Plato, Xenophon, Aristophanes, Aristotle, etc. offer an entirely true description of Socrates, but I still think some of the things said are true, in particular the proposition that he existed. This is in line with what I said: that the only thing I would regard as like an authority would be the set of traditions which survive critical scrutiny.

              11. Josephus and Tacitus (go ahead and exclude the Testimonium Flavianum).

                Sorry, but there really isn’t any further point to this discussion.

                Josephus writes of many men named, “Jesus,” none of whom is the Christian savior. The Testamonium is purest fabrication, the most-cited textbook example of such. There’s one other passage where Josephus writes of Jesus ben Damneus whom illiterates who can’t read to the end of a sentence think refers Jesus ben Joseph. And Tacitus (along with all the other Pagans) only made passing mention a century later to the sorts of Christian beliefs they’d put in doorknob fliers if such things existed in that day.

                That your standards for evidence are such, and especially that you’d so casually disregard the passionate pleadings and extensive exhortations of the closest and universally-agreed-upon most authoritative source…demonstrates either gross ignorance of the subject or careless disregard for introductory-level scholarship.


              12. Well, I’m sorry you feel that way, and I have no expectation that you read or respond.

                So first all, it doesn’t matter to me if what Tacitus said is only a “passing mention a century later to the sorts of Christian beliefs they’d put in doorknob fliers if such things existed in that day”. That’s fine, it’s just a counter-example to your claim about what I vehemently disagree with. It’s not about standards of evidence. You said I am in disagreement with “every” mention of the sort, including Tacitus. I’m not.

                Talking about standards of evidence: Are you now suggesting that the “brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James” line in Josephus has the Christ bit as an interpolation? That seems to be an implication of what you’re saying. The evidence is that every single early manuscript for this passage includes the words. Can you name a single, professional, textual critic that agrees with your conjectural emendation?

    3. …they would just be stories about an iconoclastic Jewish rabbi who was crucified by the Romans. What, specifically, about that arouses so much skepticism?

      Well we don’t take Beowulf to be strong evidence of an actual guy. We don’t take the Historia Britonum to be strong evidence of an actual Arthor (to say nothing of Merlin…who may be a more analogous figure to Jesus considering the magic angle). We don’t take the Iliad to be strong evidence of an actual Paris and Helen.

      So I would turn the question around on you: why should we treat a bunch of writings about an equally mythic-like figure from the 1st century AD any different than these similar documents? Consider especially that two of the three examples I used above are considerably more modern than the New Testament – closer to us in terms of history.

    4. The gospels are *not written* as history – they *look* like fiction, of a very specific sort. We discount them for that reason, we discount the fantastic too and see that there’s little left, etc.

    5. just read the Gospels as you would if we lived in a world where there was no such thing as Christianity and the manuscripts were found just last week

      Exactly. Do that, and it’s instantly obvious that they represent the syncretism of an hellenistic demigod and Judaism. And if you were familiar with Zechariah 6 and Philo’s commentary on it, you’d know exactly which Jewish archangel served as the foundation for the new demigod.

      …or are you the type to think that Superman must be really real because you once saw a nerdy-but-well-muscled guy with glasses working at the local newspaper office…?


      1. “Paul’s Jesus is indistinguishable from that of Philo and Zechariah, save Paul adds the detail of the specific manner (crucifixion) in which Jesus fulfills the prophecy in Zechariah.”

        Isn’t Paul quite explicit that he formerly persecuted the Christian movement, meaning that such a movement already existed? Or are you arguing that that movement was based on Philo? Also, Paul explicitly mentions The Last Supper and a smattering of Jesus’ teachings.

        Also, aside from the general contours of his life and death, do the teachings of Jesus have antecedents in the documents supposedly serving as the basis for the Myth? Not to sound like a born-again crank, but most of Jesus’ parables are sublime and penetrating and seem to me to reflect a singularly insightful mind. I know this hardly counts as empirical proof or even an academic criteria, but it’s something I think is worth considering.

