Saturday, March 14, 2009

Consistency with Josephus and the NT

Jason Engwer is attempting to show that my attitude toward Josephus is inconsistent with my attitude toward the NT. He's written three posts since my last one. The first one I reply to in the comment section here. In this post I'll respond to his second and third posts.

I think rather than showing I'm inconsistent in my treatment of Josephus, what Jason's arguments do (when they are coherent) is actually show that he should apply the lessons he learns from Josephus to the NT. He is the one that is making exceptions. I summarize and respond to his arguments below.

1-Josephus used assistants, and in some of the books the composition is practically handed over to these assistants entirely.

What would I make of these things, Jason asks? Apparently I've "ignored" the potential use of assistants for the NT. I seriously wonder why Jason finds this to be of any significance at all. What is he making of this?

First of all, I have no problem with Josephus using assistants. Jason has asserted that some NT authors used an amanuensis. He does this in an effort to explain the discrepancies in vocabulary. So how does this work, Jason? If I were to concede that Josephus used an assistant I must therefore permit you to invoke an amanuensis whenever you feel the need to get yourself out of a tight spot?

Heck, I guess anybody can now invoke an amanuensis excuse whenever they want to because after all, Josephus used an assistant. It was common at the time. If you go to court and you dispute a will and you prove that the text involves different authors due to the stylistic differences in the vocabulary, the defendant now has an easy answer. An assistant to the deceased must have done it, not me. After all, Josephus used an assistant, so now I'm free to invoke it whenever I find myself in a tight spot. Explain to me the logical principles you use to come up with these rules.

2-Certain scholars regard Josephus as "an incurable liar" and otherwise question his integrity. Where does Jon stand on this issue?

I wouldn't be a bit surprised. I've already mentioned his biases. I'm well aware that he offers an inaccurate pro-Roman spin. Are you suggesting I think Josephus is inerrant or something? I'm pretty much in full agreement with the scholar you cite (J.J. Scott). We have reason to trust Josephus on other matters, but he does have faults that lead him to make erroneous claims. What is the problem here?

3-Josephus writes controversial comments about the nature of the Canon of Jewish Scripture. Many scholars think the Canon wasn't as settled as Josephus claims. Shouldn't this imply forgery by Jon's standards?

Once again, I'm lost. If Josephus is mistaken about the Canon, how does this imply forgery? Jason parallels this case to arguments about Paul in I Cor 15 and Galatians 1. In Galatians "Paul" tells us that he didn't get the gospel from men, but got it directly by revelation. In I Cor 15 Paul says he got the gospel from the Jerusalem apostles, not by revelation. I say this would suggest we're dealing with different authors. How is a mistake from Josephus analogous to the contradiction in Paul?

I'll give you an example of a similar contradiction from Josephus. The famous Testimoniam Flavianum has that Josephus believes Jesus is the Messiah. Elsewhere Josephus says that Vespasian is the Messiah. I don't think he could have written both. One of the claims from Josephus must be spurious. I'm treating both texts in a consistent way. Jason on the other hand will imagine some "how it could have been" scenarios to reconcile Paul with Paul. He probably doesn't do this with Josephus and recognizes at a minimum that the TF is partially spurious. Why the double standard? Why not imagine a "how it could have been" scenario for the TF?

4-Jon lauds Josephus because in an introduction Josephus concedes his own biases. Eusebius similarly recognizes his own deficiencies in composing his own history. Yet Jon has a negative view of Eusebius. What's the story?

Actually, I see Eusebius and Josephus as similar in this regard. Both should be treated with skepticism when we are dealing with issues where they would be expected to have biases. It's possible that Eusebius himself composed the TF. It doesn't exist in writings prior to him. But we would expect that Eusebius would love to see Josephus assert that Jesus is the Messiah. We would expect that Eusebius is embarrassed at the total lack of mention of Jesus from historians that existed at the time of Jesus. So we might suspect that he could concoct such things. This is not to say that everything Eusebius writes is false.

