In his recent debate with Dr. Timothy McGrew, Zachary Moore cited a counter-miracle. He referred to a story about Honi the Circle-Drawer (c. 60 BC). He attributed the story to Josephus.
As Moore relates the story, there was a drought in Judea. Honi drew a circle in the dust, stood in circle, and refused to move unless and until God brought rain. At first, God responded with drizzle. Honi said that was too little, so God responded with a downpour. Honi said that was too much, so God moderated the precipitation. Some people were upset by his ordering God around, but he got away with it due to his piety.
I'm summarizing. You can listen to his verbatim remarks (at the 56-57 min. mark).
i) Why does Moore imagine that's a problem for belief in miracles? From a Christian standpoint, what's problematic about God answering the prayer of a pre-Christian Jew? Wouldn't we expect God to answer the prayers of some OT Jews and Intertestamental Jews? How is that inconsistent with a Christian theology of miracles?
ii) This further illustrates a problem with Moore's effort to discredit miracles by attempting to draw parallels between reported miracles in religiously diverse cultures. Given that humans have stereotypical needs, we'd expect humans to have similar "stories". Jewish farmers, Christian farmers, and pagan farmers all pray for rain during drought. It's hardly surprising that you might find cross-cultural "stories" like that, because it happens in real life. Even if some of the stories are fictional, people tell stories like that because they wish their God or gods would answer prayers like that.
To take a comparison, there are lots of fictional love stories. But that's because some men and woman fall in love in real life, and most men and women hope to do so. The fact that some of these stories are fictional doesn't cast doubt on any story in particular. There's no presumption that a love story is fictional. Some are and some aren't.
iii) Finally, Josephus doesn't contain the version of the story that Moore attributes to him. This is all Josephus says about Honi:
Now there was one named Onias, a righteous man and beloved of God, who, in a certain drought, had once prayed to God to put an end to the intense heat, and God had heard his prayer and sent rain. Antiquities 14.2.1 21.
That's it! And that comes from the Antiquities (c. 93)–which is about 150 years after the alleged event.
So where do the details of the story come from that Moore is citing? From the Mishnah:
They said to Honi, the circle drawer, "Pray for rain."
He said to them, "Go and take in the clay ovens used for Passover, so that they not soften [in the rain which is coming]."
He prayed, but it did not rain.
What did he do?
He drew a circle and stood in the middle of it and said before Him, "Lord of the world! Your children have turned to me, for before you I am like a member of the family. I swear by your great name–I'm simply not moving from here until you take pity on your children!"
It began to rain drop by drop.
He said, This is not what I wanted, but rain for filling up cisterns, pits, and caverns."
It began to rain violently.
He said, "This is not what I wanted, but rain of good will, blessing, and graciousness."
Now it rained the right way, until Israelites had to flee from Jerusalem up to the Temple Mount because of the rain.
Now they came and said to him, "Just as you prayed for it to rain, now pray for it to go away."
He said to them, "Go, see whether the stone of the strayers is disappeared."
Simon b. Shatah said to him, "If you were not Honi, I should decree a ban of excommunication against you. But what am I going to do to you? For you importune before the Omnipresent, so he does what you want, like a son who importunes his father, so he does what he wants. J. Neusner, ed. The Mishnah: A New Translation (Yale 1991), 312-13.
According to Jacob Neusner, the Mishnah dates to c. 200 AD (ibid. xvi). So the Mishnaic story of Honi is about 250 years after the fact! Perhaps it reflects a legendary embellishment of Josephus, or maybe it's an independent, but very late tradition–which could still be legendary. So the story cited by Moore is of very dubious historicity on chronological grounds alone.
iv) Assuming my information is correct, how did Moore misattribute to Josephus a story from the Mishnah? The obvious explanation is that he relied on some thirdhand source, and didn't bother to check his sources. You have to wonder where he got it. Is this from some village atheist collection of comparative mythology?
v) Keep in mind that this was in Moore's opening statement. He even has a display. It's not like the rebuttal or cross-examination, where debaters are talking off the cuff. One can make allowances for inaccuracies that creep in when speakers have to give unrehearsed responses. But this wasn't some offhand comment. These were prepared remarks. It tells you something about Moore's standards that he's that slipshod. And it's ironic that he himself is guilty of legionary embellishment. Intentionally or not, he embellished Josephus.