        “Exactly. Do that, and it’s instantly obvious that they represent the syncretism of an hellenistic demigod and Judaism.”

        Why is that “instantly obvious”? *Why* is that bit of Rorschach reasoning more likely than the more prosaic conclusion that there was a rabbi named Jesus whom a small sect of Jews eventually came to worship as the Messiah? Even in the year 2014 we have masses of credulous people believing in “faith healers”; why is it so hard to believe the same happened with Jesus?

        I share your (presumed) antipathy to Christianity, but the utter certainty and absolutism in your conviction of a theory that is apparently not taken seriously by professional historians is more than a bit reminiscent of the desperate plaints of Creationists and their ilk that there’s some kind of circle-the-wagons conspiracy among evolutionary biologists to protect the Truth. I share the viewpoint of an earlier poster: preponderance of evidence seems to be that he existed, but it hardly rises to the level we would normally call “proof”. Or, to put it another way, if, with the aid of a time machine, we found out Jesus didn’t actually exist, I would be surprised, but I wouldn’t be shocked.

        1. Isn’t Paul quite explicit that he formerly persecuted the Christian movement, meaning that such a movement already existed?

          I might have to double-check, but I’m nearly certain that’s only in Acts, which may well date to the second century (or, at earliest, the tail end of the first century).

          Regardless, Christianity not only clearly existed long before Paul, but Jesus himself is right there in Zachariah 6, written at least a few centuries before Paul.

          Paul certainly brought some significant innovations to the table, most especially opening the door to non-Jews. But he comes in at the tail end of a centuries-long gestation.

          Or are you arguing that that movement was based on Philo?

          No. Philo was undoubtedly influential, but he was also obviously a product of his time. There’s no direct evidence that either Paul or Philo knew of the other, but their writings are so theologically compatible that there’s no question but that this was the Bb blues of the day. Even if Paul didn’t get his theology directly from Philo, he either got it from somebody who got it from Philo or they both got it from the same zeitgeist. Probably a fair bit of both. Regardless, there are huge swaths of writings of the one that you could swap out with the other and just change the stylistic presentation and you’d never notice the difference.

          Nor was this sort of syncretism of Hellenistic ideals with a local religion at all remarkable; Christianity just happens to be the one example of hundreds (or thousands?) that survived to modern times.

          Remember, there was a great deal of diversity in Judaism at the time, much more so than today. Also, there was a great deal of diversity in Christianity around the turn of the second century and for a while after until the orthodoxy was established. Roman Catholicism just happens to represent the last faction standing, and it remained somewhat unified until the Orthodox churches split and later the Reformation. But at the beginning, Jews and then Christians were all over the map.

          Also, Paul explicitly mentions The Last Supper and a smattering of Jesus’ teachings.

          The latter Paul most certainly does not. You will not find a single example in the authentic Pauline epistles of quotations of Jesus, most remarkably at times where Paul has to bend over backwards to distort Jewish scripture to support his point when the Jesus of the Gospels provides the ideal example.

          And, funny you should mention the former. Compare that passage in 1 Corinthians 11

          17 Now in this that I declare unto you I praise you not, that ye come together not for the better, but for the worse.

          18 For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it.

          19 For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you.

          20 When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord’s supper.

          21 For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken.

          22 What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not? what shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this? I praise you not.

          23 For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread:

          24 And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me.

          25 After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, this cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.

          26 For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come.

          27 Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.

          28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup.

          29 For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.

          30 For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.

          with this excerpt from Justin Martyr’s First Apology:

          For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them; that Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, said, This do in remembrance of Me, this is My body; and that, after the same manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, He said, This is My blood; and gave it to them alone. Which the wicked devils have imitated in the mysteries of Mithras, commanding the same thing to be done. For, that bread and a cup of water are placed with certain incantations in the mystic rites of one who is being initiated, you either know or can learn.