Jason in some cases recognizes this same point. In this thread he responds to my charge that Eusebius claims Papias is a man of small intellect by dismissing Eusebius due to his biases against premillenialism. That could very well be. Papias espoused premillenialism, and we might expect that Eusebius would concoct claims that help him rebut it. I'm not suggesting we treat Josephus any differently.

5-Paul Maier similarly recognizes deficiencies in Josephus.

Once again, so what? I have no problem with your quote from Maier. If you want to be consistent then, would you similarly tell us about the deficiencies and inaccuracies contained in the NT?

The overall lesson here is a good one. Be skeptical when reading an ancient author when he is discussing subjects where you might expect him to have a bias. What do we do with Irenaeus when he tells us Jesus lived to the age of 50 and we know he wants this to be true to combat so called heretics? What should we think when he similarly tells us that the apostle John wrote the 4th gospel? We know he wants to give the text apostolic authority. Shouldn't we approach such claims cautiously? I think so. Jason doesn't. He just takes it at face value. He wants that one to be true, but doesn't want the claim of Jesus living to the age of 50 to be true. So he accepts the former and rejects the latter. Is this a consistent methodology?

Take a look at the gospels. "(B)ut these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name." Jn 20:31. If you want to be consistent and treat the NT like we treat Josephus, how would we view the gospel of John? Don't the other gospels betray the same mindset? They most certainly do. They also betray an effort to portray Jesus in a certain light. How does Jason view these texts? Does he apply the same reasoning Maier and Scott do to Josephus? I do.

Jason is staying up to all hours of the night pounding away at the keyboard trying to show that I treat Josephus differently than I treat the NT. But as we look through his arguments it seems I'm the one treating them the same and Jason is the one making the exceptions.


Jon said...

Let's also not forget, Jason, abut the important question I asked you from before which you have yet to answer. I'll repeat it here:

You claim that the critics arguments for acceptance of Tacitus are based on worse evidence. I guess that means you know the evidence the critics use as the basis for their claims regarding Tacitus as well as those same critics arguments regarding things like the gospels. Why don't you tell us what the basis for their claims regarding Tacitus are and also their claims regarding Luke so we can compare them? Don't just google it now. Don't just use Wikipedia. Tell us the people you have in mind and their specific arguments so that we can judge if you know what you're talking about or if you are just repeating statements from Keener and others.

I made a claim about how we know Josephus was accurate, and so when you asked me to justify the claim I regarded that as a fair question. I knew it could turn into a marathon, but I realized that if I'm going to make positive assertions I need to back them up. I've done my part. When will you do yours?

I've reiterated this point at the "Bad Arguments" thread, where I respond to your "lazy college student" style argument, so I'll also repeat that here.

Further, Jason does not seem to understand basic rules of argumentation. He complains that I'm asking him to research documents for me. What I asked him to do is back up his assertions regarding Tacitus. I made an assertion regarding Josephus and Jason asked me to back it up. That's fair. He who asserts must prove. I wasn't going to complain about it and say "why should I do your research for you?" I made a claim. It's my burden to back it up. Jason made a claim but won't back it up. He thinks that's my fault, but it isn't.

Jon said...

In response to this:

He ranks the New Testament higher than Josephus. Yet, Jon accepts the text of Josephus, basing his arguments for the reliability of Josephus on the textual details, while casting doubt on the New Testament text.

Yeah, we all know that the manuscript evidence is better for the NT than it is for Josephus. Again, you don't need Bart Ehrman to recognize that. But Jason has had these things explained to him before. Not only do we see modification of the texts by the orthodox tradition, we see modification of the text by the gospel authors themselves. We know for a fact that the propaganda campaign was already in full bloom in a matter of just a few years. At most a couple of decades. Matthew is modifying Mark. Matthew is retaliating against Paul. Claims are made that Marcion has taken a scalpel to Luke. Is that the truth, or is it that orthodoxy has padded out Luke? In these conditions 100 years is a long time. Not only that, but the subject matter is almost all propaganda related items.

