Sunday, October 17, 2010

Fiction In Early Christianity: Some Preliminaries

Before I discuss some ancient sources relevant to the historicity of early Christianity, I want to address some general principles involved. When somebody like Richard tells us that the early Christians were communicating in a fictional genre when they referred to things like the virgin birth and Jesus' resurrection, here are some of the factors we should keep in mind:

- We live most of our lives in the real world. Speaking in fictional terms isn't our normal frame of reference. We don't begin with a default assumption that a claim made by a historical source is being made within a fictional context.

- If you've spent a lot of time reading the New Testament, the church fathers, and other relevant historical sources, ask yourself whether a conclusion like Richard's has ever even entered your mind. If you've thought of it before, how seriously did you take it? Your experience and impressions aren't sufficient to settle this issue by themselves, but they should be taken into account. How likely is it that the fictional nature of early Christianity, if Richard is correct, would be so subtle that you would have missed it in so many contexts and for so long a period of time? Would all of the sources involved be likely to be so subtle in their communication of the fictional nature of the religion?

- In a way, Richard's theory is even more radical than the view of those who deny Jesus' existence. People who argue against Jesus' existence will often acknowledge that Christians were communicating in a historical genre in one or more of the gospels and in patristic documents as early as the first or second century. Even they would think Richard has gone too far. He's made Christ mythers look somewhat moderate. That's hard to do.

- Richard has suggested that you need the sort of higher education that he has in order to understand this issue. But, as I'll be documenting later, scholars with a higher standing than Richard have contradicted his theory. If we're going to trust the judgment of scholars who are more knowledgeable of these issues than we are, then why trust Richard rather than the others?

- Christianity came out of Judaism, and the early Christians made much of Jesus' Messiahship and prophecy fulfillment. Did the ancient Jews think the Messiah would be a fictional figure or one who should be largely fictionalized by his followers? Did they think prophecy would be fulfilled through fictional stories? When the early Christians cite prophecy as such an allegedly convincing line of evidence for the Divine nature of their religion, is it likely they were referring to the writing of fictional stories as evidence of the supernatural?

- When the early Christians and their enemies agree about something, like the empty tomb, are we to believe that both sides decided to fabricate stories involving an empty tomb? It's hard enough to think of the early Christians as being so interested in making up stories they knew to be fictional and continuing to follow those stories under persecution and other difficulties. It's even harder to imagine the early enemies of the religion responding by not only making up their own stories that they presented as fictional, but even by making up stories so similar to the Christian alternative. Were there so many people who were so interested in conducting themselves in such a fictional context, with so much subtlety, and with such similar content (e.g., the empty tomb)?

- Would uneducated and low-ranking members of society (Mary Magdalene, Peter, etc.) be likely to operate on such a large scale with the sort of interest in fiction, and subtlety in expressing it, that Richard's theory suggests?

- If the relevant documents are fictional, why do they have so many of the markers of non-fiction?

- What would happen if we applied reasoning like Richard's to Greek history, Roman history, American history, etc.?

Those are several factors to take into account. I'm not trying to be exhaustive. And I realize that Richard can keep redefining his theory as he goes along, claim that he was misunderstood, etc. But I think the points I've made above are reasonable responses to his theory as he presented it in his posts on this blog.


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  2. What's pathetic, Richard, is the lack of substance in your posts. And I don't know why the man who refuses to name himself and left our initial discussion would accuse the other of being "cowardly". Why would the man offering less supporting argumentation and less documentation accuse the other one of "laziness"? Why would the one who keeps presenting straw man versions of early Christianity and straw man versions of Christian argumentation accuse the other of "misrepresentation"? Why would the one who keeps mentioning his academic credentials, refers to himself as "we", told his opponent that he's not educated enough to understand the issues, keeps expecting people to accept his claims without doing much to support those claims, etc. accuse the other person of "arrogance"?

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  7. The Richard in this thread has since been identified as Richard C. Miller. You can read more about him and his unethical behavior here.