          Now, recall that Tarsus, as in, “Paul, of,” was the capital of Cilicia (roughly contiguous with modern Turkey), and Cilicia had been the center of Mithraic worship since well before the time of Pompey.

          So, it wasn’t the Last Supper that Paul mentioned. It was the Mithraic Eucharist which he adopted for Christianity’s own sake.

          (And also note that such a ceremony wasn’t even remotely unique to Mithraism, either; quite a number of mystery cults symbolically ate their gods in ritualistic meals.)

          Also, aside from the general contours of his life and death, do the teachings of Jesus have antecedents in the documents supposedly serving as the basis for the Myth?

          Are you kidding? There’s nothing even remotely original in Christianity. The most-cited example, the Golden Rule, is the most universal “religious” precept there is, with examples even in the Torah — let alone Greco-Roman and Buddhist and every other ancient religion.

          And Jesus was actually one of the more perverted, violent, and despicable examples in the ancient literature. Luke 19:27, for starters, and then there’s the whole “bring not peace but a sword” speech, complete with ripping families asunder and condemning those who love their families more than Jesus. Hell, even in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says he’ll infinitely torture any man who has the gall to look admiringly upon a pretty woman and fails to immediately gouge out his own eyes. This is a love god!? And that’s before we get to the virulent and naked anti-Semitism….

          Why is that “instantly obvious”? *Why* is that bit of Rorschach reasoning more likely than the more prosaic conclusion that there was a rabbi named Jesus whom a small sect of Jews eventually came to worship as the Messiah?

          Because we have example after example after example of demigods indistinguishable from Jesus, none of whom were real, and your theory of Jesus would be unique in history, for starters.

          That, and Paul repeatedly and emphatically made plain that Jesus was no schmuck of a rabbi, but rather the eternal celestial being who was the Platonically ideal template for the soul just as Adam was for the flesh.

          Oh — one more minor pair of details.

          We’ve got a very extensive set of actually-contemporary documentation from the period, all of which is perfectly devoid of any mentions of anything that could be remotely be mistraken for any form of Jesus, plus the type of Jesus you’re proposing isn’t even remotely compatible with the Jesus we do have evidence for.

          a theory that is apparently not taken seriously by professional historians

          Richard Carrier has addressed this at length in peer-reviewed publications. The criteria those alleged professionals use is not at all justifiable. When you use a rigorous and impartial methodology to establish probabilities, as Richard does in On the Historicity of Jesus, you wind up with estimates on the order that it’s more likely that you’ll be struck by lightning than it is that even the most minimalistic Haile Selassie type of Jesus actually existed as an historical figure.



          1. I will delve more into the Pauline issues later this weekend, but for now, I want to make note of one thing.

            “Are you kidding? There’s nothing even remotely original in Christianity. The most-cited example, the Golden Rule, is the most universal “religious” precept there is, with examples even in the Torah — let alone Greco-Roman and Buddhist and every other ancient religion. ”

            I certainly wasn’t making the (ludicrous) claim that Jesus invented or was the first to espouse compassion, altruism etc. Rather, I was referring to the way his parables explicate those concepts in poetic ways, often by situating them in the cultural context. Both the Pharisee and the Tax Collector and The Good Samaritan are both robbed of much of their poignancy, for example, if one doesn’t understand the contemporary cultural context in which the protagonists, as it were, of both are members of antagonistic peoples.

            When I asked if those parables have “antecedents”, I certainly did not mean in a world-historical way; I was referring specifically to the material you have claimed is “obviously” the “model” for Jesus. Although obviously the bulk of Christian theology is based upon the Passion, Crucifixion, and Resurrection, in terms of textual volume, those comprise a relatively small portion of the Gospels. After all, when Jefferson famously published a revision of the Gospels with all supernatural material excised, he was still left with quite a bit of material. If none of this material was present in the “model” texts of Jesus, why were they included or, indeed, comprise the bulk of the texts? Devious people disseminating their own political/theological views by grafting them on to the bare bones of the Jesus Myth? (Here is where I think there being a sort of unity of style to the Parables is relevant). Again, how is that Da Vinci Code-esque scenario “obviously” more likely that Jesus was an enigmatic, faith-healing rabbi who was crucified?