Perhaps Josephus has the same problems. I'm not aware of that. I'm not aware of scholars asserting that. Jason claims that scholars are inconsistent in their treatment of Joesphus as compared to the NT, but he hasn't shown us which scholars he has in mind, what their arguments are regarding Josephus, or what their arguments are regarding the NT. So he's given us no reason to take his claim seriously.

Why propose textual corruption in Matthew 17 without any textual evidence?

Once again Jason is not listening very carefully. I didn't propose a textual variant at Mt 17. White asked me what Price's argument was on this point and I described what I thought it was. I even went so far as to say "I'm not saying I buy into their claims." Since then I asked Price to clarify that and he explained that he didn't think there was an interpolation, but he thought the gospel author inserted this portion in an effort to resolve the contradiction in the text. Nobody is proposing a textual variant at Mt 17. Once again Jason is critiquing me based upon claims I didn't make.

Earlier, Jon referred to Josephus as an eyewitness. But, again, how does he know that the author was an eyewitness without knowing who the author was?

You can know that. If the description offered is one that makes best sense as an eyewitness report, then you can conclude it is an eyewitness report even if you don't know the name. An anonymous report can be an eyewitness report.

Jason will want to know how I know that what Josephus offers looks like an eyewitness report. I accept it because the scholars say it. I'm not claiming expertise myself. That's a rational position when the question is not in dispute. I don't know what their specific arguments are, but this is what they claim. Jason is the one that claims their arguments amount to a double standard. He needs to justify that claim. He needs to tell us why their arguments would also prove that the NT is eyewitness information. It is Jason's burden to show why what they say amounts to a double standard, because this is his claim, not mine.

When discussing the New Testament, Jon tells us that forgers can lie, that they can write as if they're eyewitnesses, that they can write with verisimilitude, etc.

Yeah, they do. I'm not making that up. Bart Ehrman, who accepts the authenticity of 7 of Paul's epistles, is the one who listed this as a forgers technique in his lectures. But don't confuse what this argument does. It's not as if verisimilitude itself is an argument for spuriousness. If I have good reasons for concluding that a text is spurious then verisimilitude doesn't overturn that conclusion. Forgers use these techniques. They're not idiots. But some things with the appearance of truth are harder to fake than others. You need to take them on a case by case basis. If a forger gets too detailed he can tip his hand and expose the fraud. I assume Eisenmann isn't seeing that based on the statements he makes.

And again, it's OK to accept the assertions of scholars even if you don't have first hand knowledge. For instance, I don't know much about germ theory, but I accept the germ theory of disease based upon the fact that experts accept it. They have their reasons, and I could perhaps give an outline, but can't give the details. It's the same with cross checking the details Josephus offers. It's perfectly reasonable to accept that Josephus' claims can be cross checked if experts in the field claim they can be. You would expect if that was false there would be some dispute about it.

When Jon was discussing the letters attributed to Paul, he didn't just conclude that inconsistencies in the Pauline documents reflect "deficiencies in Paul" or "bias" on Paul's part. Rather, he concluded that inconsistencies suggest forgery:

Nobody is suggesting that any inconsistency is proof of forgery. This is just Jason's effort to blur things. As if I believe a text has to be inerrant to be genuine. Some inconsistencies would suggest we're dealing with different authors. Others might suggest sloppiness. Or an honest mistake. Or even a correction. They have to be looked at on a case by case basis.

For the record, which does Jason propose with regards to the NT? Is it sloppiness, honest mistakes, corrections? We wouldn't want to be inconsistent now.

Jason believe he is permitted to use a double standard, because of course the Bible is divinely inspired, and if you don't know why, "consult this blog's archives." I suppose if I don't read every post and every book cited I'll be guilty of "ignoring" Jason's arguments.

I haven't argued that Josephus alone justifies an assumption of the use of assistants "whenever I find myself in a tight spot".

But you haven't told us what your argument is. You made no argument. You say "Josephus used assistants." My response is, so? What's your point? Let's hear it. I don't think you are making any sense. But I invite you to clarify.

The question is, if Jon judges Josephus to be reliable by comparing him to a Roman historian, for example, then why does Jon trust that Roman historian?