            1. I think this discussion is at at end. Your defense of Jesus has been made, your posts are overly long (see the Roolz) and I don’t want a lot more posts “delving into the Pauline issues,” as the arguments about the historicity of Jesus have been made over and over again here.

              1. The only thing I’d add for Robert is another recommendation to read Richard Carrier’s On the Historicity of Jesus. Not only answers all his complaints but a great many I’m sure he’s never even thought of.


  9. Someone’s (Majid Rafizadeh) brain is being sabotaged by his fingers.

    himself a “historian,” he has never attainted a degree

    I am just trying to work out what the definition of “attainted” is, or should be. Someone who gets a genuine qualification (degree, spelling certificate, whatever), but in the process taints the whole idea. For example, “Michael Behe has attainted the position of Doctor of Biochemistry”.
    Nothing to do with the subject, but it’s a word which, sadly, I feel is necessary.

  10. The Front Page Magazine piece by Majid Rafizadeh definitely needs some sources for those quotes from Aslan, although, given his track record, I’d hardly be surprised if they were true.

  11. I’m not able to find any argument in Aslan’s article, other than “if Dawkins or Harris became king of the world, they would commit mass murder,” and even that is more of a claim than an argument.

  12. Nice article by Heather Hastie, though one quibble:

    Near the beginning Heather addresses Aslan’s claim that “atheism has become more difficult to define for the simple reason that it comes in as many forms as theism does.”

    Heather responds:

    “Well, no. There’s only one form of atheism. All atheism means is a lack of belief in gods.”

    Well, I think this sort of brushes under the rug part of Aslan’s point he was raising (even though Aslan’s comparison to religious pluralism is exaggerated).

    It’s actually quite true that atheists themselves have bandied around and debated what “atheism” means, how much it out to entail or not. It was always a hot topic on various atheist boards no usenet, or Internet Infidels, as to what any particular member meant by “atheism.” Which is why
    there arose different designations like “strong atheism” (the stance that one can justify the positive belief claim God doesn’t exist) or “weak atheism” (the claim that one simply hasn’t encountered sound evidence or argument in favor of God’s existence), as well as other categories like “Agnostic Atheist” and “Gnostic Atheist.”

    Many Atheists themselves have held there to be enough conceptual difference to bring up these different categories. Dawkins thought it warranted grading by scale, and then there’s P.Z. Myers, an obviously prominent New Atheist who railed against the idea that atheism only meant or entailed a mere “lack of belief in God.”

    If you listen to the long running Atheist Experience Show, they spend quite a bit of time explaining to confused theist (or atheist) callers the different forms of atheism, and explaining which ones they personally represent.

    I believe that Heather wished to make a point about atheism simply meaning a lack of belief in God(s), whereas it is atheists as individuals who will be varied in their specific claims associated with God and religions.

    But that there has been enough discussion in the atheist community about how the various approaches to non-belief ought to be incorporated into *definitions* of atheism, that Aslan’s point ought not to be dismissed so easily.

  13. OMG! I just read his piece.
    Aslan is an evil man.
    If he truly wants to paint Dawkins and Harris the same color as Stalin and Mao using the anti-theist brush, then he deserves reciprocal treatment.
    Reza Aslan, by being a religious theist in general, and an apologist for Islam in particular, might ultimately behave too much like his co-religionists. We might not be surprised to one day find him sodomizing young children or strapping bombs to their chests.

    After all, ‘if you honestly believed this about religion, then what lengths would you not go through to [preserve it in] society?’