Again, it is permissible to take the word of a scholar if what the scholar says is not disputed and you don't personally have expertise in the area. Jason is the one asserting that critics use double standards, but he doesn't tell us the basis for their claims regarding Josephus.

Here is my standard. If I don't have expertise in an area I accept the claims from scholars when what the scholar says is not seriously disputed. I've not read the complete works of Josephus. I've read the NT multiple times. I know more about the Bible. Also Jason's conservative opinions about the Bible obviously are hotly disputed.

I offered the reasons that one scholar offers for trusting Josephus. These reasons don't apply to the NT. So these are reasons to accept one and not the other. On the case of cross checking Jason doesn't dispute that the reason is valid. He simply demands that I go out and produce the evidence first hand that the scholar is referring to. I have no burden to do that. Jason is the one that says people like Eisenmann are inconsistent. He is the one that must therefore look to the evidence and prove that his cross checking claim results in a double standard.

You'll notice that I put a lot of emphasis on points related to scholars. I argue that it is acceptable to take the scholarly position as a default position when the point is not seriously disputed. I argue that facts asserted by scholars are evidence of a point. I argue that controversial opinions by scholars friendly to one side are not very compelling. I keep saying these things over and over, and Jason continues to base arguments on positions he knows I reject based upon said arguments. But he just pays no attention to them.

So here's a prediction, and I make it simply to goad Jason into slowing down and trying to take in the point and deal with it. Jason will ignore these points again. Oh, he may quote me. He'll probably quote this very section. But in response he'll say things unrelated to these points. He'll say that I called Tertullian vicious and wicked, that I was mistaken about the date of a certain manuscript, that I was mistaken about Eusebius and the Easter controversy. Maybe he'll mention that I didn't respond to every point in one of his 50 page responses. This is how he provides cover for himself to avoid dealing with a tough issue.

I could argue that way. I could point to some of Jason's documented errors in an effort to ignore direct questions. But that doesn't further learning for me or anybody else. I'm not here to score points on Jason. I'm here to learn.

Jason goes back to whether or not someone wrote in the name of Josephus. I suppose I sound like a broken record, but even if someone named "Steve" wrote it, the info we have is reliable. It is cross checked. It has details that make better sense as reliable information (according to the scholars). If Jason disagrees he can tell us why the scholars believe these things and why they amount to a double standard as compared to the NT.

Jason seems to then argue that if I concede Josephus is guilty of lying in some cases, this must mean I have to throw out everything else he reports. This just doesn't follow. He may have been guilty of egregious lying and at the same time he could give us accurate information on other matters. Jason continues to bring this up in a context of Eusebius, who I consider to be a liar. Again, I have no problem admitting that both are guilty of lying. I don't have the direct information on Josephus, but this could be true. Again, Eusebius probably gives us good information despite the fact that he's a liar and spins things in a pro-Christian way. I'm entirely consistent on this. Jason won't concede that Eusebius is a liar but concocts "how it could have been" scenarios to salvage him. Does he do this for Josephus as well? I haven't seen it. Again, Jason appears to be inconsistent.

Jason seems to be arguing that since some people think Josephus is a little too forward in his claims about the Canon being settled, this by my standards should make his works spurious, because since I argue Paul shows knowledge of the destruction of the temple in Romans 11 and this is anachronistic, Josephus must similarly be spurious.

Like Jason's argument regarding the use of an assistant I think once again he is making absolutely no sense. Any anachronism means a book is spurious? This is pure nonsense. Look, Jason, this isn't hard. Paul died before the destruction of the temple. If he shows knowledge of it and talks about it like it is an event of the past then he could not have written Romans. Canon selection is a process. It is not necessarily a clear line in the sand. The destruction of a building is. Josephus can misrepresent things. He cannot talk about wars that haven't happened.

If "Back to the Future" shows a car depicted in the 50's that wasn't out until the 60's, does this mean Robert Zemeckis didn't direct the movie? Is this what you are suggesting? The questions raised can vary depending on the anachronism.