  14. I read through Reza Aslan’s article at Salon. Aslan is indeed a sly, who try to give Dawkins, Sam Harris bad names as Stalin and Mao, who try to split atheist in the atheist movement, who try to justify his Islam religion by dishonesty, who may also earn fame and money in his tricky way…..

    I have a new slogan for atheists: We love the World more than the fictional God! 🙂

  15. Aslan claims, “I am a scholar of religions with four degrees including one in the New Testament…

    I can match that. I’ve got a B.A., a Ph.D., then there’s my high school diploma and before that I graduated from grade school.

    Do I get to count kindergarten as well? That would make it five.

  16. I certainly agree with all that’s being said here. But I think we need to be careful about falling into the same lazy tactics as Aslan himself does.
    It really doesn’t matter what his credentials are. He talks evasive nonsense, that’s the only relevant point.
    And I don’t think we should really start calling this sort of thing dangerous. Over-applying the label is incredibly tempting. Anyone who’s wrong on anything is potentially dangerous in the long run.
    Aslan is fairly harmless. He’s just an obfuscater who’s found a market to exploit.

  17. I’ve been puzzling over a couple of arguments Aslan advances,namely on literalism and the notion of “revealed truth” in holy books. I’m trying to discern if he’s being disingenuous or really believes what he’s fronting.

    I think reasonable minds recognize that Aslan has gone off the reservation when he claims that “even the most devout fundamentalist doesn’t read the bible as literally as Sam Harris”, but it seems to be a whole new level of seriously dude? when he claims that nobody read the bible literally until the mid 19th century. and that ancient audiences who, he claims, didn’t make “sharp distinctions between myth and reality”, nevertheless knew that what they were consuming was factually incorrect – but simply didn’t care.

    Aslan argues that the gospel writers, in this instance, weren’t in the business of relating “facts”, but rather “revealing truths”. He then goes on to cite Luke’s contrived census story and Mathew’s Jesus fleeing to Egypt from Herod’s infanticide, both of which are clearly recognized as literary embellishments designed to have Jesus emulate the footsteps of scriptural heroes. So why does Aslan refer to this as “truths”, when it’s just patchwork designed to fulfill to equally fictive prophecies of scripture?

  18. Aslan’s introduction to Islam, _No_God_but_God_, is actually pretty good as far as introductions go. To cure the faults of Aslan however, look at the work of Aaron Hughes. He has an introduction, called _Muslims_Identities_, but one who does not need an introduction might be more interested in his excellent _Theorizing_Islam_ which gets right to the theoretical problems.

    I take a look at one particular problem with Aslan’s theory of religion, in the context of his recent media appearances:

    1. Interesting stuff.

      Consider Aslan’s proximity to a No True Scotsman fallacy in the following:

      RA: Even the most devout fundamentalist doesn’t read the bible as literally as Sam Harris.

      Bystander: American society is populated by many devout fundamentalists who believe the bible describes historical events.

      RA: Ah, but even those devout fundamentalists are more “sophisticated” in their literalist views than Sam Harris.

      I’ve read Aslan’s books, and I enjoy reading Aslan the religious historian; when he departs from that task and ventures into the role of reformist philosopher, whose first task is to minimize the unpleasant realities of religious literalism by sweeping them into a dark corner, so as to deem them non-existent, I find him to be disingenuous at best – and intellectually dishonest at worst.

  19. Great post. One aspect you might have emphasized: you would be hard pressed to find a public intellectual who more brazenly adverts to their own expert credential to shut down opposing arguments. I think it was sort of fair for Aslan to raise his credentials when asked on Fox why, as a Muslim, he was writing on Jesus. But was there any reason for Aslan to keep bringing up his credentials in his debate with Sam Harris – sighing exasperatedly about the ‘profound unsophistication’ of Harris’ views, saying they were gleaned entirely from FOX news, and announcing again and again in stilted diction that, “I am a scholar. of. reeellliiiggiiiooonnn.” Just reeks of the lady doth protest too much.

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